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Category: Movies


As part of the continuing celebration of 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that kickstarted filmdom’s modern superhero blockbuster chapter, AMC Theaters are getting the entire team back together for an eight-day movie marathon nationwide beginning Thursday, August 30.  Get ready for the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival.  Marvel has converted three early films in the series to IMAX for the first time: Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk.  So the entire 20 film series will be screened in IMAX, plus many of the films will also be screened in 3D.

The announcement arrives with the home video release of Avengers: Infinity War, now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD, 4K, and DVD.  If you missed Infinity War, check out our review here (and catch all our Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews below).  This is your chance to catch up any or all of the films you might have missed in the theater, including the three 2018 releases Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  And it will give many younger viewers the opportunity to see some great superhero movies from the early days of the MCU on the big screen for the first time.

The big day of the festival appears to be September 3, with a great single-day line-up: Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  The series will run over Labor Day weekend, with four films per day from August 30 through September 5.  On September 6, AMC will screen two fan-favorite films, to be selected by a fan vote.  See the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival website for more details.  It also seems likely based on past screenings that AMC may offer some kind of bundled purchase price for multiple shows.  Check back to the website as the end of August nears for any additional promotions.

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Peck?  As in Gregory Peck?  Turns out Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck has a grandson who took to the acting business–Ethan Peck–and he has been tapped to co-star in the next season of Star Trek Discovery.  This will be the 13th actor to portray the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock in the more than five decades of the franchise–a role performed by more actors in the franchise than any other character.  Peck appears in the photo below (center) with Leonard Nimoy’s family, released today (and if the woman at left looks familiar, that’s because it’s Terry Farrell, who played Dax on Deep Space Nine, Leonard’s daughter-in-law, married to Leonard’s son Adam earlier this year).

Although he wasn’t “that kid in Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Peck did play a boy in the Disney fantasy film (which also featured former Star Trek actor Alice Krige).  He has also appeared in The Drew Carey Show, That ’70s Show, and the TV series version of 10 Things I Hate About You, among other things.

Here is an excerpt from the announcement earlier today about Peck from Star Trek Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman:

“Through 52 years of television and film, a parallel universe and a mirror universe, Mr. Spock remains the only member of the original bridge crew to span every era of Star Trek.”

Oops.  Actually Spock did not appear in Star Trek Enterprise.  So Spock has been in almost all the eras of Star Trek to be put to TV or film.  Kurtzman continued:

“The great Leonard Nimoy, then the brilliant Zachary Quinto, brought incomparable humanity to a character forever torn between logic and emotion.  We searched for months for an actor who would, like them, bring his own interpretation to the role.”

Pretty much anyone–sci-fi fan or not–can tell you Leonard Nimoy portrayed Spock the longest, from the pilot to the original series through the second film in the J.J. Abrams movie series, Star Trek Into Darkness (and a photo of him appeared in the next film Star Trek Beyond).  The character is almost without question the most iconic sci-fi character of the post-television era.

Zachary Quinto has taken on Spock for the three Abrams movies–that is, the part of young Spock in the separate, Kelvin timeline.  So where did we come up with eleven other actors who performed the role of Spock well in advance of Peck being handed his first tricorder?

Audiences have seen Spock several times before.  Remember in Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock, moviegoers saw Spock grow up on the Genesis planet, where he was played at age nine by Carl Krakoff:

Then at age 13 he was portrayed by Vadia Potenza:

At age 17 he was played by Stephen Manley:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Shane Black, director and screenplay writer of next month’s sci-fi action film The Predator, could have gone in any direction with his return of the Yautja alien hunters to Earth.  He, along with co-screenplay writer Fred Dekker, decided to continue onward to the present day following the events of Predator 2.  Since the third film, 2010’s Predators, was set away from Earth it doesn’t factor in to the new film and neither does 2004’s Aliens vs Predator and 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, so The Predator is basically Predator 3.  If you missed the latest trailer, check it out here.  The first trailer (and the movie) begin with a child opening a package where he finds a strange futuristic device.  His play with the device ends up triggering the return of one or more Predators to the planet.  So what happened between Predator 2 and this kid handling the device?  You can find out in The Predator: Hunters and Hunted, the official movie prequel to Shane Black’s The Predator, from author James A. Moore.

