Sunday, August 30, 2009
A couple quick reviews of Anime movies...
Posted by Mark on August 30, 2009 at 08:03 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Just a few links I've found interesting recently:
Posted by Mark on August 26, 2009 at 07:45 PM .: link :.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Since 1994's Pulp Fiction, whenever a new Tarantino film is announced, I read about it and find myself thinking about how stupid the film sounds. Usually watching the first trailers does little to assuage that feeling. But every time (every time) I actually see the movie, I end up loving it. Tarantino's latest film, Inglourious Basterds, is no exception to this rule. It sounds lame: "... a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as 'The Basterds' are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis." But it is a truly exceptional film, Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction and the best film of the year so far.
In truth, the short description above is only a small portion of the movie, and it's the one that we've all seen in the trailers for the film. It concerns Lt. Aldo Raine (played with campy glee by Brad Pitt) and his small group of Basterds who hunt down and brutally murder Nazis. The other main plot thread deals with a young Jewish refugee named Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) who narrowly escapes from the famed "Jew Hunter" Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, in an award-winning performance). The rest of her family is not so lucky. She now runs a movie theater in Paris, and the premiere of a German propaganda film at her theater has attracted the entire German military leadership, up to and including Hitler. As you might imagine, this premiere interests both the Basterds and Shosanna for obvious reasons...
This is a thouroughly Tarantino film. If you like his style, you will love this film. It features many of his common tropes, including massive chunks of dialogue, the use of violence as a comedic element, and some interesting, offbeat casting. He also fits in his usual foot fetish, as a plot element no less. There is some winking at the audience, especially when it comes to the various asides (narrated by Sam Jackson), and Tarantino's camera moves fluidly and frames the action well. As with all of Tarantino's films, this one is a referential dream. The film is played as an homage to Spaghetti Westerns, 40s Noir and of course the WWII drama/action film, with tons of other filmic references thrown in for good measure (including the Tarantino staples of B-Movie, Grindhouse, and Exploitation). In particular, films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Cinema Paradiso are all practically direct references. All of Tarantino's films have this obsession with movies, but in this case, the obsession becomes a literal plot element. The climax of the film takes place in a movie theater. A British soldier is chosen for his assignment because he was a movie critic as a civilian. And so on. It doesn't take a genius to see the developing theme here.
Like James Berardinelli, I was also reminded of two somewhat recent WWII films: Paul Verhoeven's Black Book and Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, two films which explore similar themes ideas but which pale in comparison to Basterds. Black Book will retain a good reputation and it's heroine shares a certain kinship with the heroine of Basterds. Valkyrie will not fare so well, perhaps playing Fail-Safe to the Basterds' Dr. Strangelove (i.e. a straight movie completely outclassed and overshadowed by a comedic take on the same material)...
I already mentioned the dialogue, but it is worth further examination. There is a lot of dialogue in the movie and those who do not like Tarantino's tendency to rely on such speachifying will probably not like this movie. That said, this is his best work since Pulp Fiction, and it is not nearly as indulgent as his script for Death Proof (which grated on a lot of people, even though I think that was the intended effect). This isn't just Tarantino wanking with words, he uses them to wratchet up the tension to almost unbearable levels before releasing it all with fast, brutal action. There are several notable sequences, but the opening scene and a later scene in a bar stand out. I'm sure Tarantino will get dinged for making such a violent movie, but when you look at it closely, there really isn't that much actual violence. To be sure, what is there is quite graphic and disturbing, but the dialogue-driven buildup to these events seems to increase the suggestive and sometimes even humorous nature of the violence. It reminded me a bit of how I felt watching Kill Bill:
Do you remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent blows Marvin's head off by accident? Somehow, Tarantino is able to make that scene, and the ensuing events, funny. Not ha-ha funny, it's still black comedy, but funny nonetheless. You don't really know why you are laughing, but you are. And that is what this movie is like. It's like two hours of that one scene in Pulp Fiction.Basterds isn't quite as heavy on the black comedic violence as Kill Bill, but Tarantino definitely employs that same style for the violence here. Of course, there's plenty of other humor in evidence here as well, to the point where it's tempting to call this movie an action/comedy. The setting of the film doesn't exactly lend itself to humor, but Tarantino does a deft job making the proceedings fun.
