THE NEW RELEASE WALL FOR 4-22-2014: AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES.

 

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Happy Tuesday, Daily Grinders! Welcome back to our weekly hog run of everything new and notable on Blu-Ray and DVD as of today’s calendar date. This is most likely the hugest week of awesome new releases since I’ve been doing this column — I have six picks of the week! — so I’ll keep the intro to a minimum. Just please remember, if you get in a shopping kind of mood, to click through the icons provided because that helps us keep the lights on here.

And now, onto the movies!

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

SORCERER

SORCERER (1977)

Out of the many picks of the week this week, this is the most underlined and bold-faced. The 1970s were arguably the artistically important decade in American film history, the place in time where Old Hollywood and New Hollywood intersected, featuring the last films of many of the canonical directors and the first films of their inheritors. Blockbusters and ‘blaxploitation’ were born in the 1970s, and the boundaries of propriety and expression were tested by the introduction of nudity and profanity and the integration of politics and unprecedented moral ambiguity. The horror film hit new hellish heights throughout the decade. Maybe the most important trend was the personalization of mainstream films. Filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, George Romero, Jack Hill, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Craven, Steven Spielberg, Sylvester Stallone, John Landis, George Lucas, David Cronenberg, and Jim Henson emerged as resonant voices whose films were invariably distinctive. Individuality was present in the films of the Old Hollywood, of course, but you had to squint a little more to catch it back then. On the other hand, there was no mistaking the sui generis nature of the intensely-felt films of the 1970s. And William Friedkin’s SORCERER is a film that deserves the hallowed reputation of the great films from that era.

For one thing, Friedkin had already made two immediately influential films that decade, 1971’s THE FRENCH CONNECTION and 1973’s THE EXORCIST. Both were unlikely hits but both became sensations, and their respective effects on the crime genre and the horror genre, respectively, have lasted to this day. SORCERER, however, is a film that seemed lost to time. Released on June 24th, 1977, it was a small ship washed away in the tidal wave of STAR WARS, released on May 25th of that year. SORCERER was a small-scale, intense, and very dark film in comparison to STAR WARS, but then it would be that in comparison to very many films. Filmed in part in France and Israel and largely in Latin America, SORCERER is a bleak thriller in the mode of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 classic THE WAGES OF FEAR. Friedkin hired Walon Green, screenwriter of Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH, to craft the script, which concerned four international rogues hired to drive trucks carrying nitroglycerin through the dense jungles of South America, an extraordinarily dangerous job which pits them against the elements, the landscape, and each other. The cast features all-American Roy Scheider (Chief Brody from JAWS), France’s Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal from Spain, and Moroccan actor Amidou. By all accounts the shoot was remarkably arduous — in his autobiography Friedkin invokes Werner Herzog’s film FITZCARRALDO, a film from five years later more famously focused on madmen on mad missions in the jungle — and there were many factors which threw audiences, including the lack of an A-list star (Steve McQueen was sought for Scheider’s part), its then-unusual electronic soundtrack from Tangerine Dream, and the confusion around its title (which comes from a 1967 Miles Davis album that inspired Friedkin). The financial failure of SORCERER‘s release, along with a highly misguided critical response, basically derailed Friedkin’s career as an A-list director. He never stopped making films — and several great ones! — but these days he is rarely mentioned alongside the big-name auteurs who were his contemporaries.

That is an oversight. 2007’s BUG and 2012’s KILLER JOE proved that William Friedkin remains as vital and bold a filmmaker as any, be it the 1970s or the decade we are in today. Few filmmakers of any generation have made even one film as good as Friedkin’s handful of stone classics. His work is uncommonly vibrant, vigorous, and challenging. SORCERER is no exception. In fact, it is the ultimate example of what this terrific director can do. For years SORCERER has been relatively hard to see, but thanks to Friedkin’s  hard-won efforts, a restored, remastered edition of the film is finally out on Blu-Ray today from Warner Brothers. Buy it sight unseen if need be.

