erik lundegaard

Sunday November 19, 2017

Box Office: The Not-So-Super Opening of 'Justice League'

Justice League box office

Oops.

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe began back in 2008, its movies opened OK—generally in the $60 mil to $100 mil range. Then when the movie they were all building toward, “The Avengers,” came out in May 2012, the thing just exploded. It set a new record with a $206 million open and grossed a total of $623 mil in the U.S. Because each step along the way had been careful. They built quality upon quality. You wouldn't have had that opening without all the small steps preceding it. 

Now it's DC's turn and ... they already blew it. Their steps weren't careful. They didn't build customer loyalty. 

The preceding movies opened big—all more than $100 million, culminating in “Batman v. Superman”'s $166 million open last March. But that movie was panned, rightly, a sour taste remained, and people didn't forget, despite the positive feeling left by this year's “Wonder Woman.” As a result, “Justice League” didn't explode out of the gate. The opposite. The movie that everyone was waiting for opened at $96 mil this weekend, decidedly less than all of its predecessors. 

And even though “JL” is “Citizen Kane” compared with “Batman v. Superman,” its fairly low Rotten Tomatoes rating, 40%, doesn't bode well for its overall box office. Look at the performance of the other movies in the DC Extended Universe. 

DCEU Movie Thtrs Total Opening Open % RT%
Wonder Woman 4,165 $412,563,408 $103,251,471 0.25 92%
Man of Steel 4,207 $291,045,518 $116,619,362 0.40 55%
Suicide Squad 4,255 $325,100,054 $133,682,248 0.41 26%
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 4,256 $330,360,194 $166,007,347 0.50 27%

The better the movie, the longer the legs. Shittier, shorter the legs. “Wonder Woman” grossed four times its opening, “BvS” only two times. “BvS” began with a $63 million lead over “WW” and lost the race by $82 mil.

What might “Justice League” do? I don't think it'll fade as quickly as “BvS” simply because word-of-mouth won't be as bad. Plus “Wonder Woman” fans might come out for it. But at best it'll probably do 2.5 or three times its opening.

Which has got to be a huge disappointment for Warner Bros. But it's their fault: They're the ones who hired Zack Snyder way back when, despite, you know, all the evidence that he'd already left behind: “300,” “Watchmen,” “Sucker Punch.” 

Interestingly, some Zack Snyder fans are already blaming screenwriter Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) for writing a lighter, funnier screenplay and reshooting scenes earlier this year. I don't agree. To me, those are the best parts of the movie. Besides, the bigger issue is the shitty steps DC took to get here, and that's on Zack. Whedon was brought in for a reason. And that reason has a name: Martha.  

In other news, “Wonder,” a Julia Roberts film about a kid with Treacher Collins Syndrome, which looked like the weepie of the week, got suprisingly strong reviews and surprisingly good box office. It finished second with $27 mil. “Thor: Ragnarok” fell off 61% for third place. 

Among the Oscar hopefuls, “Lady Bird” grossed $2.5 million in only 238 theaters, while “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” grossed $1.1 million in only 53 theaters. They finished 8th and 9th, respectively. 

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Posted at 11:43 AM on Nov 19, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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Tuesday November 14, 2017

Movie Review: Finding Mr. Right (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

How often is the man the moral corrective in a romantic comedy? Ever? Generally, the men in these movies have issues (think “Pretty Woman,” “As Good As It Gets”), and it's up to the woman to, you know, make them want to be a better man.

Not so in Xue Xiaolu’s “Finding Mr. Right” (Chinese title: “Beijing Meets Seattle”). Here, the male lead, Frank (Wu Xiubo), is quiet and centered, lovely around his daughter, and with infinite patience around even the worst of humanity. The female lead? She's the worst of humanity.

Finding Mr. Right review Jia Jia (Tang Wei) is somehow both former editor of a gourmet food magazine and spoiled, pregnant mistress to a Chinese tycoon. And since she can’t legally have the baby in China (since she's not married), she flies to the U.S., specifically Seattle (because she loves “Sleepless in...”), to have the baby there.

