Sunday, February 28, 2010

sunday salon: e-book pricing

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, U.S. Wireless)
I've had a Kindle for two months now, and I still love it. There have been huge changes in how and what I read since I got it, and I've been following the news about e-book price wars, delayed e-book releases and the general wackiness of the publishing and retail industry quite closely.

A Book Borrower Turned Book Buyer
Before I got my Kindle, I rarely bought books. I have the benefit of both the university library and a fantastic local public library system. On the rare occasion I can't get a book through either library source, I would usually wait six months and request it through interlibrary loan or obsessively enter blog contests to win a copy. I've lived in four states in four years, and I'm tired of moving books, so I didn't feel the need to collect them. As a book blogger, I also have the luxury of review copies to entice me, so I do acquire books. Despite not being a book buyer, I adore my Kindle. I don't mind paying for books with the convenience of the Kindle. I can read wherever and whenever I want. I read the New York Times each day, and I love it. It's cut into my reading time, but I thrive on being well informed. I love the built in dictionary; scrolling down to a word I don't know or only know from context to find it's definition has had a profound impact on my vocabulary. I'm more confident with words, and I find words I used to know only from reading I now am certain I know how to pronounce.

$9.99: Good or Bad for books?
I am a fan of the $9.99 price. I am a fan of reading books when they come out. I am also a fan of great writing, and I am not one to read many bestsellers, although I do celebrate when quality literature appears on best seller lists. I am an unabashedly judgmental reader and simultaneously a literacy advocate. Yes, it's somewhat hypocritical, but I want people to love to read. Once they do, I want them to continue elevating their taste and exploring. I read books at a variety of quality levels, and I enjoy them for often different reasons. I love the diversity in theme, setting, style and quality the publishing industry provides, and I don't want to lose it. Is there a disconnect between my desire for $10 books and a desire for the continuance of great literature? Not really.

The True Cost of Books
I understand the cost of intelligence that goes into books. Good writers and good editors need to make good money. Publicity costs money. Cover art costs money. Despite my love of the Kindle, I am still a sucker for great cover art. Even though I read books without covers, covers definitely influence what I choose to read. E-books don't require a printing press or a warehouse to store the books. They don't require shipping. (My eco-consciousness and devotion to socialism absolutely play into my love of libraries and e-readers.) I understand that hardcovers cost as much to produce as paperbacks, and publishers make most of their money on hardcover sales. Most people seem to agree e-books should cost less than traditional books, but the disagreement is on how much less.

Every Reader Buys the Book
In a world of DRM, I think $10 is fair. The bottom line is publishers should be making more on e-books because every person who reads it pays for it. I can't resell e-books. I can't buy them used. I can't pass them along to friends (Yes, the Nook lets you loan a book once for two weeks if the publisher allows it.) I can't check them out from the library (Kindles don't support the epub format my library uses for e-book check outs.) Theoretically, savvy friends and family members with similar taste could attach two Kindles to one account, as Amazon lets you have five devices (including phones, computers, etc.) attached to each account and "share" books, but I doubt this practice is common. Do publishers not realize that having every reader buy their titles is a boon? Are there really people who only buy new hardcovers? Most book buyers I know buy paperbacks and buy used. Most readers I know get more books from the library than from bookstores. Perhaps I'm an anomaly and most e-reader owners were previously hardcover book buyers. Change can be scary, but I truly think some publishers are wasting an opportunity to court enthusiastic readers who are becoming enthusiastic book purchasers. Kindle owners tend to be passionate, frequent readers. Unless you are quite wealthy, it's not a worthwhile device if you don't read often.

