Review: Jim Jarmusch finds true romance in ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE

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"only lovers left alive"Beneath Jim Jarmusch’s cool, hipster veneer beats the heart of a romantic and he proves it with Only Lovers Left Alive, a paean to the constancy of love wrapped in the tale of a vampire couple, soul mates for centuries. Horror nibbles at the edges for the ethereal twosome played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, but what resonates in this gorgeously photographed, often darkly funny drama is their unconditional devotion to one another.

Jarmusch says he took inspiration for this tale from Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Adam and Eve. Somehow from that congenial author’s fables about the biblical first humans, he glimpsed these ultimate outsiders. And while they may be bloodless, undead creatures, they also may be the warmest in the filmmaker’s universe. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a morose, reclusive rock musician, living among a huge vinyl record collection and a pile of vintage guitars in the ruins of Detroit. The more exuberant Eve (Tilda Swinton) resides in luxury in a beautifully appointed, book-filled home in Tangier. Though separated by geography, these opposites are as one.

Adam and Eve are also living in a dangerous time for their kind. Their food source, human blood, is no longer reliable. What runs through the zombies’ (as Adam derisively refers to mankind) veins is too often tainted. Eve has a reliable supply of the good stuff from the couple’s friend, playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt). Adam’s connection is a doctor (Jeffrey Wright). But when Adam and Eve come together again in Detroit, a reunion they celebrate with a night out clubbing with Eve’s wild child sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) and Adam’s human friend Ian (Anton Yelchin), their well-ordered lives fall apart, and along with it their connections. The couple is soon on the run and thirsty, very thirsty.

That need to feed prompts fear, but also soul searching for these creatures of the night. Is it time, at last, to reclaim their mortality? Ava calls them snobs, and they are. Scrounging for blood is at odds with the sophisticated images they present to the world. Death as an option would satisfy their vanity. Shuffling off the immortal coil together would be one last grand romantic gesture. It’s something to consider, anyway, on a long night in Tangier.

There is a lot of beauty in Only Lovers Left Alive, starting with the ravishing leads and Yorick Le Saux’s shimmering cinematography. Even Detroit’s desolation looks alluring in the film’s evocative nightscapes. More than its pretty stars and beautiful photography, it is Adam and Eve’s enduring passion that makes this Jarmusch’s most appealing film in years. The vampire trappings, the deadpan humor and the dangerous situation that threatens them are almost beside the point. One gets the feeling that if Adam and Eve’s hearts could still beat, upon seeing each other, they would beat a little faster – even after hundreds of years. –Pam Grady

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE: Jim Jarmusch airs a theory

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Jim Jarmusch is a Shakespeare fan, not just of the works themselves, but of the theories surrounding their authorship. He is not sure who wrote the plays and sonnets. Perhaps Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, the man immortalized by Rhys Ifans in Roland Emmerich’s 2011 drama Anonymous, or perhaps Christopher Marlowe. Whoever it was Jarmusch is certain that it wasn’t William Shakespeare.

It really doesn’t matter who wrote that stuff, in my opinion,” the filmmaker says. “It’s beautiful. In my opinion – along with Sigmund Freud, Orson Welles, Henry James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain – none of them bought that Shakespeare thing. Come on, it’s ridiculous, if you do any research at all.”

Jarmusch’s love of Shakespearean theory is what led him to write in Marlowe as best friend to Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) in his new romantic drama Only Lovers Left Alive. Like the couple, Marlowe is a vampire. Hundreds of years after his supposed death, he is living the undead life in Tangier. More curious is that, according to the history books, the Elizabethan playwright was only 29 when he was murdered in 1593, but Jarmusch cast 74-year-old John Hurt to play him.

Because Marlowe’s death, the more I researched it, it seems totally faked,” Jarmusch says. “I don’t believe in Marlowe’s death, so another conspiracy comes to light. And Marlowe is a possibility, so in this version I’m going with the Marlowe theory.

It’s so crazy,” he adds “You mean Shakespeare wrote all that shit and there’s not a single manuscript of a single page. Where did it go? Come on! What is this? It’s the biggest conspiracy in literary history. I find it fascinating. Someday I might make a documentary on my Marlowe theory, but I don’t know. I snuck it in here.”

Only Lovers Left Alive may not convince the world that William Shakespeare didn’t write a thing and that it was Christopher Marlowe all along, but Jarmusch has made at least one convert: John Hurt.

