FLICKS: A Monster Calls, Manchester by the Sea & For a Few Dollars More

Posted on 12 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


After hearing the tragic news from the Ft. Lauder-dale Hollywood International Airport, I went to see a movie whose primary theme featured the terror of grief, A Monster Calls. Based on an award-winning young adult novel written by Patrick Ness (from an idea by Siobhan Dowd), A Monster Calls has received a low box-office return. However, given the vast visualization and emotional wallop, you should see it on the big screen for genuine popcorn-eating fun and entertainment.

12-year-old Connor (Lewis McDougall) wakes up each morning at 12:07 a.m. with a reoccurring nightmare, that he cannot rescue his mother (Felicity Jones – Rogue One) from a pit. His mother is battling cancer and Connor channels his fears into his art. Inspired by his mother’s love of the original King Kong, Connor envisions his own monster (voiced by Liam Neeson), who forces him to listen to three stories. Upon completion of the three stories, the monster demands that Connor tell him his own story and it must be the truth.

Directed by J.A. Boyona, this film is filled with allegory enhanced by quality special effects. However, it is the human exchanges between his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) and principal (Geraldine Chaplin) that pack the most emotional wallop for the protagonist, Connor. I wished I saw A Monster Calls a week ago. It would have made my Top 10 list.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea also focuses on grief. Last Sunday night, Casey Affleck took home a Golden Globe for his performance as Lee Chandler, a tortured man who loses a brother (Kyle Chandler) and is given custody of his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Unlike the tortured Connor from A Monster Calls, Patrick is a callow high-school student who is both popular and a two-timing ladies’ man. Given the horrible history with his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), Lee does not have the emotional strength to mentor his nephew.

Minus monsters and special effects, Manchester by the Sea is pure and painful realism, with moments of humor and beautiful New England cinematography. This film is a roller coaster ride. A funny scene involving slapstick and a refrigerator freezer becomes an emotional breakdown for one of the characters that is painful to watch. However, this scene provides much character revelation and alters the family dynamic for the rest of the film.

While both films deal with subjects that we would like to avoid, both Manchester by the Sea and A Monster Calls are fine dramas for a matinee afternoon price.

For more escapist entertainment, Silverspot Cinemas in Coconut Creek will screen the second Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone spaghetti western, For a Few Dollars More, on Monday evening. Before the 7 p.m. screening, a spaghetti dinner with a glass of wine and tiramisu will be served, along with some popcorn [for $23]. Details: www.silverspot.net.

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FLICKS: Top 10 list & future features

Posted on 05 January 2017 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


flicks010517For 17 years, this first column of the year has been devoted to picking the best movies of the previous year. These choices follow the Aristotelian rules for good drama: story, character development and spectacle that enhances the first two rules. So, in no particular order, except in reverse alphabetical, here is the top ten list (in box).

Future films

Holding back for Oscar season, local theaters will be graced soon with Karen Allen and Celia Imrie in Year by the Sea directed by J.A. Boyona. A Monster Calls is based on an award-winning young adult novel by Patrick Ness (from an idea by the late Siobhan Dowd) and features Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and the voice of Liam Neeson.

The king of all monsters returns to the big screen in Kong: Skull Island, featuring an all star cast starring Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman. A week later, in March, Disney will create the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast featuring Emma Watson.

Introduced 17 years ago in X-Men, Hugh Jackman returns as the Wolverine in Logan. After performing in eight motion pictures, Jackman will be hanging up his character’s adamantium claws following this final performance as Logan, the wolverine.

For those with no plans for Valentine’s Day, 50 Shades Darker opens. For a movie franchise that no one admits to enjoying, expect this movie to have a spectacular box office on opening weekend. 2017 will be a unique year.

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FLICKS: 2016 in review

Posted on 29 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


This column completes my 17th year in which my picture has been associated with Flicks, which is as long as Dan Marino’s career with the Miami Dolphins. Since 1999, I have written through five presidential elections, covered over 30 film festivals in Broward, Palm Beach and Dade counties and reviewed closed to a 1000 films for The Observer. I am very thankful that people still have an interest in my opinion about the movies.

2016 has been an interesting year for the business. The biggest blockbusters (Finding Dory. Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Deadpool) were released in the first half of the year. With the exception of Sully and Rogue One, the second half of the year suffered from a disappointing box office performance.

There can be many factors that have caused cinema’s deflating box office: riveting news coverage of the election and terrorism attacks, sports drama featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs and even the Miami Dolphins having their first winning season in eight years. The common denominator is that television programming has done much to erode the cinema box office.

