At the Movies 2016: Jason Bourne

Jason BourneJason Bourne
USA 2016
Written by Paul Greengrass & Christopher Rouse
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Watched on 14.08.2016

“Jason Bourne” is yet another one of this year’s sequels that were made solely out of commercial interests, and not because someone had a good and interesting idea for it. Sometimes, with the right team, even that can work (see last years “Jurassic World”). And even though it’s just a rehash, it’s at least still better than “The Bourne Legacy”. However, rarely has a sequel seemed so unnecessary and also kind of outdated than this one.

When “The Bourne Identity” came around, it felt fresh and new. By then – as evidenced by “Die Another Day” – James Bond (arguably Bourne’s biggest rival) was stuck in kind of a rut, putting too much emphasis on gimmicks, gadgets, hyperreality and self-parody. Bourne was the logical response to that, offering a harder, more serious and also more down-to-earth alternative. The sequels, with Paul Greengrass on directing duty, were also crucial in establishing a new style for action film, for which movie critic Vern coined the phrase “Post-Action”. Personally, I might not like it, but I still can acknowledge that in the following years, almost all action films followed the template that the Bourne-movies established. Recently, however, we’ve (thank god) seen a comeback of more comprehensibly shot action, with longer, fluid scenes without any cuts, slow motion etc. Thus, the action presented here feels strangely out of date. Then there’s the fact that, very much following the Bourne-model, the Bond-reboot with Daniel Craig also went tougher and more down-to-earth. Back then, I was very skeptical about this approach, claiming that instead of trying to do Bourne 2.0, they should rather cater to Bond’s strength – the charm, the humor etc. – and emphasize what it is that sets him apart from the competition. However, in pretty much copying Bourne, they managed to make him obsolete – as proven by “Jason Bourne”. The former pioneer has become the dinosaur, desperately hunting after its own success. And in a world where the 007-films recently managed to successfully merge the old and the new, and where the “Mission Impossible”-movies keep getting better and better, an argument can be made that we don’t need Jason Bourne any more. Sadly, the fifth movie of the franchise fails to belie that statement, and to make him relevant again.

That’s far from the only problem of the movie, though. It also suffers tremendously form the fact that Bourne’s story was concluded in the trilogy, and it’s obvious that they struggled to find a good reason to bring him back. All three previous movies had some sort of mystery that hooked you right away: Bourne’s amnesia in “Identity”, the way he gets framed in “Supremacy”, and finally, the background of the Treadstone-program that he was a part of in “Ultimatum”. This time, however, the new revelation – about his father’s role in the program – is hardly interesting, and (worst of all) retcons one of my favorite parts of “Ultimatum”: Bourne finding out that Webb volunteered for the program. There are also almost no connections to the previous movies. Apart from Bourne (and some flashbacks), Nikki is the only veteran to appear, and even she’s only there to get the ball rolling, and exits the movie almost as quickly as she appeared. Which is another reason why the whole movie, like “Legacy”, feels tacked on (instead of an organic continuation of the story, like the first two Bourne-sequels did). Then there’s the fact that I just didn’t think that the story that they told here was especially interesting and/or revelatory (so the CIA is spying on us. Huh. Never would have guessed!). And as much as I can understand that Greengrass wanted to keep visual continuity with the previous movies, in neglecting the recent trend in action movies for more elegance and clarity, “Jason Bourne” (in stark contrast to his predecessors) feels outdated, instead of revolutionary (or at least contemporary).