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THE PAWNBROKER (1964)

THE PAWNBROKER (1964)

Sidney Lumet is a director who could have made that list I rattled off earlier, of canonical 1970s directors, since he did so much vital work during the decade. But his legacy begins earlier — Lumet’s first feature was 12 ANGRY MEN in 1957. He made THE FUGITIVE KIND in 1959 and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT in 1962. THE PAWNBROKER was his next film after that triumph. Unusual for a director with so much experience in theater and television, Lumet’s films had striking visuals to match the incredible performances he evinced from great actors. I’ve not seen THE PAWNBROKER, featuring Rod Steiger as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust now running an East Harlem pawnshop, but I intend to. The cinematographer, Boris Kaufman, shot the immaculate ON THE WATERFRONT and the lurid BABY DOLL for Elia Kazan, as well as 12 ANGRY MEN and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT for Lumet. The score is by Quincy Jones! Morgan Freeman’s first film appearance was in THE PAWNBROKER, in a small role. And apparently, this is a landmark film in the arena of onscreen nudity, which is most certainly an important achievement.

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STRANGER ON THE PROWL (1952)

STRANGER ON THE PROWL (1952)

Joseph Losey was a theater director who got into feature films in the late 1940s. After several films, including THE PROWLER (the only one of his I’ve seen so far), the House Un-American Activities Committee came after him, and Losey decamped to the United Kingdom. He was one of many victims of anti-Communist paranoia who were blacklisted by Hollywood, but it didn’t stop him from directing. STRANGER ON THE PROWL was made in Italy, and Losey used an alias. The star was Paul Muni, the original SCARFACE; outside of co-star Joan Loring, the rest of the cast all were Italian actors. Losey made a few more movies in various European countries under assumed names but then settled into the UK with his given name and made many more films with many well-known stars, including Dirk Bogarde, Oliver Reed, Terence Stamp, Malcolm McDowell, Robert Shaw, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, and Elizabeth Taylor. The best known of them today is probably Tarantino favorite MODESTY BLAISE. I don’t know much about STRANGER ON THE PROWL really, but the story of Joseph Losey is an intriguing one, emblematic of a troubling, troubled part of Hollywood and American history.

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HIT THE DECK (1955)

HIT THE DECK (1955)

Director Roy Rowland is most interesting to me personally for having helmed the trippy Dr. Seuss-scripted musical THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T. This one, with which I am unfamiliar, looks to be a more conventional Hollywood musical. Debbie Reynolds and Ann Miller are two of the more enduring names in the cast. You might recognize Russ Tamblyn from DRIVE and DJANGO UNCHAINED. A relatively young Alan King has a small role. This kind of thing isn’t really my bag, singing and dancing in sailor costumes and all, but I love the look of CinemaScope and I am really putting this title here as a shout-out to Warner Archives, who are such a wonderful outfit. They do such a great job bringing the studio’s extensive catalogue to life, and even if I’m not the target audience for this specific film, I’ve surely benefited from their hard work in my enjoyment of several other releases they’ve done.

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 (1954)

RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 (1954)

Now here’s an incredible backstory: Movie producer Walter Wanger, who brought STAGECOACH, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, CANYON PASSAGE, and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS to screen, was also a convicted felon! In 1951, well into his successful producing career, Wanger (rhymes with “danger”) suspected his wife, actress Joan Bennett, was having an affair with her agent Jennings Lang, so he shot and wounded Lang and ended up in jail for a surprisingly light sentence of four months. Still, that was enough prison life to move Wanger to want to produce a movie on the subject. The cast of RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 is short on huge-name stars, but behind the camera there were at least two:  Legendary cinematographer Russell Harlan, who shot TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, RIO BRAVO, RUN SILENT RUN DEEP, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, LUST FOR LIFE, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, and RED RIVER, to name a few, and it was directed from Richard Collins’ script by Don Siegel, who should need no introduction on this particular website. No matter what genre he worked in, and he pretty much worked in all of them, Siegel’s films were lean, consistent, and efficient, brutal when they needed to be. Don Siegel couldn’t make a dishonest movie if he tried. You can see it in his later prison movie with Clint Eastwood, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, for which I imagine RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11 is a significant prelude. I haven’t seen it yet! This is going to be a blind purchase for me, and I don’t actually buy as many movies as you might assume from this column.

For a great look at the film from someone who HAS seen it, please click here.