In November 2016, the Ft. Lauderdale International film Festival promoted the motion picture industry in our community. Gregory Von Hausch, Jan Mitchell, Erin Fontes, Melissa Fresita, Lenny Wong and a crew of hundreds efficiently screened films from all over the world and hosted informative interviews from Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Arlene Dahl to a young talent like Bailee Madison.

Currently on the big screen is Lion, which earned the FLIFF “best in the fest” award. This film is truly representative of international filmmaking for it was produced in both Australia and India, featuring Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman in an important supporting role.

Sixteen years ago, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me was an independent motion picture that shocked the Hollywood mainstream by earning multiple Oscar nominations. This year’s Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea has earned honors on the cinema awards circuit. It is a drama about grief, but features some satisfying realistic humor.

My goal is to continue to write this column for at least another two years. However, I am concerned that I may be as extinct as the dinosaur. Stay tuned, I will do my best to keep stories interesting in 2017. Happy New Year!

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FLICKS: Rogue One

Posted on 24 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


Forty years ago this week, Dino DeLaurentis’ version of King Kong was released on the big screen. Pompano Cinema had an actor in a gorilla suit roam around the marquee growling at patrons. Despite making the cover of Time magazine, the film was a disappointment, given the big budget and poor special effects. Six months later, Star Wars was released and movie special effects have been a constant on the big screen for 39 years.

The biggest use of special effects of Rogue One is not the space battles or spectacular fight on a sandy beach, but digital recreations of two characters from the original Star Wars. To reveal more would be considered spoilers, but know that the uncanny attention to detail will be honored at this season’s awards ceremonies.

Rogue One is an experiment from the Star Wars cannon. It is a standalone film from the Star Wars universe that George Lucas created that Walt Disney studios now owns. Some classic Star Wars characters from the previous seven episodes make appearances, but Rogue One introduces new characters and tells an original story.

Much like the late Robert Oppenheimer’s nuclear experiments, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is a scientist who creates a weapon of mass destruction. When Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) forces Galen to design the Death Star for the Empire, Galen hides his daughter from the Empire’s gestapo.

Fifteen years later, Galen’s daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is found by the Empire and is jailed. Led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the Rebel Alliance break Jyn out of prison. With hidden motives, the Rebel Alliance recruit Jyn in an effort to stop her father from building the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Unlike the opening of the seven previous Star Wars movies, Rouge One opens in a leisurely way. The middle of the film drags a bit and suffers from some murky cinematography. But it redeems itself in the final third of the film with spectacular action sequences. With tragic overtones, Rogue One is not as kiddie-friendly as previous Star Wars movies. It is a pure war movie, with echoes of The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen.

Is Rogue One the movie to see this Christmas weekend? It most definitely is if you are a science fiction fan or a devotee of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury or Robert Heinlein.

For a more human-driven drama, this holiday weekend offers award nominees Fences, starring Denzel Washington, and the animated Sing, featuring the voices of Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey.

Merry Christmas!

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FLICKS: The Spirit of Krampus, Christmas movies & more

Posted on 15 December 2016 by LeslieM

flicks121516By Dave Montalbano


For that past five years at The Spooky Empire, I have observed the teamwork between a mother and her son, Cheryl A. Thayer-Blackford and her son, Jarrad Walker. These two are cosplayers, and their costumes are eye catching and unique. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that Jarrad is in a motorized vehicle, for he did not have use of his legs. Over the summer and under consultation with medical doctors, Jarrad had his legs amputated to improve the quality of his life.

Yet, as early as April, Jarrad planned to attend The Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Weekend as the Anti-Santa Claus – Krampus. When Hurricane Matthew forced the closing of Spooky Empire in October, Jarrad was more than prepared for Spooky Empire’s Halloween for Christmas. Cheryl and Jarrad’s perseverance paid off, for Krampus won The Spooky Empire Best Exhibition Costume Contest.

Best known for providing lumps of coal in the Christmas stockings of naughty children, Krampus represents the dark side of Santa Claus. By acknowledging his own tribulation through Krampus, Jarrad provided another lesson about the importance of the human spirit rising over adversity.

Happening this week:

Moana ruled the box office for the third weekend in a row. Moana has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, along with Moonlight, which is currently on the big screen in local theaters.

