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Metropolis (1927)
8/10
Great film
11 November 2019
Great movie, decades ahead of its time. Even though it was made in 1927, the plot is still original and fresh today. The story, and moral and philosophical depth, is timeless.

Truly a classic.
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WWII from Space (2012 TV Movie)
4/10
Clumsy, dumbed-down and doesn't go anywhere new
7 November 2019
The strategy and battles of World War 2, as seen from space.

The basic premise of this documentary appealed to me: the battles of WW2 as seen from the air, reducing WW2 to a map. That should help to see the strategic and tactical side, right? Wrong. The 'from space' really means bad quality CGI ships and planes, largely seen from above. It's not original, nor done well.

Nothing about this film is done well, in fact. It is quite clumsy in its delivery, jumping around the WW2 timeline, jumping randomly between subjects and not going anywhere new. Very dumbed down: it's really only for people who know nothing about WW2, and even then it isn't too edifying.

We have the usual bunch of experts who seem more like cheerleaders than objective historians: every is the biggest or the greatest and every situation is the most crucial and dangerous.

Really nothing going for it. Avoid.
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49th Parallel (1941)
5/10
Mediocre
7 November 2019
Mediocre. Could have been very interesting, if told in a balanced way, but, unfortunately, this was made in 1941, so is really just a WW2 propaganda film. Filled with dramatic Shakespeare-wannabe speeches, and pretentious gestures, all of which are there to make the Germans out to be totally evil.

Most irritating performance and character goes to Leslie Howard (who gets top billing over Laurence Olivier). Pretentious in the extreme. Olivier has a few speeches himself - the Shakespearean training comes in handy.

Not all bad. The survival-adventure element (which I was hoping was going to be the only element) is entertaining.
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5/10
Empty melodrama
7 November 2019
A group of nuns is sent to open a convent high in the Himalayas. The locals are friendly and welcome them enthusiastically, as does the local ruler, The General. His English adviser is another matter altogether, for many reasons. When the General dies and his 20-something year old son takes over, things get even more complicated.

Highly rated, but I'm not sure why. The scenery and cinematography are great, but that on their own is never enough to label a film a masterpiece.

The story started interestingly enough, though, ominously, not very compellingly. As the film went out it became duller and duller. The plot degenerated into empty, overstated, melodrama, like a soap opera. Even the climax was clumsy and weak.

Not helping all this is David Farrar as Mr. Dean. I found him incredibly irritating, yet he was treated like he was some sort of Adonis. More a cad than a charmer, I thought.

I really don't know what all the fuss is about.
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World on Fire (2019– )
3/10
Dull and unengaging, despite the subject matter
6 November 2019
World War 2, as lived by everyday people in England, Poland, France and Germany.

A mini-series with heaps of potential. We see the drama, history and action of WW2 plus how everyday people lived through it, and coped. Easy as - should be an instant hit, right?

Well, no. Somehow the writers and producers manage to turn something that should be an easy winner into something unengaging, dull and tedious. None of the characters are really worth following, making for a distinct lack of engagement. The Polish girl was probably the only one I felt any empathy for, the other characters are so bland or unlikeable.

The lack of engagement with the characters is aided and abetted by some incredibly sub-optimal casting decisions. Worst of these is Sean Bean as an irritatingly weak, docile, malleable, quiet and reticent former WW1 soldier. He belongs in strong leadership roles and this is the polar opposite of that. I cringed every time he was on screen.

Plot development is just as boring as the characters. The human dramas are bland and superficial, and drawn out to the extreme. Even the historic and military side is badly done, with some incredibly improbable scenarios. For example, two Poles escape from Poland and manage to end up in the fighting in France! They walked clear across Germany! Clearly the writers figure the audience's geography knowledge is as limited as its history knowledge.

Special effects are pretty bad too, which is difficult to accomplish in 2019. The images of HMS Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate looked like they were hand-drawn!

Avoid.
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Experimenter (2015)
7/10
Simple yet effective
3 November 2019
In 1961 Dr Stanley Milgram performed a series of experiments that revolutionised our understanding of human behaviour, particularly with regard to obedience. It went a long way to explaining how the Nazis managed to carry out the Holocaust and explaining other historic events. This is the story of Dr Milgram, this famous experiment and his other work.

A simple yet effective telling of one of the great breakthroughs in sociology / psychology. Is quite a dry telling, with fairly low production values, but it largely works. Quite interesting, especially as you hear about the results of the main experiment plus some of the other experiments Professor Milgram performed.