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MASTER OF THE HOUSE (1925)

MASTER OF THE HOUSE (1925)

Carl Theodor Dreyer. His career bridges the silent era and the introduction of sound. He made fourteen features in the span of forty years — not overly many, and one reason was the interruption caused by the second World War. Dreyer is one of the big names in the world cinema textbook, from Denmark originally, although he also made films in France, Sweden, and Germany. It is my understanding that all of Dreyer’s films were in black-and-white, though the ones I’ve seen are frequently intentionally washed-out, hazy, flickering, with soft lighting and more reliance on the grays than the stark contrast of black and white. Religious faith was the premier concern of Dreyer’s films, though I say that only having seen THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, VAMPYR, and ORDET. I am not even in the same county as any expert on Dreyer. I definitely haven’t seen MASTER OF THE HOUSE, though I have seen the Tommy Lee Jones cheerleader comedy MAN OF THE HOUSE, which really only tells you that I am a big idiot.

Like RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, MASTER OF THE HOUSE is a Criterion release, which means the highest standard. If you are looking to survey the fundamentals of cinema (which I should also be doing myself), this is the way to do it.

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

GET CARTER (1974)

GET CARTER (1971)

Writing about this film for Daily Grindhouse, I said the following: “Mike Hodges’ 1971 British gangster classic GET CARTER has a hallowed reputation which is undoubtedly well-deserved, but which in no way prepares the unsuspecting Johnny-come-lately for the unsparing gut-shot/uppercut combo that it is. I’d heard about GET CARTER long before I ever managed to see it, and what I expected was a solid crime picture which was an important step forward for the genre, a keystone movie (like BONNIE & CLYDE and THE WILD BUNCH) at a time when violence in cinema was getting more graphic, and a hugely influential film for later generations of tough-guy filmmakers. It is all of those things. But what I did not expect is that forty years later, it still plays like a punch to the face of Donald Trump – thrilling, vicariously exhilarating, and as necessary today as it’s always been for many, many years.”

For a movie made several decades ago, GET CARTER feels both lively and doomy, which is to reiterate that it continues to play as intended. It’s a rough, ruddy film that carries weight and hurls it at you at all the right moments. While a DVD release has floated around for a decade or so, this is the first time it’s been on Blu-Ray. It’s a necessity for everyone who purports to know anything about the crime genre on film.

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GET CARTER (2000)

GET CARTER (2000)

I mean, no. If you need to see a GET CARTER remake, watch 1972’s HIT MAN. That’s the one where Pam Grier encounters a cranky lion. This is a dank, dour endeavor which retains the brutality of the material but foregoes the resonance. It’s a shame because despite a miscast Sylvester Stallone, the cast is terrific. They had Michael Caine on the set, though; didn’t they ask him for his input?

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TIN CAN MAN (2007)

TIN CAN MAN (2007)

[DVD ONLY]

I literally know next to nothing about this title. It’s from Ireland. It did well on the festival circuit. Here’s the official site. And here’s the synopsis: “Recently dumped by his girlfriend for another man, working in a job he hates, things could be better for Peter. One night, while he is alone in his apartment, there is a knock at the door. His life will never be the same again.” My guess is some frightening things happen.

I do know that a full review is forthcoming on Daily Grindhouse from Paul Freitag-Fey, which means I can at least recommend you the review of TIN CAN MAN. You should read everything Paul writes! [Edited:  It’s here!  And it’s pretty good!]

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THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983)

THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983)

In The Slasher Movie Book, a compendium of films from one of the most mega-violent and hypersexual of all subgenres, author J.A. Kerswell selects THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW as a particular highlight from what he calls “The Golden Age Of Slasher Films”, the era spanning from 1978 until 1984. That is high praise. This is a period in horror history that began with John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and was bookended by Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Icons abound, both in front of and behind the camera. I haven’t seen THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW but now that Scorpion Releasing has put it out on Blu-Ray, I will have to take a look.

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THE SUSPECT (2013)

THE SUSPECT (2013)

There were two action films released in 2013 under the title THE SUSPECT. One was a South Korean spies & explosions flick; the other was this intriguing, hopefully thoughtful thriller going in on racism in America. Check out the plot summary: “Two African American social scientists pose as bank robbers in an effort to understand the racial dynamics of small-town law enforcement. However, their experiment takes an unplanned, deadly turn.” I like a movie that’s about something, although there’s always a risk of being too on-the-nose with this kind of material. Even still. Worth a look, right? Hey, look at that lower corner there: The great William Sadler co-stars. Sold!

