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Now that they've proven they can get it right when making a movie with super-heroes and top-secret agents, I think it's time to start a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents franchise. Set it in 1966.

Be sure and light NoMan from above so his eyes are pools of dark. For Dynamo, strong blue gel from one side with a smaller yellow gel on the other for the highlight.
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assembled

May. 5th, 2012 02:24 pm
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There was some organized excursion to go see the Avengers movie yesterday, and I decided to go along with Sarah. I bought my ticket online (they already had purchased hers) and at the theater I found that everybody else was booked into the 3D showing. James's mother said I should just go in with them and gave me a pair of glasses to wear. I didn't want to be separated from everybody in a show that ended fifteen minutes later, so I went.

They must have been children's glasses, as they were at least an inch narrower than my skull. I carefully pulled the temples out and balanced the rest inside my glasses, like my sunglasses inserts. I needed to adjust every couple of minutes for the rest of the movie, which knocked me out of the show more than the illusion of depth pulled me into it. Perhaps some sort of head vise would have kept me properly oriented instead of allowing me to move microscopically in ways that made multiple images appear.

I tried turning the glasses the other way to see how things looked in negative 3D. It's a strange effect that I've had before with stereo slides that were pasted up the wrong way, and even more strangely by looking at a hologram from the back. In this case, it resulted in double images that would not resolve. (Beamjockey, if you're reading this, why double images??)

Anyway, the movie exceeded any and all expectations, even my expectation that it was going to be good and that I would enjoy it. I seem to have missed all the prequels except Iron Man and maybe the version of The Hulk that they consider canonical this week. The action sequences are exciting, fun, and totally implausible. The characters are all worth watching even when they're not supering around. I rather liked Agent Coulson, who is sort of like a fan who made it. The Black Widow is actually more impressive when she's not fighting than when she is. Her interrogation of Loki is one of many moments when I couldn't help smiling.

The level of wisecracking is very good, and not excessive. Whedon has enough confidence in his audience to set things up that don't pay off for a long time. There are tons of great lines, such as [transmission suddenly cuts out]
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[transmission suddenly resumes]
"Smash." Sarah was still quoting it when we got home. There's also a wonderful response to Loki's I'm-a-god-and-you're-just-riffraff moment. I was a little distracted waiting for Stan Lee to show up and get it over with. It's something like 4/5 of the way through the climactic battle. He'll be on a TV screen of reaction shots.

It's over two hours, though I didn't look at my watch until I was in the lobby. I got up and stood in the wheelchair gap in the back non-balcony row to see if the 3D was better away from the periphery of the theater. "He was with them," somebody said, and a moment later a man sitting by the gap asked me if I was with the row of kids that had just left. I said yes, and he said that after they were gone, he found a $20 on the floor right there (He indicated a spot. Oddly, when I think of the moment, I 'see' the bill just where he said.) and said it was in front of a seat right by Sarah's (he had seen me bring her her popcorn). I thanked him a half dozen times, and we chatted briefly, on the surprise appearance of a familiar-looking portion of a face at the end (my first thought was of this one character from the DC universe), and on the movie as a whole. I said it reminded me of why I used to read comic books in the first place, and it really was. It was all there — the repartee, the sets (their S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier is more believable than Steranko's), and the hitting each other. I thanked him a couple more times.

Then I left the text credits rolling and went out for fear everybody would have vanished if I waited any longer. I saw a manager and accosted him, telling him my tale of being led into a life of crime by my daughter's friend's mother, and offered to settle the difference, and he said everything was fine and he hoped I'd enjoyed the movie. Then I talked to Sarah, who said that Jacob had dropped a big bill during the show, and she had stopped looking for it after she bumped her head on the seat.

