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Posts tagged ‘Breaking Bad’

Better Watch “Better Call Saul”! It’s So Great, It’s Bad! As in “Breaking Bad”!

Saul 1“Better Call Saul” has done the seemingly impossible. It’s just as good as its’ fabled predecessor “Breaking Bad,” and who knows? As it goes along its’ merry way, it could get better, and even better. For those of you out there who have been missing “Breaking Bad” on some kind of level of bereavement ( I know, because I have), “Better Call Saul” as unlikely as it first sounded, really does more than fill the bill.

It’s a prequel, of all things, six years back in time, and the most unlikeliest of central characters, Saul Goodman, the loudly dressed, strip-mall  lawyer, who winds up defending Walter White(Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman(Aaron Paul)played masterfully here by series regular Bob Odenkirk.

Odenkirk, a former stand-up comedian, here proves himself to be ridiculously adept as a three-demensional dramatic actor, giving us an Everyman, who reminded me of Willy Loman of “Death of a Salesman”, of all characters. He has a potato-like face that’s sometimes mashed and sometimes fried.

True, Walter White started out as wildly relatable, too. The meek chemistry professor who was dying of cancer and who kept getting the s__t kicked out of him on a daily basis, with part-time jobs he had to take because his teaching job just didn’t make him enough money to support his family. And he had a disabled teenaged son with cerebral palsy, and a new baby on the way.

So he began to think of other ways of making money…like, well, using his chemistry skills to make Crystal Meth at the behest of his wayward student Jesse Pinkman. And a Myth of Television, one of its’ greatest shows ever, was born.

We, as an audience, know where “Better Call Saul” is going. We are going to follow, this now incredibly sympathetic character of Saul, as he becomes a criminal.

But we have six years to delight in his descent. We know that’s coming. And we know where he ends up. He didn’t die at the end of “Breaking Bad” but ran off into the sunset prophesying that he’d “end up as a manager of a Cinnabon in a mall in Omaha” which is precisely where “Better Call Saul” starts.In Black and White!

So in grainy chirascuro, we see the now nearly unrecognizable Saul with a Deputy Dawg moustache, and ten-to-twenty-pounds heavier, laying on the cinnamon and sugar creme in a soul-less Cinnabon, a repetitive, drab, living hell. Product placement anyone? You’ll never be able to eat or look at a Cinnabon again without thinking of Saul’s fate worse than fat.

He then goes home to his drab, single dwelling to watch a VHS tape that he has hidden on his sink in a shoe-box, as the snow begins to fall on Nebraksa,and the winter wind is howling, and we see him enjoying, or trying to, TV commercial advertisements of his days in colorful, bygone Albuquerque. These commericals are only heard, but not shown, as the reaction on Saul’s mashed potato face says it all.

And yes, boom! We are now back in Saul’s Oz, and everything shifts into color and we see the still-worn down Saul, back when he was even a different person, Jimmy McGill. And oh what a delight it is to be back in Albuquerque, N.M.! I felt like I was coming home! I couldn’t believe how much I missed it!

Never has the plight of a Legal Aid Defense Lawyer, been painted, or even observed (EVAH?) in such heart-wrenching, soul-squashing clarity. Nothing seems to ever go right for Saul, or rather Jimmy. And as fate deals him, blow after humiliating blow, we are with him every step of the way on his road to lawyerly hell.

And also, because Odenkirk, is a superb comic actor, “Better Call Saul” is much funnier than the bleak “Breaking Bad.” So it’s humor quotient, as well, as the dramatic, is sky-high. God is In the Details. Like the fact, that Saul/Jimmy’s pathetic law “Office” is in the back room of a Korean nail parlor.(see above picture ^)

To reveal anymore, would be to spoil, and I don’t do that. I’ve said too much already. “Better Call Saul” is a Must Watch TV event. It’s third episode is coming next week, so DON’T MISS IT!

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Tony Predictions Part Four

Tony Predictions Part Four

And continuing on and hopefully concluding, my four-part Tony Predictions, we now come to another hotly contended category, Best Actor in a Musical.

