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Posts tagged as “film reviews”

Sisyphus in the City: A Review of The Advocates

Special To Topanga Journal

Years ago, we went to L.A.’s Skid Row to attend a rooftop screening of an old film that’d recently been discovered. It was being shown by some local historical society, the big point being that a few seconds showed the same area of L.A. we were sitting in, but nearly 100 years ago. We rode our bikes to get there, and, running late, we focused entirely on pedaling as quick as we could on the way in. By doing so, we avoided noticing the expanse of tents and refuse, the people lingering wherever they could. 

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

But a friend took the bus to meet us, and by the time the film was over, that line had stopped running. This was before Lyft or Uber. And so, in the middle of some late Saturday night, we walked through Skid Row.

Nothing overtly memorable happened, but it’s a kind of journey you never forget. It was only a few blocks from the rest of downtown L.A.—the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe. There were unique smells, garbage fire flickers, and chaotic arguments wafting into night. Residents were holding court inside or outside their tents, passing drugs or booze or food, or whatever else.

the whole trip couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes—but it felt like we had been transported to an entirely different country, time, or maybe universe.” Rick Paulas

Despite the expensive high heels and tailored suits in the swanky bottle service nightclubs nearby, here was an entire community that had been abandoned. This was the last place these people had to go, and when they got there, they were forgotten. I never looked at the city the same way. 

Homelessness is one of the most pervasive signs of a system that’s fraying at the edges, and since our late-night walk through Skid Row years ago, it’s only gotten worse in America. As one commenter in Rémi Kessler’s new film The Advocates points out, while encampments used to be relegated to the various city Skid Rows throughout the country, they’ve now sprawled well beyond that. Tents are pitched along highways, nestled under overpasses. They populate city parks, while others place cardboard boxes in storefront alcoves. You’d be astounded at the number of folks who spend their nights in their cars. 

While development quickens and high-rises continue to be built, what’s missing in our current urban mindset is building housing for people who need it. There’s already plenty for people who don’t, but have the money to invest; this is how you end up with so many empty, as one commenter put it, “safety deposit boxes in the sky.” But what’s also missing to get there—and this is at the core of Kessler’s film—is the idea that secondary solutions to homelessness (drug rehabilitation, treatment for mental health issues, a good paying job) are not as important as literally making houses.

During my work as a journalist in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, I’ve interviewed countless of homeless folks for a variety of reasons, and whenever I ask them what they need to get off the streets, the one thing they mention is: An indoor place to go. While there are people on the streets with mental health issues, for many, problems like drug abuse or violent mood swings are not the reasons for why they’re on the street, but problems that occurred after they got there. 

Consider: What would it be like to sleep on a city street, with traffic blaring by, unprotected from the elements, unsafe from passersby? Would you feel a little bit groggy every day? Maybe not in peak shape to attend a job interview? Or—and here is the dark secret of homelessness in America—maybe not rested enough to keep the job you have? And then, if someone has a drug that’s take the edge off for a few moments, would you refuse it? 

Kessler’s film begins with the tale of Yolanda and Ruben, a brother-and-sister pair who once had indoor lives. They live in a few cars that double as places to store their possessions, but the cars don’t run, and due to parking restrictions, every week they have to push them across the street to avoid a ticket. Imagine the toll that takes on a life, and how those parking tickets could add up if, one day, you’re not well enough to heft the heavy automobile across the street. Try being in a kind mood, or mentally focused enough to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps, with that lifestyle.

As an expert says toward the end of the film, the solution to homelessness is very straightforward: Give people homes. After seeing The Advocates, you’ll see why.


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Alix Lambert: Prison Soul and The Edge Of Daybreak

The work of multidisciplinary artist Alix Lambert often shines a light on the dark sides of life.  As a documentary filmmaker, visual artist, TV and film writer-producer, photographer, musician, animator and author, her focus spotlights loss, transformation of identity, the forgotten, social injustice, violence, death and societal perspectives in a world where tweets aim for shock value rather than shock at the world we live in. Enter Lambert, a prolific observer and storyteller who, in addressing crime, injustice and the dark side, also uncovers how we survive and flourish in the face of adversity and the unexpected.  

