Review: The LEGO Movie

An anti-capitalist corporate-sponsored advert? Everything about this really is awesome.

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Film review: Wish I Was Here Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 20 September 2014 06:52

Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin
Certificate: 15

It's hard to imagine a more Zach Braff-y film than Garden State. That is, unless you've seen Wish I Was Here.


The film, very much a follow-up to his previous quirky-immature-guy-comes-of-age-and-learns-life-lessons hit, is about a quirky, immature guy coming of age and learning life lessons. At least, that's what it says on the tin.


Braff plays Aidan, an actor who finds himself having to rethink his life when his wealthy dad, Gabe (Patinkin), becomes ill and decides to keep the bank funds to try and cure himself. What will his kids do without being to attend private school? What will his wife, Sarah, do, trying to support the kids while holding down a job? What about his brother, a "genius" child who spends his day making cosplay costumes to impress a girl? And, more importantly, when will Aidan get the lucky break he needs to become a famous actor?


The script, written by Zach and his brother, Adam, provides endless obstacles for Aidan navigate, mixed with typically surreal and offbeat humour - from awkward home-school lessons to a a joy ride in a sports car with Scrubs' Donald Faison. The well-juggled tone is as much expected from a Zach Braff film as the indie soundtrack, which mostly consists of recordings from artists Zach Braff likes. Made with the support of Zach Braff fans through Kickstarter, it's a movie for those people; the ones who like Zach Braff.


The problem is that Zach Braff's film is mostly interested in Zach Braff's character, the one written by and starring Zach Braff. He's earnest, dreams of artistic success and is prone to fantasise about being a spaceman. He's as Zach Braff-y as Zach Braff can get. But while the star's schtick can charm in its own twee way, Aidan's self-centred nature - and the belief that he deserves to have his dreams fulfilled - makes for a surprisingly unlikeable protagonist. The fact that Aidan seems to learn nothing from his hard-done-by rite of passage only exacerbates the issue; Garden State resonated beautifully through its sincere, 20-something appreciation of the wider world, but Wish I Was Here's 30-something limbo struggles to find a note to hold on.


Amid the recitals of Robert Frost and Coldplay, though, are beats that genuinely linger. Mandy Patinkin's gruff father - complete with Homeland beard - spends the runtime in bed dispatching disparaging comments about his sons. Kate Hudson's Sarah, meanwhile, has to deal with sexual harassment at her office. Their story lines in themselves may not ring true, but when Sarah and Gabe meet halfway through at the hospital, they have a conversation that could well bring you to tears; a moving discussion of flaws and feelings that sees Kate Hudson deliver one of the best turns of her career. It's proof that Braff is capable of finding tender, mature moments between his talented ensemble. Wish I Was Here? Wish it was about them instead. That life lesson, perhaps, will come with the director's next movie.

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Film review: Magic in the Moonlight Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 19 September 2014 17:18

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Certificate: 12A

"There's no such thing as magic," declares Colin Firth in Woody Allen's new film. He plays Stanley, a tight-lipped Brit better known to the public as Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese magician whose showstopping trick is transporting himself from a locked sarcophagus into a nearby swivel chair. It's a nice idea for a comedy. The problem is that Stanley repeats his diatribe too many times. By the time he starts lecturing about rational thought for the 51st time, it gets a little old.


One could say the same about Woody Allen. While Magic in the Moonlight revels in its 1920s period detail - from Darius Khondji's sumptuously lit country mansions to the stunning French Riviera coast - it feels old in a different way, one that's composed of several elements of his previous films. That science versus faith debate, so often a prized argument of the director's protagonists, is a prime example, as conversations begin to overlap with ones you've heard before. Another key scene, which sees his lead couple share an intimate moment in an observatory, is borrowed straight from Annie Hall.


But if Allen is following his usual formula, he hits some of the right beats, namely in his casting decisions. Colin Firth is impressively annoying as the blustering skeptic, who makes sarcastic comments at every opportunity, although he may irritate many rather than amuse. It's a pleasure to see fellow Brit Simon McBurney given a prominent role as his sycophantic sidekick too.


The star of the show by eons, though, is Emma Stone. She lights up the place as Sophie, a gifted young clairvoyant whom Stanley is invited to expose. His debunking, though, soon turns to drooling as he's dazzled by her red hair, big eyes and seemingly limitless knowledge of his past. Stone hams it up with a hilariously deadpan performance. "I'm getting a mental impression..." she mutters, waving her hands in front of her and gazing airily at nothing.


