Reeler Archive for December, 2005

Screening Gotham: Dec. 30, 2005 – Jan. 2, 2006


A few of this weekend’s worthwhile cinematic happenings around New York:
–James Bond is dead. You heard it here first. Daniel Craig is the new George Lazenby, nobody wants to be a Bond girl and the best things about the franchise’s last decade have been its titles (tell me you do not wish you had come up with The World is Not Enough). But that is not to say you cannot have a little fun rummaging through 007’s old watercraft this weekend at the New York National Boat Show. Authentic Bond boats from Thunderball, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever (right) and a pair of other films will be on hand, not to mention a dozen or so Bond film props (A View to a Kill checkbook, anyone?) and reproductions. This is all a prelude to next week’s Bond Day, which I have to defer thinking about lest nostalgia liquefy my eyes. More on that Jan. 4.
–Have you seen Michael Haneke’s creep-out Cach&eacute yet? I was serious when I encouraged you a few months back to catch this with a big crowd, in whose company the film’s shocks are certain to wield a more powerful cinematic wallop then they ever will late in its run or on DVD. Do not ask me why, just please, please trust me: Sunshine Theater, this weekend. Worth every penny, especially if you can hop into tonight’s X-rated 3-D midnight movie, The Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy. There is nothing like French class war paired with vintage porn. I think.
–Finally, a friendly reminder: If you do not check out Fassbinder’s BRD Trilogy at IFC Center on Jan. 1, the director’s spirit will actually sneak into your New Year’s hangover and chip away at it with an old screwdriver. Consider yourself warned. Afterward, go to the Waverly and keep the servers company; it can get lonely in there.
Happy New Year to all of you–be safe, watch lots of movies and check back Tuesday with a full report. See you then!

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Boris, Boris, Boris: Film Forum Gets Karloff Fever in February


Yay! Just when I thought this whole fucking town was asleep, Film Forum’s Gabriele Caroti sends word that the theater plans a 14-film Boris Karloff retrospective to run Feb. 3-9. The series is principally intended to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Karloff’s starring role in Frankenstein, but pretty much all the good stuff is included: 1934’s The Black Cat, 1945’s The Body Snatcher and, of course, 1968’s Targets, set to be introduced Feb. 9 by director Peter Bogdanovich.
Not entirely coincidentally, Film Forum also announced a week-long engagement of 1973’s Spirit of the Beehive, Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice’s tale of a girl who becomes obssessed with Frankenstein’s monster in 1940 after seeing Karloff’s screen portrayal. A new print of Beehive screens starting Jan. 27.
OK, sorry to rouse you. Back to sleep.

On the Other Hand: Top 10s Worth a Look


After all the list-bashing of the last couple of days, I guess I would be remiss to point out a few of the truly intriguing year-end lists I spotted in my bleary-eyed travels around the Web. Indeed they are out there, but you have to search–like break out the infrared devices, the night-vision goggles, trained German Shepherds, etc.
Again, you can rarely go wrong with The Onion AV Club, even as a few of its contributors get their pants legs trapped in the abhorrent Take That Critics Poll over at the Voice. But perhaps this year’s Voice poll’s lone bright spot occurred in the form of critic Ed Halter, who kicked out a list of the excellent-yet-underappreciated avant garde and experimental films to have crashed New York (or not, in the case of Visual Music) this year.

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Jack Mathews Has the Answers, Yet Has None

The Daily News’s resident box-office visionary and Oscar soothsayer Jack Mathews spent a little time yesterday attempting to figure out where King Kong went bad, swerving from a defense of the ape’s “fully expressive kisser” to having the x-billionth poke at the Slump of ’05.
But Mathews is not just invoking a myth for its own sake here–he seems to be circumventing narcolepsy with a luminous coat of Tabloid Critic Crapola:

It’s debatable just how much of a slump theaters have suffered in ’05. The box-office gross is expected to be about 5% below last year’s, and when you take into account two ’04 blockbusters that weren’t really movies – Mel Gibson’s religious experience The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s anti-Bush rally Fahrenheit 9/11 – the numbers aren’t nearly as bleak.