I think although he tied in a surprise at the Drama Desk Awards, with Jefferson Mays, who does 8 or 9 different roles in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” I think former host of the Tonys, Neil Patrick Harris is going to get the ultimate tribute and thank you from the Tony Voters here for his box-office busting drag turn as Hedwig in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” which I also think is going to get Best Revival of a Musical.Neil Patrick Harris is everywhere on TV, too, talking, talking, talking. He’s campaigning. He wants it. He lost 20 pounds for this role. He’s got the momentum. He’ll get it.

“Beautiful” is going to garner its’ beautiful leading lady Jessie Mueller, who sings almost non-stop, and is hardly ever off-stage playing a marvelously understated Carole King, it’s going to garner Jessie her first Tony as Best Actress in a Musical as well it should. Subtlety and under-playing are not usually awards bait, but in this case, Jessie Mueller is the complete package.

Best Actor in a Play is going to be the its-his-time-to-shine Bryan Cranston, almost as much for his unforgettable Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” And “All the Way” the three-hour political play about LBJ will win Best Play. It also won both these awards at the Drama Desks. This is the year when everybody just wants to THROW as many awards willy nilly at Bryan Cranston as they possibly can. Lucky duck.

Best Actress in a Play will be Audra McDonald for her impeccable “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille” in which though she sings a dozen or more of Billie Holiday’s greatest hits, although she is in the Best Actress in a PLAY category. It’s more than a little unfair to the dramatic actresses who are nominated in this category who just got there by their acting chops. Tyne Daly it’s a shame that you’re up against the unstoppable Awards magnet Audra McD. who will break all kinds of records by winning her SIXTH Tony award tomorrow night.

Audra was nominated in the CORRECT category for the Outer Critics Circle, Best Actress in a Musical, and she won that, too! Like Cranston, there’s no stopping her.

In the Supporting Actors, or Featured as they are called by the Tonys, only James Munroe Inglehart, as the larger-than-life Genie in “Aladdin”, is the only sure thing here in all four categories.

It’s really tricky predicting the other awards here. For Best Featured Actress in a Play it COULD be Celia Keenan-Bolger, for the long-closed revival of “A Glass Menagerie.” Celia has been nominated for a Tony three times and she’s beloved, but she’s up against first time nominee British actress Sophie Okenado making her Broadway debut for “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Sophie’s main problem is her competition is not just Celia Keenan-Bolger, but also her cast-mate Anika Noni Rose as her sister-in-law in “Raisin.” One of these two, probably Sophie, could take this and be the only award that “Raisin” is apt to win. The Tony voters notoriously snubbed Denzel Washington, who let’s face it, is why this great play is being revived so soon after it was just on the Great White Way with P. Diddy. And Felecia Rashad, who won in the Best Actress Category.

Also, in contention, is Mare Winningham for “Casa Valentina” as the real-woman house-mother to a hotel-full of straight transvestites in the Catskills in the 1960s. Any of these women are worthy. And could win. But there’s no clear front-runner here. If “degree of difficulty” comes into play as it often does at the Oscars, the crippled Laura of Celia Keenan-Bolger “Glass Menagerie” might take it. It’s really hard to call this one. But it also should be noted that Mare Winningham WON in this category for the Outer Critics Circle Awards. She tied with Andrea Martin for “Act One” who is not nominated for a Tony. And Celia Keenan-Bolger was not nominated for the OCC. And Celia has picked up some other precursor awards, too, it must be noted, which gives her the edge.

And Sophie Okenado and Anika Noni Rose might cancel each other out, being from the same show, “Raisin”, and “Raisin” wasn’t as acclaimed as “A Glass Menagerie” was.

It’s also hard to call the other Featured Actress in a Musical category winner. It was so close at the Drama Desk it was ANOTHER tie between Lauren Worsham and Anika Larsen for “Gentleman’s Guide…” and “Beautiful” respectively. It could either of these two, who were also profiled together in the New York Times. I’m going to do a coin toss and say it’s Anika.

