Cats May Miss Award Deadlines

Christmas is a tough deadline to hit for major films looking to be under awards consideration. Films like Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street both finished just in time to have screenings before the cutoff. This year, the contentious Cats adaptation from Tom Hooper may miss those award deadlines, which may spell a death knell for the film, which has received some criticism based purely on its first trailer’s reception.

Word from the studio is that the film will not be able to be screened until the middle December, after votes close for the New York Film Critics, the Golden Globes, and the SAG Award.

This has to be very disappointing for the studio and Hooper, who is fighting an uphill battle here. Hooper directed award favorites The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, and I have to assume that they expected to add Cats to that list.

Still, they will continue working their asses off to get it done as quick as possible, hoping to at least get screenings in before the cutoff of some award nominations. This won’t spell wins all around because a late start to awards campaign can be another battle altogether.

So where do you stand with Cats? Does it stand a chance against other films competing for those coveted nominations? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Keean Johnson

Screenplay: James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

 

It would be incredibly hard to market a film like Alita: Battle Angel. Like Speed Racer a decade ago, the film is like a living anime, not something easily sellable in two minutes. There was immediate discussion about the main character’s appearance, as she had two large, cartoonish eyes. Many wondered if it was possible to view her as a relatable character when she looked so toony. I was concerned about that as well. Thank goodness that is not the case.

In Iron City, scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Downsizing) finds a destroyed cyborg with a working brain. He fixes it up, brings it back to life without any memory of her past, and gives her a name. Now, this cyborg, Alita (Rosa Salazar, Bird Box, Maze Runner: The Death Cure), is actively trying to learn more about her world, and she befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, Heritage Falls, TV’s Spooksville), a young man who dreams of rising out of Iron City into the floating sky city above them, Zalem. In her travels, Alita finds that her past is one of great importance, and she embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all the while being hunted by other nefarious cyborgs.

For starters, let’s talk about Alita. Rosa Salazar owns this role and this film. For a cyborg, her performance is incredibly human. She is a playful child in some ways as she rediscovers the world, and the emotions that exist within it. As far as the CG facial work, it’s hardly noticeable. It lends to a unique character, and it works quite well. After the first few moments, I found myself not even realizing that I was seeing CG and I just became lost in the character.

The supporting cast is mostly filled with talented work, but some performers, like Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TV’s True Detective) as Vector, the criminal entrepreneur, and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Only the Brave) as Dr. Chiren, Ido’s ex-wife, are given little to nothing to really do in the movie. Ali and Connelly do fine work with what their given, but it just isn’t enough to create the memorable characters both are capable of, and especially considering Ali’s most recent success with Moonlight and Green Book, it feels wasted.

Then there’s Hugo. I didn’t like Hugo as a character. I didn’t like the way he was written and I didn’t like the way he was portrayed. I didn’t like his lack of chemistry with Alita. It’s frustrating when he’s on film because I get what is being attempted, but it just never really hits.

Where director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Machete Kills) truly wins here is his knack for understanding and showcasing spectacle, something Alita: Battle Angel explodes with. Both Rodriguez and screenwriter James Cameron understand the spectacle of a true cinematic experience, and that’s what is accomplished with Alita. I just had so much fun in this true theater-going adventure, and it looks better than just about anything out there right now. It’s the kind of thing I’m looking forward to in the Avatar sequels, the sense of wild and incredible visual candy, and that’s what I got here.

Alita: Battle Angel stumbles with a few characters, but it’s also unlike anything I’ve seen on screen before. Director Robert Rodriguez swings for the fences, and it mostly works really well. This is the kind of film that begs for a sequel to further explore the world, the mythology, and the characters, and it may not get that, which is a true shame because Alita: Battle Angel did a lot of heavy lifting here, and it left me wanting more in the best possible way. Seek this one out on the biggest screen you can.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino’s Sin City, click here.

For my review of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 22 – Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Emilie Autumn, Barry Bostwick, Chantal Claret, Dayton Callie, Briana Evigan, Brea Grant, David Hasselhoff, Kristina Klebe, J. LaRose, Mighty Mike Murga, Bill Moseley, Ted Neely, Adam Pascal, Tech N9ne, Nivek Ogre, Marc Senter, Lyndon Smith, Paul Sorvino, Jimmy Urine, Danny Worsnop, Terrance Zdunich

Screenplay: Terrance Zdunich

97 mins. Not Rated.