Mathews has a certain logic here you have to love: A) acknowledge the rapidly evolving tastes and demographics of theatrical audiences, B) invalidate said audiences by dismissing their tastes as “not really movies.” This is old-school genius at work–the type that would have you thinking March of the Penguins‘ $80 million U.S. take is a phenomenon unto itself, even as conventional films flounder around it in puddles of red ink. It is quite the contradiction; perhaps Mathews just means that they are not really movies because even after their smashing success, studio heads (and, um, at least one critic) are still too old-fashioned to take them seriously.
Anyway, I neither know nor care if a slump exists, but guys like Mathews and anyone else in the quasi-vanguard of figuring all this shit out might try again from square one: Has the film industry ever been anything but a crap shoot? And if not, what particular end justifies these analytical means? There is a new story waiting for us in 2006… isn’t there? Please?

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Flash: Barbara Sukowa to Introduce Fassbinder's 'Lola' at IFC Center


Face it: Nothing says New Year’s Weekend like a long date with your old friend Fassbinder at IFC Center. As though his ghost wriggled up through the Sixth Avenue sidewalk to lash out at all this year-end acclaim for former contemporary Werner Herzog, Fassbinder’s Lola storms the cinema tomorrow with an introduction from star Barbara Sukowa.
Yes, that Barbara Sukowa. Fordham University professor Anne-Katrin Titze will also drop in for a short Q&A with Sukowa, so do not think you are going to be left in the room unsupervised or anything.
Then, Sunday at noon, IFC is screening Fassbinder’s entire BRD Trilogy–The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola and Veronika Voss–for the low, low price of only $20. (Single-screening tickets are available as well, but sources say Fassbinder’s coke-and-speed fueled ghost will rampage around your apartment and curse your 2006 in spittle-soaked German.)
IFC Center’s Web site has all the scheduling details for this weekend’s other Fassbinder screenings. Just remember–Barabara Sukowa. Try to behave, OK?

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'Made in NY' Incentive Program Appears to Have Worked

Lest you think all I do is bitch about things around here, I have nothing but slack-jawed awe to offer at the news that Hizzoner’s Made in NY production incentive program pulled more than $600 million and 6,000 jobs into the local economy.
Variety’s Addie Morfoot writes today that upward of 250 indie and studio films and 100 TV shows shot here in 2005, sucking up most of the $50 million in tax credits made available for the program. I figure I should be able to get in on, like, a lunch or something next year for trying to cover all of them.
Either way, not a bad way to close out the year. This is me, raising a coffee toast.

Weinsteins Send Broken 'Promise' Back to China


Bad news for stateside fans of Asian cinema who have been waiting for, like, ever to see Chen Kaige’s The Promise released in some sort of dignified fashion: The Weinstein Company has reshelved the picture–on someone else’s shelf.
According to The Reporter (via Reuters):

In preparing for its U.S. release, Harvey Weinstein retitled the movie Master of the Crimson Armor and trimmed it by 19 minutes to 102 minutes. According to (producer Etchie) Stroh, the filmmakers agreed to the edits and restructuring, though they had reservations about the title change, feeling that it emphasized the movie’s male-oriented martial arts aspects at the expense of its other qualities.

But the main disagreement came over how widely to distribute the film in the U.S. The producers argued for a broader release a la Zhang Yimou’s Hero — which Miramax opened in 2,031 theaters in 2004 — while Weinstein was opting for a more limited release.

“It was a question of strategy,” Stroh said. “They had a pretty full slate and other films they had prioritized for activity. On the other hand, for me, this film is a labor of love, and we wanted it to be a centerpiece. But they were very helpful, and the split was amicable.”