He hadn’t really researched it much,” Jarmusch says. “Now he’s definitely sure that Shakespeare wrote nothing. He’s pretty sure it wasn’t DeVere, but he’s reading everything, too. It’s just fun to get his mind going. He’s like, ‘Thank you! I now know Shakespeare didn’t write a thing!’

I love it when Adam says, ‘Well, you still got the work out there, kid.’ It’s kind of like, ‘Well, you still did your job even though no one will know you wrote it ever.’” Pam Grady

 

Review: A role he was born to play: Jude Law in DOM HEMINGWAY

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dom hemingwayDom Hemingway begins with an uproarious monologue, an ode to the titular safecracker’s anatomy delivered with profane bravado by an actor clearly relishing his role. After nearly two decades of playing the pretty boy – Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Errol Flynn in The Aviator, Alfie’s incorrigible womanizer, etc. – Jude Law comes into his own as a character actor in Richard Shepard’s (The Matador, The Hunting Party) screwball Brit crime comedy delivering a performance that is a bawdy beauty to behold.

With 20 pounds added to his normally lean frame, terrible prosthetic teeth, a misshapen nose, horrible sideburns, a disco era wardrobe, and pugnacious gait, Law looks every inch what Dom Hemingway is supposed to be: a working-class criminal with flamboyant tastes and an even more extravagant personality. After serving 12 years in prison, he is eager to collect his best mate Dickie (the wonderfully deadpan Richard E. Grant) and head to France to collect money owed to him by crime boss Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). He would also like to reconnect with his estranged daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), who equates her father’s imprisonment with abandonment.

Standing in Dom’s way, whether it’s in his interactions with Mr. Fontaine and Evelyn or in his attempt to slide back into a life of crime, is Dom himself. He is an alcoholic with a volcanic temper and absolutely no filter. Even in the most favorable situation, he finds a way to give offense, vulgarities and insults tumbling out of his mouth with zero regard for how they will be received. To be sure, Dom is hilarious. He is one witty, vulgar and weirdly erudite guttersnipe, a kick to watch, but clearly his own worst enemy.

After spending the last several years directing TV shows, such as Criminal Minds and Girls, and making the documentary I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, writer/director Shepard makes an impressive return. Dom Hemingway does not rise to the level of Brit crime classics like Get Carter or Sexy Beast, but it is a pleasure to watch. Shepard’s hilarious; raunchy dialogue; Lawrence Dorman’s gaudy production design; an ’80s soundtrack; and a wonderful supporting add up to some really big fun. It is Law, though, inhabiting the soul of this goodhearted but completely bonkers not-so-master criminal that makes Dom Hemingway such a treat. This is a role he was born to play. —Pam Grady

The CAPTAIN (AMERICA, that is) and the CONDOR

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Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Captain-America-and-Alexander-PiercePlus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Robert Redford’s very presence in the blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier lends truth to that 19th-century epigram, coined by writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. Not because that august actor has spent much time among superheroes, spandex, CGI, and larger-than-life combat. In fact, Captain America is a first in a career that is now into its sixth decade. But in taking part in this mammoth entertainment Redford inadvertently calls forth memories of one of his classic ’70s movies, Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor.

At a glance, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Three Days of the Condor would appear to have little beyond Redford in common. The latter is a 1975 paranoid thriller, short on action but high in suspense as Redford plays Joseph Turner, a CIA member – not a spy, but a reader whose job it is to ferret out whatever intelligence can be gleaned from poring over books, newspapers, and magazines – who becomes a target after his entire section is killed while he’s at lunch. The stakes are higher in Captain America as the titular superhero Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) fights to save humanity from those who would enslave it in vicious battles that range from urban warfare to skirmishes in the sky against hordes of committed killers and one seemingly unstoppable Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

For all the films’ surface differences, the similarities are striking. In both, the guiding principle is “Trust no one,” advice explicitly given Rogers by his boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and quickly understood by Turner when his attempt to come in from the cold goes awry. The CIA, for which Turner toils, has been compromised from within, and so has SHIELD, the agency that employees Rogers.

Three Days of the Condor, adapted from James Grady’s 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor, reflects the cynicism of the Watergate era. Coming out in the aftermath of WikiLeaks’ many exposés and Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, adapted from the Marvel comic book series, expresses this era’s distrust of institutions in a plot that ups the ante: The duplicitous faction of the CIA in Three Days of the Condor only mean to wreak havoc in part of the world, while the criminal elements in SHIELD want to take over the entire planet.

