erik lundegaard

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Monday July 22, 2013

Ranking Every Freakin' Superhero Movie Ever Made with Erik Lundegaard

Ranking superhero movies

Intro

As we did with best pictures, as we did with baseball movies, we're now doing with superhero movies. Ranking them. All 96 of them and counting. 

It ain't easy to do. Sure, after a minute or two or 10 you've got your top movies. But those middling ones? The half OK, half awful ones? Brutal. How do you parse all of that disappointment? We're living in the superhero-movie age, yet there haven't been many great superhero movies, have there? Maybe there can't be. Maybe it's ultimately too juvenile a genre.

Caveat: I'm a Silver Age Marvel guy. What Frank Miller did with the genre is more Mickey Spillane than Stan Lee to me. Stan was about inner turmoil surrounded an outer toughness; Miller is about an outer toughness surrounding an inner cruelty. The Inhumans, created by Jack Kirby, are more human than Miller's humans. This point-of-view is reflected in my list.

But enough. Up up and away, semi-true believers! Or thwip! Or snikt! Or ... Yeah. Onward.

Erudite Erik's Superhero Movie Rankings

1. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
2. Superman: The Movie (1978)
3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
4. X2: X-Men United (2003)
5. Iron Man (2008)
6. The Incredibles (2004)
7. Unbreakable (2000)
8. Spider-Man (2002)
9. X-Men (2000)
10. The Dark Knight (2008)

For me, “Spidey 2” wins it not only for adhering so well to the Silver-Age Marvel comic (“Spider-Man No More!”), but for giving us epic battles followed by poignant moments (elevated train, pieta; final battle, revelation). Christopher Reeve's original “Superman” is still the model on which most superhero movies are based. Plus it makes me feel 15 again. Joss Whedon gave us the epic Kirbyesque battle that the Fantastic Four/Galactus movie should have been (and didn't come close to being), while “X2” would probably be even higher on my list if its ending battle wasn't so ... meh. Obviously fanboys will be disappointed that “The Dark Knight” isn't ranked higher but it only made my top 10 because of Heath Ledger. But if it makes you feel better, Batfans, here's the IMDb rankings, where the entire “Dark Knight” trilogy is a little higher.

11. The Mark of Zorro (1940)
12. Mystery Men (1999)
13. Man of Steel (2013)
14. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
15. Batman (1966)
16. Iron Man 2 (2010)
17. The Mask of Zorro (1998)
18. Batman Begins (2005)
19. X-Men: First Class (2011)
20. Batman (1989)

Someday I should post on the Zorro movies the way I did with Superman movies. Or is that a groan I hear? And is it from me? “Mystery Men” is the best of the superhero comedies, followed closely by the Adam West “Batman.” Note: already the disappointment begins. “Man of Steel” gave us too much Krypton in the first half and too much destruction in the second. Ed Norton's “Hulk” worked best in Latin America, worst in Harlem. “Batman Begins” suffers from missed opportunities.

21. Superman Returns (2006)
22. Hancock (2008)
23. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
24. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
25. The Mark of Zorro (1920)
26. Superman II: The Donner Cut (2006)
27. Hellboy (2004)
28. Iron Man 3 (2013)
29. Batman (1943)
30. Thor (2011)

I'm a bigger fan of “Superman Returns” than most. “Hancock” was onto something but lost it. “Captain America” felt too anodyne, while “Amazing Spider-Man” rebooted too soon, tried too hard to be “Dark Knight,” and its hero was overall too distracted. (Hello? The Burglar?) Watch “the Donner cut” of Supes II for the first scene, which is great. I need to see “Hellboy” again. “Iron Man 3” makes it this high for the middle portion, Iron Man unironed, and for Robert Downey, Jr., who never loses his sense of irony. “Thor”? Verily, he never did much for me. By this point, not even halfway through the list, we're already beginning to get into the dregs.