The film–China’s entry in the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar race–will still get an L.A. release tomorrow to keep itself eligible for other award categories. But keep in mind that once upon a time (like, right after Cannes), this was a can’t-miss epic smash along the lines of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Nevertheless, The Weinsteins–who were evidently twitchy enough to bring in Anthony Minghella for a partial rewrite–cut, cut and re-cut, pushing back The Promise‘s early December wide release to 2006.
And now, even after a ginormous opening (despite some sniffy reviews) in China, Harvey hit the eject button. But at least he did it politely:

“We have thoroughly enjoyed working together for the past seven months and have reached an amicable decision to part ways on Master of the Crimson Armor,” Harvey Weinstein said of the decision. “That said, we have tremendous respect for Chen Kaige, Etchie Stroh and (China Film Corp. managing director) Han Sanping and are all rooting for them as they go forward releasing this film.”

Indeed, a Reeler spy sends word that Harvey, Bob and TWC staff are planning a weekend waving signs in front of the Laemmle Fairfax, pulling in street traffic with handpainted signs and Harvey’s secret-weapon Daisy Duke shorts, eager to see the film take off without them. Real team players, those guys.

The Reeler's Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2005, Part II


As noted yesterday, the film criticism potluck that festers around this time every year seems to be a little out of control in 2005. I scoured the Web for the Top 10 Top 10 Film lists that best represent where the tradition slumps if not implodes; like many of those lists of films, mine is likely incomplete and could benefit from at least another month of reading. Alas, time and Tony Scott wait for no man.
For what it is worth, the scale here runs from frustrating (10) to useless (5) to outright insulting (1). Please take a moment to review Wednesday’s selections, and feel free to comment away with your own “favorite” Top 10s as 2005 skids to a close. Thanks again!
–STV
5. Ed Gonzalez and Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

Invariably, I learn something when I read Slant’s film criticism. However, I often find myself slogging through some skunky writing to get to it. In sharing The New World as their top film of 2005, for example, Gonzalez and Schager compete in the All-Time Pillsbury Bake-Off of criticism cliches:

GONZALEZ: “Malick is a poet who approaches the story of John Smith and Pocahontas as if it were a specimen of lost time trapped in amber. He turns the fossil in his hands, reflecting the light of the sun through the resinous shell of history and onto his characters from many remarkable, expressive angles.”

SCHAGER: “A sumptuous tone poem of epic emotional proportions, Terrence Malick’s masterful The New World renders the Europeans’ arrival on the American continent in 1607 as a tale of diametric conflicts in which destruction and creation, constriction and freedom, become symbiotically knotted.”

Anyway, to Schager’s credit, he banishes A History of Violence to his Honorable Mention list. It is not as though the guy had much choice; after all, when every square millimeter of David Cronenberg’s cock is accounted for by some other critic’s tongue, you have to know when to just sit the whole thing out. Smart move, pal.

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A Criminal-Justice Christmas for Sorvino and Renfro


Also ripped late today from the pages of the tabloids, actress Mira Sorvino achieved a lifelong goal–even if it was someone else’s–when she was sworn in Tuesday as a Lackawanna (Pa.) County deputy sheriff.
According to the Daily News’s Rush and Molloy, Sorvino follows in the footsteps of her father, Paul, who filmed That Championship Season in Scranton in 1982. As for why, exactly, his daughter was so honored, Sorvino joined actual sheriff John Szymanski in quasi-explaining:

Szymanski, who snapped her ID photo, said Sorvino “would be a nice addition to the force. She’s a very beautiful young lady.”

Lest any real cop take umbrage, Szymanski said the badge “doesn’t afford her any police powers. It’s ceremonial.” …

“Mira also knows how to handle a gun,” says the proud papa. “She used one in Human Trafficking and in The Replacement Killers.”

“Paul is in love with law enforcement,” said Szymanski, who has also made Paul’s son, Matthew, and Mira’s husband, Chris Backus, deputy sheriffs.