Then we went home, and Sarah told Cathy the best lines before I could.
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WESTWARD THE WOMEN, one of my all-time favorite movies has appeared, complete, on YouTube. It's not available on video as far as I can tell, and Turner Classic Movies shows it at unpredictable intervals. I literally looked for this movie every week in the paper's TV guide for about ten years from the time I had a VCR until I finally caught a version of it — and that was colorized.

Today I was checking to see if a particular scene from the movie ("You mus' pay the rent.") was on YouTube and found the whole thing seems to be there. I'm into part 2 at the moment, only it's paused so I don't miss it while I'm typing this. And having lunch.

Here's part one, which sets up the story a little. It gets going some by the end of the clip. You'll notice that part 2 doesn't follow the peculiarly telegraphic naming convention the poster has chosen (RT_W...), so here's part 2 for you as well. Click on the name of the person who posted the movie and the rest of the parts should be easier to find. They follow the convention, anyway.

So what is this movie? It's Robert Taylor as wagon master for a bunch of volunteer brides from back east who are headed for California. It's a hard, harrowing trip, and there's graves all along the route. They face just about everything you could imagine, and I wouldn't want to spoil any of it for you if you haven't seen it. Every emotion it calls up is honestly earned. It's easily in my ten favorite movies. Watch it here, and then wait for TCM to show it again. I watch it pretty much any time I find that it's on. It was years before I saw the beginning, but I've seen the end a dozen times.

Edited to add: name of movie (thanks, Bob)
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Mean old Scrooge is visited by spirits of Christmas. Seeing his past makes him so bitter and despondent he wishes he was never born, so an angel comes and shows him how life would be if he hadn't been. Because he hadn't existed, Rudolph doesn't get to pull the sleigh, Ralphie shoots his eye out, and Santa decides to sell out to a soulless corporation that cancels Christmas. With no Christmas, Jesus is never born, causing an unemployed drummer boy to go berserk and assassinate three kings whose influence was needed to keep the Samaritan Empire from conquering Rome before it can bring Greek civilization to the world. Scrooge repents his despair but is told that wishes are non-refundable. Somewhere, Gary Coleman — or what corresponds to him in this strange world — is crying.
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I just saw something that to me, and I would think to most Tintin fans, dropped my jaw and filled me with wholehearted admiration. This unofficial (fan) title sequence for "The Adventures of Tintin" stylishly quotes plot devices of all 24 Tintin adventures, including the last, unfinished story.

Simply brilliant. One hopes that the movie might live up to the sense of wonder that this ignited in me for its graphic elegance. Just watch it here. It's a minute twelve:

The Adventures of Tintin from James Curran on Vimeo.

He gets it. He really gets it.

Thanks to my friend Amid at Cartoon Brew for putting this in front of my eyes.
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One of the greatest movie parodies of all time turns out to be on YouTube now. Larry Gelbart's co-writing and Stanley Donen's direction, with George C. Scott, Red Buttons, Barry Bostwick, Harry Hamlin, Trish Vandevere, Art Carney and so many more all shine in this marvelously deadpan double feature.

Please bear in mind that the first half of the movie, the boxing movie, was filmed in color but is supposed to be printed in black and white, and it was, but some time after the release, one of the dimbulbs at the studio had himself something like an idea, only smaller, and said, "Hey! Color is gooder'n' black and white!" And it is, all except for the part where they left out the word "not."

Anyway, the writing, the cinematography, the singing, the dancing, and best of all, the death scenes, are carried out with 100% conviction, and none of the smarmy smirking that mars so many would-be pastiches of old-time movies. I saw this first in the theater, but was able to tape it off of the TV a few years later, and have watched it dozens of times since, continuing to find new jokes time and again. It's certainly in my all-time top ten, and I recommend it without hesitation or reservation. More here, but your time would be better spent just watching it. You can start at 1:45 and skip George Burns's intro. It's kind of dull.