Despite all of that, it’s slightly better than “Legacy”, and overall, even though its doubtless a totally unnecessary sequel, it’s not a terrible movie in itself. Mostly, that’s due to the action scenes, with the first pursuit in Greece as well as the car chase in Las Vegas two particular highlights. His very fast and shaky style of directing action scenes might not be my personal favorite, but compared to many of his imitators, Greengrass at least knows what he’s doing. Thus, he manages to keep at least some clarity that lets you decipher what’s going on. Part of that is due to the fact that compared to others, while he might shake the camera around quite a bit, he at least mostly cuts only about once every second (compared to five to six times, as I’ve counted in “Taken 3”, for example). Also, when he cuts, he does so in a way that one shot flows into the other, kinda telling the story of the moment. I might not like his style, but at least he’s mastered it like few others have, and that definitely counts for something. And shaky-cam or not, the chase in Las Vegas was quite spectacular. Despite anything, it was also nice to see Jason Bourne again (even though the place where we find him in the beginning was definitely reminiscent of “Rambo III”). I also quite enjoyed Heather Lee (played by the wonderful Alicia Vikander, who is very good even when she phones it in, as she seemed to do here), who I felt was a great addition to the Bourne-lore. And despite its shortcomings, “Jason Bourne” at least was mostly entertaining. Unlike the trilogy though, which I’ll definitely revisit again soon, I highly doubt that I’ll ever watch it (or “Legacy”, for that matter) again, and overall, I think it’s high time to lay the franchise to rest once and for all.
5/10


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At the Movies 2016: Independence Day – Resurgence

Independence Day ResurgenceIndependence Day: Resurgence
USA 2016
Written by Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich & James Vanderbilt
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Watched on 16.07.2016

“Resurgence” is just one of many sequels this year for which arguably no one asked for except the film studio, which is hoping to make a quick buck out of nostalgia. Before we head into the movie itself I have to point out that – even though as Science Fiction-geek you’d think that it would be right up my ally – I’m not the biggest fan of ID4 (1996 edition). I actually was very disappointed back then, and even though I came to appreciate it more as years went by, I never really got what all the fuzz was about.

However, although I might not be its biggest fan, even I have to concede that if nothing else, “Independence Day” at least offered an apocalyptic spectacle on a scale that back then, had never been seen before. Which already brings us to one of the biggest problems of “Resurgence”. Back in 1996, “Independence Day” offered something new. Now, its old news, and if anything, I actually grew rather tired of all these destroyed buildings and cities in recent past, be it in disaster (“San Andreas”, “2012”) or superhero movies (“Man of Steel”, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “X-Men: Apocalypse”). Also, while “Independence Day” told a fictitious (and arguably not especially realistic) story about an alien invasion that was very much set in the world as we knew it back then, “Resurgence” plays in some sort of alternate reality (since the world of ID4 understandably has changed considerably in the last 20 years, and is very different from the one that we know). Which, while possibly the only aspect where this one actually diverges from the first one (because the humans now also have advanced technology, like space ships, ray guns etc.), also means that it’s harder to relate to what’s going on, and you also miss at least part of the “David against Goliath”-appeal.

With a shorter running time (and even that feels kinda stretched, given totally redundant subplots like the one around Levinson’s father and the children, which leads absolutely nowhere, and is completely superfluous and unnecessary), this also immediately feels less epic, and also means that “Resurgence” spends considerable less time to set up its world and especially its characters. Jeff Goldblum is the only one who breathes some life into his character – and also the movie – the rest is stuck with roles that register less as full-on characters and more like tokens who fulfill a certain function. Also, Will Smith’s swagger is truly missed (and that’s coming from someone who’s not his biggest fan). Apart from the few instances where they quote the first one, the score also is totally forgettable. There are also no moments here even half as iconic as the shot of the White House getting destroyed, or President Whitmore’s rousing speech. And even though there are a couple of new ideas, ultimately “Resurgence” simply can’t shake its “been there, done that”-impression.

However, the fact that it’s worse than the first “Independence Day”-film doesn’t automatically mean that it’s bad. There are still a few things to enjoy here. Emmerich definitely hasn’t unlearned how to present gripping, spectacular action scenes, and also doesn’t bow to the recent – if by now thankfully mostly passed, it seems – trend of shooting the action as incomprehensible as possible, giving them almost an old-fashioned feel. It’s not just the action, though. The disaster scenes also seem far more sophisticated, from a picture composition-point of view, than in many movies with similar levels of destruction. “Resurgence” also presents a nice mix of old and new characters, and I really appreciated the depiction of a gay relationship (probably the first in a big budget-popcorn-blockbuster-movie like this?). And the effects, even though I missed the model work of the first one, were mostly flawless. As far as “shut off your brain and let yourself get washed over by a movie”-entertainment goes, “Resurgence” is serviceable enough. However, the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of the first one might actually have helped my impression of it, since even though it might be a weaker and totally unnecessary sequel, I at least feel no need to be angry at it (since in my case it’s not besmearing a beloved classic). Which might make this the rare sequel that could appeal more to those who have similarly muted feelings about the first one, than those who hold it in high esteem.
5/10