She plays Carole King’s wise-cracking best friend and co-composer and rival song-writer. It’s a more substantial, and layered role. So I think Ms. Larsen takes this one.This most competitive category is rounded out by Linda Emond in “Cabaret” playing the Lotte Lenya role. And Lena Hall, playing a transgender MAN (who turns back into a woman!) in “Hedwig:And the Angry Inch.” And the stealth candidate is Adriane Lenox, who sings two sizzling songs in “After Midnight” and just steals the whole show. Full disclosure, she was my vote for the Drama Desk in this category.ANYbody could win and surprise in both these Featured Actress categories, really.

And then there’s Best Featured Actor in a Play, where we have the irresistible (to Tony Voters) Mark Rylance as Lady Olivia in the unforgettably delightful Elizabethan mounting of “Twelfth Night.” Even though this show is long closed and Rylance already has already won Tonys aplenty, I think he’s going to win again, against Reed Birney’s terrific, but evil transvestite Charlotte in “Casa Valentina.”

Rylance, who will inevitably recite an obscure poem when he wins, even if he’s there to accept(he may be in London), and bore the audience to death, also has the added bonus of being nominated in the Best Actor in a Play category for his “Richard III” which was performed in rep, with the glittering “Twelfth Night.”

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that though “A Gentleman’s Guide…” seems poised to win the most Tonys, its’ creative team are the ones that are going to carry the day, but none of its’ supremely talented performers look like they are going to win. The competition is THAT tough this year.

Jefferson Mays won the Outer Critics Circle and tied with Neil Patrick Harris for Best Actor in a Musical. And the terrific Bryce Pinkham as Monte Navarro, our hero,or anti-hero, as the most lovable serial killer ever is going to split the “A Gentleman’s Guide..” votes with Mays and they are both going to get steam-rolled by the Neil Patrick Harris juggernaut. Lauren Worsham, in the all-over-the-place, Best Featured Actress in a Musical category,tied with Anika Larsen in this category. Is her adorable, innocent, coloratura ingenue going to surprise and trounce Larsen. She might. She is cuteness and purity and good girl personified.

So don’t miss the Tonys tonight on CBS at 8pm. Hosted by the always watchable Hugh Jackman it will feature production numbers from all the the nominated musicals and a few more extra-special bits, too.

“Breaking Bad” just won Best Actor & Best Series on Golden Globes!

Well, I’m glad I stayed for this. Bryan Cranston, one of the greatest actors to ever grace a TV screen in American just won Best Actor for his historic Walter White in “Breaking Bad” and then “Breaking Bad” won Best TV series and I stay tuned long enough to hear Aaron Paul, yell at the assembled Golden masses “Yeah, bitch!” THAT was worth it…I thought from now until 10pm it was all going to be just boring TV show awards, until the 10:00 mark when they start giving out all the film awards.

Amy Poehler seemed OK but Tina Fay seemed off her game as the co-hosts. Er…

Steve Coogan, a recent guest on “The Stephen Holt Show,” introduced his film “Philomena” with the REAL Philomena Lee on his arm. Nice. Touching. Classy.

Now All is REALLY Lost, Alex Ebert just won “Best Score” for his unmemorable music for “All Is Lost”…Does this mean Robert Redford is going to win Best Actor Drama??? Hans Zimmer’s score for “12 Years” and T-Bone Burnett’s great work on “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Bono and the Edge just won Best Song….For “Mandela”, “Ordinary Love” I liked the film but don’t remember the song AT ALL.

The Golden Globes stay true to their star-f**ker reputation. Why am I surprised?

Mesmerzing”Maigret” French TV series now out on MHz DVDs!

Rarely, have I ever stumbled upon a new fictional detective that has totally mesmerized me. Full disclosure, I’m sort of obsessed by Agatha Christie and her great detectives Hercule Poirot and esp. Miss Marple. At last I’ve found some one new, who is quite  obsession-worthy  It is the late great French writer(Belgian born) Georges Simenon and his legendary police commissaire detective Jules Maigret. New to me, but well-known to millions of readers and viewers, esp. in Europe.’