The novel follows a single Predator on a hunting excursion to southern Georgia in alligator country where he starts plucking off townsfolk, biker gang members and local law enforcement.  Derived from the team headed up by Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes in Predator 2, a new government-funded initiative is focused on locating and capturing one of these aliens, and this Georgia sighting has been their first lead since an appearance in Los Angeles back in 1997.  We get a brief appearance from Keyes’ son Sean (to be played by Jake Busey in the new movie), but the focal point is an opportunist named Will Traeger–Sterling K. Brown’s character in the new film–who is carefully manipulating both a military special ops unit called the Reapers and Congressional leadership to gain full control of Keyes’ project, now called Project Stargazer.  Traeger’s impediment is the current project lead, General Woodhurst, a four-star general played by Edward James Olmos in early cuts of the film (later to be excised entirely from the final cut).  Woodhurst is very much like Olmos’ General Adama in Battlestar Galactica, a military strategist more than someone on the front lines with the troops.  Woodhurst and Traeger are the guys in Washington, DC, trying to gain funding while answering to the federal agencies dolling it out.

A Yautja alien in Shane Black’s September theatrical release, The Predator.

For most readers the more interesting part of the prequel novel will be the viewpoint of the Predator.  While not giving us the play-by-play of the bureaucrats, the story alternates between the Predator’s perspective and thoughts and the Reapers’ efforts to capture him (the Predator’s vantage was also a feature of the novelization of Predator 2).  The best scene in the book is entirely removed from everything else–an inspired, vivid one-on-one battle with an alligator.  Why waste time on these puny humans when you have a real threat like that?  The prequel novel is key to the coming movie because it establishes from the Predator’s perspective an important code that the hunters must follow.  Unless this gets recounted in the movie, it’s some key data to know before heading into the theater.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many products oversell themselves with some flavor of marketing puffery, they claim to be better than they ultimately are, or give consumers only the best content in the previews.  That’s not the case with Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’s second chapter in their two-volume chronicle The Fifty-Year Mission, The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J.J. Abrams, The Complete Uncensored Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek (I’ll shorten that hefty title to The Next 25 Years for this review).  With the first volume–The First 25 Years–coming in at 577 pages, it probably evens out that this second volume is a lengthy 864 pages considering all it needed to cover (everything from Next Generation onward).  Key words to note in that long title are unauthorized, meaning CBS and Paramount didn’t publish this (like the These Are the Voyages trilogy of books from Marc Cushman), complete meaning once you’re finished there is no possible way there is anything left to say about the production of the Star Trek TV shows and films, uncensored meaning Hollywood creators you may have idolized when beginning the book show a side of their personalities that remove the magic, awe, and spark you felt about them.  And oral as in stories passed down via the oral tradition, because The Next 25 Years features stories being told by hundreds of players (and a few non-players) via a loose outline broken down within topics Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by the TNG movies, followed by Deep Space Nine, then Voyager, then Enterprise, stop-start show ideas, and then a too-brief section on the J.J. Abrams’ produced movies.

As for the “oral,” The Next 25 Years feels only a bit like what a historian may document as an oral history in that it consists nearly entirely of quotes from those who made these productions with only the barest of context added to try to keep the reader (and contributors) on-topic.  The Next 25 Years was published in 2016, so it includes contributions from those alive at the time the book was written, but also shuffles in comments of those creators who died long before, as if they were speaking along with the living contributors.  Neither is this a work of journalism or scholarly creation, because absent citation references–as Cushman used quite well as an integral part of his trilogy–it’s difficult for anyone to use the book as a reliable reference.  “When did Gene Roddenberry say this?”  “When did David Gerrold say that?”  Even more confusing, it’s obvious that the compilers of these quoted statements showed certain statements to others and allowed them to comment and respond.  When was this allowed, and when wasn’t it allowed?  Readers just don’t know, because the compilers of these statements don’t provide context.  Was Rick Berman given an opportunity to rebut this disparaging comment?  Did Michael Piller, who passed away in 2005, get the opportunity to ever respond to such statements?  Did he even know these people thought these things about him?  Timing matters so much in communication and memory, yet it’s missing here.  Around 2006 I read Piller’s unpublished (later on-demand released) manuscript about the making of Star Trek: Insurrection–it doesn’t make those associated with the production look very good, which is likely why publication of that book was originally cancelled by the studio.  The Next 25 Years will provide a similar vibe for franchise fans reflecting the memories (good or bad) of Star Trek’s execs, writers, and actors.