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At the Movies 2016: Maggie’s Plan

Maggies PlanMaggie’s Plan
USA 2016
Written by Rebecca Miller & Karen Rinaldi
Directed by Rebecca Miller
Watched on 16.08.2016

In my review of “Radio Dreams”, I mentioned that at the moment, I’m just not into movies that are too ponderous and/or demanding. Thus, “Maggie’s Plan” proved to be a perfect choice (thanks for the tip, Kalafudra!), since it was funny, entertaining and light – but at the same time proving that those attributes don’t automatically mean that a movie also has to be shallow, trite and run-of-the-mill.

The first 20-30 minutes are already quite entertaining, but for me, the movie really took off once we jumped ahead three years. That’s also when Maggie’s titular plan is conceived and set in motion, and I have to say, I don’t recall seeing a similar plot in a romantic comedy and/or drama before (then again, I don’t claim to have seen all of them). Anyway, I really liked the concept, and also the very down-to-earth and sober approach that the movie (mostly) followed when it comes to affairs, divorce, and the slow dissolve of a relationship. I mean, there are already tons of movies out there with a lot of drama, which is perfect when you want to cry your eyes out (special recommendation: “Blue Valentine”). And of course, breakups like that are never easy, and thus, that approach also is more than valid. But it was nice to see it handled differently here. I also liked all of the characters, especially because none of them is perfect. Maggie is a schemer (one might even go so far as to call her a manipulative bitch, even though she usually acts only with best intentions), John a selfish immature man-child, and Georgette seems – at least at first – self-absorbed and emotionally distant. However, since they also have their good sides, and none of us is perfect either, this just made them more endearing (and true-to-life) for me. This is especially true for Maggie, who is an admirably strong, independent, determined and quite practical woman. But ultimately, all of them had their redeeming qualities (ok, maybe with the exception of John, who really seemed like a self-centered, immature prick who doesn’t know what he wants… but then again, I might see more of myself in him than I’d care to admit).

The script is great; not just the story, but also the dialogue. There were plenty of funny lines, some of which had me laugh out loud, and there were a couple of jokes that I’ll (hopefully) remember for quite a while. The cast is great too, even though with these performers, I didn’t really expect anything else. Ethan Hawke is in his “Linklater”-mode here (and yes, that’s a compliment), the ever-reliable Julianne Moore (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad performance from her) is great as always (even though her accent was a little distracting at first), and Greta Gerwig continues to be one of the most interesting young actresses that Hollywood has to offer right now. I usually don’t watch movies just because a certain actor or actress appears in them, but with Gerwig, I’m getting close. It was not just the main cast, though. Bill Hader gave another great, subdued performance here, as did Maya Rudolph. There also was something adorable about Travis Fimmel’s Guy, and I again was amazed how great and natural child performances usually are nowadays. Is it perfect? Not quite. There’s the occasional trope that snuck in, like the one where someone hides a big secret from the other person, which then of course has to come out and lead to some sort of big falling out, which is rather worn out by now. Granted, it arguably was unavoidable in this case, but especially in a movie that otherwise feels quite fresh, original and out of the ordinary, such tropes stick out like a sore thumb. As important as it might have been to set up the story, the first third, which is set before the time jump, isn’t quite on par with the rest of the movie. And the ending (first the on-the-nose scene concerning her daughter, and then the coincidental appearance of a certain character) felt a little forced. Apart from that, however, “Maggie’s Plan” was absolutely delightful.
8/10


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At the Movies 2016: Radio Dreams

Radio DreamsRadio Dreams
USA 2016
Written by Babak Jalali
Directed by Babak Jalali & Aida Ahadiany
Watched on 13.08.2016

“Radio Dreams” was the Viennale surprise preview at this years “Kino wie noch nie” open air-festival, and I have to be honest with you: If I would have known in advance what they were going to show, I wouldn’t have watched it. Currently, I’m simply not in the mood for ponderous, gloomy, heavy and/or artsy films, preferring livelier and more mainstream stuff. Thus, when reading this review, please bear in mind that there’s a slim chance that I would have liked it better in October, during the actual Viennale (assuming my taste is going to shift again until then).