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

BIG BAD WOLVES (2013)

BIG BAD WOLVES (2013)

The lead-off item on my list of the ten best horror films of last year, here’s my review of BIG BAD WOLVES:  “Israel’s second-ever horror film is a grueling experience. The level of craft on display is virtuosic, all deployed for the express purpose of socking you in the gut. From the perfectly orchestrated opening scene with its ingenious reveal of the title credit, all the way through to the unforgettable final shot, this is one hauntingly directed motion picture. Writer-director team Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado made Israel’s first horror film (2010?s RABIES) and I hope to see many more. But I hope to not see this particular one again for quite a while. It’s not hard to see why BIG BAD WOLVES is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite film of the year: Torture scenes are a leitmotif with Quentin, and the torture scenes in BIG BAD WOLVES set a new, disturbingly tactile standard for the practice of cinematic torture. An outlaw detective (Lior Ashkenazi fromFOOTNOTE, the only actor I recognized) doggedly pursues and harasses a schoolteacher who he is convinced is guilty of a string of ghastly child killings in the area. When he teams up with the demented father of the latest victim, things get really nasty. It’s very hard to review this film without giving too much away, but if you like your comedy in shades of deepest black and your suspense near-unbearable, this is one you’re going to need to see.”

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CONSPIRACY THEORY (1997)

CONSPIRACY THEORY (1997)

A fascinating concept by screenwriter Brian Helgeland got the Richard Donner treatment, with mixed results. Richard Donner is great but he’s a consummate crowd-pleaser, and the finished film feels like a clash between a highly entertaining summer movie and the much darker movie lurking inside it. In probably the last movie I ever liked him in (and that’s long before the meltdown), Mel Gibson plays a paranoid New York City taxi driver whose deranged suspicions turn out to be absolutely correct. Julia Roberts, in what was a pretty big match-up of star-power at the time, plays a lawyer he’s sweet on, who turns out to be connected to all of the clandestine machinations represented by Patrick Stewart’s character, a kind of MARATHON MAN sadist. It’s a fairly rare villainous role for him — depending on how you think of Lear, Ahab, and Scrooge — and he’s very likely the best thing about the movie. Cinematographer John Schwartzman is CONSPIRACY THEORY‘s other MVP; his visuals are typically robust, bold and energetic yet adequately ominous when they’re supposed to be. Overall CONSPIRACY THEORY is a diverting entertainment, without ever getting close to being essential.

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EXIT WOUNDS (2001)

EXIT WOUNDS (2001)

Andrzej Bartkowiak is a cinematographer-turned-action-director, whose film before this one, 2000’s ROMEO MUST DIE, I enjoyed a whole lot. Can’t speak to the follow-up, which moves DMX into center stage but asks him to share it with one Steven Seagal. At this point Seagal was already transitioning into his Jim-Belushi-meets-Gene-Simmons look, which only continues to swell. I don’t mean to be rude but I’ve never been able to take this guy seriously, although ABOVE THE LAW is rad and the first UNDER SIEGE is pretty fun too. Apparently EXIT WOUNDS is adapted from a book! It’s a fair assumption that Steven Seagal did not read it. I’d better stop before he lumbers after me. Hey, I may still give this movie a shot one day, because it has Michael Jai White, Bill Duke, Bruce McGill, and Eva Mendes, and they all seriously rock.

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

TORQUE (2004)

TORQUE (2004)

You’re going to have to click over to my full-on inspection of this demented neo-cult classic. I tried to make it worth your while. In case it isn’t, there are also pictures.

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BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2012)

BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL (2012)

Bettie Page was a legitimately iconic glamour model, who did Playboy early on and appeared in countless pin-ups over the course of many years. This documentary takes a look at her life and contains all the visual accompaniment you could ask for. This whole phenomenon was a couple generations before my time, but I’m sure Daily Grindhouse has some Bettie Page fans who will want to check this one out.

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APOKALIPS X (2014)

APOKALIPS X (2014)

Beats me, man. I just like the cover art. Guess this is a Malaysian action film about post-apocalyptic gangs. BATTLE ROYALE meets THE ROAD WARRIOR, maybe? I never heard of it until this moment, so you will travel on without me from here if you choose to investigate further.