Delaying E-book Titles
The publishing industry gained a regular, loyal customer in me. Yes, I was a big reader, and to a certain extent, my library buys more books when there are people in the request line, but my impact on publishing is certainly greater now that I have a Kindle. I think publishers are foolish to delay e-book releases. I could not wait to read The Swan Thieves when it came out. I pre-ordered it on my Kindle, but I eventually canceled it. Why? The book came out January 12, 2010, and it won't be available on the Kindle until April. Unfortunately for Elizabeth Kostova, I've read a lot of less than glowing reviews. The buzz is gone. I'll still read it eventually, but I've made room on my Kindle for the new books getting praised universally (The UnnamedThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksSecrets of Eden: A Novel to name a few.) I pour over the book reviews in the New York Times and the New York Times Book Review. Despite wishing for hyperlinks within the newspaper itself, to be able to instantly order and download a book after you read a review is amazing, and I take advantage of it for more books than I can keep up with. Obviously, if I really want to read something, I will still read it. Game Change delayed its Kindle release a few weeks (weeks are better than months), and it benefited from constant great reviews. I was thrilled when it downloaded. I think delaying titles is extremely risky. Unless you know the title will still be buzzed about when the e-book releases, readers may have moved on. There are still plenty of other books available, and given the sad reality that there isn't enough time to read all the great books, I may choose to read the ones available to me on my Kindle, which has become my preferred way to read.

The iPad
How will the iPad change the e-book market? Not much. I cannot imagine buying one as an e-reader; it's too expensive. It's backlit. I'm curious to see the sales from the Apple bookstore, but I don't think it's an e-reader for frequent readers.

The Bottom Line
Publishers should be happy to have e-reader owners buying their books. When every reader pays to read the book, it's good for business. E-books are good for publishing. As a reader, I want the publishing industry to succeed. I know the publishing industry wants to woo readers, and many publishers are embracing e-books (thank you!) I know $9.99 won't last forever, as all prices for goods will rise. I do think, however, it's far more sustainable than most people in publishing realize. Every reader paying to read your book is a goldmine.

Friday, February 26, 2010

children's book review: The Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry

The Birthday Ball 
The Birthday Ball is the latest novel by Lois Lowry, but it bears little resemblance to the Lowry novels I've read before. One of Lowry's greatest talents as a writer is to break new ground and somewhat defy categorization. 

The Birthday Ball is a delightful fairy tale of sorts. Our heroine, Princess Patricia Priscilla, is a feisty princess who longs for a normal life. She soon devises a plan to swap clothes with her nursemaid and begin attending school. The story is a funny, wacky fairy tale. I was absolutely transported to this land of magic. For Princess Patricia Priscilla, the kingdom and its riches were ordinary, and she was transported to her fairy tale: being a peasant girl in school able to help make dreams come true. For her nursemaid, she was given days of leisure to read Alice in Wonderland, a wacky fairy tale in its own right.

Perhaps the best part of The Birthday Ball was it's humor. Some jokes may go right over the heads of the younger readers, but if parents choose this story as a read-a-loud title, they'll enjoy them. There's also a fair amount of gross humor sure to delight young readers as much as it bothered this reader. It's a quick tale with familiar, but important, themes. It's not a revolutionary Lowry book, but it is a good one, and it's sure to be a winner with young readers if not literary award panels.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Pages: 192
Release date: April 12, 2010
Source: I received a copy from the publisher for the purpose of review. Thank you, Houghton Mifflin!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

movie review: A Single Man

A Single Man 
A Single Man is one of many films more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than The Blind Side or Avatar. It's the first film by Tom Ford (yes, the fashion designed Tom Ford). It stars Colin Firth, who is rightly nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA for his role.

The film is absolutely riveting. Colin Firth is phenomenal, and if I were voting for the Academy Awards, I would pick him over Jeff Bridge. Yes, I adored Crazy Heart and Jeff Bridges' performance; that's how good Colin Firth was. Colin Firth is a British English professor living in L.A. in the 1960's. His lover died recently, but he is present in flashbacks. Julianne Moore stars as Firth's best friend, who also emigrated from England. She's a delightful alcoholic with her own problems.