Those who have read every magazine and book on Star Trek over the years already know most of the gossip found here from a 30,000 foot view.  The Next 25 Years is a “tell-all” book.  What may be different is you get the details from multiple sources and in more detail than a passing fan would probably care to read.  It’s one thing to read a tell-all article in a magazine, and quite another to read all the tell-all tales of a subject of this massive scope over 864 pages.  But don’t walk away–there are some good nuggets along the journey.  Like some detail on the several attempts to make spin-off series that failed after Enterprise, F. Murray Abraham’s view of making Star Trek: Insurrection, Kate Mulgrew’s approach to Captain Janeway, and how Rick Berman, Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and others cyclically stepped into Gene Roddenberry’s shoes initially with new ideas, but ultimately came back to his approach.  So diehards will want to read it simply for their niche fandom area of the franchise.  Actor/director Jonathan Frakes, for example, never appears in the book as anything but professional, positive, and contemplative about the past.  Gene Roddenberry’s son Rod is similarly diplomatic despite all of the negative statements lobbed against his family members.  Others reveal their flawed humanity for all to see, the colloquial “airing the dirty laundry” comes to mind.  Just keep in mind that other saying: “Don’t believe everything you read.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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Thirty-eight years ago in 1980 I saw my first horror movie in the theater, John Carpenter’s The Fog.  Referred to as “the most beautifully shot of all John Carpenter films,” “a better Halloween movie than the slasher that bears the holiday’s name,” “an incredibly atmospheric horror flick,” and “a horror classic,” The Fog is returning to theaters in time for Halloween.  It’s distributor, Rialto Pictures, contacted borg.com with the below trailer for the film’s new 4K restoration edition from Studiocanal.  This is the first restoration for John Carpenter’s first follow-up to the mega-hit 1970s slasher flick, Halloween.

“Out of theatrical release for years due to faded, unplayable prints, The Fog can now be viewed again as it was intended, with the restoration of its breathtaking color cinematography by Dean Cundey (Escape From New York, the Back To The Future series, Apollo 13, Romancing The Stone), who deftly captured both the daylight beauty of the Point Reyes shore and the ghostly goings-on in the dark, eerie night,” according to the publicist for Rialto.

The movie stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau in her first feature film, Tom Atkins, Hal Holbrook, and Janet Leigh(star of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Curtis’s mother), plus John Houseman and familiar Carpenter stock actor John “Buck” Flower.  The beautiful seaside town of Antonio Bay is visited by a large fog bank on the anniversary of the town’s founding.  Two women in the town, a radio DJ stationed at the lighthouse (Barbeau) and a drifter (Curtis), try to escape what lies within the fog as the town preacher learns the terrible secret behind the fog’s appearance.

The release coincides with the release of the new Halloween reboot movie’s release, also starring Jamie Lee Curtis (a great excuse for Alamo Drafthouse theaters to schedule a double feature?).  Check out this trailer for the 4K restoration of The Fog:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everything’s connected.  Everything’s vulnerable.

The visionary behind the groundbreaking 1997 science fiction film Gattaca has at last delivered his next worthy sci-fi follow-up.  The direct-to-Netflix movie Anon is equal parts future crime and noir detective thriller.  It stars Clive Owen (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Children of Men, Sin City) and Colm Feore (Thor, The Chronicles of Riddick, Paycheck) as police detectives in a near-future Earth where smart phone and computer technology has merged with the mind.  Technology and science have evolved to allow humans to instantly identify and search their minds and a database shared with everyone as they move through their day–as if Google Glass tech was inside a contact lens wired to the brain.  Written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, writer/director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show, Anon features a police detective nicely synthesizing Rick Deckard, Frank Bullitt, and Dirty Harry Callahan.  Only an actor as unique as Clive Owen could pull that off.