Wow. Well, I guess we should both cheer and stay the fuck away from the Sorvinos. While you are at it, do a little dance for Brad Renfro–recently arrested in Hollywood as that city’s latest Honorary Celebrity Junkie. This position is also ceremonial, including an arraignment, a sentencing and a prison term. Word is that Renfro also “loves law enforcement,” especially considering all the scag he is accused of buying from an undercover cop. Congrats to him as well, and best wishes to both for 2006!

Shattering Cries, 'Lip-Pouty' Lovemaking: Liz Smith's Four-Day Movie Guide


Where would New York cinema be without Liz Smith? If today’s column did not deliver the type of moviegoing insight, advice and general Nitro-Powered Liz Shit that we have taken for granted from her for so long, would you have had the first clue about how and where to satiate your film jones this week?
Seriously! Liz is in your face like a coach. Or like a paramedic:

* If you want to be ravished by images, glamorous melodrama and the mysterious world of Japanese courtesans, try Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha. (And before the bitchy infighting of geisha world begins, the story is really quite heartbreaking.)

* If a shattering, cathartic cry is what you’re yearning for, ride over to Brokeback Mountain. …

* The greatest love story ever told? King Kong! Wonderful, spectacular, emotional but, again, much too long.

* Something phantasmagoric for the kids? Visit Narnia. And don’t worry that the nebulous “spiritual” message will influence your kids. They won’t even notice.

* The best and sexiest version of Jane Austen’s perennial is the current Pride and Prejudice. Don’t miss it! …

* Oh, yes, and Woody Allen’s much-touted return to form – new form, actually, with his British setting – the dark, delicious and disturbing Match Point. (Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are so sexy and lip-pouty, one wonders how they get close enough to make love with those oh-so-kissable lips.)

* And try to find showings of early-year releases: Broken Flowers, not so much for star Bill Murray, but for his amazing supporting ladies – Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton . . . (and) The Constant Gardener, a devastating love story set amid the corruption of the pharmaceutical industry.

I, for one, would never read the Post were I not seeking a “shattering, cathartic cry,” so Brokeback will probably do it for me. And as long as Liz promises that the baby Jesus will not be getting His hands on my kids, I probably should give Narnia a spin. But a “devastating love story set amid the corruption of the pharmaceutical industry” sounds like hard-on city, so maybe I should movie-hop? Goddamnit, Liz–how about a short list next time?

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The Reeler's Top 10 of Top 10 Lists of 2005


I know I promised this a lot earlier in the day, but selecting a Top 10 of Top 10 Film Lists from around the country is anything but easy. You get to a short list, and then you get to a point where you can no longer remember who exactly called Brokeback Mountain a “wrenching, tragic love story between two cowboys” and who called it a “tragic, wrenching story of two cowboys in love.” You lose track of the hype, you nod off at the 133rd French kiss on David Cronenberg’s ring and generally tend to get frustrated and need a coffee break.
But really, this year’s Top 10 lists are no different than last year’s or the years before, dating back to whenever it was film writers got all territorial about their love for a film. When I say “territorial,” I mean that no critic ever pisses quite far and wide enough to stake a perfect intellectual claim to a film. The critic measures his or her review against that of a colleague or a competitor, and realizing that the other has pissed a little longer, straighter and sweeter, he or she must go back and really tighten that affection into about 100-150 words of the most fulsome, poetic praise the critic can summon. This is essentially why Top 10 lists comprise the same 20 or so films among them: Richard Schickel cannot outwank Roger Ebert on Crash or Munich unless they go head on. To flog another analogy, it is sort of like a month-long binge of critic porn; like Oscar hype, if readers read it at all, it is because they really have no choice. It is all that is out there.