While not a bad movie, I’m afraid I didn’t have much use for it. What I enjoyed was its portrayal of Iranians living in the US, the struggles of a local radio station that’s catering to a very specific audience, the constant conflict between commercial and artistic interests, as well as the stories that Hamid told on the radio (albeit they were a tad too long, and also often without a satisfying conclusion). I also liked the basic idea within the movie of bringing the first rock band from Afghanistan and Metallica together, in order to encourage cultural exchange, understanding, and thus, peace. Overall though, there was little here that really grabbed my interest. The movie pandered along at a leisurely pace, some stuff (like everything about the guy that tries to talk the singer into starting a wrestling career) was too weird for my taste, and most of the humor also fell flat for me. Thus, despite its short running time, I got bored rather quickly. It’s never a good sign when a movie fades to black and you’re hoping that this will be the end (alas, in this case, it wasn’t, but at least the epilogue only lasted 2-3 minutes). So ultimately, as much as I might appreciate it from a cultural diversity-angle, I didn’t really get the point.
4/10


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At the Movies 2016: Everybody Wants Some

Everybody Wants SomeEverybody Wants Some
USA 2016
Written by Richard Linklater
Directed by Richard Linklater
Watched on 02.06.2016

In May, the Viennese Gartenbaukino showed a big retrospective of John Carpenters work. I watched 12 of the 13 films for which they offered screenings, and before each and every one of them, they showed the trailer for Richard Linklaters newest film, “Everybody Wants Some”. Now, in general, I’d count myself as a fan of his work (especially the “Before”-trilogy and “Boyhood”), but somehow, the trailer for “Everybody Wants Some” didn’t really appeal to me. I had already seen it before, and watching it 12 more times in the Gartenbaukino did nothing to pique my interest; thus, I had no plans of watching it in the cinema. However, then a friend of mine won tickets for a free screening, and I figured: What the heck. Ultimately, I don’t regret seeing it, but am also under the impression that I wouldn’t have missed much if I’d have skipped it.

Probably one of the reasons why I wasn’t that interested in “Everybody Wants Some” is that it’s about a world that’s far removed from my own personal experience. I never was that much into sports, let alone part of a professional (high school/college) team. I’m also not that much of a competitive person. And colleges (or universities) are very different here in Austria compared to the US. There are no big campuses with dorms etc., we either still live at home with our parents, are lucky enough to be able to afford a small apartment, or share a flat with someone. Thus, I have almost zero personal connection to the world depicted here. Now, that obviously doesn’t prevent the movie from still being interesting from a mere anthropological point of view, but it also means that there was very little here with which I could connect personally, be it the characters, the situations they find themselves in, et cetera. And I think that’s worth mentioning especially because, to me, “Everybody Wants Some” seemed to draw heavily on invoking certain nostalgic feelings in its audience – something that, in my case, was doomed to fail from the get-go. Thus, it’s fair to say that I’m not its intended target audience.

Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, though. I’m pretty sure that you’ll like it even more when you actually got a personal connection to the world and/or the times depicted here, but even without it, and without having any nostalgic feelings invoked by it, I had a rather good time, and liked it way better than I had expected after that trailer, which made it look like the umpteenth raunchy teenager/stoner-comedy, but completely missed to depict its heart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it wouldn’t also be about girls, alcohol, weed and sex, but it’s a smaller part of the movie than the trailer would have you believe. Instead, over the course of almost two hours, we get to know these characters, all very different, none of them perfect, and all quite immature, but in an endearing kind of way. At that age, you haven’t figured yourself out yet, let alone the world around you, and “Everybody Wants Some” nicely captures this age of not quite being a teenager any more, but also not yet a full-on adult. Being a sucker for corny love stories, I also quite liked the romance between Jake and Beverly (Zoey Deutch is completely adorable in this). There were a couple of funny scenes and hilarious moments. And the soundtrack, obviously, was awesome.