The violence and dialogue are not simply an ends unto themselves, they actually serve the story. And it is quite an audactious story at that. It is so unabashedly American (and at times, British) that I have to wonder how it will play in the rest of the world... Indeed, it's not surprising that the film did not screen well at Cannes (I'm interested to see what Alex thinks of it, considering we are honor bound to compare notes - his initial reaction seems positive). In any case, the film's plot and especially its ending are bold and adventurous (I don't want to ruin anything, so I'll leave it at that), and all the characters you meet along the way are fun and well drawn. Brad Pitt is clearly enjoying himself while hamming it up (which is appropriate) as Lt. Aldo Raine. It's easy to forget how good he can be in movies like this, and this is his best role in years. He gets a good portion of the funny lines and stories from the set about Pitt walking around in character indicate that Pitt really liked playing this character. Christoph Waltz's turn as Colonel Hans Landa is brilliant and twisted. The character plays out like a Jew hunting, Nazi version of Columbo. Charismatic and disarming, he draws you in and makes you comfortable before pulling the rug out from beneath you. He plays the character with a slightly effeminate panache and you grow to hate him pretty quickly. Surely one of the best villains of the year. Melanie Laurent has what is probably the lead role in the film, though, and her performance as the strong-willed Shosanna Dreyfus is quite good, though not as showy as Waltz or Pitt. The smaller, supporting roles in the film are equally well casted and performed. I was a bit worried about the casting of Eli Roth as one of the Basterds (he's not known for his acting abilities - Roth is most famous for being the director of the Hostel films), but he turned out fine and the Basterds wind up taking a backseat to the rest of the film, so his presence is somewhat limited. Martin Wuttke plays Hitler as a caricature, an interesting take that will no doubt be the basis for a second wave of Hitler Gets Banned style parodies. I didn't recognize Mike Myers at first, but his 5 minute appearance as a British General is quite funny, and it's a nice bit of quasi-referential casting there (i.e. hearing Mike Myers do a British accent, you can't help but think of Austin Powers, even though the scene he appears in is played straight). Michael Fassbender has a nice supporting role as well, and I could probably keep going on and on about the casting and performances in this movie.
I always hate it when reviewers say this sort of thing, but I honestly didn't realize that the film clocked in at a rather long 153 minutes. It feels exactly as long as it needed to be and it's paced very well. In the end, Tarantino has crafted a great film, the best I've seen in a long time and the first one I'm giving 4 stars to since The Dark Knight (and one of only 3 in the past few years). If you really hate Tarantino, you probably won't like it. If you don't mind some of his typical eccentricities (i.e. dialogue, violence, uh, feet? etc...), you're in for a treat. I'm amazed that after all these years, Tarantino is still able to surprise and thrill me. **** (4 out of 4 stars)
Posted by Mark on August 23, 2009 at 12:24 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Some big news from Sony this week. Yesterday, they announced a big price cut for the PS3 as well as a new, slimmed down model. The new slim model does not have much in the way of new features, and the only thing it's losing are some aesthetic stuff (i.e. matte black plastic finish instead of the reflective plastic on older models, actual buttons in place of the pressure sensitive things the older models use, etc...) and the ability to install other OSes (i.e. no more installing linux on your PS3). The one big miss is that Sony still has not reinstated backwards compatibility with the PS2, and in an interview with Sony's head of hardware, John Koller, things don't look promising on that front:
Do we need to stop yapping about backwards compatibility?Darn. He may be correct that people don't intend to purchase the PS3 for its ability to play PS2 games, but it certainly doesn't hurt and it would seemingly increase goodwill. Ok, fine, I just want to be able to play PS2 games from my PS3. Is that so wrong? From what I've seen, a previous model PS3 had simple software emulation for PS2 games, which seems very reasonable (one of the older models actually included PS2 hardware in the PS3 to achieve backwards compatibility, something that was wisely dropped to help lower the amazingly high price of the PS3), even if it didn't work for all games. If nothing else, being able to offer some PS2 classics for download on PSN would be pretty cool. Alas, it's apparently not to be.