As a director, Tom Ford shows immense promise, even if it felt he tried to hard visually at certain times. There were a few overly long extreme close-ups that did not add much to the scene. He was clearly trying to hard visually at some points, but for most of the film it was beautiful and interesting. As someone who rarely notices a film's score, I was mesmerized by the use of music throughout the film. The music provided extra depth. For a first film, it is fantastic. The acting alone would make this movie excellent, but it's truly a film lover's film.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Running time: 101 minutes
Release date: It's in theaters now. There's no listing for dvd release yet.
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum Theater.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: My Wife's Affair by Nancy Woodruff

 
Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts Waiting on Wednesday, which encourages you to highlight a not-yet-released book you cannot wait to read. My pick this week is My Wife's Affair by Nancy Woodruff.
My Wife's Affair 
I first read about  My Wife's Affair in Publisher's Weekly. I tend to read only the first and last sentence of their reviews because I don't like to know too much. Here's the first sentence:
"Woodruff (Someone Else's Child) leaves not a dry eye in the house in this gripping ode to theater and the love it can command--and crush."
And the last:
"It's brutal and lovely."
Sold. The gorgeous cover seems to complement the review perfectly.

My Wife's Affair is also from the fabulous Amy Einhorn imprint. Beth Fish Reads is hosting a perpetual Amy Einhorn reading challenge to read every book this imprint publishes.

My Wife's Affair will be published April 15, 2010. You can preorder it in hardcover or Kindle format from Amazon.com. Can't wait? Try Ms. Woodruff's first novel, Someone Else's Child.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

movie review: The Blind Side

The Blind Side 
I put off seeing The Blind Side for months. Even after hearing all of the Sandra Bullock Best Actress hype, I waited. After she won the SAG award, I decided to see it, but it still took a Best Picture Oscar nomination to finally coax me into the theater. I went in with an open mind, and I enjoyed parts of the movie. The problem, however, is that it's not a great movie. It's less deserving of it's Best Picture nomination than Avatar is. Hear me out.

I know people love this movie, and that's fine. Loving a film does not make it great. Yes, I teared up a few times during this film, which plays upon the viewer's emotions numerous times. The problem with this movie is that it doesn't play to the viewer's intellect at all. The Blind Side is a better than average sports movie. It's an average movie. It lacks nuance and intelligence. It's a tearjerker without much substance. It's an oversimplification of a true story. 
On a continuation and plot note, when Michael gets into the school, what happened to Big Tony and his son? Did I miss a scene explaining why both boys weren't let in?
Seriously, I did not like Avatar, but at least that film pushed the boundaries of visual effects and the idea of what film is and can do. I don't believe any film without a strong screenplay and/or acting has an business in a Best Picture race, but Avatar has more right to be there than The Blind Side, which doesn't press the boundaries of film in any way. Although I did not care for The Blind Side, it is not a bad movie. It has a moral message and inspiration many viewers will respond to. I prefer my morality with the nuances of real life, but I appreciate that many like their feel-good stories to be reality free. Yes, this film, based on a true story, is rather loosely tied to the story that inspired it.Mark Harris wrote a fantastic column in Entertainment Weeklyt last week about the film's departure from and oversimplification of the book. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear on their Web site yet. The biggest problem with the adaptation is that the true story is actually inspiring, gritty and fascinating. It's a film I would have liked to see. The Feminist Review, an always delightful blog, has a fantastic review of The Blind Side.

As for Sandra Bullock, she was good. I don't understand the big deal about her performance either. Her character's coping mechanism seemed to be to walk away any time emotion began to register on her face. She had license to be a bitch, and I understand she is a very sweet person in real life, so perhaps that is the draw. Her performance doesn't have the weight of Meryl Streep as Julia Child or to Carey Mulligan's emotional and intellectual journey  in An Education.