31. Superman (1948)
32. Sky High (2005)
33. Kick-Ass (2010)
34. Blade (1998)
35. Chronicle (2012)
36. Hero at Large (1980)
37. Superman II (1981)
38. Watchmen (2009)
39. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
40. Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)

I can be persuaded to switch my vote on a lot of these. “Kick Ass” is better than “Sky High”? Sure. I just remember being charmed by the latter, pissed off by the former. “Blade” is better than “Thor”? Could be. At this point, I'm shrugging my shoulders.

41. Fantastic Four (2005)
42. Hulk (2003)
43. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
44. Batman Forever (1995)
45. Blade: Trinity (2004)
46. The Green Hornet (2011)
47. Superhero Movie (2008)
48. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
49. Batman Returns (1992)
50. The Shadow (1994)

It's getting painful now, isn't it? All those hours wasted: Mine, yours and the filmmakers'. All those dollars down the drain. All that talent that could've been working on better things.

51. Batman and Robin (1949)
52. Superman III (1983)
53. Daredevil (2003)
54. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
55. Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
56. Ghost Rider (2007)
57. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
58. Elektra (2005)
59. Green Lantern (2011)
60. The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981)

For a while I thought “Daredevil” was the worst superhero movie ever made. Those were the days.

61. Supergirl (1984)
62. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
63. Batman and Robin (1997)
64. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
65. The Spirit (2008)

Can a superhero movie be worse than Frank Miller's “The Spirit”? Possibly. I haven't seen the 1994 version of “Fantastic Four,” for example. But “The Spirit” is at the bottom here because while “Supergirl” is awful, and “Spider-Man 3” destroys the legacy of the first two movies (while destroying Spider-Man's entire raison d'etre), and “Batman and Robin” is a chesse factory, and “Superman IV” ruins what good feelings we had left over from the Chris Reeve/Superman franchise, at least it had good intentions. Frank Miller had stars, budget, studio backing. He had power and he created this CGI crapfest. We never get outside of his imagination and his imagination is small and dirty. It’s appropriate that our first set piece is the swampland outside Central City, because that’s what Miller’s imagination feels like to me. There, the Octopus clangs a toilet over The Spirit’s head and laughs, and when The Spirit doesn’t join in, when none of us join in, he declares, in full Sam Jackson bore, “Come on! Toilets are always funny!” To quote from the film: “Pardon me, but is there a point to this? I’m getting old just listening to you.”

Not Yet Seen

Don Q: Son of Zorro (1925)
Zorro Rides Again (1937)
Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939)
The Shadow (1940)
Adventures of Captian Marvel (1941)
The Phantom (1943)
Captain America (1944)
Flash Gordon (1980)
The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)
Darkman (1990)
Captain America (1990)
The Rocketeer (1991)
The Meteor Man (1993)
The Fantastic Four (1994)
Blankman (1994)
The Phantom (1996)
Steel (1997)
Spawn (1997)
The Specials (2000)
Blade II (2002)
The Punisher (2004)
Catwoman (2004)
The Legend of Zorro (2005)
Zoom (2006)
My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Megamind (2010)
Super (2011)

Your Turn

Rank the Superhero movies

Christopher Reeve, Superman

Go on; you know you want to rank 'em.

Posted at 09:38 AM on Jul 22, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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Thursday July 11, 2013

AFI's Top 10 Movies of the 1980s, Give or Take

After posting my list of the top 10 films of the 1980s, as well as IMDb's, I wondered how the '80s looked to the American Film Institute, that august body of ... whoever.