Still, $299 is a pretty good deal, especially if you can swing the same Playstation Credit Card rebate that I did (right now it's only a $100 credit, but it is periodically raised to $150 for limited times). In essense, you could buy a PS3 for less than a Wii.
A while ago, I complained about the distinctly boring gamercard that PSN made available. All it basically had was your PSN online ID name... something that could just as easily be typed out (i.e. mine is "mciocco"). Well, sometime in the past week, they upgraded the PSN portable ID to include some more info, so here's mine:
Get your Portable ID!
Much better! It would still be nice to have more info on the thing (i.e. show what games I'm playing, what trophies I won recently, etc...), but at least it lets me brag a bit about how much of a trophy whore I am (update: I think it will show you a lot more information if you click through the gamertag above)...
Anyway, it seems that the PS3 firmware is also due to be upgraded, but there doesn't seem to be much of interest in the update (i.e. no PS2 backwards compatibility). All in all, it seems like it will be a good few months for Sony. I'm betting that Microsoft will respond, but Sony has a pretty interesting lineup of exclusives coming in the next half year or so (including a genuine system-seller in God of War III) and their general library is just as good as MS. Nintendo will, of course, obliterate Sony and MS, because that is just their way. Nintendo isn't playing the same game. Three years after launch, Sony's system costs half of what it once did and Nintendo's costs... the same. And Nintendo was making a profit on the hardware on day 1, while Sony has lost massive amounts of money (the PS3 slim seems to be profitable for them though). I suppose time will tell, but Sony is finally priced competitively with Microsoft, so that part should be interesting. Here's to hoping that it's a rousing success, leading to more and more great games being released for the system (at the very least, we can hope that Bobby Kotick will shut the hell up).
Posted by Mark on August 19, 2009 at 11:25 AM .: link :.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
In my first post on Noir, I kinda made light of the body count that our two heroes were racking up as well as the fact that French society never seemed to notice when a few dozen nameless hitmen are discovered in a park or abandoned building somewhere. I was making a joke of it, but it always sorta bothered me. There are a few hundred people who die during the course of this series. While they're all portrayed as mostly nameless, faceless victims, I couldn't help but wonder what the consequences of their deaths were. Were they married? Did they have kids? Friends? And so on. Warning: The rest of the post contains major spoilers!
One of the things I wondered about was how well Mireille and Kirika were able to deal with the amount of death and destruction they were doling out. For the most part, they seem to deal with it remarkably well. Kirika seems to be more affected by it than Mireille. As the series goes on, she seems less and less enthused with what she's capable of doing.... but there's something off about her reaction that took me a while to place. I finally realized what it was - it reminded me of Crime and Punishment (I suppose I should note spoilers for that novel as well), in particular, this paragraph (page 623 in my edition) where Raskolnikov laments his punishment:
... even if fate had sent him no more than remorse - burning remorse that destroyed the heart, driving away sleep, the kind of remorse to escape those fearsome torments the mind clutches at the noose and the well, oh, how glad he would have been! Torment and tears - after all, that is life, too. But he felt no remorse for his crime.In essense, Raskolnikov felt no guilt or remorse for his crime, but that lack of feeling, that lack of guilt was just as horrible as he could have imagined. That's very much how I thought Kirika felt during the second half of the series. In his take on the series, Steven Den Beste does an excellent job describing the duality of Kirika:
Kirika had two parts inside. One part was a killing machine. It was created by Altena through training and indoctrination, and once it seemed ready, Kirika's memory was wiped and she was placed in Japan, so that she could begin to face the Trials which were required of all candidates for Noir to prove their fitness. Events after that point were not planned, because they depended on what Kirika herself did, and how she reacted to the process. Hints were left which might lead Kirika to Mireille, but if they had not, she would have faced her trials alone.The killing machine part of Kirika's personality was capable of evil, without remorse or guilt, but the human side of her personality recognized how horrible that was and the series is essentially about Kirika's internal struggle. Mireille seemed to be much more neutral. The other piece of the puzzle is Chloe, who seems to take a perverse pleasure in what she is capable of, and as the series progresses, she becomes more and more creepy.
