Movie Report: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Book coverI guess it cannot be said that I’m on a John Cusack kick since the last film I watched of his was High Fidelity three months ago. Or maybe two movies in three months is a kick. Regardless, we mentioned Grosse Pointe, or something, at Nogglestead which prompted me to watch this film last weekend. Not this last weekend. The weekend before. Maybe a lost weekend, or maybe that’s all the weekends in the past.

Regardless, my oldest had a friend over for the night, and when they came downstairs at one point, my oldest said, “Is that Elvis?”

“No, get out of here,” I tenderly responded. Although maybe in his defense Cusack had a curl in the middle of his forehead in the scene, and also in his defense the variety of the qualities of transfers his father watches might have made Technicolor look like modern DVDs (or more likely, modernish movies on VHS looked worse than Technicolor).

At any rate, in this film, Cusack plays a hitman who might be losing his edge who is working with a therapist who feels threatened into keeping Cusack’s Martin Blank who has revealed that he knows where the doctor lives after he, Blank, has shared his profession. He’s trying to work something out, find some meaning to his life, and so he decides to return to his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, for his 10th class reunion since he has a job in the area. Meanwhile, Dan Ackroyd is another hitman trying to put together a guild–and when Blank won’t join, he launches a plot to eliminate him. While in Grosse Pointe, Blank reconnects with an old flame played by Minnie Driver and an old friend, now a real estate agent, played by Jeremy Piven. As Blank tries to work things out, a variety of unsavory types including a hit man whom Blank humiliated show up seeking revenge, justice, or whatnot.

So it’s a bit of a black comedy/actionish film targeted right at the heart of Generation X as they were getting old in their mid-to-late twenties. Blank’s home has been replaced by a convenience store. His father died and his mother is in an asylum. He has been away for ten years when he’s been in the military, the CIA, and then a contract killer. So detached from home. I understand as I never really had anything I considered a home and not much of a family. So, yeah, when I first saw it when I was almost ten year reunion age, it rang bells. It still does, but more of a that’s what it felt like to be almost thirty twenty-five years ago thing.

Remember, gentle reader, I watched High Fidelity earlier this year. As Cusack is but a couple years older than I am, I’ve found his films from the middle 1990s to the early 2000s to track better with my personal zeitgeist (a concept for which the Germans have an adequate word without having to make a compound phrase out of an English and a German word) than things like Reality Bites or, certainly, the Brat Pack movies of the 1980s.

So it was good for a rewatch, but I’m not sure how younger audiences would like it as they did not live through that time, and I’m note sure how timeless the themes really and their presentation really are.

Also, this was the second film short succession that I saw which had Alan Arkin in it shortly after his passing (Glengarry Glen Ross being the other).

Enough about Alan Arkin. More about Minnie Driver, the local radio personality love interest.

Continue reading “Movie Report: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)”

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Brian J. Has Got Nothing But Ackshuallies

Saw this on Facebook yesterday:

C’mon, man, we who are of a certain age know that The Terminator, where Linda Hamilton played Sarah Connor, came out in 1984, three years before the television series Beauty and the Beast.

Quick, I should subscribe to the page or whatever so I never run out of ackshuallies to post on the blog.

I am starting to wonder if a large portion of the Internet’s content is not designed to elicit pushback or correction as a means of increasing “engagement.”

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Brian J.’s Trivia-Fu Fails Him, Again

My beautiful wife mentioned getting some fried chicken from a either KFC or Popeye’s this weekend, which made me think of an old commercial where people sang, “I feel like chicken tonight, chicken tonight” and did a quick funky chicken dance. But I could not remember whether which restaurant did it.

Well, Internet archeology has led me to believe, with 82% certainty, that this was actually for a Ragu product.

I mean, this could be AI generated. But I do remember the portion with the police officer directing traffic–already an anachronism 30 years ago. Or do I?