(I was going to use my "happy" icon with me in the tree, but it occurs to me that the one above, from 1971, is only seven years before the movie instead of 35 years after it, and thus may be more suitable.)
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humbug

Sep. 25th, 2011 12:04 am
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I was watching a movie with Frank Morgan in it, and at one point, he sadly says, "There's no place like home... no place like home..." and I chuckled at the in-joke. Then I checked and found that the movie was made in 1933. (HALLELUJAH, I'M A BUM, for the curious)

Well. The guy's a wizard.
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from FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG [1964], Bob Denver's sand-buried chin sings "Ho Daddy"



Now your season is complete. (And if you thought you saw Nancy Sinatra, you were right.)
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tonight

Nov. 1st, 2010 08:07 pm
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Turner Classic Movies is having some real goodies tonight. "The Films of Thomas Edison" will be a bunch of his short movies. Possibly not for all tastes. "Silent Shakespeare" will be seven short silent movies based on the immortal Bard. I'm expecting to find something good there. Possibly the strongest draw for the largest number (5) of people reading this, however, will be "Films of Georges Melies", with sixteen shorts by the genius who made "A Trip to the Moon" (or as a younger generation says, the video for "Tonight, Tonight" by Smashing Pumpkins*).

I'm setting my timer for these.

[*I know, the video was a remarkably well-made pastiche on Melies. I make the joke, yes?]
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Over at the classical music blog, The Music Parlour, the host has posted something of possible interest to my SF and film-loving friends: music from the score of Things to Come, by Arthur Bliss. I haven't listened to it yet, but I expect to give it a whirl later on.

Speaking of whirls, I woke up feeling dizzy and nigh queasy. I've spent most of the day since horizontal, and much of that sleeping. I feel better now, but I'm not enjoying walking around. Sarah came home from school a half hour ago, and we cut into the pudding pie the two of us made last night (Jell-o instant Chocolate Fudge over Pistachio in a pre-made chocolate crumb crust; garnished with whipped cream and streaks of chocolate syrup). It is a good pie.

Note: The link at the bottom of the entry is to Vaughan Williams's "The Wasps." To get to the Bliss material, click the "Historical" link at the top of the page. Then hope that Megaupload is in the right mood: when I clicked the first link, it said it was temporarily unavailable. I clicked the second link and it said my limit was exceeded but maybe if I wait two minutes and try again, it will relent. We shall see.

(Update: So far, nope. When did I exceed my limit? I haven't been using Megaupload.)
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shmoovies

Aug. 25th, 2010 03:31 pm
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Some movies you don't want to dignify by calling them films. Some you might not even want to call movies. I don't know if that's really the case with today's offering. Actually, it's more entertaining than a whole bucket of present-day fantasies, horror movies, musicals, or what have you, and by a great coincidence, it partakes of the nature of all these things!

It's LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND TOM THUMB VERSUS THE MONSTERS, one of several Mexican children's movies imported to US shopping malls by K. Gordon Murray. The most famous of these was SANTA CLAUS, where Santa lives in a Fortress of Solitude that seems to be in the sky, and he has a telescope that sees everywhere, a tele-ear that hears everything, and a crystal ball that sees your dreams! He battles a minor minion of Satan and has a shrine to the Baby Jesus, which he visits on his way to talk to Merlin. I forget if it's before or after the Kids of All Nations put on a talent show. One of the dreams involves little Lupita, who resists the devil-sent temptation to steal a doll, and later must undergo a nightmare with giant dancing dolls who tell her that dolls don't like little girls who won't steal.

But that's another story.

This movie, from what may well be the same incredibly inventive hands, features the creepily adult-voiced Riding Hood, the Wolf, Tom Thumb, Stinky the Skunk, the Wicked Queen, a werewolf, a pinhead, evil Siamese twins, and more. The link takes you to part 1 of 8. It takes a minute for the movie to start, but if it doesn't kill you, you'll be way stronger for having experienced it.

Be good and maybe I'll link to more.
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Tootie's Halloween, from MEET ME IN SAINT LOUIS is on now. I'm postponing my walk for it.