Kirika and Chloe
Ultimately, when Kirika is forced to choose between Mireille and Chloe, she chooses Mireille (who I guess is supposed to represent the human side of Kirika's personality). As Steven notes, the series does not end there and neither does Kirika's internal struggle. She is still capable of horrible evil and is not sure she could live with herself. Altena still attempts to appeal to killing machine portion of Kirika's personality, but she ultimately fails, and Mireille succeeds in saving Kirika. At the very end, it's clear that Kirika and Mireille will continue on together and that they love each other (like sisters). I am once again reminded of Dostoyevsky (page 630 in my edition - replace the male pronouns with female pronouns and this could easily apply to Kirika):
... at this point a new story begins, the story of a man's gradual renewal, his gradual rebirth, his gradual transition from eone world to another, of his growing acquaintance with a new, hitherto completely unknown reality. This might constitute the theme of a new narrative - our present narrative is, however, at an end.There's a lot more to the ending of the series that I'm skipping over, but Steven's post covers that in plenty of detail and I don't see a need to repeat all that... It's not a perfect series, but the ending did make it worthwhile for me. I wouldn't say that I was as taken with it as Steven or Alex, but neither was I as disappointed with it as Ben. I thought the series was a bit too long (a little too much filler, perhaps) and unevenly paced, but the ending made up for any issues I may have had with the series.
As usual, more screenshots and commentary in the extended entry...
I didn't notice this at first, but the table that Mireille uses to do her work is a pool table. Not sure what the significance of that is, but I guess you could make something symbolic out of it, like that Mireille and Kirika are stuck playing the Soldats' game or something.
Cargo containers in the least organized port in the world. Seriously, look at those things.
As mentioned above, Kirika, seen here double-fisting some pistols,John Woo style, is the main character of the series. This is interesting because at first glance, the series seems to be primarily about Mireille. As the series progresses, Mireille takes a back seat to Kirika and Chloe, then comes to the foreground at the end.
The Soldats in their stereotypical lair, sitting next to a fireplace and sipping port. We find out more about the Soldats later in the series, but their ultimate plan and Altena's plan for Noir all ends up taking a backseat to Kirika's internal struggle, which is the true conflict of the series. That's a good thing too, as giant conspiracies tend to bore me...
As the series progresses, Kirika, Mireille and Chloe encounter more and more hired killers, and in this case, the killers are literally faceless. Not a single one seems to be able to hold a candle to any of the Noirs though, which makes me wonder how challenging these "trials" are supposed to be for Noir.
This scene really bothered me. Not so much when it happened as in the next episode when we find out... that it doesn't really mean anything. It serves a purpose - Mireille begins to realize just how much she cares for Kirika, etc... but it's a kinda cheapshot. Also, I'm not really sure what happened. Did Chloe actually shoot Kirika? Why is Kirika fine afterwords? I didn't get it.
Towards the end of the series, we learn that Kirika killed Mireille's parents (apparently when Kirika was extremely young). Chloe was also there, and the screenshot above is her after she sees Kirika kill. Kinda creepy.
Towards the end of the series, Kirika and Chloe are reuinited at Altena's home and have an awesome swordfight (as a training exercise).
Kirika wins the training session, and in the screenshot above you see something that is a recurring image. Often, when Kirika's killing machine personality is in control, her hair covers her eyes, making her faceless and symbolizing emotionlessness. I didn't really notice this until later in the series, so I'm not sure it applies to the whole series, but I did see it multiple times.
Mireille and Kirika have a faceoff towards the end, and they are legitimately trying to kill one another, but in the end, neither can pull the trigger.
This is the last shot in the series. The saturated, washed out brightness of this type of shot usually symbolizes transcendence or resolution, and that certainly fits with the ending of the series.
Well, that about covers it. Next up in the Anime queue is Miyazaki's Ponyo, which I should be seeing sometime this week. It's actually getting a pretty wide release - it's even playing at the local multiplex...