While lacking a Golden Globe nomination but with plenty marketing hype, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens tomorrow. Manchester by the Sea also opens tomorrow with much awards buzz. Already nominated for five Golden Globe nominations, Manchester by the Sea is on track to stay on the big screen until the Oscar ceremony in late February.

Stay-at-home holiday movies:

For those who seek a return to memory lane, there are always DVDs. Sitting on the shelf at your local library is the annual classic Miracle on 34th Street. Starring Maureen O’Hara and a very young Natalie Wood, this classic tale set in Manhattan feels as fresh today as it did when it was released 69 years ago. For his performance as Kris Kringle, Edmund Gwenn earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

While lacking the special effects of Disney motion picture, March of the Wooden Soldiers does feature a live action Mickey Mouse in a supporting role. Based on a Victor Herbert operetta, Babes in Toyland, March of the Wooden Soldiers stars Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy as toy makers who attempt to protect Little Bo Peep, the Three Little Pigs and the little old lady who lives in a shoe from the crooked man Barnaby Silas (Henry Brandon). This film is filled with much humor and charm that will surely put one in the Christmas spirit.

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FLICKS: The Brand New Testament & Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted on 08 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


A French language film with English subtitles, The Brand New Testament opens locally and may be talked about as a Best Foreign Language motion picture for awards season. This is an entertaining flick that confronts serious life issues, with a humorous bent. You will leave this screening with a smile on your face.

In the film, God is a curmudgeon who uses a computer to micromanage the affairs of humanity. Finding his behavior petty, God’s daughter talks to her brother J.C. (personified by a statue of Jesus), who encourages her to write The Brand New Testament for the 21st Century,

The sister recruits six apostles to spread the word of love. These people are not fishermen, lawyers, carpenters or doctors. Each apostle has a story to tell with French screen legend Catherine Deneuve having the wildest tale to tell. The Brand New Testament is a fresh, fun film for the holiday season.

With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it’s time to return to the fairy tale world that J.K. Rowling took us to with her seven Harry Potter books and eight movies. Would Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote about “not returning home again” factor into one’s perception of Rowling’s world of witchcraft & wizardry? The box office returns of Rowling’s new project have proved Thomas Wolfe wrong.

The film opens with the familiar strains of John Williams musical score (composed this time by John Newton Howard) and title credit. You feel as if you have returned to Harry Potter’s magical world. However, this time, we are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an English immigrant who is visiting Manhattan during the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

Being a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry graduate, Newt has a magic briefcase that cages many fantastic beasts with mythical powers. When one creature jimmies the lock, chaos erupts and the wizard community is perplexed. The most disgruntled wizard is Graves (Colin Farrell), who masks a hidden agenda.

Fortunately for Newt, he makes friends with Tina (Katherine Waterston), a demoted bureaucrat who works for the Manhattan wizard community. Newt also gains street smarts from Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a man who would like to start his own business as a baker. Together, these three strangers form a unique partnership to protect the fantastic beasts in the United States of America.

Whereas the Harry Potter stories were about the rites of passage for an individual who goes from sixth grade to high school graduation, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the story about adults. Scamanger is a more traditional hero like Indiana Jones, Frank Buck and Marlin Perkins. With less emphasis upon growing maturity, Fantastic Beasts presents a series of adventures featuring mythical creatures in a familiar city like Manhattan.

With the exception of a plot reveal that ties into her last book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Fantastic Beasts is a fresh look into Rowling’s world. Seeing Manhattan in 1926 broadens the magical world, yet Fantastic Beasts shows us the darkness revealed in human nature, like child abuse and social bigotry.

With four more Fantastic Beasts movies planned for the not too-distant future, you can see a bright future for Rowling’s new project. It is the weakest of the Harry Potter franchise, but, hopefully, the Fantastic Beasts franchise will improve upon each film in the future.

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FLICKS: Arrival

Posted on 01 December 2016 by LeslieM

By “Cinema” Dave


When I cover the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the first movie I try to see is the film with the best word of mouth. When I hosted the documentary, Conversations with Alan Ladd Jr., director Stanley Isaac expressed his admiration for Arrival, saying, “It’s always about the story.” The toughest critic I know is my big brother, who looked forward to seeing Arrival. The film lived up to his high expectation and we have been talking about this film throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.

Arrival is a classic science fiction about a problem on planet Earth. It uses the scientific method that used to be taught in middle-school science acknowledge the problem, study the problem, create a hypothesis and then proceed to apply a solution. Unlike Star Trek or Star Wars fantasy, Arrival is grounded by physical science fiction along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Contact. Fans of authors H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five will appreciate the Easter eggs related to the theory of time. Brush up on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also.

We are introduced to Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter. Within five minutes of screen time, we learn that the daughter dies of a rare form of Cancer and the mother grieves. Dr. Banks, a linguist expert, is then summoned by the military with the arrival of aliens from outer space. While the threat appears to be benign, the world reaction grows increasingly tense.

With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Banks overcomes the language barrier and communicates with heptapods – seven limbed star creatures that look like giant squids. As the aliens and humans become more intimate with each other, Dr. Banks subconscious becomes affected in which her dreams, nightmares and reality intersect.

Arrival is a thinking person’s motion picture. To director Denis Villeneuve’s credit, he clearly expresses Arrival’s simple narrative, despite multiple character details filled with dreamlike imagery. This film demands rapt attention and it is a film best seen in the afternoon to grasp all the film’s nuances.

It is Amy Adams’ performance that acts as a conduit between academic theory and human emotion. Her grief is real, as is her initial fear of the seven limbed heptapods, who they nickname Abbott & Costello. Her growth is real and one appreciates Louise Banks’ good days when she smiles later in the picture.

In the next couple of weeks, there will be plenty of science fiction movies that will be used to sell toys, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Star Wars Rogue One) Arrival is a special film that will appeal to one’s head as well as their heart.

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FLICKS: Moana, Inner Workings & FLIFF wraps

Posted on 23 November 2016 by LeslieM

flicks112416By “Cinema” Dave


Moana kicks off the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. Based on a Polynesian myth, Moana is an entertaining movie that the whole family can see together without any embarrassing moments for grandparents and grandchildren.

The legend of Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) is revealed early in the movie. Maui was tasked with bringing the heart of Te Fiti gem to Mother Earth. When Maui bumbles the job, the balance of nature is upset for one thousand years.

The ocean summons young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) to rescue Maui and return the gem. Through a series of adventures and battles with coconut pirates and giant fire monsters, Moana finds Maui and learns important life lessons.

While the musical numbers lack the strength of Frozen and other Disney Classics, Moana features a good story with a satisfying climax. The verdant visuals make Moana a good flick for holiday viewing.

Inner Workings is a delightful six-minute short subject that screens before Moana. The film introduces a protagonist who goes to work in a mundane job. When he listens to his heart, the hero changes himself and changes his world.

The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival wrapped Sunday night and The Boy By the Sea remains the best seven minutes of festival celluloid. The India-Australia flick Lion won the best of the fest and features Nicole Kidman and David Wenham as an Australian couple who help a lost Indian boy.

Also in the fest was Stanley Isaac’s It’s about the Story – Conversations with Alan Ladd Jr., a 40-minute documentary about contemporary motion picture history. The son of a movie star, Ladd Jr. worked behind the scenes of Hollywood and green lit movies like Young Frankenstein and Star Wars. Ladd’s box office track record is amazing and, hopefully, in the next couple of weeks we will see some motion pictures that will rival Alan Ladd Jr.’s resume.

[These were just a few of the films available for viewing. Did you miss the fest? There is always next year. Plus, their headquarters at Savor Cinema in Ft. Lauderdale has movies scheduled all year long. Find out more information at www.fliff.com.]

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FLICKS: FLIFF – respecting the past & honoring the future

Posted on 17 November 2016 by LeslieM

flicks111716By “Cinema Dave”


Thus far, the best seven minutes of sustained entertainment from the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) has been viewing The Boy By The Sea, a short subject from Latvia, directed by Vasily Chuprina. The premise is simple: an old, lighthouse keeper watches a boy skimming stones in the water. The sad boy tells his story and forms a new friendship with the old man. With minimal dialog (in Danish with English subtitles), The Boy By The Sea sustains its narrative, introduces interesting characters and provides visual symbolism that promotes heartfelt discussion. What Doctor Strange does with a $165 million production budget in two hours, The Boy By The Sea does in seven minutes. Kudos to Vasily Chuprina!

FLIFF wraps up this weekend, with the grand finale being held at Bailey Hall in Davie Sunday night. After an afternoon screening of Ed Wood, Best Supporting Oscar Winner Martin Landau will attend the screening of The Red Maple Leaf, a Canadian film directed by Frank D’Angelo, who also wrote the screenplay. Co-Sponsored by Steve Savor, Dr. Lucy Marrero, Janet Leavy Schwartz and Irwin Levenstein, Martin Landau will accept his Lifetime Achievement Award. On this night, the festival awards for best picture, best documentary, best short subject and other categories will be announced.