With a world similar to Gattaca–but a colder, stark, and concrete-filled version of a rigid, totalitarian future close to that of the Prime side in the world of the Starz series Counterpart–telling lies has become a thing of the past.  The detectives must track down an unidentifiable woman, the anonymous hacker of the title played by Amanda Seyfried (Veronica Mars, Ted 2, Mamma Mia!), sought as the criminal behind a string of murders.  This hacker can erase memories and replace real thoughts with replaced images, and we see the best example of this as Owen’s detective pursues the hacker in a busy subway.  Oddly, this dystopia doesn’t feel as horrible as that of Mad Max: Fury Road, or Blade Runner, or Terminator.  It’s just not that far removed from the wired life of today.  Which should be enough of a cautionary warning.

Stark but slick and cool like The Adjustment Bureau, not only the visuals of Anon but the music is haunting and cold, thanks to an inspired score from Christophe Beck (Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  Surreal camera angles and the use of shadow firmly plant the audience in this future thanks to cinematographer Amir Mokri, and you can credit production designer Philip Ivey (District 9, Elysium) and art director Aleksandra Marinkovich (Crimson Peak, Kick-Ass 2, Total Recall) for a stunning, new vision that leaves behind tech noir for something fresh and different.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The latest big-budget movie that has arrived at Netflix could have been on par with prior Netflix movies The Cloverfield Paradox or Bright.  These are science fiction movies that have something to offer viewers, yet they probably would disappoint most if you paid to see them in the theater.  As much as the marketing for these Netflix films is trying to convince subscribers these are the “real deal,” the new sci-fi movie Extinction brings the discussion home again.  The Cloverfield Paradox had a broad, fairly well-known cast and significant production values.  Bright relied on the charisma of star Will Smith with a solid performance from Joel Edgerton working through some hefty prosthetic make-up.  So they had that minimum quality for first-out-of-the gate films for newcomer movie house Netflix.  But despite the well-known genre star cast of Extinction, the latest Netflix sci-fi movie just isn’t strong enough.  Remember the rack of B-movie sci-fi films at the old movie rental stores?  Sadly, that’s where this one would have been filed.

Michael Peña plays the father of two girls in a future Earth.  He’s having problems dealing with violent nightmares that are too real to merely be in his mind.  His wife, played by Lizzy Caplan, and their friends, all think he’s crazy.  When an invasion on par with War of the Worlds arrives in the middle of a dinner party, the father attempts to use the bits he can recall from the dreams to keep his kids and wife alive, and try to understand the menace approaching from the skies.  Peña and Caplan are not given enough to do, not enough to make us want to cheer them on, as director Ben Young drags the audience through very carefully selected architectural layouts, platforms, pathways, futuristic buildings, all slowly panning and following people walking, doing mundane things that people do.  For an entire hour nothing happens.  Luke Cage’s Mike Colter plays Peña’s boss, and when hell breaks loose you get the feeling that roles once owned by Keith David can now be handed over to Colter, as Colter becomes that take-charge leader.   But his scenes are few.  The standout performance in the film is by British actor Lex Shrapnel (K:19: The Widowmaker, Captain America: The First Avenger) who steps in to assist the family after the first barrage.  His performance brings some much-needed life, albeit too late.  But the actors just aren’t enough to save the film.

You can’t blame the cast for this one.  The slogging story doesn’t gain any momentum until the last 30 minutes, and then it must rely on a gotcha to even get viewers’ attention to stay around for the last act.  The film probably suffers from a young director and an unsalvageable script by the Oscar-nominated writer of the similarly thin and derivative screenplay for Arrival, Eric Heisserer, among others.  And it lacks a much-needed sci-fi or action flick musical score–the one thing that might have given some energy or passion to the first hour (The Nelson Brothers are listed as composers, but someone must have edited out most of their music).  At only an hour and 35 minutes, the movie drags to feel like a full 2 hours, yet the thin story could have been told in a 20 minute episode of a show like Black Mirror.  Worst of all, Extinction is devoid of any humor–an essential element of the best tense sci-fi action thrillers.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Any list of 10 or more items these days quickly becomes the stuff of argument.  But in the right context it can become the stuff of discussion and curiosity.  A list of 50 items takes some work to prepare and if that list accompanies a genre that has spanned more than a century, then it really invites discussion. Which brings us to Turner Classic Movies and Running Press’s new look at the science fiction genre in Sloan De Forest’s Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World This latest pop culture book to engage science fiction fans may show that, after all these years, the best and most important works of science fiction are not really all that controversial.  Yet it wouldn’t really be worth picking up if it only confirmed readers’ love for epic films.  Must-See Sci-Fi takes that next step and also serves that need of all fans of film to take another look at the classics and be open to those films we may have overlooked.