And she's just awful. She berates the driver who meets her at the airport (Frank), calls him “mouse boy” (for the gerbil cage he has in the backseat), and makes him carry her heavy, designer luggage everywhere. At the illegal maternity center—the house of Mrs. Huang (Elaine Jin of “Yi Yi”)—she demands a bigger room, then demands and gets Mrs. Huang’s room. She glares, pouts, mocks, flashes money. She walks into a room where a movie is being watched and gives away its ending. She gets drunk at a nightclub, and after Frank gently suggests she not drink for the baby, she accuses him of looking down on her and declares, “As a mother, I’m a hundred times better than any of those women!” You want to be a million miles from her. 

It's almost refreshing. 

Was it refereshing to Chinese moviegoers? For they not only made “Finding Mr. Right” one of the highest-grossing movies of 2013, they made Seattle the destination spot for Chinese living abroad. 

Last exit to First Hill
That's how I first heard about “Finding Mr. Right." In 2014, our office moved from lower Queen Anne near downtown Seattle, to Bellevue, Wash., and I was surprised by the number of Mandarin-speaking Chinese people there. What happened? According to The Guardian, this movie happened.

Gotta say: It's kinda fun to see your city through foreign eyes. That freeway exit you encounter after a long slog up from Portland is suddenly exotic. Same with those tired buildings in downtown during the Christmas months. Because it means you’re here. Or at least Vancouver, B.C., where most of the non-establishing shots were filmed. 

Christmastime is when Jia Jia begins to be a better woman. The Chinese tycoon is supposed to visit but instead sends another designer handbag, and Jia Jia, despondent, walks in the drizzle of Mrs. Huang’s residential neighborhood—the kind without sidewalks—where she comes across Frank’s car, invites herself in, marvels at how nice the place is given his circumstances, then finds out why. Just as she's really a magazine editor, he’s really Hao Zhi, a famous surgeon from Fuwei hospital in Beijing! So why is he picking up pregnant girls at the airport?

To be honest, I never quite got that. He and his wife needed to move for their daughter, Julie (Jessica Song), who’s asthmatic, and probably averse to Beijing pollution, and for some reason one of them has to give up their career? And since she makes more, as executive at some international company, he drew the short stick?

The wife, Linda (Rene Wang), turns out to be even more of a piece of work than Jia Jia, while the daughter’s a pill in that overly cutesy way of Chinese movie kids. At one point, she fakes an asthma attack to get away from mom and everyone treats it with a smile and a mock finger wag. But it gives Frank and Jia Jia (and Julie) a chance to bond and watch fireworks. On Christmas. Nothing like good old-fashioned, all-American Christmas fireworks. 

The movie has its charms. After Jia Jia and Julie hop a flight to New York, where Frank is taking the medical board exams, they disagree on where to go first—MOMA (Julie) or the Empire State Building (Jia Jia/“Sleepless in Seattle”)? Jia Jia wins, and Julie, bitter pill that she is, writes HELP on her hand and shows it to a cop. Nice going, kid. They’re arrested, Frank is called in (missing his boards), and, because Jia Jia is there vaguely illegally, they have to concoct a better story while being interrogated in separate rooms. They come up with the “We’re really in love” story, which allows them to talk up the quality in the other they truly admire. That’s kind of sweet.

Better, at one point Jia Jia tells her cop, a Chinese woman who speaks Mandarin, that she’s trying to create the kind of ideal family she sees in Hollywood movies: mother, father, two cute kids, and a dog. Then she says aloud: Wait, Julie is allergic to dogs. There’s a pause. The cop, who surely isn’t buying any of this, suddenly bursts out angrily: “That’s not an issue! Obama’s daughter is allergic to dogs, too. But they have a Portuguese water dog and everything’s fine!”

Love that. 