 

I was very on the fence about The Devil’s Carnival. I really enjoyed the collaboration between director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Abattoir) and Terrance Zdunich (Chain of Souls) on Repo! The Genetic Opera, and I was hoping to feel that same fire again. Sadly, I did not. Hoping that the first shorter piece was just a fluke, I ventured into the sequel, a feature-length follow-up with a grander story. I was unpleasantly disappointed.

Lucifer (Zdunich) is sending a train filled with condemned souls back to heaven. Meanwhile, in Heaven,  God (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game) is figuring out a plan with his top Agent (Adam Pascal, Rent, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2). Back in Hell, Lucifer is telling one of his favorite stories about a woman named June (Emilie Autumn) and her time in Heaven.

There’s somehow even less of a story in this longer sequel to the original film. Many of the musical numbers toss around parables and information but most of it is far too convoluted for anyone to really connect with it. Zdunich clearly has a mind and eye for the fantastical, but it is just poorly executed here.

I liked some of the grander additions to the cast this time around. Emilie Autumn gets way more screentime and she is quite an interesting character. Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Incredibles 2) appears as The Watchword, a sort of journalist of Heaven. David Hasselhoff (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, TV’s Baywatch) is quite fun as The Designer. Ted Neely (Jesus Christ Superstar, Django Unchained) appears as The Publicist in a fun song-and-dancey performance that was enjoyable to watch. None of these interesting new characters are afforded the time in the film to raise its quality, though.

Sadly, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival starts out promising and then makes the same mistakes that its predecessor did. Instead of the first film being a bad fluke, perhaps Repo! was just a good fluke.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 15 – Witchboard (1986)

or “Still a better Ouija movie than the actual Ouija movie”

Director: Kevin Tenney

Cast: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, Burke Byrnes, Rose Marie

Screenplay: Kevin Tenney

96 mins. Rated R.

 

Making a movie about a Ouija board is really tough, everyone. Seriously, it’s must be truly difficult. How does one make a board game scary?

Jim Maror (Todd Allen, Django Unchained, My All-American) is trying his best to mend his relationship with childhood friend Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols, Merchants of Venus, TV’s Days of Our Lives). The biggest problem is that Jim’s girlfriend Linda (Tawny Kitaen, Bachelor Party, TV’s Moms Anonymous) used to date Brandon. At a party one night, Brandon introduces them to a Ouija board and the spirit of a ten-year-old boy named David that Brandon has communicated with many times before. Brandon forgets the Ouija board with Linda, who begins using it pretty regularly. As the same time, danger keeps befalling Jim. Are the two series of events connected or merely coincidence?

Witchboard has a problem that regularly happens in bad movies. I didn’t like Jim or Brandon. I marginally liked Linda, though she was mostly underdeveloped. Naturally, our male leads get better over time as they loosen up a bit, but they play like children fighting over a toy.

Director Kevin Tenney (Night of the Demons, Bigfoot) sets a nice tone for the film. It’s a nice mixture of lightheartedness and downright dread while never folding all the way to one side, but that’s about all it has to give.

All in all there’s problems abound in this movie, but I did enjoy the camp level of it, and I think that’s what you really have to have with a film like Witchboard. This isn’t planned as an Oscar film nor is it meant to please everyone. This is a prime example of a film you have to judge on its own merits. What is it trying to be and is it successful in that way? Witchboard is moderately successful as the cheap low-budget ghost story. There isn’t much for scares here, and the film isn’t as good as Tenney’s better effort Night of the Demons, but it is fun at times. Not very fun, but fun enough.

Witchboard is pretty much exactly what I expected. I was hoping for more effect fun for a film like this. We are dealing with a wacky ghost story trying to make a piece of cardboard scary, so I did want more. The film has fun, and the tone matches what I saw on screen. Witchboard is fine for genre fans, but I’m doubtful it will work for others.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 21 – Body Bags (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Cast: John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Screenplay: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

91 mins. Rated R for sexuality and horror violence.

 

Body Bags was to be the pilot episode of a series on Showtime to rival Tales from the Crypt. At some point during production, Showtime pulled the plug, leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. So was Body Bags not worth the time? I checked it out.

