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John’s Horror Corner: Happy Death Day (2017), Groundhog Day (1993) meets Scream (1996) in this surprisingly entertaining college slasher.

October 20, 2017

MY CALL:  The Groundhog Day (1993) callbacks are frequent, satisfying and most importantly self-aware in this delightful stalker movie. It was fun, jumpy, tense, engaging and…did I mention FUN?  Go see this.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Happy Death DayI can’t believe I’m going to say this to you, horror fans.  But, for real, go see Groundhog Day (1993)—it’s like Stephen King wrote a comedy.  I’d strongly recommend Scream (1996) if you haven’t seen it—great metamovie.  Also Hush (2016), simply as another clever slasher/stalker film.

I have to admit, I didn’t necessarily expect this to be more than an entertaining (if good) little horror flick with a feisty gimmick playfully riffing on a favorite ‘90s comedy: Groundhog Day (1993).  But little did I know, this film was directed by one of the writers of Paranormal Activity 2-3 (2010-2011; also 4 and Marked Ones, but I was less a fan of them) and the outstanding teen thriller Disturbia (2007).  Director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) has the gifts of sophomoric humor, mature slow-building tension, and well-invested characters that earn audience sympathy.  All three find themselves well-married in this actually quite delightful horror movie!

The plot is simple (especially if you’ve seen Groundhog Day): a college student relives the day of her murder over and over again in a cycle presumably only broken by preventing her own death.  That hapless victim is Tree (Jessica Rothe; The Tribe, Parallels), and her day repeatedly starts with awakening in a strange dorm room with a major hangover and no recollection of the night before.

The Groundhog Day callbacks are frequent, clearly deliberate (as indicated in the last few minutes of the film), and I delight in them!  Those familiar with the 1993 comedy will envision Bill Murray throwing his bedside radio, killing himself, eating with reckless abandon, predicting random events, being mean, being nice, being hypercognitive…I smiled a lot watching this.  Tree’s relationships with those she encounters on her time-looped birthday radically shift from normal, to confused, to paranoid, to slapstick, to constructive.

The writing was solid, the camerawork was good, the pacing was great, I liked the story…I have (honestly) no complaints.  I also thought the cast all did great!  Some notables from the cast include Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine and Rachel Matthews.  Oh, and Jessica Rothe knocked it outta’ the park!  The repetition of the day’s events give us ample opportunity to flesh out characters presented to us in the context of a First Act—which was really cool.

For the squeamish, this film will be fine.  There’s a bit of blood and no real gore.  Rather than relying on shock-cinema gore stylings, this film rides the wave of dreading Tree’s next encounter with her killer…and it all works well!  She never encounters the killer the same way twice (which actually makes sense in the end) and we are often edgy about just whom the killer actually is.  There’s also quite of bit of Scream -esque (1996) humor stitched between the suspense.

We even find a lot of non-comedic humor in the irony and awkwardness of reliving the same events again and again.  It’s all rather charming and, much to my surprise, manages to proceed uninhibited by the killer’s odd baby-faced mask.

I’m gonna’ say it.  This movie was delightful.  It was a lot of fun, had a fair balance of jumps and legit tension, the story was engaging and the delivery was self-aware.  Highly recommended, probably highly rewatchable as well, and I intend to buy it.  Enjoy!

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Personal Shopper: A Ghost Story Done Right

October 18, 2017

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Personal Shopper is a neat little thriller that plays like a ghost story inside an arthouse film surrounded by mystery. I appreciated how director Olivier Assayas imbues the film with a relaxed tone that builds suspense while taking its time. Much like recent “horror” films like Spring, The Witch, It Comes at Night, The Invitation and The Gift it plays with mystery/horror tropes and combines them with sensitive themes of loss. Personal Shopper will alienate many but I loved its tone and patience.

Personal Shopper focuses on a personal shopper named Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who spends her days buying stuff for a very needy and often cantankerous celebrity. The work is unimportant and you can tell that Maureen only does it for the cash. On the side, she works as a medium of sorts and things get weird when she starts getting texts from someone who might be her twin brother who recently died of a heart attack. From there, the film never goes where you expect and builds to a somber conclusion that you will either appreciate or dislike (there is no middle ground with this film).