Her latest project, “The Edge of Daybreak,” a 2018 short film, tells an extraordinary yet obscure story of a prison soul band by the same name. We learn how their album, “Eyes of Love,” recorded on September 14, 1979 in the confines of the Powhatan Correction Center, rose from the band’s love of music, determination and creativity beyond prison walls. 

Lambert heard about this prison band while preparing a podcast episode she was producing about music in prison. The story didn’t end up in the podcast, but Lambert was still interested in developing it into a film. Without much B-Roll, or supplemental footage, to work with she was able to capture the flavor of the times, not only with the music itself but with archival stills, footage and graphics.

Lambert interviews James Carrington, the keyboardist and leader of the band, as he tells of the unlikely journey of the band members meeting at Powhatan, writing songs, finding a local producer and recording seven songs in a restricted, five hour time limit in the visiting room of the facility with guards standing stoic behind each of them. In only one take, the members of The Edge of Daybreak created a flawless recording of original songs the band wrote and sang together.  

This documentary takes twists and turns that shed light on Bohannon’s, a local record store that sent mail order records to prisoners, how Carrington’s work release program led to the renaming of that store to “Carrington’s” and the results of an encounter by Carrington in Virginia with a New York transplant, North Carolina native Jon Kirby, eventually resulted in the re-issuing of this classic record.

After being released from incarceration, Carrington returned to his community and roots in gospel music and is now a well-known, successful local entrepreneur. The other members, who have since been released, still live in the area and enjoy playing and singing on their own. “The Edge of Daybreak” recently premiered in Richmond, Virginia where the story, and its four main musicians are based, so that band members, Carrington, Cornelius “Neal” Cade, guitarist, Jamal Nubi, drummer, and Harry “Cupcake” Coleman, percussionist, could attend along with some of their family members and the local community.  

When asked what was the most surprising thing Lambert learned about the band members and the album while working on this film, she said, “Rather than surprised, I was amazed that the album was so extraordinary and beautiful, especially under the conditions in which it was made. I’m a big fan of the band.” She has plans to expand this story further.

Lambert grew up in Washington, D.C. and studied art at a high school magnet program where she recognized the power of making art. She left for New York City at age seventeen where she attended the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design. Her studies and art have taken her to many parts of the world. She has also lectured at numerous universities and has given a “TEDx Talk” on reaction to her film, “Mentor.”  

Lambert’s full-length feature documentaries include, “The Mark of Cain” (2000) about the language of tattoos in Russian Prisons; “Goodbye Fat Larry” about the murder of filmmaker Jon Pownall; and “Bayou Blue” (2011) about a serial killer in southwest Louisiana and “Mentor” (2014), her award-winning film about bullying and teenage suicide. Lambert has made a number of shorts, “Martha,” “Tiffany” and “Rabbits Among Them.”  She made her first film in 1997, a mockumentary about a female band in the vein of “Spinal Tap.” Her writing and directing credits include work for HBO, PBS and “This American Life She is also the author of a number of books. 

In the introduction of her book, “Crime,” Lambert addresses two traumatic events that crossed her own path early in life. When asked how these experiences influenced her direction depicting dark and difficult topics, and in what way have these traumatic incidents drawn her to the losses and injustices placed upon others and depicted in many of her works, Lambert responded, “To the extent that at an early age I was aware of paying attention in regard to people I loved, there is certainly an indirect relationship to the topics I choose.” 

The road taken by Lambert as a multidisciplinary artist is a rich and diverse one filled with its own unexpected twists and turns. Unlike those who approach with sensationalism the subject matter Lambert tackles, this artist remains fearless and determined to make us think beyond the shadows that are cast within the stories she tells. 

Genetically Modified Children: Monsanto, Bayer and Tobacco

Special To Topanga Journal

The most striking imagery in the documentary Genetically Modified Children, by filmmakers Juliette Igier and Stephanie Lebrun, is the children suffering from incurable diseases purported to be from GMOs. This is by design, since it pulls on the emotional strings of anyone viewing. Yet, the heart of the film is something any of us can relate to: economic desperation.