Man, childhood is hard work!
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For my money, the best musical number from the American stage and cinema is the one I just happened to catch again on Turner Classic Movies: "If I Were King of the Forest" from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), performed with ultimate taste and gusto by Bert Lahr and company.

It's also my favorite movie, and yet another disproof that nothing good is ever made by a committee. It had more hands on it than [snide reference to popstar deleted], but it shines with a wit that's at once naïve and knowing. The jokes are funny, the songs are eternal, the characters have pushed aside the originals they were based on, and the thrills keep working for me.

The only false moment is Dorothy's surrender to reality brainwashing at the end, and even that's emotionally satisfying. The sepiatoned Kansas backstory makes the step into Oz ten times more effective than it would have been without it, but for Dorothy to want to return to the unsolved problem of Miss Gulch doesn't make objective sense, even in a dream.

But the Lion's big solo, complete with cadenzas, is the stuff of heroism. The burlesque daintiness of his movements, each one tastefully set off with perfect little gestures, echoes the set of operatic quirks in his aria. His vibrato on the "-ng" of "king" is thrillingly over the top. He uses every bit of himself in selling the number — no small feat, considering how much he's wrapped in! His eyes, his hands, his posture, all tell the story of his yearning.

And of course, the support from his friends in the non-singing bits is incalculable. Never did a ham have three better shills, whose unadorned credulousness doesn't keep them from effortlessly deflating him at the end. (And let's have a little love for Harburg and Arlen, and Stothart and Cutter and every musician who wrapped the scene in a golden musical sheen, and whoever thoughtfully left a rolled-up green carpet and mantle-shaped rug lying around, along with a vase that would break handily into a crown of just the right size.)
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We took Sarah to see PONYO, along with her friend Lulu and Lulu's friend Si-Chen, who is visiting from China. They sat in back, glued to their Nintendo DS sets, squealing in unison through a networked game of Mario Cart. I watched the ebb and flow of the rain and Cathy watched the road. They wouldn't have looked up if Ponyo had ridden past us on a fish. When one of them said "Stop hitting me!", she meant in the game. Why, back in my day, we really hit each other. With rocks. And mud.

At the theater, I noticed that the sign for the show said that our 1:05 showing was at 1:50. We hunkered in for a bit of a wait. I wandered over to the game room, followed by the girls, who amused themselves at the games without actually spending any money. Sarah wanted to try the claw, the maze, the shooter, the race, and the vending machine with the fake teeth. Around 1:20, I judged it was time to give her four quarters and see what she went for. She went straight for the teeth. At 1:25, Cathy noticed that the tickets actually said 1:05.

We dashed to Auditorium 13, where I hoped we'd missed no more than five minutes or so, and enjoyed the movie, whose characters acted with subtle honesty, showing their thoughts and feelings in real expressions. It was like a rebuke to Disney product -- nobody wore a standard "I AM HAPPY!" or "I AM SAD!" expression, or stopped and sang "I am sad because of this and that, la la la." I expect that Disney executives looked at it and decided that they need to do a CGI comedy about a farting fish.

Afterward, Cathy spoke politely to the theater manager about the incorrectly stated time. The manager gave us five free passes, having just spoken to someone else on the phone about the issue. Someone who wasn't polite at all.

We exited the theater into a beautiful, windy day and drove home, with the girls in the back seat shouting over the same music and the same sound effects. I kept an eye out for deer, seeing none.
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watchmen

Mar. 7th, 2009 11:22 am
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I watched it, man. The Friday show at 11:30 am, since I'm not really the nite owl I used to be. Let's just hide this stuff, in case any of it is an unwelcome spoiler to someone:
moore after this )
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Sarah's out of school this week, so it's the Dad show all week, starring me as the source of all entertainment. She has videos that she watches, but she'd so much rather watch them with somebody. I'm hoping she'll grow out of that, but I accept about half the time. We went to the Y yesterday to swim, but they unfurled the inflatable slide almost as soon as we got there, which completely takes up all the usable space in the pool. I was rather disgusted at this development.