It released its top 100 movies in 1998, then again 10 years later. The first list, which was put together when the '80s weren't yet 10 years past, included only six movies from that decade, and most of these were from the earlier, '70s-influenced part of the decade:

  • 24. Raging Bull (1980)
  • 25. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • 53. Amadeus (1984)
  • 60. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • 62. Tootsie (1982)
  • 83. Platoon (1986)

By 2008 and the second list, “Raging Bull” had roared up from 24th to 4th place, while “E.T.” had roared up ... one place, to 24th. Everything else fell back: “Raiders” six places, “Tootsie” seven, “Platoon” three. Three other movies were added, but only one (“Do the Right Thing”) from the latter part of the decade. One movie, “Amadeus,” inexplicable fell off the list entirely:

  • 4. Raging Bull (1980)
  • 24. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  • 66. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • 69. Tootsie (1982)
  • 86. Platoon (1986)
  • 91. Sophie's Choice (1982)
  • 96. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  • 97. Blade Runner (1982)

So how do the '80s look to AFI? Here's a graph of the films on their second list, separated by decade:

AFI's top 100 movies by decade

A bit of a dropoff there. Except for the first decades of the 20th century (the silent era), and the first decade of the 21st century (the yahoo era), the 1980s are considered the worst decade for Hollywood movies by Hollywood people.

Will this change as the '80s recede from view and we begin to see what made the decade unique? Doubtful. What made the decade unique wasn't very artistic and it's art that lasts.

Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, the most honored movie of the 1980s

“Raging Bull,” the most honored movie of the 1980s, has at least one foot in the 1970s.

Posted at 07:58 AM on Jul 11, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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IMDb's Top 10 Movies of the 1980s

Yesterday I posted my top 10 movies of the 1980s. Here's IMDb's version, followed by rating and ranking:

  1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980): 8.8; 11th place
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981): 8.6; 27th place
  3. Back to the Future (1985): 8.5; 44th place
  4. The Shining (1980): 8.5 46th place
  5. Aliens (1986): 8.4; 57th place
  6. Das Boot (1981): 8.4; 72nd place
  7. Cinema Paradiso (1988): 8.4; 73rd place
  8. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983): 8.3; 78th place
  9. Once Upon a Time in America (1984): 8.3; 79th place
  10. Full Metal Jacket (1987): 8.3; 81st place

“Return of the Jedi” still makes the cut. Funny.

Funnier? The movie between “Back to the Future” and “The Shining” is something called “Citizen Kane.”

Oedipal issues in "Back to the Future"

Charles Foster Kane had mother issues, too.

Posted at 06:32 AM on Jul 11, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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Wednesday July 10, 2013

Since Nobody Asked, My Top 10 Movies of the 1980s

Movie Mezzanine recently asked a bunch of critics for their top 10 movies of the '80s and printed, or least uploaded, the results. Since no one asked, I thought I'd join the party.

Man, what a sucky decade for film. And politics. And culture in general. It's the decade when we began to turn right, tune out and dumb down. Director-driven movies died and studio-produced sequels thrived. Woody Allen stumbled out of the gate but found himself and created some of his most inventive work. Martin Scorsese started with a bang and ended with a bang but lost himself in the middle. Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Hal Ashby, Orson Welles, and John Huston died. Francis Ford Coppola made “One from the Heart.”

Here's my list. Feel free to add yours below.

  1. Amadeus (1984)
  2. Tootsie (1982)
  3. Raging Bull (1980)
  4. The Right Stuff (1983)
  5. Matewan (1987)
  6. Raising Arizona (1987)
  7. 28 Up (1984)
  8. My Life as a Dog (1985)
  9. Do The Right Thing (1989)
  10. This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Tough to leave off: Blue Velvet (1986), Bull Durham (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Coup de Torchon (1982), Die Hard (1988), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Hannah and her Sisters (1986), Jean de Florette (1986), The Princess Bride (1987). 

Top 10 movies of the 1980s: Do the Right Thing, Amadeus, Tootsie, Matewan

Posted at 06:24 AM on Jul 10, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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Sunday February 10, 2013

My Top 10 Movies of 2012

How do you judge the value of a film? Is it while watching it? Immediately after? During the talking and writing? In how much it stays with you? In whether you want to see it again next week? Next year? In five years? Does it say anything worth saying about what it means to exist? Does it at least entertain in a way that doesn't feel diminishing? Does it entertain without sapping our strength?

