Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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Osborne shares highlights of this year’s TCM Film Festival

TCM host Robert Osborne speaks Wednesday at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

“She’s so beautiful, you can’t believe she’s in her ’80s, and she’s so nice,” said TCM’s Robert Osborne about actress Ann Blyth, who co-starred with Joan Crawford in the classic domestic film noir “Mildred Pierce.”

Blyth will discuss the role when the movie screens at the TCM Film Festival, which starts Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Osborne told journalists at a roundtable on Wednesday that he was surprised that Blyth wasn’t typecast. “She was so effective as the mean daughter [Veda] that you hated. Why didn’t that affect her career? She played sweet ingénues after that.”

Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

Other festival highlights for Osborne include interviews with other guests and screenings of “Funny Girl,” “Razor’s Edge,” “Cluny Brown,” and “Desert Song.”

The schedule features a strong film-noir component. “The mood is so rich, it’s a prominent part of the festival,” said TCM’s head programmer Charlie Tabesh. “We noticed that it was immensely popular last year. The theme was style and it fit in very well so we wanted to keep it up this year. People like to see these films on the big screen.”

Inside Club TCM at the Roosevelt. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz also touched on the popularity of noir and guest programming by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller. Mankiewicz said he wants to suggest a night dedicated to neo-noir director John Dahl (“Kill Me Again,” “Last Seduction” and “Red Rock West.”)

“Dahl clearly had a keen appreciation of ’40s and ’50s noir,” Mankiewicz said.

A vintage photo of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly at Club TCM. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

We at FNB would love to see a Dahl night. Until then, we can get our fill of these fantastic screenings. And there’s a plethora of photos and memorabilia on display at the Roosevelt. For example, today, before opening night, there’s a special presentation of a suit Humphrey Bogart wore in “The Big Sleep.”

So now it’s back to the Roosevelt! We will be updating on twitter for the rest of the fest.

All photos TM & (C) Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

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Film Noir Foundation announces schedule for Noir City 11

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City film festival, coming to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre in January, will present its most expansive schedule yet – 27 films – including three new 35mm restorations.

This festival kicks off with a tribute to actress Peggy Cummins, legendary for her ferocious performance in “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis). As always, Noir City will feature classics and rarities. Opening weekend will feature the world premiere of two of the FNF’s latest film restoration projects: “Try and Get Me!” (1950, Cy Endfield) and “Repeat Performance” (1947, Alfred L. Werker).

The San Francisco festival runs Jan. 25-Feb. 3, 2013. The festival (with variations on the program) travels to several other cities throughout the year. On Thursday, Jan. 17, Eddie Muller and Robert Osborne will co-host “A Night in Noir City” on Turner Classic Movies. The five-film program of rare film noir includes two of the FNF’s restorations, “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish) and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey).

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Film noir titles to release on DVD from TCM and Universal, thriller marathon in January

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE) are releasing a terrific three-disc DVD collection on Dec 3. Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers highlights the work of legendary mystery writers Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and Raymond Chandler.

The set includes:

“The Glass Key” (1942, Stuart Heisler) – Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake star in this stylish remake of the 1935 film based on Hammett’s popular novel. The story follows a ruthless political boss and his personal adviser, who become entangled in a web of organized crime and murder involving the daughter of a rising gubernatorial candidate. Akira Kurosawa once claimed this film to be the inspiration for his classic samurai flick “Yojimbo” (1961).

“Phantom Lady” (1944, Robert Siodmak) – A man arrested for murdering his wife is unable to produce his only alibi – a mysterious woman he met in a bar – in this adaptation of a Woolrich novel. Now his loyal secretary must go undercover to locate her. Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Alan Curtis and Elisha Cook Jr. star. A sexually charged drumming scene was reportedly dubbed by legendary musician Buddy Rich.

“The Blue Dahlia” (1946, George Marshall) – A WWII veteran who has been accused of killing his unfaithful wife races against time to find the real murderer with the help of a sympathetic stranger. Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard da Silva and Hugh Beaumont star in this John Houseman production. Chandler’s original screenplay earned an Oscar nomination.