The bottom line: if you like sports movies and/or pompous white people, you'll probably enjoy this film. If you like your true stories a little more true and your sports stories more nuanced to include the racial, social and economic impact of NCAA athletics, read the book. Know what this film is going in: an average, emotional film that has no business being nominated for Best Picture. Is it unfair to blame the film for being nominated for the award? Absolutely, but backlash is part of the awards game.After seeing so many great films this year, it's really hard to stomach a mediocre film being nominated for Best Picture.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Running time: a laborious 128 minutes
Release date: it's in theaters now and will be out on dvd March 23, 2010.
Source: I foolishly paid $8 to see it at the Madison Theater.

Monday, February 22, 2010

movie review: The Messenger

The Messenger
I saw The Messenger several weeks ago, and my initial reaction was strong, both emotionally and intellectually. To attempt to do this movie justice, I wanted to wait to fully compose my thoughts about it's brilliance. It's no secret I adored An Education (here's my review of it), and I almost like The Messenger as much. 

The Messenger is the story of Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster, a wounded soldier who has returned to the base and is placed on the notification team until the time of his discharge. Colonol Dorsett, played by Woody Harrelson in his best performance to date, shows him the ropes. The two are an unlikely duo, and despite both being combat veterans (Dorsett in Desert Storm), this assignment provides a very different stress. The two soldiers are on call every hour of every day. When a soldier dies, they race to notify the family before they hear about their love one's death somewhere else. Given their unique jobs, they spend more and more of their time together even when they're not working.

The extended supporting cast members of this film are amazing. Their notifications are met with a variety of results, as we all process grief and shock differently. The supporting actors and actresses have one scene to deliver their messages of despair and grief. The film is a fascinating look into the human psyche, and it's the best war movie I've ever seen. It's a deep, thoughtful, uncomfortable look at the effects of war on individuals. Woody Harrelson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but I'm surprised Samantha Morton was not nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

The Messenger is not always an easy film to watch, but it's well worth the time. It's not a movie I want to watch over and over again, but it a film I will buy and watch once every year or two. Mostly, I'll pass along my dvd to anyone who will watch it. Everyone has jumped on The Hurt Locker bandwagon, but The Messenger is a better film. It's smarter, more nuanced and a more fascinating look at this war. I was surprised when it wasn't nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. There's no question it is one of the five best films of the year.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars) - one of the year's best films
Running time: 112 minutes
Release date: It's in theaters now, and it will be out on dvd May 18, 2010
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum Theater.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Empire State Book Festival

 
I've been looking forward to the FIRST Empire State Book Festival for almost a year now. It's conveniently happening right here in Albany on April 9 & 10, 2010. Even better: it's FREE. The New York Library Assocation has done a fantastic job putting this event together. I was already excited, but this week I discovered the list of authors who will be attending, and now I'm even more excited. In an attempt to lure you other northeasterners to Albany (during the read-a-thon, no less), here are the highlights:
  • Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City
  • Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader
  • Andy Borowitz (one of the funniest people on Twitter, among tother things).
  • David Ebershoff, author of The 19th Wife
  • Masha Hamilton, author of 31 Hours
  • Ann Hood
  • Marilyn Johnson, author of the fabulous This Book Is Overdue! 
  • Sally Koslow, author of The Late Lamented Molly Marx (one of my favorite reads last summer)
  • Gregory Maguire
  • Julie Metz, author of Perfection
  • Elizabeth Noble
  • Cathleen Schine
  • Da Chen
There are lots of author great authors coming. Check the list for your favorites! There are also some fantastic panels and programs. My favorites? Judging a Book By Its Cover, a panel on This Book Is Overdue!, and a panel on women's fiction hosted by the Bethanne Patrick, a.k.a the Book Maven of the Book Studio!

Doesn't this event sound wonderful? If you're coming, let me know. I'd love to show you all around Albany and organize a get-together.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

movie review: Young Victoria

The Young Victoria
Young Victoria is the story of Queen Victoria's early years. Emily Blunt stars as Queen Victoria, and she was nominated for quite a few Best Actress awards, most notably, the Golden Globe.

The film begins a year before Victoria becomes Queen and continues through the first few years of her reign. I was not terribly familiar with Queen Victoria's early life, and I found the film fascinating. Emily Blunt shines as Victoria. She plays her with a beautiful mix of energy, youthfulness, spunk and properness. This Victoria is caring, idealistic and eager. Part of the story focuses on Victoria's desire for love and uneasiness about finding a partner who will love her for her rather her throne. Through a modern lens, it's both a beautiful and frightening love story. It's a quick courtship, and it works for them, but the modern skeptic in me cannot imagine a courtship of mostly letters, especially when you're the Queen of England and have so much to protect.

It is a love story, but it's mostly a fascinating look at the role of royalty and the role of women at the time. Victoria is aware of her fortune and prestige, even as she longs to rebel against it and reach the real people. All in all, it's a lovely little film. What keeps it from being a great film, despite Emily Blunt's strongly nuanced performance, was my lack of emotional involvement with the story. Despite not knowing much about this time period, I felt somewhat removed from the events. It's a personal reaction, and I'm curious to know if others felt a similar disconnect. I do recommend seeing the film, but it doesn't quite make my ten best of the year list.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Running time: 105 minutes
Release date: It will be out on Blu-ray and dvd April 20, 2010 (and it's still playing in some theaters).
Source: I saw it at the Spectrum Theater.

As an Amazon affiliate, I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Friday, February 19, 2010

book review: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
As many of you know I'm a librarian (or someone who has worked as a librarian for two years and is now six credits away from my fancy official degree). I don't remember where I first heard about this book, but I think it was either Estella's Revenge or Bibliophile by the Sea. As it was conveniently released the week of my wedding, I pre-ordered it for my Kindle for wedding reading. 

What I didn't know, but perhaps should have inferred from the book's title (This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All) is the author, Marilyn Johnson, is not a librarian. The book isn't necessarily aimed at librarians, although I think there are things all librarians, readers and citizens could learn from this book. Ms. Johnson's first book is about obituaries, and she discovered librarians had absolutely fascinating obituaries and focused her next book on us. Awesome, yes? As I often confess, part of the allure of librarianship for me is being in academic environment but still able to enjoy life and have hobbies. I am not a slave to my job, although I love my job. I have work-life-love balance and intellectual stimulation from all three. I am lucky.

Each chapter has a different topic. Some were more interesting to  me than others, and although she explores many aspects of librarianship, especially in the modern and changing sense, it's not a comprehensive book (nor is it supposed to be.) It was so refreshing to have a non-librarian not only defend the profession but praise it. Sadly, when you tell people you're in graduate school in library and information studies, they often ask why. When I respond, "being a librarian requires a master's degree," people are often dumbfounded and shocked. The exception, usually, are the people who actually have a friend or family member who is a librarian. They exclaim with joy when you say you're a library student.

If you like books, technology or organizational models at all (hello, book bloggers!), you will like this book. My one complaint? The book is mostly about public librarians. As an academic librarian, I was eager for Ms. Johnson to point out how our jobs are different. It wasn't the scope of her book, but I'd love to see a follow-up go in-depth into academic librarianship. It's a fun, informative, and fascinating read. As a librarian, it was delightful to see an outsider take an honest look at the profession. As a reader, it was a delight to read Ms. Johnson's beautiful, descriptive language.

Also, I can't wait to meet Marilyn Johnson at the Empire State Book Festival!

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 288 pages in the print edition
Publication date: February 2, 2010
Source: I bought it on my Kindle. (Thanks, Harper for not delaying ebook sales! If you had, I probably wouldn't have read this book yet. If I had, I wouldn't have paid for it; I would have gotten it from the library.)


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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release you can't wait to read. 
Every Last One: A Novel
My pick this week is the new novel Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. I've only read one Anna Quindlen novel, Rise and Shine, which I really enjoyed. The publisher's synopsis of this new novel sounds fantastic.
Anna Quindlen creates an unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions. Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor.  Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount.  And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.
Every Last One will be released on April 13. Thank you, Random House for already having the Kindle edition available for pre-order and for releasing the Kindle version the same day as the hardcover.