Body Bags is another anthology film, this one from John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). It features three stories with wraparound introductions from a Coroner played by Carpenter in heavy makeup. The Coroner is showing us how the bodies ended up in his morgue. The first story, “The Gas Station,” is a classic small set horror story that you might find in a pulp magazine about a young woman by herself running an overnight gas station and a killer stalking her. The second story, “Hair,” features Stacy Keach (American History X, Cell) as a balding man named Richard who wants more than anything to have thick lustrous locks, and he’s willing to sacrifice anything to get it. The final story, “Eye,” features baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Bunyan and Babe) who loses an eye in a car accident and gets a transplant, but the eye he gets isn’t the one he wants.

We’ve talked a lot about anthologies this month, and, as before, I’ll say it again: anthologies can be hit or miss. That being said, Body Bags is so much fun, the flaws hide behind the flavor. Having cameos from tons of other horror aficionados like Wes Craven and Roger Corman, Body Bags is a lot like desert for horror fans. It’s sweet and enjoyable and you can never have enough. I personally think the first story is the best one and it’s very simple, and Robert Carradine (Django Unchained, Tooth and Nail) is exemplary in it. The second and third stories are only flawed in that they are rather similar to each other. The framing device, though, is quite fun as John Carpenter just kind of lets loose and has fun in a very Cryptkeeper-esque role.

If anthologies and horror are your thing, then I highly recommend Body Bags. It’s not a film that pops up often and it isn’t always easy to find (I was able to hunt it down on my Roku for free, though), but if you can get a copy, I think you’ll be happy you did. It’s rare to see someone like Mark Hamill get to really flex some insanity, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 11 – Tusk (2014)

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Johnny Depp

Screenplay: Kevin Smith

102 mins. Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content.

 

When people ask filmmakers and storytellers where they get their ideas, I would imagine they rarely say, “from a podcast.” Well, that’s what happened to writer/director Kevin Smith (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Holidays). On his Smodcast show with Scott Mosier, the idea percolated throughout episode 259 until they came to the story that became Tusk, the first film in Smith’s planned Canada Trilogy.

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long, Live Free or Die Hard, Frank & Lola) is a host of the podcast The Not-See Party with best friend Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense, Almost Friends). Wallace plans to travel to Canada to interview the famous “Kill Bill” Kid, but when that plan falls through, Wallace finds another potential story at the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks, Kill Bill vol. 2, Django Unchained), an elderly man with a very interesting past and a loneliness for someone to bestow his tale upon. But Wallace quickly finds that he is in for more than mere stories when he is drugged by Howe and awakens with a few body improvements. Now, Teddy and Ally (Genesis Rodriguez, Big Hero 6, TV’s Dame Chocolate), Wallace’s girlfriend, must travel to the great north to find him with the help of famous inspector Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).

Tusk is a rather odd film. It appears on the surface to be a satirical take on the Body Horror Subgenre of films, but Smith plays it completely straight. Almost too straight in fact, as I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters in an interesting or emotional way. Smith’s famous dialogue is rather absent as Wallace, Teddy, and Ally are all flawed in a way that makes them too unlikable. The plot runs its course rather easily, but there is still fun to be had here. It just isn’t as blatant.

That being said, Michael Parks is excellent. The late great actor is a thespian of the odd and extreme, and he plays Howard perfectly. The scenes featuring him are the best in the film. I also loved Johnny Depp having a little bit of fun and not playing the same character that we’ve seen numerous times. It’s great seeing his push the envelope of LaPointe to strange new avenues, and I look forward to seeing how he is further developed in the concluding chapters of this trilogy.

The trilogy idea is rather fun as well, and Smith has already pushed on with Yoga Hosers with word on Moose Jaws unknown at the moment. It’s clear that Smith is interested in making his films for him and I can respect that. It just might not be all that lucrative.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 1 – It (1990)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Cast: Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Richard Masur, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Richard Thomas, Tim Curry

Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace, Lawrence D. Cohen

192 mins. Rated TV-14.

 

Ah, another October is here. And so we begin the 31 Days of Horror…come along with me.

The 2017 film It is based on the novel by Stephen King, but twenty-seven years ago, there was a miniseries movie event also based on the novel. A very popular and memorable miniseries, one wonders if it holds up.