Rick Paulas

By Rick Paulas

The film opens with the story of Ricardo Rivera, regional head of an electrical company in Argentina. He’s noticed that many of the farmers on his route can’t pay their bills, and discovers that it’s because they have sick children at home to care for. “We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

“We are all contaminated,” Rivera says, talking about the pesticides that have been used for decades in the region’s tobacco fields.

Lucas Texeira in the film Genetically Modified Children

While the story of the tobacco farmer children is the core of the documentary, to me, the most striking moment was that felt by a fully-grown, healthy tobacco farmer.

Midway through, the filmmakers introduce us to a cooperative where farmers sell their annual crop. There, each tobacco bale is evaluated by the color of its leaves, its size, and its texture. But as the norms of what tobacco is considered “the best” have changed over the years, so have the payments. “Now, only the use of chemical products insure good results,” says the narrator.

One farmer has brought his year’s haul in for sale, but his crop wasn’t grown using the same pesticides that the larger farms around use. In comparison, it looks dark and flimsy. Thirty seconds of evaluation later, the farmer finds out how much his year of labor is worth. He looks at his receipt, and walks away disheartened. “He has just earned $1,000 Euros for a year’s work,” explains the narrator.

The farmer shakes his head and gets into his truck, nothing left to do.

This scene is at the core of why the argument around GMOs has to change.

GMOs are a tough conversation for the liberal set. On the one hand, claims of rigorous scientific testing, stating that GMOs are safe; according to the New York Times, “about 90 percent of scientists believe G.M.O.s are safe,” in addition to endorsements by “the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization.” For a mindset that prides itself in Science with a capital S—particularly now, as fact has also become a political battleground, most dumbly exemplified in the climate change conversation—it makes sense that many liberals are not only fine with GMOs, but get downright angry if you suggest otherwise.

Where this sentiment gets sticky is with the rise of corporate conglomerates like Monsanto and Bayer. Due to the strength of current intellectual property laws, GMO-producing multinational corporations—the so-called “Big 6” are the aforementioned two, plus BASF, Dupont, Dow Chemical Company, and Syngenta—have been allowed to dictate the lives of the world’s farmers. Frankly, that’s what their products are intended to do.

Simply examine the mechanisms of Monsanto’s Roundup brand. In 1970, a chemist discovered glyphosate, a herbicide that kills weeds, but also kills the crops around them. You can see how this would be problematic to cash crop farmers. But, in 1996, that all changed. Monsanto announced its first line of Roundup Ready products, genetically engineered to resist glyphosate. Suddenly, farmers not only had an herbicide to kill weeds, but plants that wouldn’t be killed by the herbicide. Perfect corporate synergy. Since, Monsanto and friends have developed an army of seeds and plants that work in the same way, creating a vertical monopoly that forces farmers to buy both the herbicides and the seeds, or else.

Leaving aside the potential health impacts of such seed monoculture, consider the implications of these products. As time’s ticking clock marches forever forward, and capitalism’s innovation factory searches for more, better, stronger versions of perfectly fine methods from the past, so does the necessity to utilize such innovations to stay one step ahead of the competition. In the capitalistic race to the bottom, farmers have no choice but to use the herbicides, and then also the seeds that are resistant to them, or risk financial ruin.

This decision, despite the World Health Organization announcing that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. This decision, despite their children living painful, short lives while suffering from harrowing, incurable diseases. If farmers are financially dependent on GMO crops to sustain themselves, they’ll continue taking the risk. What other choice do they have?

The film ends with two lines spoken by the narrator: “According to the World Health Organization, 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides every year. Agri-chemicals are worth $40 billion dollars a year to the multinationals that produce them.”

It’s a cost-benefit analysis made between people and corporations. And as long as anti-GMO liberals continue to focus on the scientific and emotional arguments—as opposed to the one provided by examine the pure economic incentive that the farmers are reliant on—they’ll forever be stuck on the sidelines, watching the world poison itself for the benefit of the few CEOs.


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Exclusive: Kablitz-Post’s Poetic Lou Andreas-Salomé The Audacity To Be Free

Kriss Perras, Publisher & Editor Malibu Arts Journal

By Kriss Perras

Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis, also known as the Fates, reached down from the heavens and wrenched their mighty crowbar into the thing called inequality between the sexes and wedged the two one step closer to parity, in whatever direction that may lie, when they brought us Lou Andreas-Salomé (1861 – 1937). She was the first female psychoanalyst and a protofeminist. Nicknamed Lou by a pastor who mentored her, she was and has remained a controversial historical figure. She was a revolutionary philosopher and author, even considered so by her legendary male peers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. 

In the biopic film titled Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Audacity To Be Free, German director-writer Cordula Kablitz-Post portrays Lou as a femme fatale, perhaps because her contemporary critics felt she was socially unacceptable. To those at the time, this figure seemed to have stepped out of Pandora’s Box. One would think she would be beauty exotic to the women’s movement at that time because she chose to live unconventionally. She did not want to marry or have children. She wanted to study, enrich her mind and make her own decisions. She rejected the arbitrary constraints society put on women. But she was viewed as harmful to the tiny advances women were making for posterity. Truly Lou was the Baroque Aida with real elephants and camels brought to their doorstep rejected for being the lead role.

“She was a revolutionary philosopher and author, even considered so by her legendary male peers, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.”

This biopic is a dramatic story of a woman who when pushed by the confines of an unfair system pushes back, and bites. The story is told through four different actresses in four different stages of Lou’s life. The principle role is played by adult Lou (Katharina Lorenz), followed by mature Lou (Nicole Heesters), teenage Lou (Liv Lisa Fries), and child Lou (Helena Pieske). 

Kablitz-Post made very strong casting choices in all the ladies who portrayed Lou in the four different life stages. 

When asked how she was able to come across such capable female talent, most especially the very talented 81-year old Heesters, Kablitz-Post said in an interview, “Thank you! It makes me happy to hear that, because Nicole is just great. It was my casting agent’s idea. Her name is Anja Dihrberg, and she did a fantastic job. Usually Nicole does not have many chances to play interesting characters in German TV. The reason is that still especially for women in her age there are hardly no interesting characters written in screenplays. Mostly she has to play one-dimensional supporting characters who have no life of her own, although she is very experienced and a great actress in theater and TV. Nicole is strong, intelligent, funny, glamorous and sexy –  something what you normally do not expect from a 81 year old woman.”

Liv Lisa Fries played a very convincing teenage Lou. The mirror scene where she looks at herself in the mirror and remembers what her father said to her, the look of anguish in her eyes was very compelling, emotional and drew the audience into her character at that stage in her life. This is a young actress we should keep an eye on as her skill level is very advanced for her age. 

Katharina Lorenz played a very emotional performance as adult Lou. She was ferocious, independent and just the right amount of feminist to be plausible. She even had the right look to be a compelling look alike to the real life Lou. The through line of each of these roles one to the next is part of why these women did a good job of telling the entire life story of Lou. They each remained in character but each of them kept to the same character of the real life Lou. This is in part due to the fabulous job of the director.

Kablitz-Post directed some very unique shots in the film. She was not in charge of a multi-million dollar franchise, but she directed shots that were very cinematically beautiful nonetheless. 

“Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention,” said Kablitz-Post. “The problem was to show the original historical locations that we wanted to have in the film, because Lou was traveling a lot through St. Petersburg, Rome, Zurich, Vienna and Berlin. My Austrian set designer Nikolai Ritter, and the VFX head of the German company Mackevision Juri Stannosek and me, developed a unique idea to establish the historic outside shots of these cities, surprisingly poetic and most authentic, in such a way that the production value appeared much higher than the budget allowed. We used historical postcards of the cities and let our Lou actresses walk through these postcards. The effect is that everything else and everybody on the postcard is of course steady and motionless whereas the only one moving and living is Lou. Technically our actress was shot before green where our camera took the same position as the historical camera that shot the postcard. The effect is overwhelming, because it was never done before this way. It adds a poetical and deep meaning, so that the spectator feels and sees how I perceive Lou, that she is a very modern woman feeling like an alien in her own time. I see her as if she was the only really ‘living’ person, whereas she must have felt as everybody else is stuck in conventions.”

As far as the historical photos, the director and her team went to great lengths to find the many photos in the film.

“My art director Mike Schäfer did excessive research in all sorts of national archives and bookstores, and I decided in terms of getting the most interesting images of Rome, Zürich, St. Petersburg, Berlin and Vienna in the original time of 1867 until 1900,” said the director.

The film has had several titles in its short life so far. When asked why this would be, the director gave a compelling answer.

“There is different knowledge about Lou Andreas-Salomé’ s work and life story in every country, so we tried to give an impression of the film already with the title according to the different countries,” said Kablitz-Post. “The first international premiere was during the Film Festival of Shanghai in 2016. There, the english title In Love with Lou was inspired by Wong Kar-Wei’ s film In the Mood for Love which I admire a lot. I did not know how much the Chinese audience could be interested in a film about German intellectuals. I was happy to see that the title worked in China, and the film was always sold out, and in the end being sold to be licensed in China. In France, we decided, as in Germany, to use Lou’s full name only as a title, because there she was already known by her full name, especially in France. In Brazil, we trusted the distribution company when they decided to use only LOU as a title which also worked out great. The film is still running in Brazilian cinemas since January. And here in the U.S. it was the idea of our distribution company Cinema Libre to add ‘The audacity to be free’ in the title. This is like a log line for me, and I liked the idea very much immediately.”

Kablitz-Post states she came upon Lou’s story by accident. She found her biography at the city library when she was just 17 and has been intrigued ever since. A great ostrich of an opportunity nested itself in her lap at a tender age, yet Kablitz-Post didn’t know how big the day was.  

“She was something of a pioneer of emancipation,” said Kablitz-Post.

History was trudging along making small steps for the women’s feminist hive. Then fwap! With apparent forethought, the feminist icon jumps out of the cake. During a time when the world didn’t believe anyone would read what a woman had to say, Lou became a published novelist, poet and essayist. She at first had to publish under a pen name. Bilk! All the bustle causes observers to notice. At a party it became known she published the work. She wanted a life free from the patriarchal bonds placed on her gender. She disagreed with spurring genius and passion in others. She found common ground on these points in Nietzsche, Freud, Paul Rée and her lover, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Those interested in symbolism could and should attach Aida symbolism to Lou and her male encounters. She was continually caught up with the idea of should she continue her role as a leader for women and intellectual pursuits, or should she indulge in physical pleasures? As her intellectual pursuits build to intoxication, she finds the Pony Express rider arrives with a bulletin announcing a setback to her way of thinking. Wham! She falls in love with Rilke. 

According to Anais Nin (1903 – 1977), a woman who wrote explicitly about sex from a female point of view, Lou “may have seemed inhuman to some men because she announced the end of [her] relationships, which the man usually does. … She said to Rilke, ‘Now the passion is over, so the relationship is over’, which was very unusual at that time.”

She was the only daughter of six children. As a teenager, she persuaded a Dutch preacher 25 years older than her to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions and French and German literature. She studied at the University of Zurich. Two years later she met Rée, where they engaged in something of an intellectual battle at a party. This sparked each of their interests in the other. He asked her to marry him, and she refused, stating she would never be free if she married anyone. Thus began a long and intimate friendship between the two. Lou held to the belief that giving in to love or lust would disconnect her for her intellectual freedom and academic achievements. Lou met Nietzsche through her friendship with Rée. And thus begins the love triangle in the film. The Fates were going to let us have our protofeminist. 

Protofeminism predates the feminist movement. Women like Lou and Charlotte Brontë, and other such authors, were challenging and critiquing the treatment of women in the US and British society. Their literature pre-sage the 20th century monumental changes like the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 and the Representation of the People Act in 1928 in Britain. A protofeminist is an early author, thinker or leader who despite cultural norms to the contrary sought equality for women on every level. It is because of women like Lou and Brontë that modern women can say we are feminists. Not that we can long lounge on our laurels today. Everybody can ponder the limp corkscrew and broken balloons of our premature festivities until Monday morning when Cimmerian realism again wags its spindly finger under our noses mocking our lack of this and that. 