So let us just say I am stating the obvious. “Everybody knows this,” you say. “It is all in fun.” Sure, it IS all in fun–the critic’s fun. What about your fun? How much fucking fun are you having while 200 austere, antisocial cinephiles fight to outmaneuver each others’ most clever turns of phrase summarizing the triumphs of Wong Kar-Wai and Steven Spielberg? This is not work in your service; at best, it is a massive critical circle jerk (which can at least be entertaining to watch), and at worst, it is work that demotes critics from parasites feeding off filmmakers to parasites feeding off each other.
A few outlets do it almost despite themselves, and that subdued quality can actually help in getting it right. The Onion’s AV Club, for example, gives critics a few extra comments about the films they either did not review in the first place or have something genuinely new to bring to the table. Then there are the Roger Friedmans of the world–myopic lobotomites whose stabs at critical glory leave anyone within 15 feet mortally wounded (just ask “Miranda Joy,” but more on that tomorrow). Everyone inbetween–from the good-hearted film lovers at Cinematical to the Los Angeles Times’s despotic Kenneth Turan–gives this a shot at their own peril.
While considering whether to assemble a Top 10 myself, I could not conceive a single reason you would care about one more list of movies. It DID occur to me, however, that I could pinpoint the 10 Top 10 lists I came across that reaffirmed to me how lousy an idea these things are in the first place. So here is The Reeler’s first Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists–five today, five tomorrow, ranked from frustrating (10) to useless (5) to outright insulting (1):

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Happy (and Healthier) Holidays From The Reeler


While I really would have liked my first week with Movie City News to be a little more prolific, there are some things a 102-degree fever just will not stand for. So I will return Dec. 28, hopefully under less-medicated circumstances, reporting from Reeler HQ in New York. Come back then for all the New York film news that is fit to print, including The Reeler’s first Top 10-Top 10 List (after all, why rank great movies when you can rank the critical pissing contest that lauds them?).
Enjoy your holiday weekend, do not do anything I would not do, and I will get back to you bright and early Wednesday. Take care!

Weinstein Sighting Results in $10,000 Mystery


This is kind of great: Cinematical stalwarts Karina Longworth and Martha Fischer shared a text-message exchange a while ago after Fischer spotted Harvey Weinstein stalking down the street in NYC. I never have this kind of fucking luck:

––I just walked past harvey weinstein. He was talking about ‘splitting ten grand’ – probably lunch plans.

––Well, it might have been Bob – are they both fat and unshaven?

––I just saw a pic of Bob – this was definitely Harv.

Oh, Jesus Christ–like you could not spot Harvey or hear his seismic approach from a mile away. And like you could not tell the difference between him and Bob! The effrontery! See if he ever gives Longworth or Fischer an interview in their lifetimes.
As far as why Harvey was “splitting ten grand,” maybe he was taking out a hit on me. Or maybe he was installing new, top-of-the-line tin cans and string to fix those nagging communications troubles at Weinstein Company HQ. Or maybe he is the one behind this radical cell-phone short film contest upstate, the winner of which gets $5,000. Or maybe he and Bob were splitting up their holiday bonus (they are not dealing with Disney money anymore, you know), or even going halfsies on bribing Quentin Tarantino to stop acting. It could have been anything–you really must ask next time, Ms. Fischer. His followers are counting on you!

Book Your Flights Now: Soderbergh to Make History in West Virginia


As you may or may not have heard last week, Steven Soderbergh’s new film Bubble is set to premiere next month in Parkersburg, W.V. That is not a misprint: Bubble, a class-conflict murder mystery featuring non-professional actors from the Parkersburg vicinity, will roll out the red carpet January 12 in front of the world-famous Smoot Theater.
This is not exactly Cameron Crowe coming back to Elizabethtown, Ky., to show off his latest preening, overlong ass-terpiece. Here we have an Oscar-winner kicking off his new partnership with 2929 Entertainment (the film will premiere on HDNet and DVD the same day), Magnolia Pictures boss Eamonn Bowles promising a “blast” and New York uber-publicist Donna Daniels actually sending out this e-mail yesterday:

Steven Soderbergh, HDNet Films, Magnolia Pictures, West Virginia Film Office, WTAP-TV Parkersburg, Graffiti Magazine & The Parkersburg News-Sentinel

Present The Premiere Of Steven Soderbergh’s

BUBBLE

What: The premiere of Steven Soderbergh¹s new film BUBBLE in Parkersburg, WV

When: Thursday January 12, 2006 at 7:30pm, Arrivals begin at 7:00pm

WHO: Bubble stars Debbie Doebereiner, Dustin James Ashley, Misty Dawn Wilkins, Kyle Smith and Decker Moody, Director Steven Soderbergh, Screenwriter Coleman Hough, and additional guests TBA.