In ranking the best movies of the year, I try for some combination of all of these.

I still say 2012 was a weak year for movies. I had my favorites early on in 2009, 2010 and 2011: “L'heure d'ete,” “Up,” “Un Prophete,” “Restrepo,” “The Tree of Life,” “Des hommes et des dieux.” I had no favorites early this year. SIFF let me down. The distributors of good French films let me down. It took them so long to get “Rust and Bone” to me. I needed it last summer when stuck in the stench between superhero July and weak-tea August. September and October had its upswings but November and December were mostly cold and harsh. In the American hinterlands, such as Seattle, we wait for January and February for the best movies to finally arrive. And sometimes they're not the best movies. 

Here's my list for the best movies of 2012. When I finally put it together, right now, I thought, “You know, it's not that bad a list.”


10. Searching for Sugar Man

In the 1970s in South Africa, so the story goes, there were three albums in every white, liberal (read: anti-Apartheid) home: “Abbey Road” by the Beatles; “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel; and “Cold Fact” by Rodriguez. Everyone listened to Rodriguez. “He was the soundtrack to our lives,” says record-shop owner Steve Segerman. It just took awhile for the South Africans to realize, isolated as they were by Apartheid, that while everyone in the world knew about the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, nobody anywhere knew anything about Rodriguez.

So who was he? Where was he from? Was he still alive? How did his music get to South Africa? Documentarian Malik Bendjelloul blows it, in part, by not beginning with the mystery in South Africa but with Rodriguez himself in the 1970s in Detroit, where he lived and recorded. And died? But the story itself makes up for this miscue.

Searching for Sugar Man

9. Argo

Ben Affleck’s “Argo” is the type of movie Hollywood never makes any more: a thriller for adults, steeped in history and humor. The tension at the end is so heightened I almost got a headache. But it’s what they do at the beginning that is particularly noteworthy.

Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio have the audacity to show us, in storyboard fashion, a short history of Iran and its shahs, and of the election in 1950 of Mohammad Mosaddegh, an author and lawyer, who nationalized British and U.S. petroleum in his country, and who was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by MI6 and the CIA three years later. His replacement was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom we all knew as the Shah of Iran, whose lifestyle was profligate, whose police force was ruthless, and who attempted to westernize his country, angering Islamic clerics. This helped lead to his own coup d’etat in 1979, which brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini. Later that year, Iranian students overwhelmed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Thus began the age we live in.

the hostages in Ben Affleck's "Argo" (2012)

8. The Avengers

This is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s imbued with the same spirit that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought to comic books in the early 1960s. Comics under Stan and Jack grew like Bruce Banner under gamma radiation. They grew not only in sales but stature. They grew up. There was a new seriousness—superheroes had problems, superhero teams fought each other like family members—but there was also that pizzazz, that lack of seriousness, that insouciance. Jack’s drawings brought the gravitas and Stan’s personality the lighter-than-air pizzazz. Whedon’s “The Avengers” has that same spirit. It’s fast and fun and contains laugh-out-loud moments. It’s epic and smart and never gets bogged down. At one point I looked at my watch and nearly two hours had passed. Foosh.

How about the scene where all the aliens go after the Hulk? Twenty on one. How about that long, epic, tracking shot that shows us each Avenger in the midst of battle, like some two-page, single-panel extravaganza from Jack Kirby or John Romita or John Byrne? Christopher Nolan in his Batman movies uses quick cuts like he’s directing an MTV video for our distracted age. Whedon seems to be asking himself: How much epic battle can I contain in one tracking shot? He’s the Alfonso Cuaron of superhero directors.