Redford’s presence ties the two films together. Joseph Turner is not the idealist that Steve Rogers is, but his honest skepticism makes him a hero for his times just as Captain America is for his. More intriguing is the part that Redford plays in Captain America, Alexander Pierce, the head of the World Security Council and a former SHIELD leader, a man as slippery as they come and a character that resembles J. Higgins (Cliff Robertson), Turner’s tricky CIA superior. Both men make a stab at projecting honesty and moral authority. Yet, it’s hard to imagine buying a used car from either one of them, let alone trusting them with your life as Rogers and Turner are asked to do. Redford’s role has changed, but the shady bosses haven’t. The more things change, the more they stay the same. —Pam Grady

Roxie Theater’s I WAKE UP DREAMING Fundraiser Stars Rare Noir

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The Argyle SecretsThirty films will unreel at the 2014 edition of Elliot Lavine’s I Wake Up Dreaming noir film festival, a staple since 1990 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. During the festival’s 10-day run—Friday, May 16-Sunday, May 25—Lavine promises “a spectrum of pre-code crime, proto-noir, full-on film noir, and even a smattering of post-noir.” He will announce the full lineup and screen 1948′s The Argyle Secrets, a rarity not seen on the big screen locally in nearly seven decades, at the Roxie’s first ever I Wake Up Dreaming benefit on Wednesday, March 26.

The Roxie event promises to be a memorable evening that will also include an auction of vintage noir memorabilia; the unveiling of the 2014 I Wake Up Dreaming poster, featuring the work of artist Mark Stock, who will be on hand to sign posters; a screening of Rudolph Maté’s 1949 classic D.O.A.; and free liquor.

The evening’s highlight, Cy Endfield’s The Argyle Secrets, stars William Gargan as a reporter implicated in murder and on the hunt for an album, made distinctive by its argyle cover, that contains the names of American Nazi collaborators.

Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, “[The Argyle Secrets] shot on a B-minus budget in six days and running just over an hour, crams so much hallucinatory plot into one 24-hour period that the results have some of the hysteria as well as the dreamy drift of subsequent apocalyptic thrillers like Kiss Me Deadly.”

All money raised at the benefit will go toward supporting the nonprofit Roxie’s repertory programming.

Tickets for the first ever I Wake Up Dreaming benefit are $25. The event begins at 7pm with entertainment, the auction, poster signings and refreshments. The Argyle Secrets screens at 8pm, followed by D.O.A.  At 9:30.

For more information, call the Roxie at 415-431-3611 or Elliot Lavine at 510-482-1659.

Review: Wes Anderson evokes a lost era in the magnificent GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

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Fiennes_RevoloriPastry looms large in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the product of Mendl’s, the most sublime bakery of all in the kingdom of Zubrowka, its treats packaged in pretty pink boxes. In a way, those baked goods stand as symbols of the whole movie: absolutely gorgeous, irresistible and completely delicious. Set in two opposing eras—the opulent years between the two world wars and the drabness of the Cold War—The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most ambitious work to date, evident in his attention to every detail.  It is hilarious, but also a film of great heart as he once more visits the relationship between a father and a son.

Or a faux father and a son, as the case may be.  Like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore,   Grand Budapest Hotel concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) are not related. Yet, once the older man takes the teenager under his wing, it doesn’t take long for that relationship to develop.  It seems unlikely at the outset. M. Gustave is an excellent concierge, always willing to provide extra service to his guests—particularly the elderly ladies—but he is also  vain, imperious and shallow. If he barely noticed Zero at all, it would be unsurprising. Instead, he responds to the boy’s loyalty, respect and work ethic. By the time, aged Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies, earning M. Gustave the enmity of her vicious son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) when she remembers the concierge in her will, M. Gustave and Zero share a solid bond. Nothing can break it, not Dmitri’s machinations, separation or even a fascist invasion.

It is the elderly Zero (F. Murray Abraham), the 1960s-era owner of the Grand Budapest—now long gone to seed—who tells the story to a curious guest, a writer (Jude Law). In the old man’s memories, his youth is almost a fairy tale. Certainly, Zubrowka resembles someplace out of a fable, its luxury exaggerated, the hotel exterior and the mountains surrounding it made of miniatures. At key points, Anderson turns to Fantastic Mr. Fox-style animation. Adam Stockhausen’s (Moonrise Kingdom) production design is exquisite. Anderson’s films are always jewels, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most glittering one of them all.

A huge ensemble populates Zubrowka, including Murray, Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux, Mathieu Amalric, Saorise Ronan and Edward Norton, yet it is an intimate comedy, focused on Fiennes and Revolori. The movie is a gift to Fiennes, an actor whose looks and manner have stood him well in such films as Quiz Show, The English Patient, The End of the Affair and his own recent The Invisible Woman. He was built for period pieces and The Grand Budapest Hotel hits his sweet spot.