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Not A Flattering Comparison

How four Wisconsin women made Forbes’ list of the richest self-made women in America:

Four Wisconsin businesswomen were named to Forbes’ 2023 list of the 100 richest self-made women in America, alongside international superstars like Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé.

Real businesswomen compared to pop tarts. Businesses who build/sell things are just like celebrities who…. well, I guess two of the three sing.

As I saw the headline, I tried to guess the companies the women founded/run, and I only got two of four (ABC Supply and Epic Systems). I had forgotten that ULine was based in Wisconsin and is credited to self-making its current owner (both the woman running Uline founded the business with their husbands, so self-made diminishes the contributions of their husbands). I also guessed Trek bikes would be on the list, but I guess not.

Still, to compare people doing real work with mere entertainers diminishes them.

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Brian J.’s Recycler Tour Intersects with Real Life

On Wednesday, we went to 1984, the local vintage arcade, as part of my beautiful wife’s birthday celebration.

As in years past (2017, 2018, and 2019), we visited right after the arcade reset its annual high scores, and everyone in the family was able to get a high score on something. My wife got the high score on Joust again, of course.

One of the machines I got a high score on was Sinistar, but I did not register it immediately, as I was going to make just one trip to the counter as I was only going to get one free voucher and pin no matter how many high scores I set. When my oldest said he’d beaten the arcade’s high score, I went to look to see if it was higher than mine, and it was. So that triggered the boys’ sibling rivalry, and they swapped high scores on it for a while until the youngest blew us all out of the water. But by making a quick trip to the desk, the oldest secured a voucher for having a high score that did not last long at all. So we all ended up with vouchers.

How did I do?

I got high scores on the following:

  • Arkanoid
  • Asteroids Deluxe
  • Circus Charlie
  • Commando
  • Elevator Action
  • Spy Hunter
  • Xevious

They might not stand for long. Hopefully not. We were there early on a Wednesday evening for roughly two hours, and the very light crowd turned over a couple of times. The number of games that were offline was a bit concerning, and many of these machines are 40 years old, so I imagine spare parts are getting thin. A lot different than when I dabbled in video game collecting 20 years ago.

At any rate, the intersection with the recycler tour comes from something I posted on Facebook and on this blog on July 27 and 28, 2011:

I sent the image to both of the boys.

Here in 2023, I don’t have to explain the forty-year-old game from 1983 that they’ve recently played.

I will have to explain Farmville on Facebook and the teaser of the wandering sheep. Or no, perhaps it’s better if I not try.

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Electric Utility Peak Warnings issued for customers across Southwest, Mo.:

Multiple utilities across southwest Missouri issued electric utility peak warnings due to the heat.

No, the problems stem from malinformed Missouri voters who passed a constitutional amendment, what, fifteen years ago that mandates power companies produce 8% of their power from “renewable” sources and federal clean air regulations that forces power companies to shut down functioning power plants.

In the conspiracy lobe of my brain, I do wonder if they want to curtail your energy use and minimize your air conditioning to convince you that global warming is real and increasing.

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A Parody That Needs To Be Done

Combine your basic Jason Aldean with any law enforcement story featuring an American in the Middle East (or Singapore), and you’ve got “Try That In Dubai Town”.

I’d do it, but I can’t sing or play an instrument. Also, I am lazy.

(Credit where credit’s due: Although this has been on the Internet so much that even Friar awoke from his winter slumber to comment on it, I got the news link from Wirecutter this morning.)

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And Now You Know…. The Rest Of The Story

Not so much the rest of the story as an epilogue. Bayou Renaissance Man asks: Do you remember the Gimli Glider?

Gentle reader, of course I do. I read the book about it, Freefall, in 2004 on a plane on a trip to Florida, where I spent some time talking to my beautiful wife’s uncle, a former Pratt and Whitney engineer who could tell you what happened in any number of air disasters. Because I don’t like to fly, you see.

At any rate, the epilogue is that the pilot and one of the passengers some decades later met at a reunion and got together. How sweet.