All of that though couldn’t change the fact that I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. And even though it was mostly entertaining, there were also some stretches of these young adults talking to each other and philosophizing about life and what not, being not even half as clever as they think they are (which, obviously, is the point), which are fun at first, but get a little tiresome after a while. And overall, “Everybody Wants Some” is mostly talk, with some conversations being more entertaining/interesting than others. Overall, it was ok, and I don’t regret seeing it, but it didn’t touch me on a deeply personal level the way some of Linklater’s earlier work did.
6/10


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At the Movies 2016: X-Men Apocalypse


X-Men ApocalypseX-Men: Apocalypse

USA 2016
Written by Simon Kinberg
Directed by Bryan Singer
Watched on 25.05.2016

I understand the lukewarm reception that this movie got by critics as well as the audience. In a year that’s full of superhero movies – many of which offer something distinctive (like “Deadpool”‘s R-rated brutality and humor, the superhero-mashup “Captain America: Civil War”, or the clash of two of the most iconic superheroes ever in the – ultimately inferior – “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), “Apocalypse” feels somewhat stale. We’re a little surfeited by these kinds of movies by now, and especially in a year with such an oversupply, this “more of the same”-offering just will be this one – formulaic – movie too much. One might even say that, even though it’s a better movie than “Dawn of Justice”, it’s ultimately less remarkable. Nevertheless, I’d argue that even though it’s nothing special, that’s a long way off from it actually being bad.

Granted, even apart from the fact that the movie is content with walking on well-trodden paths (hell, even the predecessor – which “Apocalypse” falls short of – offered something special, with the meeting of the X-Men generations), this most recent outing of the “X-Men”-franchise isn’t perfect. There are so many characters by now that it’s inevitable that some of them will fall by the wayside. The bad guy is as clichéd and unimpressive as can be. The “We have to save the world!”-plot couldn’t be any more generic (seriously, smaller stakes from time to time really wouldn’t hurt). The CGI-destruction-sequences of entire cities are so common by now that, even when they’re done well, it’s simply dull and tiresome. Also, by now, the continuity of these X-Men-movies is pretty fucked up; better not try to make sense of why this is happening here, but arguably didn’t happen in the original timeline. Then there’s the age of some of the characters. Not even taking into account scenes from movies of the earlier timeline (where thew showed Jean Grey, in the early 80s, as a young child), some of the ages simply don’t match. Xavier, Lehnsherr and Raven (ok, granted, she at least can adjust her appearance at will) don’t look that much older from their first appearance in “First Class” (even though almost twenty years have passed), and on the other hand, it’s difficult to see them age into their characters from the first “X-Men”-movie in less than two decades. And don’t even let me get started on the whole Nightcrawler-business. And finally, I can’t decide if the jest about weak third parts of trilogies was meant as self-mockery, or as yet another dig on “Last Stand”.

However, there are also a couple of things that Bryan Singer does right that many other directors could take note of. For example, even in the biggest mayhem, his focus is always on the characters. Despite everything that goes on around them, as colossal, important, urgent and apocalyptic as it might be, he always takes the time for these little, sometimes quite touching moments where everything slows down and becomes quiet, and suddenly, it’s all about the characters and how all of that affects them. Which is exactly why, despite all the other, generic shit that went on around them, this never felt like a soulless CGI-fest. Contrary to some other movies (like the otherwise superior “Civil War”), “Apocalypse” also made good use of 3D again, with a couple of nice shots that benefited from the extra dimension. There were a couple of standout-moments (like – as with the predecessor – the hilarious Quicksilver-scene), I really liked Bryan Singers calm(er, compared to some of his competitors) direction, John Ottman’s score was more than solid, and the cast – inasmuch as they actually got something to do – was really good. Probably the best part of the movie, however, once again was everything about Erik Lehnsherr. When we first see him, he left Magneto behind, and leads a new life with his wife and his young daughter. Of course, we immediately know that things will turn sour very quickly, but that doesn’t make said turn any less tragic and/or devastating. It also provides Magneto with an understandable motivation (compared to Apocalypse, who simply wants to destroy the world, because… reasons!). Ultimately, Lehnsherr/Fassbender ist the heart and soul of this movie, and without him, “Apocalypse” would be considerable inferior. As it is, it’s hardly revelatory, and offers standard fare that isn’t going to wow anyone. And if you’re already sick of these formulaic superhero movie, than this is not for you. However, as someone who is a fan of the genre, and can still enjoy even the most generic offering, as long as it’s done well, I have a hard time condemning it. Yes, it may be as run-of-the-mill as they get, but if you’re a fan of the series, you should find enough here to keep you entertained.
7/10