As an Amazon Associate, if you make a purchase through any of the above links, I will receive a small commission. Thank you!

Monday, February 15, 2010

dinner and a movie: Me & Orson Welles

Welcome to my Monday morning recap of my Sunday night (this week!) dinner and a movie date with myself.
Me & Orson Welles
I had high hopes for Me & Orson Welles. It's directed by Richard Linklater, who is one of my favorite directors. Before Sunset may be my favorite movie ever (and of course, it's precursor, Before Sunrise, is near the top of the list.) Together, the two films are magical for me. I also adore Dazed and Confused, which is my favorite high school film. I wish more people would watch SubUrbia, his version of the criminally under-appreciated play that defines Generation X (which is not available on dvd for some reason.) I adore Slacker, his offbeat first film, although I don't enjoy rewatching it as much as the others. Still, he's a director who has somewhat of a signature but also veers into more mainstream material from time to time (Bad News Bears and School of Rock). 

The story takes place in New York City in 1937. Richard Samuels, played brilliantly by the magnetic Zac Efron, is a high school student who is almost 18 when he's cast in an Orson Welles production of Shakespeare's Caesar at the Mercury Theater. Naturally, his youthful ignorance and idealism are tested while working with the brilliant egomaniac Welles, played quite well by Christian McKay, who was nominated for an IFC Independent Spirit award for the role. Richard also falls for Sonja, played by a surprisingly mediocre Claire Danes. (I am a devotee of My So-Called Life and thus all things Claire Danes and usually I find her acting to be brilliant and mesmerizing.)

While the film was good, the trailer did it a disservice. There were clips of almost every scene in the trailer, but the trailer juxtaposed them differently. As I watched the film, I heard the next line of the trailer in my head, but the scenes themselves were different in the movie. It was jarring. The trailer told too much, so there were few punches or moments of surprise left. Quite honestly, the script wasn't strong enough to hold up when the audience already knew what happened. My advice? Don't watch the trailer.

Overall, it's a lovely little film, and it's certainly worth watching, especially to see Zac Efron. He is a star. He was the star of the film, but he has that je ne sais quois, and I could not take my eyes off of him when he was on screen. It's the first time I've seen him actually have to act and display a wide variety of emotion. He did it all flawlessly, and he acts with his eyes first like a pro. It was perhaps the perfect role to transition from teen heartthrob to actual movie star. He still played a teen, but this role was dense, and he got to come of age over the course of the week in ways both subtle and overtly emotional.

Perhaps my one regret with this film, despite seeing the trailer multiple times, was not reading the novel of the same name by Robert Kaplow first. I did enjoy the story, and I've been fascinated by Orson Welles and his private life since I took my first film class.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) - rent it
Running time: 114 minutes
Release date: It's in a handful of theaters now, but there's no word on a dvd release yet.
Source: I paid to see it at The Spectrum Theater

After dinner, I had a fabulous Valentine's Day dinner with myself at New World Bistro Bar, my favorite restaurant in Albany. There were so many fantastic appetizer specials, I stuck with tapas and enjoyed every bite:

  • a bowl of lobster bisque (divine!)
  • a lobster-mango salad with cucumber and curry aioli (tropical delight!)
  • diver scallop carpaccio with mango vinaigrette and seaweed gelee (simple and lovely)
  • wasabi-tobiko deviled eggs (a perennial favorite of mine)
  • Eqyptian style sweetbreads with babaganoush and lemon caper sauce (another regular favorite)
Next week: Both Shutter Island (finally!) and The White Ribbon (nominated for Best Foreign Film and Best Art Direction at the Oscars) open. I haven't decided which film I'll see, and I might see both Friday night. Either way, check back next Monday for the recap.

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