Anderson’s love for classic films is evident throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel. Somewhere Ernst Lubitsch is smiling. But in evoking a lost era, Anderson does not pay mere homage, he instead applies his unique humor and sensibility to that time.  What emerges is something magnificent. In fact, it’s pretty grand, this Grand Budapest Hotel. –Pam Grady

Roxie Theater prepares for GRAND BUDAPEST with Wes Anderson retrospective

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anderForget about Rice-A-Roni. The real San Francisco treat this week can be found in the Mission at the Roxie Theater where they are celebrating upcoming opening of Wes Anderson’s latest confection (a word entirely appropriate to this particular movie) The Grand Budapest Hotel with a 35mm retrospective of Wes Anderson’s finest. Even better: Buy a ticket to any of the shows to enroll automatically in the Zissou Society, the perk of membership being a special sneak preview of what the Roxie is calling “a very exciting new movie” (read between the lines, people) on Thursday, March 13.

The Roxie Theater’s Wes Anderson retrospective runs Saturday, March 8-Thursday, March 13, a schedule that runs as follows:

Saturday, March 8: Moonrise Kingdom, 2:15pm and Rich Kids, 4pm. (The latter may not be a Wes Anderson film, but MiDNiTES FOR MANiACS is co-presenting with the promise that this 1979 comedy-drama—executive produced by Robert Altman—will reveal Anderson’s “secret DNA.”)

Sunday, March 9: The Royal Tenenbaums, 7pm

Monday, March 10: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 7pm

Tuesday, March 11: The Darjeeling Limited, 7pm

Wednesday, March 12: Fantastic Mr. Fox, 7pm

Thursday, March 13: The delectable surprise sneak preview for Zissou Society members. A hint: It involves Wes Anderson. (Presented in DCP), 7pm.

For tickets and further information, visit http://www.roxie.com.

Review: A misbegotten WINTER’S TALE

DSC_0873.dngIt is such a pity that Colin Farrell’s character in Winter’s Tale isn’t named Wilbur and that the white horse that adopts him and becomes his protector doesn’t talk. Akiva Goldsman’s magnificently wrongheaded adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel is so unintentionally funny that it might have worked as a big-screen remake of TV’s Mr. Ed. As the magical and moving drama that it is supposed to be, it is a misconceived failure.

Farrell is Peter Lake, an orphan and burglar in early 20th-century New York, who falls on the wrong side of demonic crime boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) at about the same time he meets beautiful consumptive Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). Soames is upset that Lake quit working for him and that “he started having ideas … Ideas can do more good than harm.” Soames is also somebody one doesn’t quit on and so he has Peter – and by extension, Beverly – in his cross-hairs. In Peter’s favor is the white horse with the otherworldly properties that acts as a kind of guardian angel, keeping Peter a gallop away from Soames and his goons.

Peter’s friend Humpstone John (Graham Greene) informs him that there is a miracle inside of everyone and that is the theme that overrides a story that jumps 100 years in the future. Peter, Pearly and another character or two haven’t aged a bit, but Beverly’s little sister Willa is now played by 89-year-old Eva Marie Saint. (Goldsman doesn’t adjust for the three decades since Helprin’s book came out, so perhaps the film’s biggest miracle is that Willa would be something like 110 years old and yet she’s still robust enough to run the family business.) When Peter meets food writer Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connolly) and her young daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo) – like Beverly so long ago, redheaded and ill – there is a sense of destiny and of history possibly repeating itself.

The elements in place here – a romance made complicated by one lover’s illness and the target on the other’s back, a man fated to walk the earth until he achieves his purpose, a vengeful boss with a deadly secret, a sick child, a protective steed, miracles, the stars as a repository of souls (seriously) – churn together to form a kind of ridiculous stew. It is a handsome stew, Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is gorgeous and production designer Naomi Shohan’s recreation of pre-World War I New York is exquisite, but it is ridiculous nonetheless in both plot and dialogue. Of course, things could always be worse. Winter’s Tale could have been merely deadly dull, badly executed melodrama. Instead, it’s inadvertent comedy.

The film further suffers from one piece of jaw-droppingly bad casting in Will Smith as “The Judge,” aka Lucifer. As God’s fallen angel, the congenial Smith does not compute. Certainly, the devil can be charming, but he should have some bite and that is something Smith lacks.