She started having a sore throat last night, and today she was advised to take it easy, drink tea, and suck on hard candies. Well, she did have some tea. Anyway, she's doing better now. She was in this room watching my TV, so I started watching FLYING DOWN TO RIO in the living room. Of course, she came in right away and wanted to watch her DVDs, and when I said no, she got somewhat tantrumish, so I told her no TV for an hour. She melted down at that and apologized, but I said she needed to think of that first and insisted on the hour. I kept on watching RIO, which she opined was stupid.

She was sulking in the red chair, but her eyes were on the movie, which she assure me she wasn't watching. She was just taking a rest, she said. So I invited her to come sit with me, and she did. Her foot twitched rhythmically during the Carioca. She asked if she could watch her video at three, and I said if she was good she could, and I'd watch the movie in another room. By three, she'd decided the movie was okay, and we discussed it a bit and watched it to the end. She didn't feel like continuing on to ROYAL WEDDING, but I was content with the progress so far. RW has some better dancing in it, but the music might not appeal to her as much.

I saw, with surprised recognition, the name of Skip Martin in the opening credits of ROYAL WEDDING. I have two LPs by him where he combines classical standards with crazed, brassy 1960-vintage Hollywood jazz, as well as downloaded tracks from a purely jazz album based on TV detective music. I sometimes wonder if he's related to Freddy Martin, whose band recorded "Bumble Boogie" and other crossover sides (including a set of "Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in Dance Tempo -- because I guess ballets are written for something else, y'know).

So the week's going okay so far. Made it to Tuesday. If we're still alive on Friday, Cathy's staying home from work so we can have a family day.
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[The scenario has just described a brief subliminal of Chaplin being chased around a corner by a cop as The Bomb is dropped. We see the worldwide devastation from a great altitude, then the camera pans down to ground level, and...]
C. (1) ENTER THE TRAMP

He is back to the camera, hunched deeply over, in a tinily narrow alley between two buildings. A rigid forefinger is still jammed in each ear. He is still motionless; frozen.

He comes up as slowly, timorously, tremulously out of his crouch (fingers in each ear pulling timidly away), as a grass-blade recovering, which has just been stepped on. Straightens, still back to camera; and starts straightening his legs and arms inside clothes, and the clothes themselves, turning very slowly, face close to camera, staring into it. He continues to straighten his clothes, going over them very carefully ... polishing toes of shoes on calves of pants; sleeving his derby and resetting it with care on his head; testing his cane: then a sudden trembling shrug (involving a full check-over of body as well as clothes), which is a blend of what a suddenly dampened dog does, and of the feather-adjustments of a suddenly rumpled hen. Then very delicately and timidly, camera withdrawing, he advances, and sticks his snout around the corner of a building, and peers.
The rough screenplay continues with the post-nuclear-holocaust adventures of Charlie Chaplin, at first alone, then with others, then with scientists, and finally alone again.

It's presented in Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay, by John Wranovics. I have to confess that I found the biographical material leading up to the screenplay (here arbitrarily titled "The Tramp's New World") to be more interesting than the screenplay, overall, though the typescript has some interesting bits in it. The part following this, of Chaplin's interactions with the fixed shadows of the vanished citizens of the city, is particularly effective. If it had been made -- if Agee hadn't died when he did, and if Chaplin had shown an interest -- they would have had to lose an awful lot of what Agee worked so hard to include. It's like Alan Moore at his most specific, only he's groping for something that hasn't come into focus yet. An early draft, it's replete with multiple apologies for the roughness, and shows a willingness to compromise some of the details if need be. I'll wager he'd have done a better job on it if it had become a real project, based on his screenplay for the original Night of the Hunter.