And not as crazy as the stewardess who stayed in the industry and recounted how she flew in that plane again during the course of her career (which is in the book). One such incident, and I would have found another line of work. I have not even had one such incident, and I still prefer driving vacations even when the driving takes me on narrow Arkansas highways.

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Oh, Yeah, I Forgot To Tell You About The Kitten

What, you thought I meant Nico and Cisco and merely misspoke when I said “the new kitten” yesterday?

Do try to keep up.

We have a new new kitten in the household.

Well, the school attached to our church posted about this stray kitten, and then a week ago when we came out of church, he came directly across the parking lot to my beautiful wife, and….

Well, she took him into the church to see if anyone wanted a kitten, and no one did, so here he is. She called him Paul, and since we give our cats literary names and this just came up on my memory feed (but not, apparently, in my recycler tour on this blog):

I guess his official name at the vet is St. Paul Atreides, but I call him Meow’Dib.

The first week in my office, he was very laid back and spent most of his time eating and sleeping. I guess he was pretty starved from his time outdoors. This week he’s definitely more interested in playing, and he wants out of the office.

Unfortunately, although the older cats kind of ignore him, Cisco and Nico want to have a go with him. They get so upset that they actually are standoffish with each other for a bit after seeing him–at a distance, all black kittens look alike to him.

So we’re not sure if he will be a permanent fixture at Nogglestead or not, but we’re hopeful.

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Movie Report: The Road to Rio (1947) / The Road to Bali (1952)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, it was but four years ago when I discovered the Bob Hope two-pack that included The Road to Bali was mislabeled at the factory and instead contained ten episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. As it and The Road to Rio fell out of copyright protection, so they’re pretty easily available in transfers of sometimes dubious quality from “nostalgia” houses which specialize in copyright-free fare. Somewhere along the line, I picked up this two DVD set. I watched The Road to Bali with my boys some time ago (back when they would watch movies with their old man–now the oldest prefers to watch Netflix alone in his room and the younger prefers an endless river of YouTube videos on a handheld device).

They’re part of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour series of “The Road to….” movies which are not really a series, per se, as they play different characters in each but all have a certain type: Hope and Crosby are vaudevillians/con men/performers on the run from (usually) woman trouble who end up going to an exotic location and encountering and trying to woo the Lamour character. They’re also very self-conscious and meta-movies, where they spoof film conventions and sometimes break down the fourth wall.

The Road to Bali from 1952 finds the two performers in Australia from which they must flee to avoid a couple of shotgun weddings. They go to Darwin where they sign up as deep sea divers on an expedition looking for lost treasure. Their employer is a prince whose sister, the princess (Lamour), the boys try to woo. They find treasure and try to escape and then end up shipwrecked on another island where the natives take them in, and instead of having to choose, the princess learns she can marry multiple husbands–so she wants to marry them both. But she ends up married to the chief, and Hope and Crosby end up married to each other. A volcanic eruption seems to indicate displeasure with this turn of events, and as often happens, Crosby ends up with Lamour. This film is the only one of the series in technicolor–and represents the penultimate entry in the series, which is a weird place to start, but they’re all stand alone films.

The Road to Rio finds the boys down on their luck when they sign up at a circus. After doing their vaudeville number, Crosby tells Hope he also has to perform a high wire act–which goes awry and burns down the circus. On the run from the circus owner, the boys stow away on a ship bound for Rio. There, they encounter an heiress (Lamour) scheduled to marry her “aunt”/caretaker’s cousin unseen. The caretaker is controlling the heiress and facilitating the marriage using hypnosis. They expose Hope and Crosby as stowaways, hijinks ensue, and when they reach Rio, the boys have to break the caretaker’s hold on the girl and get the “Papers,” a MacGuffin they later expose as nothing but a MacGuffin (remember the meta nature of the films).

I suppose if you’re of a certain age and probably a bit of an old soul even then to really appreciate the films, but then again, I am both, so I’d be happy to discover more in this series out in the wild, but given how 1995 or 1996 is the Year Zero of modern culture, I won’t hold my breath.