IMDB

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/slash ½ 2016 – Day 3: The Mind’s Eye

The Mind's EyeThe Mind’s Eye
USA 2015
Written by Joe Begos
Directed by Joe Begos
Watched on 01.05.2016

“The Mind’s Eye” proved to be typical for what we in Austria call a “Rausschmeißer” – in this case not meaning the bouncer who doesn’t let you into a club, but rather the last song (or, in this case, movie) that’s played so that everyone gets the fuck up and leaves. In that regard, “The Mind’s Eye” proved to be quite successful. In most others, however, it was decidedly less so.

Let’s start with the few good things that I can say about this movie: There were a couple of good moments and interesting ideas (even though they were few and far between). I also liked that Begos, fully knowing that when a telekinetic starts to kill people, we automatically expect exploding heads (thanks to David Cronenberg), decided to take a different approach with his first kill (which, however, only made it even more regrettable that he went back to that cliché afterwards). I really liked Lauren Ashley Carter in this role. In “Pod”, she suffered from a terribly written character, and even though her role here also isn’t that great and/or big (and she really should stop appearing in all this bad movies), she ends up pretty much being the best thing about it. And director and cinematographer Joe Begos offers up some nice images, thanks to his considerate lightning of some scenes (though even that starts to get old over the course of the movie, since he goes overboard with it). Yeah… and that’s about it.

So, what’s not so good about it? First, it has to be said that “The Mind’s Eye” is very trashy and low-budget, and while I usually don’t have a problem with that, in this case, it occasionally felt a little bit too amateurish to me. This is especially true when it comes to the acting. Everyone with the exception of Carter and Fessenden is pretty bad; however, John Speredakos, who plays the villain, definitely takes the crown in that department, giving an absolutely terrible performance the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite a while. I was also disappointed with some of the characters, especially Rachel. It seems that for Joe Begos, women only have one purpose in films: To give character motivation for the main protagonist. Like Bryan Adams, everything – and I mean every fucking damn thing – that Zack does, he does for her, while she only gets one halfway strong moment in the spotlight. Thus, she ultimately proves to be quite a disposable character (which the movie actually disposes of for quite a long stretch of its running time).

Where Begos also failed is in finding an interesting way to portray the telekinetic duels. Once again, it boils down to two people staring at each other, which I found embarrassing at best, and unintentionally hilarious at worst. What’s more, “The Mind’s Eye” proved to be rather dull. Despite a reasonable running time of slightly under 90 minutes, it dragged along considerably, and ended up getting pretty lame. By the time the face-offs between the telekinetics come around, the audience in the theatre was already so bored, exhausted and lethargic, that even all the blood and gore didn’t make them applaud and cheer – and with THAT audience, that’s really an accomplishment (albeit not a good and/or laudable one). Some might pin this on the fact that “The Mind’s Eye” was the fifth and final movie of the day, starting at 1:00 a.m., but trust me, I’ve seen lots of movies in that time slot that still got huge audience reactions. But at least from my point of view, by the time all that blood and gore finally shows up, it was already past remedy. By then I simply was far too tired of the whole thing, and thus couldn’t have cared less about anything that happened on-screen. It was far too little, far too late, in order to save the movie.

Now, I’ll give you that: It at least isn’t quite as bad as the similarly themed SciFi-channel-production “Momentum” (from 2003). However, that’s hardly an accomplishment, and thus also not really what you’d call a ringing endorsement. I wouldn’t quite go as far as saying that I’d rather have my head explode before watching it again, but that’s about all the praise and commendation that I’m willing to extend towards “The Mind’s Eye”. Make of that what you will.
3/10

IMDB

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