Consisting of 50 approximately 1,000 word essays on each film across 114 years, from 1902 to 2016, Must-See Sci-Fi covers the significance of each film selected in its 280 pages, including a plot overview, key memorable scenes, plus some good behind-the-scenes trivia, as well as plenty of color and black and white photographs.  From A Trip to the Moon in 1902 to Arrival in 2016, the book has a fairly consistent coverage (but weighted with more selections from the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1940s have no entries).  Most will agree with the films included from George Méliès’s groundbreaking beginning through the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. But controversial for one person may not be controversial for another.  De Forest presents her case for those films you might not find on other lists–many firsts of sci-fi emphasized instead of the definite look at a sub-genre, like Alphaville, Solaris, Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, The Brother From Another Planet, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One great feature is a recommendation of two “watch-alike” films after each section–If you loved a film, you have two more films to track down and compare, and if you missed a film but don’t like the two suggested films, the book may telegraph your level of enjoyment once you screen the entry.  Readers will also see the impact across a century of filmmaking from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of both H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on these selections.

Key to the fun of delving into science fiction film history is understanding the roots of science fiction–how modern science fiction 99% of the time derives (or combines) its story elements from key benchmarks from stories or films of the past.  As the book progresses readers can see author De Forest frequently referring back to those sources, and after 1977’s Star Wars the remaining 16 entries all seem to rely significantly on films of the past–sometimes they even appear to be merely another twist on one of the films in the first half of the book.  And yes, readers will find new discussion topics.  La Jetée may be an incredibly fascinating short film, but is it more of a “must-see” than Terry Gilliam’s update 12 Monkeys?  And how did a Woody Allen movie ever make the cut?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s such a strange thing to see over and over.  Whether it’s Broadchurch, Marchlands, Lightfields, Thirteen, The Missing, or Requiem, the British television studios can’t stop making series based on the story of a missing child.  And it’s not just the Brits that can’t get over the genre.  Americans tend to do it with a supernatural bent, in shows like Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, or Riverdale.  But finally they may have got one right, compelling characters, a solid mystery with twists, turns, and surprises, and the missing factor of most series in the genre, a satisfying ending.  That’s Harlan Coben’s ten-part series now streaming on Netflix called The Five.

Smartly directed by Mark Tonderai, who has directed episodes of TV series including Doctor Who, Black Lightning, Gotham, Time After Time, and Twelve Monkeys, The Five takes the story of a five-year-old who disappeared on an outing with his older brother and his three friends, and turns it into something completely fresh and compelling.  Twenty years later in modern day England, the DNA of the missing boy is found at the crime scene of a murder of a local woman.  The news upends the lives of the missing boy’s brother, a lawyer and part time P.I. played by Tom Cullen (Orphan Black, Downton Abbey), his separated parents played by Geraldine James (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Maloney (Mr. Selfridge, Henry V), and his three friends: a cop who is the son of the detective on the original case played by O-T Fagbenle (Doctor Who, The Handmaid’s Tale), a doctor who has returned after years in the States played by Sarah Solemani (Bridget Jones’s Baby), and a protector of street kids at a local shelter, played by Lee Ingleby (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).

Every player in this tale is a mess.  The cop can’t balance work and life and must care for a father with Alzheimer’s, the doctor is figuring her way through a failed marriage and early stages of addiction, the shelter manager cares a bit too much about protecting kids on the streets, and the brother of the missing boy runs the route where he lost his brother every day, unable to get past his loss.  As a police procedural, Fagbenle and detective Caine, played by Hannah Arterton (Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders), make for a solid policing duo, while Cullen and Ingleby are a great sleuthing team of private investigators.

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