What I love most about Personal Shopper is how it balances being a ghost story while offering a reflection on loss. Some may see it as a “Kristen Stewart looks at a phone” film but I really enjoyed Stewart’s performance and the blending of mystery and truth. Assayas has found a way to capture Stewart’s introverted presence really well and after The Clouds of Sil Maria he knows her beats/style and trusts her enough to basically keep her onscreen for every second of this film.

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Personal Shopper represents a new(ish) wave of introspective horror that is either beloved or massively disliked. Personal Shopper and the films mentioned above don’t stick to the horror/mystery template and instead fuse various elements together. The results can be frustrating for unsuspecting horror hounds but they can be equally rewarding for people who embrace everything the horror genre has to offer. Films like this are changing the definition of the term “horror” and I love all the conversations surrounding the evolving genre.

If you are in the mood for a somber ghost story/mystery I totally recommend Personal Shopper. 

John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th Part III (1982), making Jason more boring, 3D and campy than ever.

October 17, 2017

MY CALL:  This summer camp slasher is way more campy than its predecessors. I found this to be the most boring of the series so far.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Friday the 13th Part IIIObviously, Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981).  For more classic ‘early modern’ slashers one should venture A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Burning (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Part 2 SIDEBAR:  The last movie ended as Ginny (Amy Steel; April Fool’s Day, Friday the 13th Part 2) discovered the severed head shrine to Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer; Friday the 13th Parts 1 & 2) and impersonated her to fool Jason. But after our relief from Jason’s defeat—SURPRISE!  He’s still alive with a machete deeply embedded in his torso!

We open by replaying the last 5 minutes of part 2 as an elaborate recap and pick up part III the very next day.  So, with part 1 occurring in “present day” (1980) and part 2 occurring 5 years later (1985), this also occurs in 1985.

Having recovered from his horrible injury from part 2 (1980), Jason (Richard Brooker, 6’3”; Deathstalker) has come back meaner and bigger (part 2’s Warrington Gillette, 6’1”) to harass more horny lakeside twentysomethings.  Oddly, these victims are neither campers no camp staff.  Some mentionables from the cast include Rachel Howard (Deep Space), Dana Kimmell (Sweet Sixteen), Kevin O’Brien (Warlock) and Catherine Parks (Looker).

Ever-tougher Jason SIDEBAR:  Jason is still clearly human (as he was in part 2).  He dresses human, acts rather human (although homicidal), dives out of the path of cars, limps when he’s hurt, and is injured by stab wounds.  He’s bigger and uglier than before, but still human.  Although, he does somehow survive being hanged—which is about as remarkable as surviving his machete-embedded torso in part 2.  He even appears to survive an axe to the head…but that was presented as perhaps a dream.

After introducing us to Jason Voorhees, Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2, Warlock, House, Halloween H20, Lake Placid) returns for his second sequel with the popularity of the franchise garnering ever-enlarging budgets ($550K in ‘80, $1.25M in ’81, and now $2.3M in ‘82).  However, despite this, I was quite underwhelmed with the movie.

This sequel is not just the campiest so far, it’s simply crass.  There are pooping sound effects (yes, pooping!), sex and shower scenes, needless punks, unexciting kills, horrendous dialogue and perhaps the lamest 3D ploys in history largely limited to simply holding things in front of the camera (e.g., passing a joint).  The death scenes were largely stale, although I almost enjoyed the spear gun kill, the handstand death provoked a stupid giggle and who doesn’t like an eye-popping head crush (the only appropriate use of 3D in the movie).

It seemed that so much attention was afforded to making (now) idiotic things 3D, that no attention went to making the movie any fun.  Despite all the 3D hullabaloo and having its moments, and I do mean only “moments”, this movie was really boring for its first 50 minutes and slightly less boring for the last 40 minutes.  I mean, we see Jason way too often (opening and shutting doors, ooooooh scaaaary) and it never seems to matter.  In the final act we see him scuffling about in lame barn skirmishes like a clumsy street fighter.