Out now in a marvelously entertaining DVD set released by MHz videos, it features “Maigret” as played by the late great French actor Bruno Cremer, who is well into his 70s when he shot this wonderful series that ran for more than a decade on French TV. And how lucky the French are to have such a high quality TV series running regularly! Most American Network TV is a vulgar joke by comparison.(I’m not counting the excellent work now done on Cable. Like for instance, “Breaking Bad.” But it’s Cable and I don’t get AMC!! )

The Maigret novels have been filmed many, many times  in Europe on TV and in film, but I can’t imagine any of these incarnations beating Cremer’s Commissaire and this flawlessly executed, beautifully filmed TV series.

Subtitled, mais oui, it is always a brain teaser, and very atmospheric, as it takes you back in time to 1950s Paris, where Maigret, a very dogged police inspector, who does everything by the book ( if he can ) plies his trade, pursuing criminals of all social strata and bringing them to justice. As boring as this methodology seems, “Maigret” is never dull pour une instante!

Oui, he’s a for-real policeman, le vrai chose, and Simenon celebrates the French gendarmes at every turn. His Maigret is not a private detective like Poirot or Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or an amateur sleuth like Miss Marple. Maigret is actually a commissaire or commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.” There are no flatfoots or bumbling gum shoes here, as there always are in Agatha Christie. Policemen are shown to be intelligent, hard-working, admirable and relentless in the pursuit of crime. Simenon shows them as objects of great respect and not derision.

And Maigret, who simply smokes a pipe throughout almost every episode, is the most intelligent and sterling of them all. Like the also pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes, like all classical detectives, he’s observant and diligent to a fault. Nothing and no one escapes his seemingly casual glances. So you have to be truly as on your toes when you watch it, as he is, watching and listening carefully to everything. And what a Gallic joy that is!

Seventy-five novels and twenty-eight short stories about Maigret were published between 1931 and 1972. Georges Simenon wrote over a hundred novels and is considered one of France’s greatest and certainly most prolific writers of the last century, but Inspector Maigret was by far his most famous and widely beloved creation. There is a statue to George Simenon, mais oui, bien sur, in France, and also a statue to Maigret in Belgium! Are there any statues to Hercule Poirot lurking about the English countryside? Not that I know of.

Like Christie, each mystery is its’ own perfect stand-alone box of tantalizing puzzles. And one of the delights of this TV incarnation is its’ setting in ’50’s Paris. In  Parisian environs we don’t usually see in French films, so it all feels wonderfully classic and also refreshingly new at the same time.

Each episode of “Maigret” is like its’ own little movie, and the mysteries are almost always impenetrable to all but Commissaire Maigret.

Bruno Cremer’s height and girth and his low, rumbling, grumbling voice are perfectly suited to Maigret. He lumbers when he walks, has a police office that is notoriously untidy and has a distinct dislike of stairs. All traits I found impossibly endearing. His Maigret like all iconic roles in a great, perfectly cast performer’s hands is mesmerizing and you keep wanting to go back to him and see MORE. And MORE!

And with this new series of DVDs from MHz Networks you can! There is also now an MHz TV station in many cities. Check your local listings.

I’ve watched many of the MHz” Maigret”episodes twice. Indeed, the stories are so complex and the characters so deftly drawn,marvelously performed  and thoroughly French that you can’t wait to go back to them as see them re-watch again.  And warning, they’re addictive. They’ll grow on you.

All the actors were new to me (and I watch a lot of French movies!) very talented, and perfectly cast. One in particular whose intriguing name was Remi Martin, was notably good in “Seven Little Crosses”, as a distraught father of a missing child.

As Maigret and the entire Parisian police force, track the little boy as he runs about Paris breaking the glass on police call boxes, another peculiarly French anachronism, the sound of a person running and breathing heavily, is then slowly followed upon by shots only of the school boy’s feet running, running…Classy, eerie, as is the marvelous sound track by  Laurent Petitgirard.

It is a sweltering August Bank Holiday in pre-air-conditioned Paris. And is Maigret on vacation? Non! And he makes sure his entire staff is out sweating and tracking the murderer of old ladies who live alone. Who seems to be a prototypical serial killer.

Another episode that I enjoyed was “Maigret at L’Etoile du Nord” a hotel near the Gare du Nord train station. This time it’s Christmas and it’s snowing. And Maigret isn’t taking off for une Joyeux Noel. As he says, “Murderers don’t take off for the holidays.”