As mentioned, it is quite dry though, so can feel a bit dull at times. We don't learn much about Milgram himself, even though much of his life is shown. His family life seems more like padding than anything else (even if his wife is played by the wonderful Winona Ryder).

Solid enough performance by Peter Sarsgaard in the lead role. Good supporting cast. Taryn Manning does look out of place though, playing a 1960s housewife. Maybe it is because I kept thinking of her as Pennsatucky in Orange is the New Black!
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We (2018)
7/10
Dark and intriguing, but also a touch disappointing
3 November 2019
Eight teens - four guys and four girls - are the best of friends. One summer, out of boredom they experiment with all manner of new means to entertain themselves. This degenerates into some extreme behaviour and will lead to tragedy.

Intriguing movie, told in a way that keeps you engaged and wondering what happened. By telling the story from the perspective of several of the teens, one at a time, you get fed enough information to get a piece of the picture, but not enough for the whole picture. This creates a great sense of mystery and makes you stick around for more.

However, when everything comes together and the secret is revealed, it is a bit disappointing. The revelation is rather flat and what develops from there feels a touch implausible. Is quite topical and thought-provoking though.
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The Favourite (2018)
7/10
Interesting and intriguing
2 November 2019
Early 18th century. Queen Anne is the monarch of England. Her closest friend, confidant and adviser is Lady Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. Lady Sarah's cousin Abigail comes to the palace, hoping for a job. She used to have status but has fallen on hard times. With Lady Sarah's help Abigail gets a job as a maid. However, her ambitions are much higher than that.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, which made me sceptical about this movie. Lanthimos's previous two movies - The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer - were pretentious, pointless, random nonsense. Here, however, he adds a fair degree of much-needed substance to the style, creating a movie that is intriguing and interesting, even funny, while set against actual historic events. There's still a fair bit of unnecessary style-over-substance scenes (and sounds - the jarring music was annoying at times) but for the most part this is a good story.

Lanthimos makes use of some innovative techniques to enhance the atmosphere. The use of fisheye lens shots was highly original and gives a great sense of the vastness, and emptiness, of the palace.

Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are great in the main roles. Colman as Queen Anne is superb and well deserved her Best Actress Oscar. Solid supporting cast that includes Nicholas Hoult and Mark Gatiss.

The ending is a bit flat though. I was hoping for something more powerful and profound.
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8/10
Great war drama: gritty, interesting and entertaining
28 October 2019
645 AD. Emperor Taizong invades Goguryeo with his massive Tang army. His initial target is the fortress at Ansi. After defeating a major attack by the Goguryeon army he besieges Ansi. The odds are massively stacked in Taizong's favour: opposing his 200,000-strong army is a mere 5,000 force at Ansi. It is lead by Yang Manchun, a man regarded as a traitor by the Goguryeon leader.

Great war drama. Based on historic events, making it interesting as a history lesson, of sorts. The battle scenes are very gritty, action-packed and entertaining. There are a few implausible developments and dramatic liberties taken but it is generally quite well done and believable. Many Asian war movies degenerate into ridiculous martial arts scenes and I was worried this would also follow that path. Thankfully, it does not.

To add some variety and engagement the writers and director throw in a few sub-plots: the would-be spy/assassin, the animosity between two of Manchun's senior commanders, the romantic angle involving Manchun's sister and his cavalry commander. In a lesser movie these end up with too much screen time and crowd out the main story, making the movie quite dull. Thankfully these never get blown into something bigger than the minor distractions they are and ultimately do add some colour and variety to the film.

Great entertainment.
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The Mule (2018)
8/10
Great movie from Clint Eastwood
27 October 2019
Due to financial problems, an 80-something year old man takes a job as a drug mule, driving shipments between Texas and Illinois for a Mexican cartel. Unbeknownst to him, the DEA are targeting the cartel.

Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, the Mule is a return to Eastwood's purple patch of 2003-2009, a period that included such masterpieces as Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. Since then his films have a bit hit-and-miss, with great ones, e.g. Sully, interspersed with weak (Hereafter) and downright terrible (15:17 to Paris) ones.

The Mule combines the human drama that made Million Dollar Baby and Changeling brilliant with the crime drama of Mystic River and the everyday-man-in-a-tough-situation of Gran Torino.

Interesting, engaging story with some great little sub-plots and interactions. Eastwood demonstrates his deft touch at human drama, though some of the family drama does feel a bit clumsy and overly melodramatic at times.

Eastwood the actor does well in the lead role, reprising his role of the cranky Korean War vet in Gran Torino to an extent. Good support from Laurence Fishburne, Bradley Cooper, Michael Pena, Dianne Wiest, Taissa Farmiga and Eastwood's daughter Alison, playing his daughter in the movie.

The ending could have been better though. While it is reasonably poetic it doesn't quite have the punch I was expecting.
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First Snow (2006)
9/10
Brilliant thriller
24 October 2019
Brilliant thriller. Clever, innovative and intriguing plot. Not at all predictable, you are kept guessing to the last moment. Unlike most modern thrillers, no gratuitous twists just to keep you on edge.

Grabbed my attention from the beginning and held it to the end.
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8/10
Great documentary: interesting and edifying
23 October 2019
The history of Skunk Works, the top-secret division of Lockheed that specialised in extreme, highly classified military aircraft design. Lead by the legendary Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a titan of the aircraft industry, Skunk Works produced such revolutionary planes as the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird and FB-117 Nighthawk.

Great documentary on an organisation that, until recently, it would have been difficult to produce a documentary on, such was the clandestine nature of its work. Very interesting and edifying, as we follow the history of this organisation and some superb, ground-breaking aircraft.

Its not just a story of Skunk Works and planes like the SR-71, but the history of Kelly Johnson too. Following him gives the story a human angle and shows his genius for aircraft design and development and his influence on US airpower, and the aircraft industry in general.
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9/10
Superb documentary: edifying, engaging, gritty, emotional and timely
20 October 2019
World War 1, as seen from the perspective of British soldiers fighting on the Western Front.

Superb documentary, directed by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. I was expecting a conventional documentary on WW1, but this is so much better than that.

Rather than dry narration, everything is told through the voices of British soldiers. This makes for a very engaging and realistic portrayal of what life was like for the average soldier.

Not that its quality was evident from the start though. The first 20 minutes or so, showing recruitment and training, were quite dull. I was starting to lose interest but then the setting changes to the trenches of the Western Front and the tone and engagement factor change dramatically. Things become grittier, the horrific conditions the soldiers lived under become starkly apparent and the terrors and wastefulness of war are brought home.

This then continues for the rest of the film. Battles are vividly told, with the help of rare archival footage. There are also some quite emotional moments, as we hear of friends being killed and the impact of the end of the war. So interesting, gritty and engaging it feels more like a drama than a documentary.

This tone is helped by the excellent video footage. Much of it is quite rare and has been colourised for the film. The footage is so good I thought it was mostly recreations, rather than actual WW1 footage.

A timely reminder of the sacrifices that were made over a hundred years ago.
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Doom Patrol (2019– )
6/10
Good fun, though the novelty wears off after a while
19 October 2019
A group of five seemingly unrelated and dissimilar individuals find themselves drawn together, assembled by the mysterious The Chief. They all suffered traumatic, near-fatal accidents but now have superhuman abilities. The Chief has something in mind for them.

I was pleasantly surprised at this series, initially. Certainly not your average superhero story, especially due to the dialogue and humour. Definitely not for kids, there's some great one-liners and barbs and the dialogue is expletive-filled and wonderfully irreverent. Allied with this, there's a non-serious tone to the whole thing, making it pretty good fun.

The novelty doesn't last though. Eventually it does become more a drama than a comedy and start to resemble your average superhero/comic book story. It was good while it lasted though.
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5/10
Not sure what all the fuss is about
17 October 2019
A group of people meet at a chateau for a hunting weekend. Among them is a celebrity, Andre Jurieux, a man who has just flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean. As the weekend progresses, animosities and rivalries come to light.

Written and directed by Jean Renoir, this movie is lauded as a classic and one of the greatest movies ever made. However, I really don't see what the fuss is about.

The story is hardly interesting or profound. There were some interesting and/or amusing scenes but the film often felt like a soap opera, with overblown, relationship-based machinations and melodrama. None of the characters were worth following and engagement was very limited.

The film was supposed to be a biting commentary on French social mores but I didn't see that. The actions of the guests hardly seemed laughable, even by today's standards, and there was no us vs them atmosphere between the guests and the staff.

Maybe the film just hasn't aged well. Whatever the reason, it is only moderately interesting and hardly profound.
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The Duellists (1977)
8/10
Great debut from Ridley Scott
15 October 2019
France, 1801. Due to a minor, perceived slight, mild-mannered Lieutenant d'Hubert is forced into a duel with the hot-headed, irrational Lieutenant Feraud. The disagreement ultimately results in scores of duels, spanning several years.

Based on Joseph Conrad's book 'The Duel', which was based on true story, this was Ridley Scott's first film as director. And a great debut film it is. Intriguing, engaging story, spanning 15 years.

The contrast between the two combatants is stark, the reason for the duel so arbitrary and the potential outcome of the contest so needlessly wasteful that you're invested in the outcome, and a bit angry that this is even taking place.

Scott and writer Gerald Vaughan-Hughes give the character of d'Hubert a fair amount of depth, adding to the engagement and investment.

Another great feature is the cinematography. Some great shots and scenes.

Solid performance by Keith Carradine as d'Hubert. Harvey Keitel doesn't have much dialogue as Feraud but he is well cast as the hard-headed, actions-rather-than-words character.

Judging by Ridley Scott's next two films, The Duellists clearly lifted his profile. His next film was Alien, his third was Blade Runner.
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6/10
Intriguing...and disappointing
13 October 2019
A wealthy couple throw a large dinner party at their house. Things go well but when it is time to leave, nobody does. This reluctance to leave carries on to the next day, at which time it is apparent that they CANNOT leave. An invisible force seems to be preventing them from leaving.

Written and directed by Luis Bunuel, a movie that kept me intrigued for most of its duration, only to let me down at the end. It doesn't start too coherently, feeling very clumsy in its initial setup. This is deliberate, it turns out, as the later plot development explains this clumsiness. Once it gets going it is very intriguing, as the guests are trapped in a room with nothing physically stopping them from leaving.

It also becomes a good study in human interaction and behaviour, as the guests turn on each other and self-interest overrides the greater good.

Everything was set up for a great revelation and solution to the puzzle, plus a moment of profundity. However, none of these really came. The solution to leaving the room was incredibly weak, and we never get an explanation for the entrapment. The conclusion gives some indication to what it was all about, but it is hardly revolutionary or overly profound.

Disappointing.
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7/10
Good adaptation of the classic Dickens novel
13 October 2019
Young Pip is an orphan and lives with his aunt and uncle. One day he is sent by his aunt to entertain Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster. There he meets Estella and is immediately infatuated with her, but she does not feel the same way about him. Years later and Pip is now a young man, working for his uncle. He receives news that will change the course of his life: an unknown benefactor is sending him to London to become a gentleman.

Written and directed by David Lean, a good adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic novel. Interesting story, given a very authentic early-19th century feel by Lean. Some good comedic moments too. Great cinematography: the graveyard and interior of Miss Havisham's house scenes are particularly well done.

Not exactly compelling viewing though. The romantic and social machinations are a bit dull and I felt the ending was a bit too neat and cheesy, a bit of a cop-out after all that went before.
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8/10
Good spin-off of Breaking Bad: interesting and entertaining
12 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A sequel, of sorts, to Breaking Bad following Jesse Pinkman after the events captured in the finale of Breaking Bad. Jesse is now on the run, as a massive police manhunt for him is in operation. He has a plan to get out of Albuquerque, but he'll need heaps of cash to do it. Luckily, he knows where some may be stashed.

An interesting and entertaining spin-off of Breaking Bad, written and directed by Vince Gilligan (the creator of Breaking Bad). Not an essential spin-off, I might add: the series ended superbly in a wonderfully poetic manner. I never felt I needed to know what happened to Jesse after he escaped the events of the final scene. Still, I don't mind the idea of us following Jesse's story post-Walter White.

An interesting story it is, filled with tension, action, tricky situations, twists and a few good comedic moments. Very engaging for all of the 2 or so hours of the movie. Nice ending.

Not brilliant though. While Gilligan largely manages to capture the atmosphere of Breaking Bad, this being a movie he doesn't have the same amount of time to construct the storyline that made Breaking Bad such compelling viewing. The movie never rises above being more than entertaining. There's no great profundity or payoff, it's simply a good drama.
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Le Samouraï (1967)
8/10
Stylish thriller
10 October 2019
Jef Costello is a professional hitman. After completing his latest job he is seen by a few witnesses. The police then pick him up when rounding up people who fit the description of the killer. Will the witnesses identify him?

Stylish thriller, written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Good scene setting and plot development with Melville ramping up the tension throughout. Great, cool atmosphere created by Melville through keeping dialogue to a minimum and drawing out some scenes.

This coolness is helped by a spot-on performance from Alain Delon as Costello. Plays the sauve, unflappable professional perfectly.

Not a perfect movie though, largely due to the plot. Some things don't really make much sense. What really annoyed me was that Costello would allow himself to be caught. He is an experienced, professional hitman, can be identified and would know the police's methods. Yet he allows himself to be easily caught and, not only that, still has the same clothes on as when he committed the murder. Surely the best plan would be to lie low and, at the very least, get rid of the incriminating clothes?

Costello's actions throughout the movie seem not well thought-out for someone generally plans ahead well and inconsistent with someone trying to avoid being caught. The ending is also rather puzzling.

This all said, it is a well-made, classy film that is highly engaging. Definitely worth watching.
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5/10
Not great, but reasonably entertaining
8 October 2019
A spoof of several horror movies. Kids at a high school are being murdered by a maniac in a mask. A TV reporter investigates.

Not exactly original: horror spoof movies were dime-a-dozen in the early 2000s, and almost as common as horror movies involving crazed mask-wearing killers bumping off high school kids. Isn't too bad though: some good laughs and is reasonably entertaining. Never takes itself seriously, which is a very useful quality in a parody.

Much more watchable than I expected.
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High and Low (1963)
10/10
Superb: great police-drama mixed with an interesting social and moral angle
7 October 2019
A wealthy businessman is told his son has been kidnapped and he will have to pay a very large sum for him to be returned safely. It is then discovered that his son is safe at home: the kidnapper took his chauffeur's son by accident. The kidnapper says this makes no difference: pay up or the child dies. This leaves him with a moral dilemma, as he really needs the money to conclude a very important business deal.

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, High and Low is superb. It mixes crime/police drama with human drama incredibly seamlessly. As a police drama it is about as perfect as they come: shows the deductive reasoning, hunches and meticulous grunt work required in a criminal investigation. Incredibly engaging as you follow the police chase down their leads.

That alone would have made this a 10/10, but the greatness of this movie doesn't end there. We have the moral dilemma the businessman must face: whether to pay to have his chauffeur's son released or use the money to conclude the business deal of a lifetime (with the added incentive that, if the deal doesn't go ahead, his career is over). Interesting social commentary too, especially when the kidnapper's motives are revealed.

Might be nearly 2½ hours long but certainly doesn't feel like it, it's so engrossing.
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5/10
Despite the animation, still pretty much your average comic-book movie
7 October 2019
Miles Morales has just started at a new school and is struggling to fit in. Then he is bitten by a radioactive spider and he obtains certain powers, similar to those of Spiderman. He doesn't know what to do with the powers, or how to control them, so naturally he turns to Spider-Man for advice.

Had some potential, initially, to be an original take on Spider-Man and comic book movies in general. The story doesn't follow Peter Parker, so is not the same Spider-Man story that's been told over and over before. Is animated, so original in terms of production (ironically, considering what comic book movies are based on...).

However, despite these differences, it ends up being pretty much same old, same old: a linear, action-based story. Character development is token: everything is just a set up to get to the next action scene. Plot, what there is, is what you'd expect from a comic book movie: rambling, basic. Quite unengaging.

Is fun at times, but certainly no more than your average comic-book movie.

Hardly revolutionary, despite all the hype that says it is.
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5/10
Good story, clumsily told
5 October 2019
1947. An American Army officer, Colonel David 'Mickey' Marcus, is offered an advisory role with the Israeli Defence Force. Israel is about to gain its independence from Britain and faces overwhelming odds as it faces powerful enemies on all sides.

A good story, largely based on historic events. Covers the formation of the state of Israel and its initial military struggles against massive odds.

However, doesn't cover the events in much depth though. Much time is wasted on sub-plots, almost all of which add nothing to the story.

These sub-plots, especially the romantic angle with Marcus and Magda Simon, not only use up film time that could have been better spent, but make the film quite clumsy. So many contrivances and Hollywoodisms. Just about every piece of dialogue seems written as a soundbite, a one-line zinger. It all just seems so cheesy.
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Johnny Cash in San Quentin (1969 TV Special)
8/10
Great music, interesting social commentary
4 October 2019
A capture of Johnny Cash's famous concert at San Quentin prison, performed on 24 February 1969. Song list: I Walk The Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Orange Blossom Special, Jackson, Darlin' Companion, Will The Circle Be Broken, San Quentin, Wanted Man, A Boy Named Sue, Peace In The Valley, He Turned The Water Into Wine.

This was the second of Johnny Cash's two famous prison concerts, both of which were recorded and released as albums. The first was at Folsom Prison in 1968.

Great music, covering most of Johnny Cash's more famous tracks. Cash and his band are in fine form, with Cash every bit the showman and troubadour.

Interspersed with the songs are interviews with inmates and guards, talking about life in prison and, in the inmates' cases, the circumstances that brought them there. Quite illuminating.

The interviews do often ruin the flow of the music though, as they are often injected into the middle of a song, rather than between songs. I don't mind the interviews at all, just wish they were placed better.
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