Veronica Lake and Howard da Silva share a tense moment in “The Blue Dahlia.”

Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers will be available from TCM’s online store, which is currently accepting pre-orders. TCM will show “The Glass Key” on Dec. 2.

Additionally, on Jan. 17, author and noir expert Eddie Muller will join TCM host Robert Osborne to present five memorable thrillers from the 1950s. The lineup is set to feature “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish) with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming; “99 River Street” (1953, Phil Karlson) starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes; “Tomorrow is Another Day” (1951, Felix E. Feist) with Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran; “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz), starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal; and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey), starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.

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Levine to co-host ‘Choreography by Jack Cole’ on TCM

Critic Debra Levine

Jack Cole and Marilyn Monroe

Los Angeles-based dance critic and arts journalist Debra Levine will co-host a special tribute to the influential dance maker Jack Cole (1911-1974) on Turner Classic Movies. The four-film tribute will be broadcast on Monday, Sept. 10, starting at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT). Levine joins TCM’s veteran host Robert Osborne to provide commentary.

From 1941 to 1962, Cole pioneered American jazz dance as an art form in Hollywood films. He contributed dance sequences to 30 movies at Columbia Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, some credited, some not.

Cole left behind a celluloid track record of outstanding dance sequences with highly diverse themes (including some with a noir-tinged, nightclubby vibe), all with a recognizable Cole brand that is uncannily contemporary.

TCM schedule for Sept. 10

Tonight & Every Night” (1945, Victor Saville) 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)
Rita Hayworth, Lee Bowman, Janet Blair, Marc Platt

On the Riviera” (1951, Walter Lang) 10 p.m. (7 p.m.)
Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, Gwen Verdon

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1952, Howard Hawks) 11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.)
Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell

Les Girls” (1957, George Cukor) 1:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.)
Kay Kendall, Taina Elg, Mitzi Gaynor, Gene Kelly

Born John Ewing Richter in New Brunswick, N.J., in 1911, Jack Cole’s extraordinary career as a top American dancer/choreographer began with pioneering modern-dance troupe, Denishawn. His innovative nightclub act, Jack Cole and His Dancers, toured the nation’s night clubs starting around 1933. In the mid 1940s in Los Angeles, Cole began a 20-year run as a brilliant and innovative Hollywood choreographer, crafting ingenious customized dance sequences for stars like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and others.

Cole coached the stars not only in movement but also in song and line delivery. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Levine called Cole’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953): “a delicious confection, a piece of Hollywood perfection.”

Cole died in Los Angeles in 1974; he was 62.

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2012 draws stars and fans

From Thursday night’s world premiere of the newly restored “Cabaret” to the closing-night screening of “Annie Hall” on Sunday, the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood was packed with stars, fans, media and movie experts. “Cabaret,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, opened the fest. The red-carpet event at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre drew stars Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York.

Other luminaries included: Kim Novak, Bob Mackie, Debbie Reynolds, Norman Jewison, Rhonda Fleming, Peggy Cummins, Marsha Hunt, Rose McGowan, Richard Anderson, Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Evans, Robert Towne, Robert Wagner, Kirk Douglas, Stanley Donen, Tippi Hedren, Angie Dickinson, Tina Sinatra, Tony Roberts and Walter Mirisch.

And fittingly, since the fest’s theme was style, there were film noir screenings as well as events devoted to both noir and fashion. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller programmed the classic noir offerings, Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards of noircast.net led a panel discussion and author Foster Hirsch was on hand to interview Walter Mirisch, whose first foray into producing was 1947’s “Fall Guy” by director Reginald Le Borg.

I’m still recovering from so much delightful viewing, but here are a few photo highlights, courtesy of the fest.

All images courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival/photographers Jason Merritt, Edward M. Pio Roda, Mark Hill and Adam Rose.

A festival poster at the Roosevelt Hotel, HQ for the event.

Bob Osborne and Liza Minnelli

Ben Mankiewicz and Tippi Hedren

Inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Fans lined up in the rain to see movies at Grauman's.