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Bedtime Forensic Thoughts of Brian J.

Why does this cat smell like doughnuts?

Oh, it is the hand that I’m using to pet the cat smells like doughnuts. Why does my hand smell like doughnuts?

It has been sixteen hours since I had the day-old day-old markdown Walmart doughnuts this morning.

Could this be the cat pheremones we’ve been spraying so that the new kitten will integrate into the household more smoothly? Why would cat pheremones smell like doughnuts?

Wait a minute…. One of the last things that I did before coming to bed was to wring out a dish cloth in the kitchen sink. Today, the youngest made icing for the cookie cake for his grandmother’s birthday, and likely he washed the dish at the very last minute before bed, and he did not rinse the dish cloth afterwards, so when I wrung it out, I got some of the glazing on my hand, which is why my hand smells like doughnuts.

Not that I got up and washed my hand, gentle reader; I wanted to dream of doughnuts.

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Movie Report: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Book coverI got this DVD for a buck in Arkansas last month, and it was the first film I watched when I got back.

As you might remember, gentle reader, I reported on the printed play in 2007 (or as I like to say, a couple months ago–my goodness, that would be right after I left my job as the Director of Quality for the interactive marketing agency and was getting ready for what would be a couple of years of part-time contracts as I took care of my child and then children). I said then that I wondered how the play would get stretched into a 100 minute movie. And the answer, apparently, is not well.

The plot: Four men (played by Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, and Jack Lemmon) work selling dubious real estate lots in Arizona and Florida. Their manager (played by Kevin Spacey) parcels out two leads to each every day, leads that come from people who filled out cards, perhaps in the supermarket to enter a contest (as was the fashion at the time). Each will apparently do or say anything to get someone to buy a lot. One day, they arrive at work in the afternoon or evening to find Alec Baldwin–well, the downtown sales manager guy–come to give them the famous speech (“Coffee is for closers.”) and to tell them they’re all fired except for the man who sells the most that month (current leader: the guy played by Pacino). Baldwin then taunts them with a set of premium leads for the Glengarry Glen Ross project, but gives them to the sales manager (Spacey) who locks them in his office.

One of the men (Harris) tries to get another of the salesmen (Arkin) to help him break into the office to steal those leads, and the majority of the film is Harris trying to convince Arkin, Lemmon working the leads he’s given, and Pacino taking the long way to sell to the guy who played Seamus in Ronin (what was in the case? I don’t remember.).

That’s it. The movie has a handful of sets: The office, the Chinese restaurant across the street, the street, a phone booth, a car interior, and a sales prospect’s house. So it’s kind of a throwback of a film like one you get from the 30s or 40s where it’s clearly directly translated from the play.

A bit of an anachronism, although perhaps just a touch when it came out, as the land sales thing was not as big in the 1990s as it was in decades past. I did, however, buy it when I was on vacation using “points” that we bought as part of the modern timeshare that we’ve had for, what, almost a decade? It’s been worth it to us, but your mileage may vary. It was not lost on me, though, that I bought this DVD while on a vacation made possible by a sales pitch much like the ones depicted in the film. Many years later, I still have most of the balance on one of the gift cards given as a lure. Because it’s for Bass Pro Shops, and I am not muvh of an outdoorsman. The only thing I’ve used it for was a camouflage hat for my father’s grave.

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His Name Was Spoken Recently At Nogglestead

Last night? The night before last? I mentioned several Italian-American singers who had Americanized their names.

Including Anthony Benedetto, who passed away today.

I have a number of his CDs and records, but he hasn’t been one of my favorites. Higher than Andy Williams, lower than Perry Como.

But KCSM is playing a lot of him today, and I’m sad.

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That’s My Sword

Feudal warlord’s European-style rapier was created in Japan:

A European-style rapier owned by a feudal-era warlord was actually forged in Japan, but who commissioned the production and what was used as the model remain unclear, according to a study.