Another favorite quote, Maigret grumbles “I hate solving murders in hotels. You never know where to start!”

And he’s invariably calling the always unseen Madame Maigret, his wife, and apologizing for missing his train.

But don’t miss this delightful series of classic French thrillers!

And newsflash! “Maigret” and many other international crime-soliving TV series can be found on http://www.mhznetworks.org! Stay tuned, dear readers, dear cineastes, for the latest updates on these marvelous European TV series that I like and you might, too!

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Meet Dave Quay! A Star is Born!

Stephen Holt introduces multi-talented young actor, filmmaker, clown Dave Quay, recently graduated from the prestigious NYU Grad Acting program. He’s appearing in a new play “The Rufus Equation” in the NYC Fringe Festival and prepping his own clown show “Until Next Time” for the New York Clown Festival in late September in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Camera & Editing ~ Michael Grinfeld

“Breaking Bad” Season 5, Ep.9, Really Season 6, Ep.1

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert!

Everything that I predicted would happen in my last post happened. Hank figures out Walt is Heisenberg, the evil drug lord he’s been seeking. Hank’s implosion takes up most of the episode and he doesn’t quite know how to handle it, to put it VERY mildly. He punches Walt out in a tremendously impactful finale moment in his garage. The coming down of a closing garage door in the background at this moment is spectacularly simple and spectacularly ominous as it symbolizes that the lights are going to go out on Walt’s world.

Dean Norris as Hank is at his absolute best ever in this episode. He’s verging on a heart attack and absolutely losing his mind over the revelation that Walt is Heisenberg. Hank also senses that Skyler, Walt’s wife(Anna Gunn) is somehow in a this too. And she is. But he has no idea how much.

And Walt tells him that all his “theories” are “ridiculous” and that he can’t prove a thing. Walter tells him that he “will never spend a day in a jail cell” and “if he wants to pursue this”, he’d better “tread lightly”

I love the emphasis multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston gave to the words “TRED LIGHTLY.” He was threatened Hank as much as Hank was threatening him. Brilliant scene brilliantly played.

Jesse, (two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul) is losing it, too. He’s incredibly depressed because of the death of the young boy who got shot at the site of the train heist. Nothing Walt can do or say can seem to snap him out of it. The writers are going out of their way, it seems, to make Jesse sympathetic, as his curtain is ringing down, too. He wants to give away all his money to the grand-daughter of the late Mike, who he doesn’t know, but senses, is dead.

And Walt, as we the audience know, killed Mike in the last episode of the last season. But Walt is lying his head off to Jesse that Mike is still alive. And Jesse only half believes him. With good reason.

In a memorable moment, he gives away a huge chunk of cash to a rather reluctant homeless man, who just wants some change, not a gigantic wad of bills.

Jesse then continues on his mid-night ride through poor neighborhoods just throwing neatly wrapped stacks of bills on the front lawns of all the houses, some landing in the bushes, some actually going down a drain.

Skyler meanwhile comes full circle to Lady Macbeth. Period. She has a chilling confrontation scene with Lydia, the Madrigal corporate exec, who comes to their car-wash, she is so desperate to talk to Walt about the decline in quality of the meth she’s getting…

He keeps saying that he’s “out of it. I’m done.”

AND his cancer has come back. And he’s undergoing chemo again. And he tells Hank this is their big final confrontation scene. “My cancer has come back. I’ll be dead in a few months.”

Also we see at the beginning of the show, in a teaser before the opening credits, that the White’s House has been abandoned and boarded up. Walt is there to retrieve the Rycin he hid earlier in a wall socket, and there’s graffiti everywhere saying “Heisenberg” in BIG LETTERS all over the front living room wall. And there’s a gate and barbed wire encircling the property and the local kids are using the drained swimming pool as a skate-boarding rink. And a startled woman neighbor sees Walt and drops all her groceries which consist seemingly of nothing but oranges, as Walt says a cheery “Hello Carol.”

“Hello, Carol” and “Tred lightly” both lines of Walt’s delivered by Bryan Cranston, who is on his way to his fourth, or is it fifth(?) Emmy, I’m soooo sure.