The Avengers assemble

7. Monsieur Lazhar

Most teachers in these types of movies are human but heroic. Monsieur Lazhar is human but a fake. In Algeria, he was a civil servant and restaurateur, not a teacher. He isn’t even a citizen of Canada. He’s struggling to stay in the country as a political refugee but the government has doubts about his story. It thinks Algeria is back to normal now. “Algeria is never completely normal,” he responds.

He may be a fake teacher but he’s genuine. He’s fussy and a little nervous. He’s scrupulous in manner. He wants the kids to learn. He has nightmares that, because he didn’t do his job correctly, they’ll become grown-ups but speak as children. A description for our entire culture.

Monsieur Lazhar

6. Amour

Returning from a piano concerto, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) comments to his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) about the scuff marks on the lock to their beautiful high-ceilinged Paris apartment. They’re screwdriver marks. Someone has tried to break in. He dismisses the would-be thieves as amateurs, not professionals, but for the rest of the movie this feeling of imminent invasion and theft never goes away. It always feels like someone or something is about to come through the door because something is. The movie is about the most professional thief of all. The one we can’t keep out. The one who, in the end, takes everything.

If most movies lie to us or ply us with wish-fulfillment fantasies (we are handsome, good and victorious), the movies of German writer-director Michael Haneke do the opposite: they lay bare, in the starkest way, our greatest fears: We are not safe (“Funny Games”), we are not good (“The White Ribbon”), we have no privacy (“Caché”). Plus we have no idea what’s going on (all of the above). With “Amour,” he focuses on our greatest fear: We are going to die. And death, when it comes, won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty.

Amour

5. Footnote

The trailers make “Footnote” seem like a lighthearted romp but there’s nothing lighthearted about it. Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) is a professor of Talmudic studies in Israel, as was his father, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba), before him. The younger Shkolnik is celebrated, the elder not. Eliezer’s tragedy, his long-stewing resentment, is that his life’s work was usurped by a lucky break by another scholar, Prof. Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), who, a month before Eliezer was set to publish, simply found what Eliezer’s 30 years of careful, scientific study was attempting to point towards. His entire career is now seen as unnecessary and vaguely ridiculous. His one solace: a great scholar once mentioned him in a footnote. Every year, too, he applies for the Israel Prize, the most honored of honors, but never wins. This year, that changes. He’s walking to the library, as always, to continue his pointless research, when he receives a phone call from the committee chair congratulating him. The wrinkle? The committee called the wrong Prof. Shkolnik. The honor is supposed to go to the son.

The son finds out but keeps silent. The father finds out but keeps silent. Everything that isn’t said poisons what remains. The fiction Uriel creates to save his relationship with his father destroys his relationship with his father. The ending remains unknowable. It’s a Jewish ending, an Old Testament ending. It recalls the Yiddish proverb: Man thinks, God laughs. “Footnote” is a comedy for God.

Footnote

4. Lincoln

In 1915, Pres. Woodrow Wilson called “The Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith’s Confederate-friendly epic, “history written with lightning,” but I wouldn’t call this movie that. It’s history written as carefully as history should be. It’s well-researched and made dramatic and relevant. Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), the most saintly of all presidents, isn’t presented here as a saint but as a smart, moral, political man, who, under extraordinary pressure from all sides, does what he has to do in order to do the right thing. His machinations aren’t clean. It takes a little bit of bad to do good. Progress is never easy. There are always slippery-slope arguments against it. Sure, free the slaves. Then what? Give Negroes the vote? Allow them into the House of Representatives? Give women the vote? Allow intermarriage? The preposterousness of where the road might take us prevents us from taking the first step. Then and now.