It’s 1990, and there’s been another child murder in Derry, Maine. Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, By the Grace of Bob, TV’s Sister, Sister) arrives on the scene, and he’s now fully aware that It is back. He reaches out to his friends from childhood, some he hasn’t spoken to in 30 years, to see if he can get them to come back to Derry. Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, A Matter of Faith, TV’s Night Court) has become a successful comedian, but when he speaks to Mike, he knows he must go home. Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Django Unchained, Queen of the Lot) hasn’t changed much in 30 years, still living with his mother, but he feels compelled to go back to Derry. Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, We Go On, TV’s Smallville) has become a big player in fashion, but her childhood pain has taken a new form in partner and lover Tom. Ben Hanscom (John Ritter, Sling Blade, TV’s Three Company) has lost the weight as well as his self-respect, but his love for Beverly drives him back. Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Anesthesia, TV’s The Waltons) may be a successful novelist, but his regret for the death of his brother Georgie has followed him all his life. Stan Uris (Richard Masur, The Thing, Don’t Think Twice) isn’t sure he’s ready to face It again. The Loser’s Club must all go back to Derry, together, in order to finally put a stop to It, a creature that has inhabited Derry for hundreds of years, often taking the form of a dancing clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Axel: The Biggest Little Hero).

The novel this miniseries is based on is a massive tome, and to fit all of it into a three-hour-runtime is a huge feat, but director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Vampires: Los Muertos) manages to hit the most important notes on his way to the finish line, but the troubles of a television miniseries movie in the 90s didn’t allow the meat of the novel to be shown. The performances are as good as the script, which again, hits all the plot beats but doesn’t give enough time to any of the characters to really flesh them out. It’s a nice experience if you’ve read the novel, but it just doesn’t give enough to viewers.

Tim Curry’s work as Pennywise is exemplary, however, and is the biggest reason this film has stayed so popular over so many years. His playfulness as Pennywise turns on a dime to become menacing and frightful, and it just works so well. It’s a shame, though, that he just doesn’t have a lot to do in the film.

There’s a lot of talk about both incarnations of It and how the adults are/will be portrayed, and what I don’t get is how much time in the miniseries is given to the adults. For a large amount of the book, the adults are relegated to second-tier status and framing devices to allow for the youth stories to be told. That’s why I don’t understand why the adults get roughly 60% of the screen time in this film. Sure, they are important, but the kids are much more so to the character and plot of the film.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong in It, but the movie is kind of plain. It just isn’t scary. Tim Curry’s terrific performance just can’t save the film, and it just wasn’t going to work as a television presentation. Having seen the 2017 film, I can tell you that it does work as a film (I cannot speak to the 1997 Indian adaptation Woh, but that’s for another time), but on TV, It loses all of its teeth.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.

 

 

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Sleepless (2017)

Director: Baran bo Odar

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Gabrielle Union, Scoot McNairy

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

95 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Sleepless is the story of Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Baby Driver), a corrupt cop who steals a cocaine shipment from Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Dirty Grandpa). When Rubino’s men assault Vincent and kidnap his son, the crooked cop needs to retrieve the coke and return it. Matters are further complicated by Internal Affairs agents Bryant (Michelle Monaghan, Source Code, Mission: Impossible III) and Dennison (David Harbour, Suicide Squad, TV’s Stranger Things). Now, time is not on Vincent’s side as he navigates the city in order to save his son and keep his cover from being blown.

It’s hard to defend a movie when its star can’t even find good in it. Jamie Foxx has come out numerous times refusing to give any merit to Sleepless, and he’s right. There isn’t anything good here, including Foxx’s performance. He is one-note, unlikable, and uninteresting.

That’s not all. I didn’t really like anyone in the film. Mulroney and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire) are both flat villains, not given enough room to play. The Internal Affairs agents are both fools for not being able to put together that Vincent has been crooked. There just isn’t anything good in this remake of the foreign language Sleepless Night.

Director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I, The Silence) has delivered a hollow husk of a thriller that is neither thrilling nor redeemable. The screenplay, from Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father) trips over itself, falling into cliché. The final twist does nothing to the plot or the characters worth speaking about.

Sleepless is, not surprisingly, bad. It starts with a premise not all that good and underwhelms sluggishly to its end. This is a forgettable experience. I’d certainly like to forget it.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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