Posted by Mark on August 16, 2009 at 02:08 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The August Movie Season?
August is typically the dumping ground for movies that the studios know can't compete with the blockbuster fare of early summer. There's usually a movie or two that manage to pick up some good numbers (think The Sixth Sense or Superbad), but movie fare in August is usually pretty thin. So looking ahead at the next few weeks, I'm surprised to see so many movies that I actually want to see, ranging from typical Hollywood fare to obscure foreign films. Here's what I'm looking forward to:
Update: Apparently Mystery Team isn't opening wide until October...
Posted by Mark on August 12, 2009 at 09:45 PM .: link :.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Burnout Paradise Thoughts
Since finishing Fallout 3 a while back, I have played several games on my PS3. The most enjoyable, so far, has been Burnout Paradise. For a budget title that came out a long time ago, it really surprised me. If you are even remotely interested in driving games, this is a game you should play (I have no idea how it compares to other Burnout titles though, as this is my first). Anyway here are some thoughts on the game:
Posted by Mark on August 09, 2009 at 06:22 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
The 2009 Hugos
A few weeks ago, SF author Adam Roberts stirred up quite a storm by suggesting that the nominees for the 2009 Hugo award for best SF/F novel were somewhat lackluster:
Science Fiction Fandom: your shortlists aren’t very good.It is an interesting post, and of course his remarks have engendered all sorts of responses and discussion about the nature of the awards themselves and which books on this year's shortlist deserved or didn't deserve to be there. SF Signal took the opportunity to ask a panel of writers several questions, and since I've been reading a lot of SF lately, I thought it might be fun to answer them myself.
How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
A quick glance at the history of the Hugo Award for Best Novel shows a pretty good list of winners. A lot of my favorite SF novels are winners of the Hugo, and several others were at least nominated. Now, I'm far from an authoritative expert on SF novels and I have not read the grand majority of nominated books, but still, the list seems pretty well balanced. It's worth noting that of the past 15 or 20 SF novels I've read, a little more than half have been hugo winners (or nominees), and a hefty portion of my book queue is also represented by Hugo books.
As an award, the Hugo is interesting because it's a popular vote of Worldcon members. You have to pay to be a member, so that weeds out most casual voters, and it's interesting that a lot of Worldcon members are themselves SF authors or otherwise involved in the SF or publishing business world. This seems to present a good mix. Not as insular as something like, say, the Oscars, but not completely populist either. And I think that shows with a lot of the Hugo winners and nominees. Of course, the entire premise of this question relies on a completely subjective evaluation, so all of this should be taken with a grain of salt.
As for this year's slate, well, I've only read 2 of the 5 nominees. Zoe's Tale is an entertaining read and a good book, but I'm surprised it made the shortlist. I certainly don't think it's an embarrassment or anything, and it's a fine book, but the other book on the shortlist that I've read was Anathem, which I loved and which even curmudgeons like Roberts admit probably deserves to be on the list (if not win). With all due respect to John Scalzi, Anathem far outclasses Zoe's Tale. The other nominees include Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children, which I haven't read but given my experience with Stross, I'd wager I wouldn't like. I've never much cared for anything of his that I've read, so when he gets nominated (and he does, just about every year), it seems kinda boring. For all I know, Saturn's Children is the greatest book evar, but I'm doubting it. I admit that I'm intrigued by the premise of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and as a YA novel, I bet it works pretty well (at the same time, it's not exactly groundbreaking stuff... then again, what is?) Finally, there's Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book, which I don't know much about except that it's a children's book. All in all, not a bad field at all. Not having read a lot of other novels from this year, I can't say if they're truly the best, but there doesn't seem to be any stinkers in the list. It does seem to have a pretty good variety - you've got a children's book (Graveyard Book), a young-adult novel (Little Brother), a book that might as well be young-adult and that features a teenage girl protagonist (Zoe's Tale), a rather standard SF book (Saturn's Children) and an ambitious, epic novel that features numerous philosophical digressions as well as an entire glossary of made-up words and references (Anathem). I suppose that the under-represented group would be authors that focus a lot on style and literary flourish, but that doesn't bother me (though it does seem to bother Roberts).