The Vesuvian eruption of feminism that followed Lou could have never taken place without her and her kind. What Lou best did for her contemporaries was interpret and push the boundaries for women’s rights. She was a lens with which Nietzsche and Freud and other male role models used to interpret the world. No other woman of her time clarified points for these men like Lou. How could they when they lacked basic education and rights to do simple things like own property and speak their minds?

As Hitler’s Nazi party reared its ugly head in Nationalist Socialist Germany through the 1930s, Lou lived alone with her housekeeper, Mariechen. The Fates one again knocked on Lou’s door in the form of Ernst Pfieffer who ultimately penned a biography of her life based on the stories she shared with him. In real life, Lou in the end died of uremia in her sleep. In the film there is a different ending, so no spoilers here.




Lou Andreas-Salome will have three upcoming US screenings:




181-189 2nd Ave. @ 12th Street.

New York, NY  10003

Tickets & Showtimes:




11523 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets & Showtimes:




3405 Central Ave. NE

Albuquerque, NM 87106

tel: (505)255-1848

Showtimes: Friday April 27 – Tuesday May 1 @ 3:30PM, 8:15PM


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Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick Best Oscar For Transforming Gary Oldman Into Winston Churchill

Kazuhiro Tsuji and Gary Oldman On The Set Of The Darkest Hour

by Editor Kriss Perras


Kazuhiro Tsuji was working as a contemporary hyperrealist sculptor after a long and decorated career in Hollywood as a special effects make-up artist, when he decided to become involved in the Oscar nominated film the Darkest Hour. Coming out of retirement from the film industry was a good decision for Oscar Winner Tsuji. It has yielded several awards nominations and wins for his beautiful work with also Oscar Winner Gary Oldman on the same film. Tsuji won this year in the category for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling for turning Oldman into a very credible Winston Churchill.

Backstage tonight after his Oscar win, Tsuji said, “The timing was really important, because I left the film industry and Gary asked me to design this. Really everything came together with great timing. I met David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick. They are really special. I never worked with such talent before.”

The point they felt they had pulled it all off was the final test day, Malinowski said, whom Tsuji shares the Oscar win with, along with Sibbick.

Tsuji is the man who brought us the special effects make-up for films such as The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), TRON: Legacy (2010), Total Recall (2012), and character designs for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011). Malibu Arts Journal conducted a Q&A with Tsuji. In this interview we discover just how Tsuji made the incredible transformation from Oldman to Churchill.


Kazuhiro Tsuji Q&A

MAJ: How did you make Gary Oldman look like Winston Churchill?

TSJUI: I took a lifecast of Gary and 3D body scan and a lot of photos. Then I sculpted a likeness make-up on the lifecast to create facial appliances to apply to make him look like Winston Churchill. We also made a body suit and wig. I studied Winston Churchill’s photos while I designed those elements. Facial appliances were applied on him every filming day by David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick.

MAJ: How difficult is it to make a likeness of a famous person like Churchill?

TSUJI: It was very difficult since Gary does not look like Churchill at all. Facial proportions were very different. So I needed to adapt Churchill’s facial distinction and features to Gary’s face without overdoing the sculpture. It was important not to overdo it. If I did so, it would make him look like he was wearing a mask. Gary should be able to act through the make-up. We made the appliances extremely soft.

MAJ: How many prosthetics did you have to create for Oldman to make the Churchill likeness?

TSUJI: The prosthetic appliance consisted of a nose, chin, a pair of cheeks, the neck and shoulder, a body suit and wig. Each of the pieces were molded then cast over 60 pairs since once it was used, it could not be reused.

MAJ: At what point in the production process did you become involved in The Darkest Hour?

TSUJI: I was involved from the beginning since it was very important to make Gary have the same likeness as Churchill before the production started.



The Darkest Hour


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