The only definitive good to come from this sequel was Jason’s discovery of the hockey mask.  As iconic as the mask is to the character, it’s a sad irony that it was founded in such a circumstantially silly manner and in such a weak movie.  The best part of the movie was the surprise ending which plays on the stylings of the previous two movies, both of which had greater impact than this.  I’ll admit this is probably more rewatchable than part 1…it’s just less significant and it pales to part 2.  This may be the worst in the series.

John’s Horror Corner: Cult of Chucky (2017), from the 1988 classic to the guilty pleasure sequels, I continue to enjoy this evil doll franchise!

October 16, 2017

MY CALL:  Another entertaining installment to this killer doll franchise!  In style it’s somewhere between Seed of Chucky and Curse of Chucky.  [I viewed the Unrated Version.MOVIES LIKE Cult of Chucky:  The other Chucky movies most worth watching are Child’s Play (1988), Child’s Play 2 (1990) and Curse of Chucky (2013).  Other quality evil doll films include The Boy (2016), Annabelle: Creation (2017), Dolly Dearest (1991), Dolls (1987) and Puppet Master (1989).

This 7th Child’s Play installment continues Curse of Chucky’s story and offers a brief recap—but ideally one would see Curse before moving on to this.  Andy (Alex Vincent; Child’s Play 1-2, Curse of Chucky) continues to live a tortured life.  With now scores of victims in the wake of his childhood killer that has gone uncaught for over 30 years, Andy’s social life has been reduced to spending weekends chatting up and torturing the severed head of an undying Good Guy Doll that taunts him to no end.  Even with proof that Chucky (Brad Dourif; The Hazing, Dune, Curse of Chucky) is a “living” possessed doll, no one believes him, passing it off as a clever stunt.

Meanwhile, after being diagnosed a schizophrenic and electro-shocked in a mental institution for four years, Nica (Fiona Dourif; True Blood, Curse of Chucky, The Master) has been tutored by psychiatrists that Chucky was just a fantasy masking her mass murder of her family.  But her grasp on reality is taunted as Good Guy Dolls seem to improbably find their way into her psychiatric facility: appearing her group therapy sessions, mailed packages and even from a gift from a strange visitor (Jennifer Tilly; Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky).

Other members of the cast include Elisabeth Rosen (The ABCs of Death, House of the Dead), Grace Lynn Kung (The Strain, Cube 2: Hypercube), Ali Tataryn (Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings, Curse of Chucky), Zak Santiago (Cult, The Eye), Michael Therriault (Hemlock Grove, Nurse 3D), Marina Stephenson Kerr (Channel Zero) and Summer H. Howell (Channel Zero, Curse of Chucky).

Unlike Curse, which demonstrated a tactful restraint before revealing Chucky, this movie dives right into the deep end using Curse as the diving board.  Because of the story continuity with Andy and Nica’s recent experiences, the mystique of the possessed doll gets skipped entirely.

Brad Dourif continues to please fans voicing Chucky (as he has for the entire franchise), and Fiona nails some good scenes (those that were written well, anyway).  Their performances along the loving direction of Don Mancini (Curse of Chucky, Seed of Chucky)—who took part in writing all of the Child’s Play franchise installments and several related short films—make this another entertaining contribution to the series after the campy Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004).  After the outlandishly farcical events and pacing of the 4th and 5th movies, Curse dialed things back only for Cult to return us to insanity!  Whereas Curse boasted a serious poker face (with a reasonable story) and a return to the old-fashioned malevolence that could make homicidal dolls menacing again, Cult is reintroducing us to Chucky’s sadistic sense of humor and the franchise’s historical tendency for lunacy.

Maybe this movie is going too far off the deep end again much like Bride and Seed.  The third act is incredibly zany and the dialogue takes a very campy shift.  Many of the lines and death scenes were over the top, but I enjoyed them anyway.  My favorites were the broken glass death and the two (yes, two) extremely gory head-stomping scenes.  When things start to feel a bit silly, the gore keeps our interest.  And as with Curse, the production quality was solid, including some decent cinematography.  As for the Chucky effects, I really enjoyed the range of facial expressions (as with Curse).

Cult ties in perfectly to Curse and then leaves the potential for an infinite supply of sequels.  Although, I’m not so sure as to how many we’ll get.  Whether Mancini continues to back them or we get a big budget reboot/remake for theatrical release, I’ll be on board!

John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Jason Voorhees avenges his mother’s death and brokers a slasher franchise.

October 15, 2017

MY CALL:  More kills, more boobs and more excitement than its (honestly) slow-paced classic predecessor.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Friday the 13th Part 2Obviously, Friday the 13th (1980).  For more classic ‘early modern’ slashers one should venture A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Burning (1981) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Part 1 SIDEBAR:  You may recall that in part 1, almost in the form of a Psycho (1960) mother-son role-reversal, Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer; Friday the 13th) was our killer and she was taking her cues from the inner voice of her presumably deceased Jason in her head (“Kill her, mommy”).  Part 1 ended with her being decapitated (great scene) and her decaying son (perhaps a dream) pulling our final girl Alice (Adrienne King; Friday the 13th, The Butterfly Room) into Crystal Lake.  Of course, when she awoke in the hospital, the sheriff informed he she was found in the water and there was no sign of a boy.

Director Sean S. Cunningham (DeepStar Six) brought us a low-budget ($550K) franchise opener iconic among slasher, revenge and summer camp horror.  Boldly following in his footsteps, the very capable director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part III, Warlock, House, Halloween H20, Lake Placid) starts his career with twice the budget ($1.25 million) to introduce us to the franchise’s next killer: Jason.  What I find most amusing is that this movie is about Jason Voorhees avenging his mother who died avenging Jason’s death…even though he never actually died.

Halloween SIDEBAR: It’s fair (if not obvious) to say that Halloween (1978) clearly influenced subsequent slasher movies.  Someone (to me, on Facebook) recently made the claim that “Friday the 13th was a was a direct spin-off/rip-off/carbon copy answer to Halloween.” With respect to part 1, I can’t say I agree with the extremity of the comment (e.g., “carbon copy”) when the killer was a crazy mother with nothing supernatural about her.  Even in part 2, Jason is just a man who cowers at the sight of a girl with a chainsaw and collapses after a kick in the balls—even if he does re-emerge alive after a blow that would kill anyone.  Only in later installments did Jason become the unstoppable undead menace we know today (and, in that respect, more like Myers). However, we do find a victim pegged to the wall (in part 1, with arrows; as Myers did, with a knife) and, in part 2, Jason definitely mimics the Michael Myers head tilt (after sticking the guy to the wall in the kitchen).

Mrs. Voorhees may be dead, but her son’s body was apparently never recovered and local folklore suggests Jason lives in the wilderness.  But no worries, crazy locals like Ralph (Walt Gorney; Friday the 13th Parts 1 & VII) continue to warn all would-be campers “you’re all doomed.”

Moving at a more brisk pace than the much slower original (although not slow-paced back in 1980), a bigger camp staff means more victims, more kills and more nudity.  Now five years after the events of part 1, Ginny (Amy Steel; April Fool’s Day), Ted (Stuart Charno; Christine, Once Bitten) and Sandra (Marta Kober; Neon Maniacs, Slumber Party Massacre III) among many others are hired to prepare to open a camp on the other side of Crystal Lake.  These summer staffers die from all manner of stabbings, slashings and barbed wire strangling (likely inspiring the Wrong Turn razor-wire scene).  My favorite death scenes were the speared lovers and the toppling wheelchair.

Much as in part 1, the glimpses we get of our killer’s hand and clothing seem very “human.” Although his breathing is a bit on the eerily heavy side and, when we see him at the end, his face is a disfigured fright.

It’s funny looking back at this movie after seeing a total of 12 franchise films which make the killer larger, more unstoppable and more supernatural with each sequel.  Watching this 1981 killer is almost humorous—like, remember when Jason (Warrington Gillette, 6’1”; Time Walker) was just a dude who actually “ran” after his victims (unheard of in later sequels), was scared of chainsaws, and was slowed down by a kick in the balls from a scared girl?  Yeah, Jason has come a long way. LOL

Playing off the nightmarish end of part 1, we close with what may or may not have been our final girl’s bad dream and the questionable notion of whether or not Jason is still alive.  Probably alive, right?  In either case, part 1 was a classic that joined Halloween in ushering in the modern slasher era. But this sequel (the first “Jason movie”) is what really ignited the franchise by offering a movie with greater rewatchability and more excitement than its predecessor.

MFF Special: Does Jason Voorhees Teleport in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan?

October 13, 2017

With Friday the 13th upon us I wanted to take a deep/dumb dive into whether or not Jason Voorhees can teleport in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Breaking down his movements have been my toughest test thus far, but since I’ve already covered Leatherface, Michael Myers, the Fisherman in I Know What You Did Last Summer and the sharks in Deep Blue Sea, it felt only natural to tackle the wonky movements of Jason Voorhees. 

I’ve read a lot about Jason Voorhees teleporting tendencies and I’ve learned the Friday the 13th community is torn on the subject. Is he really fast or can he teleport? I see both sides of the argument but after watching way too many clips and documentaries I’m convinced that Jason is an incredibly gifted athlete who capitalizes on dumb decisions. If that dude could really teleport he would be an absolute nightmare that only Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson could defeat.

The following post posits the idea that Kane Hodder’s Jason is a physically gifted reincarnation of a once lumbering monster and his quick movements work in the context of a very stupid film (which I love). If he can punch a man’s head off he can easily take shortcuts, work angles and take advantage of people who have zero tactical awareness. The scene I want to break down is the infamous dance floor murder scene.

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There are other moments that involve “teleporting” but I wanted to get to the bottom of the dance floor death because it is a tricky beast. Here are some observations about the scene.

  1. The victim Eva is a tacticians nightmare
  2. I think her shocked reactions come from fear and the fact that a large man is sprinting unnecessarily from point to point
  3. Jason doesn’t really move that far
  4. He had plenty of time to saunter up behind Eva before he throttles her.

Here is a breakdown of the scene.

Eva is being chased by Jason and she runs into a circular disco room. She gets to the middle of the room in four seconds and covers about 21 feet in the process (:48).  She runs around the room for 12 seconds and we learn that the lounge is a circular room with multiple doors leading into it (they are all locked of course).

Jason storms into the dance room whilst Eva is standing in the middle of the room (1:02). She runs around for 15 seconds find herself back in the middle where she notices Jason has moved roughly 12-15 feet to his left (1:18). She gets all crazy-eyed and Jason has three seconds to move 10-12 feet to his right (1:23).

Why is he sprinting around?

This is where tracking his movements gets tough. Jason then has three seconds to move back to where he just came from (still possible for an athletic immortal. Also, I measured it and I covered the distance in three seconds). Eva then looks away for four seconds and when she looks back Jason is nowhere to be seen (1:32). I’m guessing he is behind the truss which is kinda weird because it’s unnecessary. Then, Eva looks around for 19 seconds and Jason slowly saunters up and grabs her by the throat. This is the most believable moment because Eva LITERALLY looks away from the place where he had to be!

Here is a breakdown of Jason’s movement.

This whole scenario had to be incredibly terrifying and weird for poor Eva. She got locked in a disco lounge on a boat and had to watch as a  large man did short sprints in the corner. No wonder she was totally paralyzed and couldn’t leave the dance floor. This isn’t a case of teleporting. It’s a case of a large man confusing and terrifying a young lady who wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation.

If you were wondering about the other “teleporting” instances here is what I think happened.

  1. The Building Throw – Professor Charles Drown ran up one staircase while Jason entered the adjacent staircase out of frame. Since he is so fast he easily beat the slow-moving professor up the stairs. After Jason throws him through the window he runs back down the stairs and finishes the job eight seconds later. Is he fast? Yes. It is impossible? Nope. Here is the clip.
  2. The Boat Incident – What happens here is Miles is attacked by Jason, so he descends a ladder to the main level while Jason takes the quicker stair route. Jason corners him at the front of the boat so Miles decides to climb a ladder. Miles has a headstart up the ladder but he slows down as he gets higher. So, Jason has seven seconds to climb quickly up the ladder to surprise his prey. This variation of Jason could totally do that. Here is the clip.

If you liked this post make sure to check out my other “dumb data” posts! Also, a big shout to Wired and Brian Raftery for profiling me about this data. I’m stoked that I’m their radar.

  1. Jet Ski Action Scenes Are the Worst
  2. How Far Did the Merman Travel in The Cabin in the Woods?
  3. How Far Did Matthew McConaughey Jump in Reign of Fire?
  4. How Fast can Leatherface Run?
  5. Deep Blue Sea and Stellan Skarsgard
  6. How Far Did Michael Myers Drive in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
  7. How Did the Geologist Get Lost in Prometheus?
  8. People Love a Bearded Kurt Russell
  9. A Closer Look at Movies That Feature the Words Great, Good, Best, Perfect and Fantastic
  10. An In-Depth Look At Movies That Feature Pencils Used as Weapons
  11. Cinematic Foghat Data
  12. Explosions and Movie Posters
  13. The Fast & Furious & Corona
  14. Nicolas Sparks Movie Posters Are Weird
  15. Predicting the RT score of Baywatch
  16. The Cinematic Dumb Data Podcast
  17. What is the best horror movie franchise?
  18. How Fast Can the Fisherman Clean a Trunk in I Know What You Did Last Summer?
  19. It’s Expensive to Feature Characters Being Eaten Alive and Surviving Without a Scratch
  20. How Long Does it Take Your Favorite Horror Movie Characters to Travel From NYC to San Francisco?

The MFF Random Data Collection: A Grouping of Cinematic Data That Gives You Answers to Questions You Didn’t Have

October 4, 2017

MFF was just featured in Wired (Thanks Brian Raftery)! I’m stoked that I’m on their radar and I appreciate their appreciation of my anti-metrics. If you’ve been reading the site for some time you know that I embrace the randomness of cinema and I believe that nothing is too trivial to explore. Whether it be Michael Myers driving around or Matthew McConaughey pulling off a miraculous jump in Reign of Fire I love understanding how weird cinematic moments could’ve happened.

 

McC’s jump was kinda crazy. The dude never dropped.

If you are just learning about my random and sorta dumb data here is a chance to catch up on all of it. These posts have been a blast to put together and I’m stoked that the world is finally realizing how bad Stellan Skarsgard had it in Deep Blue Sea.

Enjoy!

  1. Jet Ski Action Scenes Are the Worst
  2. How Far Did the Merman Travel in The Cabin in the Woods?
  3. How Far Did Matthew McConaughey Jump in Reign of Fire?
  4. How Fast can Leatherface Run?
  5. Deep Blue Sea and Stellan Skarsgard
  6. How Far Did Michael Myers Drive in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
  7. How Did the Geologist Get Lost in Prometheus?
  8. People Love a Bearded Kurt Russell
  9. A Closer Look at Movies That Feature the Words Great, Good, Best, Perfect and Fantastic
  10. An In-Depth Look At Movies That Feature Pencils Used as Weapons
  11. Cinematic Foghat Data
  12. Explosions and Movie Posters
  13. The Fast & Furious & Corona
  14. Nicolas Sparks Movie Posters Are Weird
  15. Predicting the RT score of Baywatch
  16. The Cinematic Dumb Data Podcast
  17. What is the best horror movie franchise?
  18. How Fast Can the Fisherman Clean a Trunk in I Know What You Did Last Summer?
  19. It’s Expensive to Feature Characters Being Eaten Alive and Surviving Without a Scratch
  20. How Long Does it Take Your Favorite Horror Movie Characters to Travel From NYC to San Francisco?
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