Finding a sleepless affair to rightly remember
Are there too many subplots? Jia Jia's tycoon boyfriend is arrested for fraud, freezing her accounts, and of course speeding up her return to normalcy. Mrs. Huang has to leave before her baby is born, conveniently sticking Jia Jia with Frank—who, by the way, is actually divorced. Has been for a year. His wife is even getting remarried. So we know where it's all going.

But damn does it take a while to get there.

Frank doesn’t help. “You know what your problem is?” Jia Jia tells him. “You’re too nice. Women don’t like guys who are too nice.” She’s not wrong. Frank actually picks up his ex-wife's wedding dress. He's there at the wedding. Thankfully, Jia Jia shows up, too, trashtalks through it, then has a catty face-to-face with Linda, in both English and Chinese, in which Linda gets the upper hand. We watch Jia Jia stew, wondering what crazy thing she’ll do, while Frank stares at her in silence. After several beats, he says it: “You spoke good English.” Another charming moment. 

But even from here it’s a long slog to the end. Jia Jia collapses at the wedding and Frank diagnoses her problem and saves her life. He and Jia Jia and Julie (and the new, uncrying baby) are enjoying an idyllic American time together when a thicknecked man pulls up in an expensive car. Seems the tycoon beat his fraud rap and wants Jia Jia back. And gets her! The designer luggage is loaded into the trunk again, and she looks at Frank longingly. And then off she goes to Beijing.

Wait, what? 

Then we get a montage of opulent clothes-buying and cold, opulent Chinese hotel rooms, along with complaints to the still absentee tycoon—who apparently can’t be torn away from business deals to be with her—and so Jia Jia finally ends it. “Two years later...” we're told and see her fixing a sink and face-timing friends. It's idyllic mommy time in that Hollywoody way: hardwood floors and morning light and quiet playtime while mommy works on her website about gourmet Chinese food. And Frank is...?

Out of the picture. Yeah, they’re still not together.

Wait, what?

Here's why: As “Sleepless in Seattle” needed its “An Affair to Remember” ending on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, so “Finding Mr. Right” needs its “Sleepless in Seattle” ending on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Frank takes the med boards again (are they only given in New York?), and celebrates with Julie from the observation deck of the ESB. Julie takes a selfie and sends it to Jia Jia, who receives it ... from the observation deck of the ESB! She's there!  But she looks around and can’t find them. Because ... ? Yeah, they’re already back on the street. (Good god.) So she takes her own selfie, sends it to Julie, and eventually, finally, Christ already, our romantic leads are united romantically. He holds her hand, she puts her head on his shoulder, and the camera pans out from the observation deck and into a wider shot of New York, while, on the soundtrack, Louis Armstrong sings “What a Wonderful World.” 

Somewhere Nora Ephron smiles. Or sues. 

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Posted at 07:58 AM on Nov 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Monday November 13, 2017

Breakfast with Trump

I don't know how I wound up on Donald Trump's mailing list but it's been educational. And more than a little revolting. 

Today's message addresses me as “Friend,” says he wants to hear from REAL Americans over breakfast, asks me to contribute $3 so I can enter the raffle for said breakfast, takes a sideswipe at the fourth estate—“The media is CLUELESS when it comes to understanding what voters think”—then reiterates the $3 ask.

He doesn't sign his name. Just posts his unsmiling picture over the title “President of the United States.”

How far we've fallen.

Maybe every time I get one of these I contribute that amount to the Dems? 

Trump asks for $3 contribution to enter raffle for breakfast

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Posted at 03:31 PM on Nov 13, 2017 in category Politics
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Movie Review: The Little Hours (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

A 77% rating, movie critics? Why? Because it’s an indie, written and directed by the guy who did “Life After Beth,” with an assortment of your favorites from “Parks and Rec” (Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman), “Community” (Allison Brie), and “The Big Bang Theory” (Kate Micucci)? Along with indie faves John C. Reilly and Fred Armisen? And Jemima Kirke reprising Jessa from “Girls”? Because you like these people? 

The Little Hours reviewIt’s a one-joke movie. It’s 14th-century nuns with modern attitudes and vocabulary. They basically swear the fuck out of the thing. It’s funny the first time we hear it, less so the 37th.

In a convent in 14th-century Italy, Fernanda (Plaza, of course) is the main swearer and tormenter of a well-meaning gardener; Ginerva (Micucci) is a tag-along tattletale, while Alessandra (Brie) just wants to get married—but her father, Ilario (Paul Reiser), doesn’t like the dowry that’s being demanded, so there she stays, embroidering.

Into this not-so-sedate world stumbles Massetto (Dave Franco, “21 Jump Street”), his blouse undone, fleeing his previous master, Lord Bruno (Offerman), whom he cuckolded. Father Tommasso (Reilly), knowing nothing of his background but needing a gardener to replace the one Fernanda scared away, tells him to pretend to be a deaf-mute, which, he feels, will placate the nuns. It doesn't. Instead, they take turns seducing him.

The big reveal in the third act is that Fernanda and her friend Marta (Kirke) are part of a coven of witches that meet regularly in the woods. Oh, and that the Father is getting it on with Sister Marea (Molly Shannon).

We get comeuppance from the Bishop (Armisen), but that’s about it. As for the confusing title? Apparently the last word is supposed to begin with a “w.” Hilarious. 

According to IMDb, writer-director Jeff Baena based his movie on Pasolini’s “The Decameron” (1971), but he didn't do much actual writing—just an outline. The cast improvised the dialogue. It shows.

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Posted at 09:13 AM on Nov 13, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Sunday November 12, 2017

Box Office: 'Thor' Doesn't Fall, 'Lady Bird' Cheeps

Patricia, Vinny and I went to see Greta Gerwig's “Lady Bird” last night at the SIFF Egyptian, and all of us loved it. Turns out we're lucky. This movie playing less than a mile from our homes is playing in only 37 theaters in the country. It's playing in 1/100 the theaters of “Bad Mom's Christmas” (3,615) or “Daddy's Home 2” (3,575). A reminder of just how screwed up distribution is.

“Thor: Ragnarok” (4,080 theaters, forsooth) won the weekend again, grossing $56 mil and falling off only 53%. Good word-of-mouth on this one. After only 10 days, it's already the highest-grossing “Thor” movie domestically ($211 vs. $180 for the first and $207 for the second), and worldwide ($650). It's particularly big in China, the UK, South Korea, Brazil, and Australia.  

Newcomers “Daddy's Home 2” ($30 mil) and “Murder on the Orient Express” ($28.2), both poorly reviewed, came in second and third.

“Lady Bird,” with its measly 37 theaters, did $33k per to finish in 10th place with $1.2 mil. No other movie in the top 20 appeared in fewer than 200 theaters.

Other Oscar contenders at the bottom of the box office mix:

  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: 4 theaters, $320k, 24th
  • “Wonderstruck”: 261 theaters, $245k, 26th
  • “The Square”: 50 theaters, $156k, 32nd

Go see good movies. 

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Posted at 10:26 AM on Nov 12, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday November 11, 2017

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

For a movie in which Thor loses: 1) his hammer, 2) his father, 3) his locks, 4) his eye, and finally 5) Asgard itself, “Thor: Ragnarok” is pretty loose and funny.

It’s a testament to director Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”), and the writing team (Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost), not to mention the improvisational talents of the cast, that this doesn’t seem like too much of a disconnect. But does it undercut the drama? If you keep winking at the audience, or at each other, how much does the stuff on screen matter?

Actually, let’s break down each of above losses and see. Do these losses matter? To us. OK, to me. 

Thor: Ragnarok reviewAsgard itself. It’s an idiot realm with a rainbow bridge. In the first Thor movie they describe it as a “beacon of hope” but to whom? They’re a monarchy, for freak’s sake. Here, we’re told time and again that “Asgard is a people, not a place,” which allows for its destruction, because the people survive a la “Battlestar Galactica.” But this doesn’t exactly help. Because the people—beyond Thor, Loki, et al.—are really fucking boring. They huddle together in clothing left over from some ’50s Biblical epic or ’70s “Planet of the Apes” episode, in constant need of saving. They’re great huddlers. You need huddling? Go Asgard. But not missed. A zero on the 0-10 missed scale.

His eye. One moment it’s there, the next moment his older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), gouges it out. He fights the rest of the last battle with a bloody empty socket, then pilots Battlestar Asgardia with the kind of eyepatch Odin always wore. It’s a bit of a shock—Thor loses an eye!—but puts a deserved chink in his armor. He’s no longer pristine. Plus Stark Industries can create a fake eye if they want to. A four on the missed scale.

His locks. To me, not many guys look good with long hair but Hemsworth pulls it off. But he looks even better with short hair. 1.

His father. I love me some Anthony Hopkins but was there ever a worse father? In the first movie, after the war with the Frost Giants, he not only brings back an enemy baby, not only raises it as his own, but sets up a rivalry with his biological son. “Only one can ascend to the throne,” he tells Thor and Loki, “but both of you were born to be kings.” Thanks, Dad. Later, he strips Thor of his powers and banishes him to Earth, then goes into an “Odin Sleep” that allows Loki to take power and create havoc. In the second movie he just gets everything wrong. At one point, for example, he shouts, “The Dark Elves are dead!” right before the Dark Elves attack. And in this one? He dies at the beginning, but not before telling Thor and Loki, “Oh, by the way, you have an older sister who went crazy with power, and whom I’ve entombed all these years, but with me gone she’ll be back. With a vengeance. And she’s way more powerful than you dudes. Bye.” Plus he’s not even gone. He returns the way Obi-wan Kenobi returns in the original “Star Wars” movies: to dispense wisdom. Such as “Asgard is not a place, it’s a shitty huddling people.” Missed scale? Zero.

His hammer. This is the one that really hurts. And yeah, Dead Odin tells Thor that his power was never in his hammer, it was in him all the time, allowing him to become all Lord of Lightning and shit and defeat Hela. But it ain’t the same. Thor without his hammer is like Spider-Man without his thwip, Wolverine without his snkt. Something indelible is lost. Missed scale: 10.

Again, for a movie that’s down-to-Earth figuratively but never literally (i.e., we’re always in various “astral realms” rather than on terra firma), “Thor: Ragnarok” ain’t bad, just undeserving of its 90+ Rotten Tomatoes rating and general critical acclaim. Hemsworth’s comic timing is excellent, Blanchett is slitheringly good, Jeff Goldblum kills as Grandmaster, an emperor in another realm forever pitting warriors against each other, and Tadanobu Asano as Hogun makes a short, futile stand against Hela that feels meaningful—maybe because Asano doesn’t wink at us. His sacrifice feels real and noble because he takes it seriously.

Tessa Thompson, recent of “Dear White People” and “Creed,” makes a credible Valkyrie, even if forever neutralizing Thor with an electronic device seems an easy out. Plus she seems an asshole. As does the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)—regaled on Grandmaster’s planet as the ultimate warrior. BTW: Do we ever find out why he stays the Hulk for two years? Is it the air on that planet?

The mid-credits ending scene is like the beginning of “Star Wars”: our smaller ship of good guys being dwarfed by the bigger enemy ship of bad guys, indicating the size of the problem. It sets up “Avengers: Infinity War,” due in May 2018, with its All-Star cast, and, after six years of teasing, Thanos. Let’s hope it doesn’t overdo the winks.

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Posted at 08:01 AM on Nov 11, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday November 09, 2017

Sean Hannity's 'Let There Be Light' Makes Me Almost Believe in God

I'd kinda forgotten about “Let There Be Light” until Dan Piepenbring wrote about it for The New Yorker. Brave man. He watched it so we wouldn't have to.

Movie doesn't ring a bell? It's that Kevin Sorbo-directed thing about a famous atheist who sees the light. 

Oh, Kevin Sorbo doesn't ring a bell? Nice! I wish I were you. He's the guy who played “Hercules” on TV in the 1990s and is undergoing his second act (or third, or 12th) as the go-to actor/director for conservative Christian movies.

Sean Hannity's Let There Be LightIn “God's Not Dead,” for example, he played an atheistic philosophy professor who forces every one of his students to say “God is dead” ... until one brave young man shows him the light. In this one, which he also directed, and co-wrote with his wife, he plays an infamous atheist who has a near-death experience and sees the light on his own.

In “GND,” his character became an atheist because his mother died of cancer when he was 12 and he couldn't see how God would let that happen. In this one, he becomes an atheist because his 8-year-old son dies of cancer and he can't see how God could let that happen.

Etc.

This latest is getting some attention because Sean Hannity co-produced it and makes a cameo as himself. Once the “seen-the-light” Sorbo goes on Hannity's show, we get the following back-and-forth:

Hannity: You're literally going to try and convert kids to Christianity. What about diversity? What right do you have to impose your religious values onto somebody else?
Sorbo: Well, what right does ISIS have to cut people's heads off?
Hannity: That's a powerful point.

I love that Hannity portrays himself as a man interested in diversity.

These types of conservative Christian movies have been a minor thing for a while now—I guess since spring 2014. That's when “Son of God,” which merely took episodes of the TV series “The Bible” and repackaged them into a movie, grossed $59 mil at the U.S. box office. “God's Not Dead,” released a month later, grossed $60 mil. Less than a month after that, in April, “Heaven is for Real,” starring Greg Kinnear, was released and grossed $91 mil.

And conservative Christian movies were off and...

Actually, that was about it. Only three CC movies since have grossed north of $50 mil: “War Room” in August 2015 ($67.7), “Miracles from Heaven” in March 2016 ($61), and “The Shack” in March 2017 ($57). Even Jesus Christ Himself, Jim Caviezel, playing a football coach in “When the Game Stands Tall,” couldn't get them off the couch in August 2014 ($30).

So did conservative Christians begin to see the con? Did they get tired of, oh I don't know, storylines in which men become athiests because so-and-so dies of cancer, but then they see the light? Who knows. 

Now we have “Let There Be Light,” which not only has Hercules Hercules Hercules, but Hannity, who can promote it to his heart's content on his radio and Fox-News shows. And his heart is content. Christian news sites have talked up the movie's success. After its first weekend, Hannity himself tweeted this message: 

“On a per-screen box office average, ”Let There Be Light“ is the No. 2 movie in the country! Amazing for an independent film! Thx to all!”

As a result, for its second weekend it doubled its theater total: from 373 to 642. And as a result of that, after nearly two weeks, “Let There Be Light” has grossed a total of...

$4.5 million.

Makes me almost believe in God.

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Posted at 08:23 AM on Nov 09, 2017 in category Religion
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Wednesday November 08, 2017

Quote of the Day

“In the first big set of votes since Trump became President, the America that reviles him and his backward-looking, monochromatic vision of the country stood up and made itself heard. The city of Charlotte elected its first female black mayor. In Virginia, a thirty-three-year-old openly transgender candidate defeated a seventy-three-year-old Republican assemblyman who wrote a bill that would have forced people to use restrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates. In Hoboken, New Jersey, Frank Sinatra's home town, a Sikh city councilman was elected as mayor. This isn't the America that Trump embraces, but it is the increasingly multi-racial, multi-cultural America he was elected to serve. If he were a bigger, better person, he'd take heed of Tuesday's results and adopt a more tolerant and inclusive stance. That won't happen, of course.”

-- John Cassidy, “A First Step in Defeating Trump and Trumpism,” on the New Yorker site

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Posted at 12:50 PM on Nov 08, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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