At 31 years, FLIFF has become the champion film festival of our community and has done so by respecting history, but with an eye on new trends and talent. This was never so evident than last Friday afternoon, Veteran’s Day, in which Palm Beach resident Arlene Dahl received her Lifetime Achievement Award and Ft. Lauderdale’s own Bailee Madison screened Anabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket, the 17-year-old actress’ first producer credit.

A veteran of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Arlene Dahl shared how her leading men were too serious (John Payne) and villainous character actors (Ted de Corsia) had a wonderful sense of humor. From her Norwegian mother, Dahl learned the value of hard work and to live a simple life. While being interviewed by Brooklyn college film professor Foster Hirsch, Dahl shared her first meeting with Clark Gable at a prestigious MGM gala. Intimidated at first by meeting this popular box office star, the two shared a wonderful evening discussing fly fishing. To see Dahl’s full interview, visit my YouTube Channel, www.YouTube.com/CinemaDave.

After flying in from Toronto, where she is shooting The Good Witch for the Hallmark Channel, Bailee Madison accepted her Young Filmmaker’s Award at the Savor Cinema. While generously sharing the spotlight with her Annabelle Hooper cast and crew, Bailee acknowledged each individual who wanted to meet her, pose with her or get an autograph. Since her last appearance at FLIFF four years ago, Bailee acknowledged receiving more attention and flash photography, given her body of work on the big screen, cable and broadcast television. She acknowledges how good it is to return home to South Florida.

The box office juggernaut for the Harry Potter prequel kicks off this weekend with J.K.Rowling’s, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is likely to have a trailer for Kong: Skull Island. The next week, the holiday Disney animated movie Moana opens featuring the voice of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which is likely to have a trailer for Beauty and the Beast, which stars an adult Emma Watson from the Harry Potter movies.

Given the recent election cycle, we have survived some “beastly” days. However let us take the time to enjoy the “beauty” of the upcoming holidays. As I learned from The Boy By The Sea, beauty is where you find it.

If you are looking for a few treasures for the holidays, then check out the FLIFF Silent Auction at www.32auctions.com/FLIFF2016.

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FLICKS: Doctor Strange & FLIFF

Posted on 10 November 2016 by LeslieM

ficks111016By “Cinema” Dave


Photos by Rachel Galvin

With very little surprise, Doctor Strange dominated the weekend with $84 million in box-office gross. It is typical Marvel comic-book entertainment as we are introduced to neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, M.D. After losing his hands to paralysis in a car accident, Doctor Strange goes to Nepal for alternative medicine.

While healing, Strange learns about the invisible universe that was introduced briefly in last year’s Marvel epic, Ant-Man. With metaphysical carny tricks added to his medicine bag, he battles a villain (Mads Mikkelsen). While there is no rush to go see this Saturday matinee flick, visiting the astral plane with Doctor Strange provides alternative entertainment.

The second week of Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) also provides alternative cinema to please both young and old this Friday, Nov. 11 at Savor Cinema (503 SE 6 St., Ft. Lauderdale)

2 p.m.: Brooklyn College film professor Foster Hirsch will conduct an interview with Arlene Dahl, a veteran Warner Brothers actress who performed in both crime noir and musicals.

4:30 p.m.: Bailee Madison returns to Fort Lauderdale to screen Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket, Bailee’s first producer credit. Stick around for a pizza party afterward.

Tomorrow Ever After makes its east coast premier Friday, Nov. 18 at the Cinema Paradiso Hollywood (2008 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood) and on Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Savor Cinema. A time traveler from the 26th century (Ela Thier, who also wrote and directed) arrives in Manhattan during the historical period known as “The Great Despair,” which happens to be the year 2015.

FLIFF is putting an emphasis upon foreign movies this year. Movies from the U.K., Caribbean, Chili and Israel will be the focus this weekend at Savor and Hollywood Cinemas. For ticket prices and times, contact 954-525 FILM or visit www.fliff.com.

Unrelated to FLIFF, Silverspot Cinemas in Coconut Creek has invited this film columnist to host a series of “Spaghetti Westerns” starring Clint Eastwood. On Monday. Nov. 14, enjoy a spaghetti dinner complete with wine at 6 p.m. followed by the film A Fistful of Dollars, directed by Sergio Leone with a classic musical score by Ennio Morricone at 7 p.m.

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