Researchers from the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the Koka city education board examined the rapier and found that Japanese sword-producing techniques were used in the manufacturing process.

The rapier dates from the first half of the 17th century in the early Edo Period (1603-1867) and was found in the Minakuchi district here.

As a reminder, gentle reader, when I was growing up in the projects, we would admire cars or homes we and our families could ill afford by announcing “That’s my thing.”

This sword reminds me of one I fondled recently at Relics Antique Mall. My beautiful wife gave me gift certificates to the antique mall, and I decided to look at the cabinets in the middle of the mall instead of the booths. And although the TRS-80 for $400 was…. well, it was not tempting–I called the front desk to look at a rapier because I thought the price tag said $70, and I would pay $20 for a nice rapier.

However, the actual price–I had seen a price tag near the rapier but apparently attached to a smaller blade–was $120, and I didn’t want to pay $70 in money. So I guess I’ll have to wait for a gift card of some sort. But it is a nice rapier, albeit a reproduction that looks a little like the Japanese warlord’s rapier.

(Link via Bayou Renaissance Man whose commenters are rightly pointing out how a rapier would quickly poke holes in samurai–when we did sword sparring at my martial arts school back in the day, I, who trained in fencing, ate up the people who learned to fight with katana as though they were slicing through cloth armor.)

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Taylor Swift: Almost As Good As Herb Alpert

Taylor Swift just made Billboard history, again

Drop everything now: Taylor Swift has just made history as the first woman — and third artist ever — to have four of the Top 10 albums in the Billboard 200 chart at the same time.

Herb Alpert had four albums in the top 10 in 1966.

Which was back when people bought albums. So I would suspect the number of albums sold is quite different.

Also, Herb Alpert has won a Grammy for vocal performance and instrumental performance and has continued to tour and draw crowds into his 80s.

So I guess Taylor Swift is not almost as good as Herb Alpert after all.

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Good Book Hunting, July 15, 2023: ABC Books

Saturday found us at the zoo for my beautiful wife’s last event as a member of the park board, and the zoo is right by ABC Books, and ABC Books was having a book signing with members of the mystery writers’ group again, so we stopped by.

I did not even go into the stacks as I expected that the martial arts section would be empty.

I got:

  • The Fugitive’s Trail and A Lone Wolf by J.C. Fields.
  • The Scarry Inn by Shirley McCann.
  • Moonbeams and Ashes by Margarite Stever.
  • Truth or Dare & Other Tales by V.J. Schultz.
  • Vengeance Is Mine! by Sage Hunter.

McCann, Fields, and Stever have other books available, but I limited myself to the first in their series. After all, my wife was watching. She got a copy of Vengeance Is Mine! as well, and I’m going to have to be careful to make sure that gets into her office. On the other hand, that would double my chances of reading the book soon, shelving it in my to-read stacks.

But, Brian J., didn’t you already get the two Fields books last time the mystery writers’ group had a joint signing? Apparently so, gentle reader, but I started trying to get that Good Book Hunting post up on my mobile device as we were preparing to leave the zoo, I could not do it quickly, so I just hoped I would remember the authors. I did not, and I am pleased that I only got duplicates of the two. So I have passed those along to my wife who likes thrillers.

So I really only got 4 books that are relatively short this trip. Which is quite an achievement.

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Book Report: Catnapped! by Elaine Viets (2014)

Book coverI mentioned when I read Viets’ collections of columns from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Urban Affairs and Viets Guide to Sex, Travel, and Anything Else That Will Sell This Book in 2009 and 2010 respectively) that I would delve into her fiction. Well, I read both books after we moved from Old Trees to Nogglestead, and I had not seen any of Viets’ fiction until the Lutherans for Life garage sale in 2017. I don’t tend to hang about in the mystery sections of book stores or book sales much these days, so it would have to be a garage sale for me to find them.

Also, I clearly did not jump right into the book six years ago. But it seemed a thing to read between chapters/sections of Our Oriental Heritage.