How well do you think the Hugo shortlist, year over year, represents to the outside world what speculative fiction has to offer?
Since I think the winners, overall, seem to comprise a pretty good list of novels, I think the Hugos do a pretty good job of representing what SF has to offer. Several Hugo winners would make a good first SF novel for a more traditional reader, and there are plenty of other winners that have enough heft to attract more discriminating readers. The one thing that might be a bit strange to outsiders is that SF is more concerned with ideas than stylistic flourishes (something that Roberts seems to lament), but honestly, the focus on ideas is what makes us all love SF in the first place. If you're not into that, your interest in SF will probably be limited to certain authors.
Which of this year's finalists do you predict will receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
The two frontrunners seem to be Graveyard Book and Anathem. Both Neil and Neal are popular with the SF crowd (both have already won an award), and these two books seem to be quite popular. I'll say that Graveyard Book will win, because I'm assuming it has a broader appeal.
Which of this year's finalists do you think should receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
If you read this blog, I'm sure you already know that I think that Anathem should win. Even though I haven't read 3 of the other nominees, I'm pretty confident that Anathem would be my favorite. What can I say, I'm a Stephenson junkie.
Which books do you think were missing from this year's list of Best Novel finalists?
And not having ready any other 2009 SF books, I have nothing to contribute here. So there.
Well, there you have it. I'd be interested to see how some others more knowledgeable of the genre would respond to this though. Maybe next year, I'll make sure I read all of the nominees. That way, I could better comment on something like this... Of course, that assumes I ever finish Infinite Jest (which, incidentally, is a SF novel, something I didn't know when I set out to read it). I'm a few hundred pages behind at this point and not sure if I'll be able to make the deadline. But I digress. The Hugos, like any other list of bests, can sometimes leave something to be desired, but that's half the fun of awards and top 10s and the like. Even lists that are generated by hundreds of votes (as opposed to a list collected by an individual) have their interesting bits, and I think the Hugos do a decent job of that.
Posted by Mark on August 05, 2009 at 07:29 PM .: link :.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Thanks to a timely observation by Steven, I found out that this site has been hacked. It appears to be spammers who have exploited a vulnerability in my forum software to inject HTML onto various pages. I have since upgraded my forum software with the necessary patches and while I'm at it, I figure I might as well upgrade Movable Type as well (the new release actually has at least one new feature I want to take advantage of).
All of which is to say that the blog might be acting a little funny tonight, so if you have some trouble commenting or the page looks all banged up, it's probably because I'm working on it. See you on the other side.
Update: Upgrade is complete. No problems encountered. Yet. I'm going to fiddle around with pagination and maybe some comment system stuff if I have time. Also, I removed Steven's comment and my response from the previous entry, since they didn't really fit with the whole slasher movie topic of the post. Thanks again to Steven for finding the issue and taking the time to alert me.
Again Update: So you know how at the bottom of the page, I have a link to read "Older Posts" which will take you to the next 8 posts after the ones on the homepage? Up until now, I had to use multiple index templates with hard-coded navigation between the index templates. This sorta approximated the functionality that's common on, er, most other blogs at this point (I could have converted to dynamic publishing, but not without massively changing the linking structure of the site). This is dreadfully inefficient and it doesn't scale very well - it only went for two extra pages. Anyway, MT 4.3 has support for pagination via built-in search functionality, so now you can just keep reading (apparently, there are a few hundred pages to read through). The resulting pages could use some work, but it's probably fine for now.
Posted by Mark on August 04, 2009 at 08:49 PM .: link :.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Friday the 13th Marathon Awards
I've been somewhat disorganized during this marathon and I realized that I never really finished off with awards the way I have for some previous marathons. The Filmspotting guys like to give their awards fancy names (i.e. for the SF marathon, they called the awards the "damn dirty apes"), so I guess the Golden Machetes would fit for this, right? Anyway, since this marathon technically started a couple of years ago, I figure a quick recap is in order:
Posted by Mark on August 02, 2009 at 05:33 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in August 2009.
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Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
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Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
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The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
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