Together, the odd pair make a nice contrast - occasionally, too much so, as Emma's young looks and Colin's old face err on the side of awkward rather than entertaining. That old-fashioned juxtaposition, though, is just as much a part of Allen's dated show as everything else, a repertoire that doesn't think twice about uncomfortable romantic pairings, or at least considers it a comic tradition. It's to the cast's credit that, by the time the final scene arrives, you stop noticing the gap; or perhaps it is simply part of this script's odd, retro charm.


Nostalgia is central to Magic in the Moonlight's appeal, itself as hazy as the sun setting in the background of Stanley and Sophie's daytime jaunts in his motor car. If Firth dips into his Mr. Darcy routine a little too much come the second half of the slow 100 minutess, Stone smooths over the cracks with the hypnotic presence of a blooming Keaton. And that, perhaps, is the astonishing part of this whole act: that every time a new Woody appears, even on the back of a great one - which, these days, usually spells disaster - fans still bustle into the theatre, wishing they'll be amazed like it's 30 years ago. The greatest trick Woody Allen ever pulled was convincing the world his bad films didn't exist. And so you'll leave the theatre, blinking in surprise, only to forget the mediocre comedy altogether.


"There's no such thing as magic," declares Stanley over and over. There is such as thing as Woody Allen, though. And even if he debunks his own illusions one too many times, that remains something to celebrate.


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Film review: In Order of Disappearance Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 12 September 2014 12:23

Director: Hans Petter Moland
Cast: Stellan Skarsgård, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen
Certificate: 15

There's something about snow that suits comic violence. The white brings out the red in the blood. It worked a treat for the Coen brothers back in the 1990s. Now, with In Order of Disappearance, Norway is making a killing.


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2014 Raindance Film Festival line-up revealed Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 08 September 2014 12:51

Raindance has revealed its 2014 film festival line-up. The festival, which runs for 12 days, will screen 100 feature films and over 150 shorts.


Raindance 2014 kicks off on Wednesday 24th September with the UK premiere of I, Origins, the latest film from Mike Cahill, whose fantastic Another Earth opened the festival a few years back. The director will be on hand for a Q&A at the Gala - as is usual for the majority of their screenings - and the Opening Gala will be followed by a party Leicester Square's Cafe de Paris with a performance from Fine Young Cannibal's lead Roland Gift.


It closes with a screening of Wolf, with star Marwan Kenzari taking questions from the audience on the night, followed by a do at Leicester Square’s Ruby Blue.


In between, you can expect a typically varied line-up from Europe's largest indie festival. In fact, the emphasis is on diversity more than ever, with the programme now divided up into themes: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The festival's commitment to showcasing talent from around the world, from a mix of genres and from a range of (low) budgets has won it a growing kudos among creatives, which is evident from the increasingly starry guests you can expect to find pimping their passion projects.


Last year, Danny Huston and Toby Stephens were on hand to support Two Jacks and The Machine. This year, Andrew Scott and Alice Lowe will be attending the festival, plus you can find Charlotte Gainsbourg in Asia Argento's Misunderstood, Leighton Meester and Debra Messing in Like Sunday, Like Rain, Wes Bentley in Things People Do and the UK debut of Diego Luna's biopic Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña and none other than John Malkovich - who will also reportedly be hanging around the Vue Piccadilly.


The joy, though, is in chancing upon the other artists in between the high profile names - the kind of people who would mortgage their house to fund their flicks.


After 22 years, Raindance continues to be a wonderful chance for the public to discover talent and for filmmakers to showcase their work. Indeed, last year, Raindance followed the fest with the launch of its own VOD site, Raindance Releasing, which gives a digital platform to some of the fest's titles. The thought that some of the brightest entries in this year's line-up will have a chance of UK release even without a theatrical distributor snapping them up makes the festival more exciting than ever.


If you have a film premiering this year at Raindance and will be releasing your film on VOD in the UK, we want to hear from you - our sister site, VODzilla.co, is the UK's only video on-demand magazine with a section dedicated to supporting and covering digital indie releases.


For more information on the Raindance Film Festival, visit www.raindancefestival.org

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Film review: Obvious Child Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 30 August 2014 20:15

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Certificate: 15

"You know what makes you special?" best friend Nellie (Hoffmann) asks Donna (Slate). "I'm really good at folding laundry?" comes the sad reply. "No, you're unapologetically yourself on stage."


That's the one thing you can definitely say about the heroine of Obvious Child: Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian, is never sorry for being her. She farts in front of people. She tells strangers about her love life. And when she does find herself on a date with a nice, Christian boy, she encourages him to pee in the street.


Sure enough, one thing leads to another and she and Max (Lacy) end up in bed together. It is only several days later, as Donna hides in a cardboard box in her friend's book shop, that she realises what has happened: she is pregnant. And so she breaks up with Max, debates whether to tell her mum about her opened bun, and goes on stage and blurts out her she feels.


Jenny Slate is astounding as the endearing loser, letting loose with a candid string of one-liners and confessions, which constantly cut into the rest of the action. Jake Lacy is just as fantastic, their romance evolving with an unworkshopped casualness, while Gillian Robespierre stitches it together with the freewheeling, shambolic nature of real life.


The film, based on a short the director made with Karen Maine and Anna Bean, has been praised by many for its stance on the thorny subject of pregnancy - and, specifically, abortion. It's true that, in a country where the idea of aborting an unborn child is greeted by a strong anti-movement, and in a medium where pregnant women tend to make a pro-life choice come the final act, Obvious Child should be heralded for seriously entertaining the possibility of taking the other option: it is a film that treats a rarely discussed topic with honesty, humour and compassion. It is a funny film - but it is also a significant film.


What makes Obvious Child stand out as such a fantastic piece of art, though, is that it treats this rarely discussed topic in the same way it treats everything else. Honesty, humour and compassion are not restricted to the realm of abortion; they define every part of Donna's existence. Pregnancy is another step in her life, not the thing that defines it - she is a fully-formed female, one to whom the title refers as much as it does the foetus in her womb. Obvious Child is adorable, amusing and, crucially, a film in which every joke is character-driven, from angry break-up jabs to a quip about folding laundry. It's unapologetically itself. And that makes it very special indeed. A delight.


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Film review: The Keeper of Lost Causes Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 29 August 2014 07:18

Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Cast: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Sonja Richter
Certificate: 15


Department Q. The name suggests all manner of hijinks, a room packed with James Bond gadgets and technological trickery. But as Carl Morck (Lie Kaas) soon finds out, this is the exact opposite: after a case goes wrong, the disgraced detective is banished to a Danish police station's basement to start the division. His mission? To excavate cold cases. The keeper of lost causes.


Yes, this is a textbook piece of Nordic noir, which conforms to all your expectations of the genre - in other words, exactly the kind of thing that helped create the term "Nordic noir" in the first place.


And so Carl finds himself investigating the disappearance of high-flying politican Merete (Richter) five years ago. He probes into the mystery, stirring up old secrets and upsetting all of his superiors. And, of course, reawakening his own ghosts of former (dead) colleagues. He even gets a comedy sidekick: Assad (Fares).


But if The Keeper of The Lost Causes follows a formula, each part of the equation is rounded up carefully. Fares Fares treads the line of annoying and amusing with a likeable charm, while the script - adapted from Jussi Adler-Olsen's novels by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Nikolaj Arcel - ticks the traditional twist boxes with ruthless efficiency. There is no unnecessary flashiness here; Mikkel Norgaard's direction is suitably grim for the nastiness shown on screen, but makes no pretence that the story is anything more than a solid thriller.


What elevates it higher is Nikolaj Lie Kaas. His face is fascinating to watch as Carl, all frowns and dead eyes, while his blunt, grouchy delivery is the perfect match for the movie's sparse, bleak humour. Sonja Richter is equally believable as the frantic damsel in distress, driving the plot's on-rails pace to a pressurised finale that grips, despite the overly familiar grit.


Sure, this is by-the-numbers Scandi crime, but the numbers add up to something enjoyably tense. Norgaard's experience on Klown and Borgen gives The Keeper of Lost Causes a TV-like feel, but also an ear for buddy cop entertainment and an eye for stripped-down simplicity. Department Q is the opposite of the hi-tech wizardry its name implies - it would be as at home on Netflix as on the cinema screen - but for fans of Nordic noir, that is no bad thing. With a sequel already greenlit, The Keeper of Lost Causes functions as something of a TV pilot for a series of Department Q feature films.


A franchise of Scandinavian crime based on impressively economic storytelling? More please.


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Film review: If I Stay Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 28 August 2014 13:24

Director: R.J. Cutler Cast: Chloe Moretz, Jamie Blackley Certificate: 12A

The secret to performing a piece is not to pause - to keep going and ignore any wrong notes. Half the time, an audience won't know what the music says anyway, let alone how it's meant to be played. If you can keep going and be swept up in the music, everyone comes out the other end happy.


If I Stay, the story of a 17 year old girl who fights for her life after a tragic car accident while recalling her romance with a boy, doesn't manage that. What it does manage, though, is something else entirely: to capture the importance and power of music on-screen. Because while it is the soppy tale of a doomed romance, it is also the tale of two musicians.


Chloe Moretz plays Mia, a 17 year old cellist who is applying for a place in Juilliard and is the daughter of two former rockers. She soon meets Adam (Blackley), a guitarist who falls for her after - crucially - watching her play in a rehearsal room.


Moretz and Blackley both do their best with the cliched teen smooching, fighting, making up and making out. Their relationship plays out, unsurprisingly, in flashback, while Mia lies in hospital in a coma, where family and friends visit to deliver sad, inspirational speeches - a parade of sentimental scenes interspersed with a parade of equally sentimental scenes. Plus kissing.


Dial your gag reflex down and the level of schmaltz is so far, so swallowable, mostly thanks to the strength of Moretz's performance - but director R.J. Cutler ladels on even more syrup with an ill-judged out-of-body narrative, which sees Chloe constantly creeping around hospital corridors, bathed in white, looking earnestly at the camera. It's like The Lovely Bones 2: The Even Lovelier Bones.


But away from the stereotypical story lines lies a surprisingly engaging plot: that of a girl and her instrument. It is rare for a movie to treat music with the importance or depth that If I Stay does - especially classical music. The last film to do so was Yaron Zilberman's A Late Quartet, which also explored the bond between notes and the people playing them. Here, though, Beethoven is presented to its young adult audience as if it is as normal as pop, a laudable achievement in itself.


Moretz (and her cello double - her head was superimposed on another player's body with seamless CGI) are fantastic, twiddling, bowing and swaying with believable intimacy - the same intensity that gives Blackley's scenes on stage an earnest sincerity (even if the band's songs are cheesy and repetitive). The relationship between the human couple may not always engage, but their relationship with music does.


The result is a film that moves in spurts, captivates in flurries, but misses beats every time the music stops for another rest in the hospital. For hard-hearted cynics, those wrong notes jar with the sound of manipulation. For teenagers familiar with the book or those willing to get swept up in the melody, the soundtrack's effectiveness is what gives the saccharine material some emotional substance. It makes the piece work - but only just. Despite the structure of the original novel, you get the impression the movie would flow more smoothly if the focus was solely on the music. If I Stay plays the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

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Film review: Into the Storm Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:21

Director: Steven Quale
Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh
Certificate: 12A

Love storms? Love Richard Armitage? Then you might enjoy INTO THE STORM. The film tells the dramatic, intense, disastrous story of what happens when Richard Armitage goes… INTO THE STORM. And not much else.


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Film review: Lucy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 22 August 2014 10:20

Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Certificate: 15

What is life? How does it evolve? How many bad guys can Scarlett Johansson beat up? Lucy asks all the important questions - and a ton of others to boot.


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Film review: The Expendables 3 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 15 August 2014 11:37

"Why were you in prison?" asks one of The Expendables after they bust Wesley Snipes' Expendable out of a maximum security fort. "Tax evasion," he quips. This is as edgy as Sly Stallone's sequel gets.


In a normal film, that wouldn't necessarily be a problem. In a two-hour, $90 million blockbuster designed to wow with brutal violence, it's something of a surprise.


Surprises aren't something The Expendables do: the word isn't in the team's collective vocabulary of loud grunts, forced bon mots and constant declarations of friendship. When you go to the cinema to watch Stallone, Statham, Schwarzenegger et al. blow things up, you're meant to know exactly what you're going to get: Carnage. Catchphrases. Cheese. And lots of it.


After two movies, then, you might expect it to get a little stale.


The first film delivered on its promise, drenching the screen in 18-rated blood despite an overly serious tone. The Expendables 2 scaled down the gore for a 15 certificate but ramped up the self-aware humour to introduce a new sense of fun - right down to the fact that its villain was called, erm, Vilain. With Con Air director Simon West out of the cockpit for The Expendables 3, though, that light touch has been replaced once again with clunky gravity. And with the violence also scaled down to a 12A certificate, the result is an action comedy that doesn't have enough of either.


"Get to the choppa!" yells Arnie, looking increasingly like an ageing dog wheeled out to shake paws with people on special occasions. He says the word another couple of times, regardless of context, just to make sure he earns his paycheck. Stallone feels equally tired, barking with such a butch, gravelly voice that you can't understand what he's saying - although he's still a darn sight more agile than the other veterans. And so they all get ditched by the star in favour of younger, newer models. There's the computer hacker one (Victor Ortiz), the female one (Ronda Rousey) and the Hey He's Like A Young Sylvester Stallone one (Kellan Lutz). Unlike their senior counterparts, though, none of them are recognisable from modern action cinema, which makes them as bland as the mature Expendables are two-dimensional. (Where are Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth? Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer?)


The newcomers to the fray who do stand out are Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis as a grouchy CIA agent - and proving, once again, that he could be the new Leslie Nielsen - and Mel Gibson, who plays our unhinged bad guy, an ex-Expendable against whom Sly has a grudge.


Teaming up, falling out, teaming up again but with more people; the narrative is as predictable as it gets. But of course, that shouldn't be an issue. This is an Expendables film. You should be having too much fun to think about plot. With the set pieces cut down to their bare, non-bloody minimum, though, the thrill of OTT combat is sorely missing, along with bullets and blood. In the first movie, a man got blown in half by a shotgun. Here, men fall over after other men wave guns in their general direction - presumably because they've fallen asleep from boredom. Even Lutz's impressive motorbike stunts fail to liven up the climactic sequence in an abandoned apartment block, a fantastically-designed set with towering, wasted potential.


Thank goodness, then, for Antonio Banderas. The Spanish star is just as much an OAP as the rest, but he steals the show with his sprightly antics, jumping, climbing and running almost as quickly as speaks - which is very, very fast. He may be playing Puss in Boots minus the hat, but every joke he makes hits hard, a fact that only emphasises the lack of laughs (and hard-hitting) elsewhere.


Banderas proves that what this series needs isn't necessarily a brand new generation of heroes, but a smart script with a sense of humour that doesn't just rely on Arnie saying the word "choppa". The Expendables 3 can't decide what it wants, though: fresh blood or old tricks; new viewers or existing fans. The result is a mediocre, formulaic sequel with too many characters and not enough clout for them to ever make an impact. It appears to offer even more of the same, but serves up far smaller portions. (In the case of Jason Statham, almost no portions at all.)


Gibson gives good evils, but it's telling that even his addition to the ensemble is free of any controversy or interest. Blunted for a younger audience, rebooted without being rebooted, The Expendables 3 is a dull, boring spectacle that's as entertaining as tax evasion - and that is the franchise's first big surprise.

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Film review: God's Pocket Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 08 August 2014 17:47
Director: John Slattery
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins
Certificate: 15

"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket." That's our introduction to John Slattery's first film as director, a dark drama with even darker bits of comedy. The tone is set from the off with a funeral, which is promptly disrupted by a punch-up. Your reaction to that wallop will likely determine your reaction to the whole film.


Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last performances, stars as Mickey, a loser slob of a husband who steals meat so he can chop it up for sale. It's a textbook reminder of what makes Hoffman such a powerful screen presence; neglectful, self-centred and usually drunk, Mickey is a flawed fuck-up of a person but feels absolutely real, a quality that somehow earns our sympathy.


His step-son, Leon (the ever-pale Caleb Landry Jones), doesn't.


Racially abusing co-workers while threatening people with a flick knife, it's no surprise that someone bumps him off - and even less of a surprise that nobody cares. Nobody, that is, except for his mother, Jeanie (Hendricks). And so she asks Mickey's friend, Arthur (John Turturro), to investigate.


Things, naturally, go from bad to worse. Dead bodies, one-eyed goons and gambling debts all pour out onto the streets of the fictional community from the shadowy cracks in which they were festering; boils on the already ugly plague of humanity.


If it sounds like a confused plot, that's because it is: based on Peter Dexter's novel, Alex Metcalf's screenplay is part silly, part sad, part strange crime thriller, part marital breakdown. The result is a slippery tone that Slattery does not always control: he shoots everything with a grim, grubby deadpan look that treats humour and high drama the same. It's all black and bleak, which leaves you unsure whether to laugh or cry at one man punching another at a funeral - or people moving corpses in the rain or elderly women brandishing firearms.


And yet the uneven nature feels oddly fitting for this fable of family, society and psychotic florists. Like God's Pocket, this is a patchwork of stories knitted by people. Christina Hendricks communicates the weight of her happiness just by looking forlornly out of a window, Eddie Marsan's sympathetic funeral director is delightfully manipulative, while Turturro's natural bond with Hoffman lets the loose narrative slide easily from gear to another. Through it all, one thing remains constant: the voiceover of local reporter Richard Shellburn. Richard Jenkins' journalist completes the accomplished ensemble, carting around a drinking problem to go with his receding hairline, as much a revered veteran as he is a sleazy pervert.


"The only thing people from God's Pocket can't forgive is not being from God's Pocket," he declares with the hackneyed air of yesterday's fish and chip wrappings, at once both romantic and wrecked. Perhaps that's the movie's problem: Slattery's blue-collar neighbourhood is so close-knit that we never quite feel a part of it. We watch this fascinating parade of open wounds go past, held together with the band-aid of humanity, but end up stumbling away down the street, resigned to indifference.

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