I watched this online at http://www.amctv.com, on Monday night, because I don’t get AMC on my cable. But I’m glad I caught up with it. Thrilled actually. And the series-long confrontation between Walt and Hank in the garage was only about five minutes long, but WHAT AN ENDING for this episode!

What’s going to happen on Breakjng Bad tonight? My Guess.

This is just informed speculation, mind you, but with the beginning of the final season of “Breaking Bad’ only eight of them, the options like Walter White’s himself’s are growing more and more limited.

We left off with Dean Norris, who marvelously plays DEA agent & Walt’s brother-in-law Hank, suddenly having his “A Ha!” moment on the john as he reads a dedication to Walt’s in a paperback copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” that Walt has carelessly left in the guest bathroom.

In that now-famous copy of that probably more -read-than-ever book of Civil War-Era poetry, Hank sees a dedication that looks like it’s in Gael Bedeckker’s handwriting. Gael was the mild-mannered(read Gay) meth lab assistant that Jesse( the super-nova two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul) shot in the face a couple of seasons back.

Gael’s presence has emanated down the series, haunting it as it were, and I have to take a minute to rave about the superb New York actor David Costabile who played it so memorably, whose work I first became aware of at NYU Grad Acting in the Class of 1995.

But I do have to say that David’s work then as now with Gael and also in “Lincoln” this year, was always excellent. He also wrote a three person clown show called “The New Bozeena” Bozeena I think was a favorite Polish waitress at a local café on Second Ave. right next to one of NYU’s main building. It was so good it eventually went off-Broadway. He wrote it with Kevin Isola, a fellow classmate and performer, and another NYU chum, and all three I think made it into some group crowd scenes in Jim Carrey’s movie “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Needless to say, with Gael Bedeckker, David stepped into television history with “Breaking Bad.” As have all the leading actors. There’s no small parts, only small actors. And David Costabile is a HUGE talent.

But it’s the writing that stays so excellent, consistently, season after season that is what makes “Breaking Bad” the phenomenon it has been for the past five years.

So you have to ask yourself, what would these writers do with the end in sight? Well, I think we’re facing a blood-bath of most of the leading characters. So something like it.

We know that Bob Odenkirk’s hilariously low-life lawyer, survives because creator extraordinare Vince Gilligan has said in many forums that he hopes that there is going to be a spin-off series of “Better Call Saul.” In the works, as they say.

I think we pretty much can figure that this news of Walt’s knowing Gael and Hank’s “hunch” will profoundly freak out Hank and send him back to reviewing ALLLLL the information he’s obsessively accumulated about the mysterious “Heisenberg” Walt’s Meth Lord Alter Ego. I would say it launches him into a wild tail-spin of emotions. Does he tell his wife? Blabbermouth Marie? Seeing as how these astute writing team of “Breaking Bad” like to prolong things as long as possible, I would say that “No. He doesn’t tell Marie.” At least not in this first new episode.

Hank excellent DEA agent that he is would proceed cautiously. But proceed he will. Will he confront Walt this first episode? That might be one sharp way of ending it. Then we’re left with “What will Walt do?”

We know from the first episode teaser of Season Five. it’s a year later and Walt has grown all his hair back, changed his name, is living in another state and carrying a sub-machine gun in his trunk. An AK 47.

We also know, since I do listen to all the writers and Gilligan, talking on the Special Features that the new corporate gal from Madrigal, played by Scottish actress, Laura Fraser, is going to have a love interest, but it’s not Walt or Jesse. And we probably see a lot more of her excellent work(you could never tell that her frazzled exec was being played by a Scottish actress!) in Episode One Season Five A as I think they’re calling it.

And Skyler? Who has now gotten the children over to Hank and Marie’s is slowly unraveling. I bet she gets worse. Also the kids being at Hank and Marie’s would be another reason for Hank to keep his mouth shut around Marie…

And RJ Mitte. who is so touching as the cerebral palsied son Walt, Jr. has let it slip that “Hank Jr. faces a decision. He has to choose between his uncle and his father.” So he eventually finds out, too.

So who comes out of this alive? We see Saul, has survived, but everybody else is dubious. It’s a matter of life and death FOR ALL OF THEM!STAY TUNED!

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