This book is the 13th entry (of 15) in Viets’ Dead-End Job Mysteries. Which means that the series has a lot of business in it already, and that takes up a good portion of the book.

The main mystery revolves around the purebred kitten of a socialite who shares custody of said cat with her husband. The kitten is kidnapped, or Catnapped! as the title would have it. The main character, Helen Hawthorne, and her husband are private investigators engaged to find the kitten. They find the ex-husband murdered, and the socialite is arrested. Meanwhile, the ex-husband of the owner of their apartment building shows up after thirty years of shacking up with another woman–he wants to reconcile, but she most assuredly does not. When he winds up dead, she, too, is arrested for the murder.

So we have two or three crimes that the duo investigates. It took me a while to get into it–as you know, gentle reader, despite this being the second cozy I’ve read this year (Murder, She Wrote: The Maine Mutiny being the first for the 2023 Winter Reading Challenge), they’re not my bag.

The particular schtick of this series is that Helen Hawthorne had been on the run from an ex-husband in St. Louis, so she takes low skill jobs for cash. According to legend (and by legend, I mean Wikipedia), Viets actually did these jobs before writing about them. By the 13th book in the series, the reason for the schtick–the ex-husband–was a problem solved in an earlier book, so Hawthorne has to go undercover as an assistant cat groomer to get close to a subject and to show us how grooming and cat show exhibiting goes on.

The other bit of series business that takes up a lot of real estate in the book is the group of people who live at the apartment building. They get together every night to watch the sun go down, and they interact a bunch. It does lead up to the third mystery, who poisoned the ex-husband, but it also fills a lot of pages with socializing and chitchat.

Most people don’t start series toward the end (or just the latest, perhaps), but it does detract a bit from the stand-aloneness of each novel. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s a line that authors have to walk between serving their long-time readers who want these elements of the book and those just looking for a mystery. This book goes a bit far in the series business.

At any rate, I liked it well enough that I’ll pick up more Viets books when I run across them, and maybe I’ll even read them six years later.

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Excellent Advice

Don’t pick a fight with a poet.

Well, actually, I guess picking a fight with poet Brian from 30 years ago would be pretty safe. Poet Brian now weighs almost 200 pounds and has studied martial arts for going on a decade. So picking a fight with current poet Brian is probably only slightly less safe.

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Book Report: Into the Night by Caroline Giammanco (2021, 2022)

Book coverI got this book at ABC Books in June at the author’s book signing.

When I bought the book, the author described the short stories as O. Henry mixed with The Twilight Zone. As you might recollect, gentle reader, I read The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia in 2018 and have since accumulated a number of DVDs with episodes on them (and I’ve watched a few). I’ve always found its speculative fiction inspirational in giving me ideas for my own writing, so I looked forward to this book. I bought the author’s first two books of short fiction, and she said she had enough ideas mapped out for another eight or nine books in a similar vein.

The book collects 42 stories in roughly 420 pages, so about ten pages per, more or less. Genres include fantasy, horror, and science fiction along with some that are more speculative than genre-specific. They’re pretty well-written and well-executed for the most part, with interesting characters built with good prose. But….

The O. Henry part rears its head in that most of the stories are structured with that well-crafted beginning of the story that ends on the twist ending in the last sentence, paragraph, or couple of paragraphs. Characters and their situations are built up and then DUN DUN DUN! The demons are loosed upon the world. Or DUN DUN DUN! They were the aliens visiting Earth. Or DUN DUN DUN! The aliens sucked their brains out through their noses!

So it’s a book best taken in sips and not one to read all the way through all at once, as that will highlight how the stories have very similar structures and DUN DUN DUNs. As I said, well-written but formulaic in its own way, and many of the stories could use a little more denouement and maybe not have all of the sympathetic heroes and heroines getting killed by shapeshifting alien serial killers. Once in a while, it would be nice if the plucky small town girl would maybe at least survive.

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