I'd cut most of the prologue, which seems to kill the movie before the bomb does. Agee probably should have made his contribution a skeleton at that stage, keeping such bits as the introduction of the Tramp (quoted from above), and perhaps others. I confess that I was not only starting to doze in the comfy chair as I plowed to the finish today, I even started to skip through paragraphs, looking at the first sentence and then jumping ahead.

But it's still interesting. It'd be interesting to let Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have at it, for instance.

Anyway, I finished it just in time. It goes back to the library tomorrow. I saw a used copy at Barnes & Noble, and had Cathy get it on Interlibrary Loan to save $7.

I'm trying an experiment, and cross-posting this to my 'New Pals Club Web-log.' In future, the word "blog" in the tag will signify further attempts to breathe life into that moribund conceit.
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I found time to watch another movie. Naturally, it's not part of the DVD set I was theoretically working my way through. Endless digressions 'R' us! This one was a 1963 Russian kiddie movie called Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors. Most of it takes place in this kingdom, see, which seems to be full of crooked mirrors -- probably a translation glitch for crazy mirrors or inaccurate mirrors or something. They're not really all that crooked.

You get an inkling of what's happening at the outset when the cast list goes by. "King Torrap the 77th," "Elitper," "Etik," "Daot," "Dneirf," and no os until reels the mind. The movie starts with our young heroine Ailo (or maybe it's Olia) sneaking into a movie with some urchins, then she goes home and the naughty boys turn off the lights and scare her as she ascends to the family apartment, where she steals jam and refuses to share it with the parrot, who threatens to squeal on her when she drops the jar and it breaks. Then the mirror talks to her, and the lights change, and she murders everybody who taunted her. No, wait, she goes into the mirror and meets her mirror twin, played by her real-life twin. In this movie, the twist is that one can't act! But it's okay, because the other one can't really act all that much either. But all through the movie, I had the conviction that one was worse than the other, if only I could tell which.

So Olia and Ailo wander aimlessly and meet various inane denizens of this mirror world, learning their backward names and carefully explaining them for the benefit of the slow-witted commie kids watching. Or maybe the subtitles made it look stupider than it was, but that's hard to believe. I chose "Russian" for language, since French and Arabic were just as obscure, and "English" for subtitles -- they were pretty generous with the number of languages for subtitles, I must say. Seemed like there were about eight to choose from, but of course I went for the easiest one. For a little while, it seems like a musical might be in the offing, with a couple of almost-musical numbers. The King's Pages go jogging through to the tune of something that sounds like "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" A minute later we meet the King's Dancers, frantically jitterbugging to music we're supposed to believe is being pounded out on an organ by a crazy monkey (is this a critique of capitalism?). We never meet The King's Singers. They were probably having a gig at the Albert Hall and were thus unavailable.

We meet various characters, including the oppressed "Dneirf," a boy who refuses to make crooked mirrors. He even throws rocks at mirrors that don't show the truth. Because of his brave stand, or maybe because of his name, the girls decide to free him from his death sentence and go undercover as pages with the help of the cooking lady "Lesaew," who takes a shine to them. They also get help from "Evals," who determines to help them because they don't believe in whipping slaves, and they call him Uncle. Long story short, they rescue Dneirf, put in a plug for Mother Russia, and then the girl wakes up and is much more respectful to her granny than she was before. Along the way we get goofy costumes, make-up and sets, and each character does maybe one funny thing, at most. Once in a while the little girls act sort of natural in some situation, and it surprises me every time.

Technically, I got a certain amount of enjoyment spotting the glass paintings, at least one of which shifted a little while I watched, bringing me great satisfaction. The DVD has an interview at the end with the actor who played Dneirf (which might have been Durg or Grud in the original, since that's what they were calling him. I was confused at first, but context soon told me who this grown-up -- now a moviemaker himself -- really was). I put the movie on my iPod for now, and may watch it another time before I wipe it. I already took the disk back to the library for the next lucky patron to watch.
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