WHERE: SMOOT Theater, 213 5th Street, Parkersburg

YOUR COVERAGE IS INVITED for Red Carpet.

I swear I do not mean this condescendingly, but I cannot decide if the best part of the story is this straight-faced press release soliciting coverage in West Virginia or if it is that the Smoot Theater is finally getting its red-carpet comeuppance. Was this the plan all along, or did theater chains in New York and Los Angeles tell 2929 to take its shuttered theatrical release windows and go fuck itself?
I guess we can never really know, but it does not matter: I think I have a trip down the Appalachian Trail in my future. Consider me RSVP’d.

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Woody Allen, 'Defector'


My westward journey also allowed me the opportunity to find the good film news way in the back of this week’s issue of New York Magazine–it is not all NYU film school implosions and Ken Tucker going out with kind of an attenuated whimper. Logan Hill’s essay about Woody Allen and Match Point is one of the more grounded we have seen about the filmmaker’s supposed return to form. Let Peter Biskind, Entertainment Weekly and the others have their hagiography, Hill seems to write; Allen and New Yorkers have an honest-to-goodness relationship to salvage here:

I fear we’re less likely to end up remembering Match Point as Woody’s comeback than honoring it as his last well-made film. He himself has admitted that he has learned nothing … no wisdom, and perhaps we should take him at his word. The plot of his film hinges on how luck can ruin your life or save it—and pure dumb luck is how he ended up in London. …

Woody’s London sojourn allows us to love him again, at least for a while. It’s given him new actors to play with, and the excuse to write—finally—a male lead who doesn’t sound just like him, if only because he has a British accent. What a relief it is, for the first time in years, to be able to relax and enjoy a Woody Allen film. Maybe we both just needed some time apart.

Also, do not construe Hill’s early acknowledgement that “we dumped him first” as too much of a mea culpa. If Allen never returns to make another movie in New York, Hill says, we have plenty of evidence to determine why:

Allen created his own quirky patina that he layered over the seventies recession and Wall Street eighties, and it was so alluring that we began wearing tweed vests to look like Diane Keaton, or mimicking the neurotic cadences of Woody because we aspired to the life he’d dreamed up–until Mia Farrow found that naked Polaroid of Soon-Yi. It was only around the time that Allen became an embarrassment to himself that he started embarrassing us. And it was shortly after that we began to notice how his vision of New York–sunny cafés, townhouses, and bistros–had become a kind of cinematic gentrification. By the mid-nineties, Alvy Singer had been priced out.

I love it: Filmmaker expatriation as not just socioeconomic phenomenon (a la Hal Hartley), but also as sociocultural benchmark. This would help explain Match Point‘s more cynical reprise of Crimes and Misdemeanors‘ class drama; it is obviously no accident that Allen stayed behind the camera when he reimagined the story in 2005. Or maybe he just did not want to fuck up with the BBC’s money. Anything is possible–anything, that is, except Woody Allen ever again being all ours.

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“We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.”
~ László Krasznahorkai

“I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Nobody knows that, [Applause] somebody attacks, somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shot. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh, it is Trump, he’s easy pickings what do you say? Right? Oh, boy. What was the famous movie? No. Remember, no remember where he went around and he sort of after his wife was hurt so badly and kill. What?  I — Honestly, Yeah, right, it’s true, but you have many of them. Famous movie. Somebody. You have many of them. Charles Bronson right the late great Charles Bronson name of the movie come on.  , remember that? Ah, we’re gonna cut you up, sir, we’re gonna cut you up, uh-huh.

Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump