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Archive for August, 2009

Robert Downey Jr. As Lestat?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Sherlock Holmes DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster -Downey Advance Style A

If the rumours at are to be believed, Universal Pictures is planning a reboot of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles, with a Hollywood heavyweight apparently in talks to play bloodsucker Lestat.

According to the horror site, none-other-than Robert Downey Jr. is contemplating playing the French nobleman-turned-vampire, who appeared in several of Rice’s books.

If he does take the role, Downey Jr. would follow in the footsteps of Tom Cruise, who played Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, and Stuart Townsend, who played him in Queen of the Damned.

So come on fang fans – do you think Downey Jr is a good fit for the part, or will Lestat-lovers be as angry about this choice as they were when Cruise first landed the role?

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Movie Trailer

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon Original Movie Poster - CP Style A

Summit Entertainment presents this sequel to the hot box-office phenomenon Twilight with this follow-up adaptation in Stephenie Meyer’s series of romantic fantasy novels. The film will tell the continuing tale of the vampire/human romance between Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristen… Stewart). New to the series is Dakota Fanning, who joins the cast as Jane, a waifish pixie type with an air of menace. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, All Movie Guide

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Ashley Greene; Directed By: Chris Weitz

Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Let’s get this out of the way right up front – The Time Traveler’s Wife is first and foremost a love story. Author Audrey Niffenegger put it all right there in the title of the book on which the film is based. If it were a more intellectual or scientific exploration of the theories of temporal displacement, it would have been called The Time Traveler (and it would have been written by somebody else). But, as the title indicates, there are two protagonists in this story. The well-worn plot device of time travel is used as a metaphor for the emotional distance that often creeps into even the most solid of long-term relationships. The film asks the audience to engage with the story and characters using their hearts, not their brains. If you know that going in, you’ll undoubtedly be able to enjoy the film more for what it is.

The star-crossed lovers in question are Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) and Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana). Henry, a research librarian, was born with a genetic anomaly, later dubbed Chrono-Displacement, which causes him to slip away from the present into the past or future. He can’t control where or when he goes, and his clothes and personal belongings don’t travel with him. So he often finds himself in compromising positions which require him to run, steal, fight and somehow survive until he’s pulled back to the present. One afternoon in the library he runs into Claire, an artist who not only knows everything about him, but tells him she’s been in love with him all her life.

Although none of this has happened yet for Henry at this point in his life, Claire first met him when she was six years-old. He continued visiting her at different points throughout her childhood, and she has grown up knowing that one day she’ll be his wife. By the time they meet in the library, although he doesn’t know her, she’s been waiting for that moment for years. Waiting will continue to be a theme for Claire as their relationship grows and develops into cohabitation, then marriage. His unannounced departures and arrivals begin to wear on her, as does a series of miscarriages which prevent her from carrying his child to full term. It turns out that happily ever after is not as simple as it may have once seemed, for both Henry and Claire.

The film does touch on the conflict between destiny and free will, but only in the most superficial ways. In this world, the future is seemingly predetermined. Henry explains to Claire that he’s never been able to change anything, including his own mother’s death in an automobile accident. There’s a lot of explaining going on in this film, actually. The old writer’s mantra of “show, don’t tell” seems to have been thrown out the window here in favor of dialogue describing action we never get to see (like Henry’s attempts to save his mother). A few more scenes and a little less dialogue would have gone a long way towards furthering the emotional resonance of the film.

To be fair, a big part of that may have been lost in the tricky translation of the book to the screen. It’s much easier to set up details like time, place and age in a novel. In the film, the audience is left to guess and fill in the blanks for themselves much of the time, which can make for a disjointed and confusing narrative. And this brings us to the part of the review that applies to those who read and loved the book. Fans of Niffenegger’s version would be well advised to bear in mind that the film takes a few liberties with the source material, as most films do. It glosses over some of the big moments in Claire and Henry’s history, makes only a passing reference to others and leaves a few things out entirely. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin does his best to translate the spirit of the book, though, with the same pathos he put into the supernatural romance Ghost.

Aiding in that emotional journey are McAdams and Bana, who make for a believable couple. McAdams in particular does a fine job of portraying Claire’s wide emotional arc, from the initial blush of infatuated youth to the tired exasperation of a long-suffering wife. Bana is more steady and reserved as Henry, which is appropriate for the character, but it makes it more difficult to identify with him. Ron Livingston brings some levity to the film as Gomez, a close friend who discovers Henry’s secret in a startling way. The other standout in the supporting cast is Arliss Howard as Henry’s father, whose deep sadness at the loss of his wife and conflicted feelings about his son’s condition are palpable.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is the ending, which felt superfluous and tacked on. It wasn’t until after seeing the film that I found out it was, in fact, tacked on after test audiences responded negatively to the original ending. It wouldn’t be the first time a studio has intervened, but it says more about director Robert Schwentke’s faith in his own storytelling that he allowed the film to be altered in this way. Without giving anything away, the new version betrays the pathos and emotional impact it would otherwise have with a coda that adds nothing to the story. This is perhaps the biggest affront to Niffenegger’s novel, but thankfully it isn’t representative of the adaptation as a whole.

Thankfully, The Time Traveler’s Wife is not at all the frothy romance the marketing campaign has made it out to be. The presence of McAdams may bring to mind comparisons to The Notebook and similar sappy, manipulative fare, but that’s perhaps a bit unfair. Yes, this is a love story, but one that doesn’t pull its punches or hesitate to portray romance as a difficult, painful and all-too-fleeting thing.

Movie Review: Ponyo

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Ponyo DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

It’s not particularly close-minded or inaccurate to describe the Japanese approach to animation as somehow weird — strangely, beautifully, playfully, colorfully, sometimes violently weird. This is true at least in as much as we can say as Americans, watching from our country half-way across the globe, and not at all a judgment considering how wonderfully weird it can be. But there are few Japanese filmmakers, if any, who have applied this style in a more universally heartwarming fashion than Hayao Miyazaki. The creator of such cross-over classics as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki has charmed audiences in Japan for decades with his brilliantly drawn and dream-like fables.

To describe the story of his latest creation Ponyo is deceptively simple: A young boy name Suske discovers a colorfish fish, Ponyo, who magically becomes human. But when her desire to stay with Suske threatens the very balance of nature, their friendship must be tested before things can be set right. At its most basic level, this simple description sounds normal enough, though it leaves out details like the following: Ponyo only becomes human after tasting Suske’s blood; Ponyo’s father is an undersea wizard who looks like 1970s David Bowie; her mother is Mother Nature herself; Ponyo is a fish who loves ham sandwiches; the sea pursues Ponyo in the shape of giant whales made of water; Ponyo’s meddling causes the moon to approach the Earth and raise the tides; Suske’s mother works at a retirement home with some rather bizarre residents; a giant flood brings creatures from the age of the dinosaurs back to the surface.

Etc, etc…

Ponyo may indeed be Miyazaki’s most narratively odd movie in quite some time – which is saying something, to be sure – but its design and tone are that of a child’s bedtime story. The world of Ponyo is one seen through a child’s eyes, operating by a child’s rule, so logic be damned in favor of emotion and spectacle. Color is king here, painting every edge of the world, both above and below the surface of the sea. Ocean blues and Ponyo’s pink scales offset the lush greenery of the island and its myriad of multi-colored flowers and foliage. But most importantly, the relationship between Ponyo and Suske, made of the boundless love and affection that children can share for one another, truly drives the film. Every adventure, every sequence, every magical moment is precipitated by their desire to stay together and their utter willingness to believe that magic is not only possible, but real.

The American voice cast leaves a little to be desired, offering that quasi-overacted quality to the English dubbing, though thankfully the children work wonderfully. This isn’t to say that they may not be overacting as well, but only to say that it makes sense that children might react to the world with that broad, matter-of-fact delivery. The cast includes Tina Fey and Matt Damon as Suske’s mother and father, as well as Liam Neeson and Cate Blanchett as Ponyo’s mythical parents. But the real star here is the visuals, the colorful, lush hand-drawn animation that makes Miyazaki films such a feast for the senses. We wouldn’t be so foolish as to say it’s his best film to date, but Ponyo might just be his most imaginative, vibrant and family friendly tale in quite some time.

New Movie Releases: August 14, 2009

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

These are the movies arriving in theaters, August 14, 2009

District 9

District 9 DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Over twenty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them.

Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare – they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.

The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

Cast: William Allen Young, Robert Hobbs, Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope; Directed By: Neill Blomkamp


Ponyo DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

“Ponyo” is the latest tour de force from animation master Hayao Miyazaki and his Academy Award® winning Studio Ghibli. Perfect for audiences of all ages, “Ponyo” is a return to the innocent pleasures of My Neighbor Totoro, with dazzling and entirely hand-drawn visuals that start simply and erupt into fluid, cascading symphonies of color. The story centers on the loving relationship between Sosuke, a five-year-old boy, and a magical goldfish named Ponyo, the rambunctious young daughter of a sorcerer father and a sea-goddess mother. After a chance encounter, Ponyo yearns to become a human so she can be with Sosuke. As to be expected with Miyazaki, the film is awash in pure unbridled imagination and visual wonder-but it is the tender warmth, humor, and devotion of Ponyo and Sosuke that form the emotional heart of this film. In English – featuring the voices of Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Noah Cyrus and Frankie Jonas.

Cast: Hayao Miyazaki, Hiroki Doi, Jôji Tokoro, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Yuki Amami; Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

The love story focuses on a couple in which the man has a genetic disorder known as “chrono-impairment,” a condition that causes him to involuntarily travel through time. Jeremy Leven wrote the adaptation.

Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean; Directed By: Robert Schwentke


Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Legion DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Advance Style A

Release date: Friday January 22, 2010
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama, Action
Director: Max Mayer
Studio: Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems
Screenplay: Scott Stewart
Producer(s): David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Cast: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Tenney, Charles S. Dutton, Kate Walsh, Willa Holland
Official Site:
Rating: Not yet rated
Available film art: Legion movie posters

Scott Stewart’s supernatural thriller Legion, scripted by Peter Schink, concerns a group of strangers in an out-of-the-way eatery who become the first line of defense when God, believing the human race is no longer worthy of Him, decides to end their existence. This motley crew’s only spiritual ally is the archangel Michael, played by Paul Bettany. Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Charles S. Dutton, and Lucas Black co-star in the Screen Gems production.

Where the Wild Things Are Movie Trailer – Trailer 2

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

The adventures of a young boy named Max who, after being sent to bed for misbehaving, imagines that he sails away to where the wild things are. Max is loved by the wild creatures who make him their King, though he soon longs to be back home with his family.

Cast: Catherine Keener, Max Records, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrose, James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michelle Williams, Michael Berry, Jr., Paul Dano, Tom Noonan; Direct by: Spike Jonze

Underworld Goes Deeper

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Underworld DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - US Advance Style A

Who knew that when Kate Beckinsale stepped into that leather suit and started battling the Lycans that the Underworld series would have been so successful.

Shock Till You Drop has gotten word that Screen Gems is currently considering a fourth installment in the series, a follow-up to the prequel film that released last year. Currently targeted for a January 21, 2011 release date, the film will be shot in 3-D, though it is unclear whether any of the principal cast members will return or where the film will be set in the Underworld timeline.

Telling the story of the ages-old conflict between the vampires and the Lycans, the Underworld series has been modestly successful at the box-office with Rhona Mitra taking over for Beckinsale in the badass leather ensemble.

Movie Review: Julie and Julia

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Julie and Julia 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Not quite haute cuisine, but a tasty dish nevertheless thanks to Streep.

Filmmaker Nora Ephron transports viewers to the Paris of the 1950s and the New York City of this decade in her tale of two true stories Julie & Julia. Combining the biographies Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, Ephron’s Julie & Julia follows cooking icon Julia Child (flamboyantly, lovingly played by Meryl Streep) in her years in postwar France as she becomes the celebrated chef and author we remember today. The secondary storyline follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams), as she seeks an outlet during her soul-crushing time in New York after 9/11 and finds much needed joy in both blogging and cooking.

Julia, who lives in Paris with her fellow former OSS officer-turned-husband Paul (Stanley Tucci), finds her ambition later in life, becoming the first American woman to study at the Cordon Bleu. She then spends years co-writing with her colleagues Louise Bertholle and Simone Beck what will become the landmark book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a still-highly influential tome that taught Americans there was more to eat than canned, frozen, or processed foods and that cooking could be a joy.

The film’s parallel contemporary storyline follows Julie, a New Yorker pushing 30 who has yet to find anything near the success that her friends have and who can never seem to finish anything she starts, such as her novel. She works as a call center rep for an agency overseeing the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. It’s a demoralizing job, but Julie finds the perfect outlet in cooking. A huge fan of Child’s, Julie devotes the next year to cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and documenting it in a blog. She becomes obsessed with completing the herculean task, much to the chagrin and neglect of her long-suffering but devoted husband Eric (Chris Messina). Powell’s blog soon becomes so popular that she, like her idol, finds success as a culinary book author.

Surprise! Streep is the best thing about this movie and the biggest reason to go see it. While her male contemporaries, such as De Niro and Pacino, have almost become caricatures of themselves, Streep simply gets better and — pun intended since it’s a foodie movie — more delectable with each movie she’s been in lately. Julie & Julia caps off a grand run she’s had in recent years of being the best thing in often so-so movies. Streep nails Julia Child’s distinctively haughty voice, and brings the late cooking icon to vivid life with equal parts charm, warmth and humor. (She even seems to have grown taller and bigger built to play the role.) Much as she did in last summer’s Mamma Mia!, Streep appears to be having a blast being in the movie and so the audience has fun watching her. The result is another crowd-pleasing, scene-stealing, and likely award-fetching performance.

Unfortunately, she has to share the movie with other characters and therein lies the biggest problem with Julie & Julia. Whenever Streep/Child is not on-screen, the viewer loses interest — and the movie loses steam — despite the efforts of so many other talented actors. Tucci (who also appeared in the sumptuous foodie flick Big Night) fares best as Julia’s husband Paul; he gentlemanly cedes the spotlight to Streep. He knows he’s here to play the supporting spouse role and that’s it, but he nevertheless imbues Paul with a quiet strength and stature (which is ironic given how much Julia towers over him). Likewise, Chris Messina, who had a memorable and moving role in Away We Go, plays Julie’s “saintly” husband as the personification of patience is a virtue. But that aside, the movie’s Eric is a bore.

Jane Lynch, Linda Emond, and Frances Sternhagen make noteworthy appearances, but it’s Adams who is burdened most with having to match Streep, whom she shares no scenes with. The shadow of Julia Child is cast over the entire movie, and Julie Powell’s ambitions and accomplishments simply pale in comparison. Julia taught Americans that “culinary arts” are two terms that really do belong together, leaving behind books that still influence foodies and chefs. Julie wrote a blog, followed someone else’s recipes, and got a movie made about her within six years of the events depicted.

It’s fascinating how both Child and Powell used then-burgeoning mediums — television and the Internet, respectively — to reach audiences and make their mark, but Child’s accomplishments dwarf whatever success Powell earned. It’d be like making a dual biopic of Steven Spielberg and those guys who remade Raiders in their backyard. It’s no contest. (At least this movie provides a fairer and more accurate portrayal of bloggers than any other film has thus far.) Ephron is no stranger to tackling parallel plots, namely in Sleepless in Seattle. But in this case Child’s story is just more entertaining and engrossing than Powell’s, so Ephron’s overall film suffers as a result.

As portrayed here, Julia had a zest and an appreciation for life, smiling and cooking her way through good times and bad. She loved her husband, with each of them treating the other as a full partner. Julie, on the other hand, comes across as a self-absorbed, neurotic whiner in comparison. Perhaps it can be chalked up to generational differences, although, in fairness to Julie, life in romantic post-war France and beleaguered post-9/11 New York City obviously beget two entirely different attitudes and experiences. Maybe Julia wouldn’t have been so cheery had she worked thanklessly in a cubicle dealing with grieving loved ones.

Despite the shortcomings of the Julie half of Julie & Julia, the film nevertheless still offers viewers a satisfying meal. It’s funny, heartfelt and escapist fare that will leave your mouth watering at all the meals prepared during the course of the movie — although to be fair, it’s the meals that Child prepares that leaves the viewer with a hearty appetite. Powell’s will leave you wondering how good the pizza was at the parlor she lived above.

U.K. Movie Review: District 9

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

District 9 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

You can judge a society by how it treats the least of its peoples. But what if you expand that truism beyond individual societies and apply it to the human race? How would we react to interplanetary refugees who are forced into isolation and damned to scrape out life as a hopeless underclass?

That’s the semi-theoretical social dilemma posed to audiences by the debut theatrical work of director Neill Blomkamp. The South African-bred writer/director caught the eye of Peter Jackson, famed director and producer of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the upcoming The Lovely Bones, who commissioned Blomkamp to work on the now-defunct Halo film adaptation. While Halo may be long gone, the skills he demonstrated on the short test films were enough to give Jackson the confidence in Blomkamp to create a genre piece of genuine significance.

District 9 is the result of both Blomkamp’s demonstrable talent as a filmmaker and clearly sensitivity towards the social welfare of those displaced through apartheid in South Africa – hence, District 9 is semi-theoretical. This is not Transformers-esque twaddle hidden under a veil of authenticity.

As far-removed from a Michael Bay action movie as District 9 is, that’s not to say that the experience is anything less than completely absorbing and intense. This is easily one of the best science fiction films of recent years – up there with similarly toned works like The Abyss or even the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. Handicam shots of Johannesburg’s muted skyline, filled with a tremendous alien craft bearing down silently on upon it and its downtrodden residents, sets the scene perfectly – two disparate cultures about to clash.

Twenty years of racism, bureaucracy and violence later, we join the pencil-pushing lead character, Wikus van der Merwe, as he joins security forces to move the segregated alien residents of District 9 into even more oppressive, concentration camp-like dwellings. Things do not go smoothly, and Wikus’ life begins to spiral out of control.

Wikus is portrayed with surprising sincerity by virtual unknown South African actor, Sharlto Copley. Copley is initially a little self-conscious on screen but seems to ease into the roll as the film progresses and his character is injected with a few interesting personality quirks and hurdles to overcome. As he evolves as a character, the more likeable and believable he becomes; less of a two-dimension office flack, if you will, and more of the leading man he needs to be in order to carry the weight of the narrative.

Some side-characters and their involvements don’t fare quite as well; the gung-ho military forces, lead by your typically brutish jarhead-a-likes, are sadly predictable, and a key figure close to Wikus seems inexplicably warped just beyond the limits of believability. That said, we’re not talking about major issues – just small areas of acting and storytelling that will likely improve in subsequent films, given Blomkamp’s relative inexperience.

Playing to Peter Jackson’s strengths as a producer – and conveniently, his access to Weta Workshops – Blomkamp’s alien race are confronting and occasionally pitiful bunch. Branded the derogatory nickname ‘Prawns’ by bigots on the front line, the beings are handled with the same sterling level of detail and care that we’ve come to expect (and perhaps take for granted) from Jackson’s Weta. They’re insectoid in appearance; all hard angles and ridges – but the film affords audiences the occasional close-up, betraying wide, thoughtful eyes and enough humanity to make these CG creations sensitive and sympathetic to the audience. Of these, ‘Christopher Johnson’ and his child, become core to the story.

Their struggle to keep their culture alive takes a backseat to simply trying to survive – the interplay between parent and child is poignant, often displaying more kindness and humanity than even Wikus’ own family. Their hostile world is filled with fantastic sets and props –again, nothing that should come as a surprise, given the pedigree of effects talent at work behind the camera.

Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut is visually bold; eighty percent of the film is told through either recounted testimonials or on-foot ‘documentary camera crews’ following the action and relating it directly back to the audience. The other twenty percent follows more traditional methods of filmmaking – cutting away to private moments between key characters, away from the documentary crews.

It’s a style that has played out successfully in past sci-fi genre subversions like Cloverfield, and even Blomkamp’s own ‘Alive in JoBurg’ (which is something of a test piece or companion tale to District 9). Low-resolution video tape is intermingled with subtle CG effects to mesmerising and convincing effect. Perhaps it’s not as breakthrough as it might have been pre-Cloverfield, but it certainly makes for more compelling viewing than your typical high-gloss Hollywood production. If there’s any downside to this, the shooting style does occasionally feel like Blomkamp is trying to throw in an example of every technique he’s capable of – perhaps an offshoot of first-film overcompensation.

Regardless, the beauty of adopting the documentary style for the bulk of District 9 is in the tone that we, as an audience, come to expect from a documentary. We are compelled to accept this documentary footage as fact, and that what we’re watching is of clearly a document of some importance. It sets audiences up to expect a mild ‘documentary’ tone – perhaps something almost humorous – and it makes the eventual bursts of violence and extreme gore all the more arresting. If you have a serious aversion to exploding heads, bursting bodies and high-impact scenes of violence against insectoid-beings, steer clear.

Of course, these moments of punctuated violence only serve to underline how delicately handled most of the film actually is. The accompanying score, composed by Clinton Shorter, mixes in African vocals and classical tones –reinforcing the setting of the film and reminding audiences that there’s more to scoring a motion picture than simply hiring Harry Gregson-Williams or Danny Elfman.

District 9’s testimonial-format also draws on racial tensions between black and white South Africans and appropriates it beautifully. The dialogue never harps on about the follies of prejudice –and again, District 9 could be taken on surface value alone as a science fiction action film and still satisfy the lowest common denominator out there in the audience.

That said, we suppose Blomkamp hopes viewers will peer a little more deeply into the situation and see the real story being told – a very real oppression that is ongoing in South Africa – and one that can’t afford to be ignored. As audiences are compelled early in the film to “learn from what has happened”, Blomkamp uses District 9 to quietly remind us that it’s too late for some.

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