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CHANCES ARE (1989)

CHANCES ARE (1989)

One of those movies that played relentlessly on HBO when I was a kid, along with JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, but unlike that one, CHANCES ARE was way over my head. I was twelve! What the hell was I supposed to make of a romantic comedy involving Heaven and death and reincarnation and middle-aged Hollywood actors? In fact I’m reluctant to even attempt to describe the plot, even with the assistance of Google. Here’s an attempt: In a flashback to the past, Cybill Shepherd’s husband dies, but is then reincarnated years later as Robert Downey Jr., who then falls in love with Mary Stuart Masterson, who is Cybill Shepherd’s daughter. That sounds weird. I think Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t remember that he’s the reincarnated father of the girl he’s interested in. Ryan O’Neal is in there as a family friend who has a thing for Cybill Shepherd, but Robert Downey Jr. complicates things on that front also. I don’t fucking know. Ask some lady. Apparently this is the movie’s silver anniversary; surely there are many out there more amped for the occasion than I. CHANCES ARE was the follow-up feature from director Emile Ardolino, who for a time conquered the world with DIRTY DANCING. You probably remember the title theme song performed by Peter Cetera and Cher. If you don’t, go visit your dentist. It’s bound to be playing on the office radio.

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UNSEEN EVIL

UNSEEN EVIL (????)

This week’s column needed a monster movie. It’s the one thing this gargantua is lacking. That’s why this is here. That monster’s forehead kind of looks a tiny bit like a butt, doesn’t it? Anyway, don’t look too long. Because if you see it, you’re already dead. That’s why it’s called UNSEEN EVIL. See, it all adds up.

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SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)

SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)

A much-maligned movie for which I make a few too many apologies. They (the producers, the studio, whoever) threw way too much at Sam Raimi. Yeah, everything Venom is a disaster. Sure, the James Franco amnesia subplot is eye-rolling. Absolutely, the romantic elements are a jumble and it strongly feels like Kirsten Dunst’s heart hadn’t been in it for a movie-and-a-half. And let’s please not talk about the Spider-Hustle. BUT. The Aunt May stuff is sweet. That still works for me. Thomas Haden Church as Sandman is PERFECT. And the final scene of the movie –such a small lovely little moment after so much cacophony and calamity in that never-ending final battle which in retrospect set the stage for the next several years of noisy superhero-movie climaxes — is such a graceful way to end a movie that was otherwise too much of a pile-up, and with it ending the Sam Raimi era.

SPIDER-MAN 3 has been on Blu-Ray for a while. This is a new edition. I don’t know what a 4K Ultra HD TV is. That sounds expensive, which means I don’t have one. New technology sprouts up ever more frequently, the closer we get to the future.

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SEVEN WARRIORS (1989)

SEVEN WARRIORS (1989)

A Hong Kong riff on the very Japanese THE SEVEN SAMURAI, the cast of this action film includes Tony Leung (IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE), Philip Kwok (HARD BOILED), and Sammo Hung (ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND). As many remakes and re-envisionings of THE SEVEN SAMURAI as there have been and I have seen, SEVEN WARRIORS is new on me. Any readers out there seen it?

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ZOMBIES

ZOMBIES! 4-MOVIE COLLECTION

THE CRAZIES is the only one I’ve seen. Remaking George Romero is something I can never embrace, but I  must admit this new take is solidly crafted, about as decent as one could expect a George Romero remake to be. A post-Deadwood pre-Justified Timothy Olyphant helps matters; modern horror movies sometimes struggle to find a protagonist worth giving a shit about. You will give at least two shits about this guy, maybe three.

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** PICK OF THE WEEK **

STEVE AUSTIN

STEVE AUSTIN 4-MOVIE COLLECTION

Not a wrestling fan. Don’t care even a little. Sorry. That said, Steve Austin has made some super-entertaining DTV action flicks. In THE STRANGER he has amnesia. In HUNT TO KILL he’s friends with Eric Roberts. In THE PACKAGE, he fights Dolph Lundgren! In MAXIMUM CONVICTION, he and a now-obese Steven Seagal battle prison inmates. The thing is, and I know this will undermine your faith in my recommendations, but I can’t remember which of these four movies I’ve actually seen. It could be any combination of them, or I may not have seen any of them and I’m thinking of TACTICAL FORCE, which co-stars Michael Jai White, and RECOIL, in which he must challenge Danny Trejo! I can promise you I’ve seen at least two Steve Austin DTV movies and I have enjoyed both of them. You may have to play a shell game to find out which are the fun ones. Let me know where the nut is.

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That’s a wrap on this most epic edition of the column. Thankfully, next week’s offerings are much crappier. That didn’t sound right.

That sounded a little right.

 

Happy consuming,

@jonnyabomb

 

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