I once said of Jeffrey Wright’s Martin Luther King, Jr., that no one would ever do it better; I now say the same of Day-Lewis’ Lincoln. He only has to talk about his dreams to his wife, Mary Todd (Sally Field), with his stockinged feet up on the furniture, a kind of languid ease in his long-limbed body, and I’m his. He only has to quote Shakespeare one moment (“I could count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams”), and, in the next, ask Mary, in a colloquialism of the day, “How’s your coconut?” and I’m his. I remember when I was young, 10 or so, and we were visiting my father’s sister, Alice, and her husband, Ben, and when we had to leave I began to cry. Because I didn’t want to leave Uncle Ben. I liked being near him. He had a calm and gentle spirit that I and my immediate family did not. It felt comfortable to be around. I got that same feeling from Daniel Day-Lewis here. How does he do that? How do you act a calm and gentle spirit?

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" (2012)

3. The Master

We’re on a Pacific island beach waiting out the end of the war, and Freddie, one Navy man of many, is already isolated from the rest. He’s cutting coconuts while the other men wrestle on the beach. They make a sand woman on the beach, hair flowing, legs open, and Freddie gets on top and starts pumping away. It’s funny for a second, then gets embarrassing fast. Freddie gets too into it. There’s too much need there. When we hear the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, Freddie and other men are aboard their ship searching for, I believe, gasoline, from the ship’s missiles. To drink. “Peace is here,” the announcer intones. You look at Freddie and think: No, it’s not.

If Freddie is a wrecked man, prone to bursts of sex and violence, Lancaster Dodd is an ebullient man who cannot abide dissent. Others call him ‘The Master’ but he lives in a post-World War II democracy that has just swept away the would-be masters of the world. Dissent lives. Thus his group, like all beginning religions, are forced to wander in the wilderness: from San Francisco to New York to Philadelphia to Phoenix, where The Cause, he hopes, will be reborn. But it’s a downward trajectory. All the while, they’re losing adherents. The movie is deeply felt and rendered, beautifully shot and art-directed, and acted by artists and professionals. It’s also a failure in terms of story. But I would still rather watch it again than almost any movie released this year.

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master" (2012)

2. End of Watch

“End of Watch,” written and directed by David Ayer (“Training Day”; “Harsh Times”), is powerful, original, funny and terrifying. It feels as authentic as anything that’s been filmed about cops. True, our guys run into more trouble in a year than most cops do in a lifetime; but the tone is right, the dialogue and acting so natural they verge on improvisational, and the vernacular so specific to police work you almost need a lexicon to understand what’s being said.

As for the Mexican drug cartel? It keeps on. Mike dies, it lives. He dies not even knowing the story he was in. One wonders if this isn’t a healthier ending than the wish-fulfillment fantasies Hollywood provides, or the kind of catharsis Aristotle recommended. We get no catharsis here, no justice, so maybe we search for it elsewhere. Maybe we try to make it happen elsewhere. At the least, “End of Watch” is a movie everyone who funds the illegal drug trade should see. Because no matter how much damage drugs do to you, the real damage isn’t done to you.

"End of Watch" (2012)

1. Rust and Bone

“De rouille et d’os” (“Rust and Bone”) is a beautiful film about tragic circumstances. In the hands of a lesser writer-director, it would be melodrama but Jacques Audiard (“Un Prophete”) makes poetry out of it. A bloody tooth, loosened during a fight, spins in slow motion on the pavement as if in dance. A woman whose legs have been cut off above the knee returns to the ocean, whose warm waters glisten. Later, with metal legs and cane, she walks down the steps at Marineland, where she once worked, and stands in silence before a large glass tank. She pats the glass once, twice. After a moment, a monster looms into view. An Orca. The Orca? The one who took her legs? One assumes not. One assumes that one has been killed but you never know and Audiard never says. We simply watch the whale move with her movements. It’s been trained, and she was one of its trainers. She’s confronting her past, finally, but it’s also a moment steeped in silence and mystery and beauty and forgiveness. It’s the best scene in the best movie of the year.

Marion Cotillard confrtonts an Orca in "Rust and Bone" (2012)

And you?

Other lists:

Posted at 09:55 AM on Feb 10, 2013 in category Movies - Lists
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