The other actors fare better, especially Farrell, who skates through on his considerable charm. But his charisma can only carry the movie so far. In absence of a better script and a stronger story, a movie being sold as a poignant Valentine’s Day romance instead evokes laughter and memories of a certain talking equine. – Pam Grady

A different measure of making it: T-Bone Burnett on INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

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tboneInside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, captures a moment in New York when a folk music revival was going strong inside smoky Greenwich Village clubs and on weekend afternoons in Washington Square Park. T-Bone Burnett, the lanky Texan who first worked with the Coens as their musical archivist on The Big Lebowski, won two Grammys as the music producer on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and serves as executive music producer on the new film, was just a kid in Fort Worth when all of that was going on. In 1975, though, he joined Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and got to know several of those musicians from those days. While the Coens have said they were particularly inspired by the life and career of Dave Van Ronk, Llewyn could as easily have been conjured from a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott or a David Blue.

“That was a time when they were just trying to be good there,” Burnett says during a recent visit to San Francisco. “That’s a beautiful thing. That’s where everything happens, in fact. All the great things happen in small communities that aren’t thinking in grand thoughts. They’re thinking about taking care of the things that are right under their noses. All this energy converged there, so I would say in that way Llewyn wasn’t a guy who was thinking about making in that way. He’s just a guy thinking about what’s good, it seems to me. He’s just thinking like what’s good music and what’s not, according to him. That’s always what it is. It’s about taste. It didn’t seem like to me that he was a guy thinking, ‘I’ve got to make it.’

Maybe David Blue thought he would make it,” he adds. “Phil Ochs thought he would make it. Phil Ochs put on a gold lame suit. It was mocking making it. He was doing some kind of like, ‘I’m the folk Elvis,’ and it was ironic and it was meant as a joke, but I don’t think it landed exactly the way he wanted it to, although I have a lot of admiration for Phil Ochs – for all those guys.

llewyn 2Certainly, if Llewyn Davis has any thoughts of success on even a modest level, he is also the one person who can ensure that that will never happen. Part of Burnett’s job in choosing the music was choosing which songs Llewyn would include in his repertoire for any given occasion, thus Child ballad #170 a/k/a “The Death of Queen Jane” becomes a key song in Llewyn’s universe.

He goes for his big audition in Chicago and he has a chance at the big time, and the song he chooses to play is a song about a Caesarean section, so he’s not a guy who’s going out of his way to try to alter show biz,” says Burnett.

Burnett thinks that every musician, even the most successful, will find something to identify with in Llewyn Davis. Everyone, he points out, goes through periods of boom and bust. Someone who’s the most happening thing out there today is nobody again tomorrow only to rise up once more out of the ashes. What is different for Llewyn and those folk musicians back in the day is a matter of scale. Until Bob Dylan came along, the New York contingent defined success by a different measure.

Specific to that time, I would say that one of the interesting things about it is is that was a time where there was a park, Washington Square Park, and there were all these different camps that played in the park and there was never any – all the competition was within the park,” says Burnett. “It was all for space in the park, it wasn’t for trends on Twitter or something, right? It was for square feet in a little grassy area downtown – in the country of New York, because back then the Village was the country. Nobody was thinking about being famous. They were thinking about what was good and what was authentic and they were thinking about all these kinds of questions.

So that’s why when Dylan came along, there was all this extraordinary music everywhere. They were all infighting and he was just like Fast Eddie came to town and just ran the table. He said, ‘I’ll have some of that and that and that.’ He had no compunction – he was doing the right thing. Those people were looking backward and they were doing the right thing, too. They were going backward and preserving and he was going backward and forward at the same time. He was going backward and preserving and all of that and then he was reinventing for us now. We’re still living in his reinvention of it now.” – Pam Grady

ANOTHER DAY/ANOTHER TIME: CELEBRATING THE MUSIC OF “INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS” gets Dec. Showtime premiere

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Oh to have been in New York on September 29th for this concert at Town Hall celebrating the new Coen Bros. film Inside Llewyn Davis and the music that inspired it. Produced by T-Bone Burnett – the executive producer of the movie’s sublime soundtrack – the show’s performers included Llewyn Davis himself, Oscar Isaac; Joan Baez; Patti Smith; Jack White; Marcus Mumford (associate music producer on the film who also performs on the soundtrack); Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; Punch Brothers; and more.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime event that only a lucky few saw. On Friday, December 13, 10PM ET/PT, the rest of us can experience a vicarious thrill of that evening when Showtime airs Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a 101-minute concert documentary produced by Burnett, the Coens and Scott Rudin.

Personally, I don’t get Showtime, but I will be hitting up my friends who do. - Pam Grady

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