A festival display inside the Roosevelt

Noir star Marsha Hunt, Eddie Muller and Rose McGowan

From left: Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Robert Osborne before the "Chinatown" screening.

Kim Novak made her mark at Grauman's.

Kim Novak and her husband

Fresh prints by Kim Novak

Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame

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Noir delights abound at TCM Classic Film Festival

"An American in Paris" opened the festival.

Four days of devouring big-screen classics has left me deliciously sated! At least until my next film fest.

About 25,000 people attended this year’s sold-out TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which featured more than 70 films and special events. Stars who made appearances included Julie Andrews, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, Warren Beatty, Leslie Caron, Kirk Douglas, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, Peter O’Toole, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney.

Before the screening of 1940’s “Fantasia,” in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Sunday night, TCM’s Bob Osborne announced that there will be a third fest in 2012. He also announced a new event: the TCM Classic Cruise, Dec. 8-12, 2011, a five-day/four-night event aboard Celebrity Millennium. The cruise will sail from Miami to Key West and Cozumel.

Most important for me was getting my noir fix and, happily, dark delights abounded. For example, there was the chance to see Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” with James Mason as a teacher struggling with an addiction to prescription cortisone. As co-star Barbara Rush told Osborne before the screening, this 1956 psychological drama has been programmed in several film noir festivals “because it’s so dark and so scary.”

Bob Osborne talks with Barbara Rush.

As you’d expect from Ray, it’s very well done and the performances are excellent. Despite telling the audience that she was “very old,” Rush is very lively. When Osborne asked her to talk about her leading men, she replied, “I had them all!”

Another noir high point was meeting the charming Marya of Cinema_Fanatic and chatting with renowned author Foster Hirsch at the screening of 1953’s “Niagara,” directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Marilyn Monroe (as a murderous wife), Joseph Cotten (as her off-kilter husband) and Jean Peters (as a plucky, pretty brunette). Hirsch told the audience that film noir can absolutely be in color, describing “Niagara” both as a “minor masterpiece” and a “pulp-fiction paperback come to life.”

He pointed out the contrast in lighting between the bright exteriors and dark interiors, ending with the comment: “If you’ve come for laughs and joyous uplift, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

Also a treat was seeing “The Man with the Golden Arm” from 1955. Adapted from a Nelson Algren novel, it’s a story about drug addiction in a gritty urban setting, by master noir director Otto Preminger. I’d seen it before but, as with “Niagara,” the big screen really intensifies the storytelling. It is definitely Frank Sinatra’s best performance and one of Kim Novak’s finest as well. In attendance were Preminger’s daughter Vicki Preminger and Sinatra’s daughters Nancy Sinatra and Tina Sinatra. Rounding out the noir programming were “The Third Man” (Carol Reed, 1950), “Gaslight” (George Cukor, 1944) and “Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese, 1976).

Other films with noir elements included Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (1941), “The Tingler” (1959), “The Mummy” (1932), “Went the Day Well (1942) and “Whistle Down the Wind (1961). (I saw all but “Kane,” which I’ve seen several times before.)

Ana Alexander and Anya Monzikova of Cinemax's new series, "Femme Fatales," which starts May 13.

The festival also honored master composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored  “Citizen Kane” and “Taxi Driver” as well as “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “Cape Fear” and many others.

On the neo-noir front, I’ll be excited to see Cinemax’s upcoming “Femme Fatales” anthology series “about powerful, sexy and dangerous women” starring Ana Alexander and Anya Monzikova, both of whom walked the fest’s red carpet to promote show.

The first of 13 stand-alone episode starts May 13 and I hope to catch up with the actresses sometime soon.

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A pre-fest chat with TCM’s Robert Osborne

TCM's Robert Osborne

Earlier today at a round-table interview, I caught up with TCM’s Robert Osborne, a veteran film historian and author, as the Classic Film Festival was setting up at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Osborne said one of the festival’s strengths is its great mix in terms of programming, which sets it apart from today’s moviegoing where ”you have a choice of the same movie 15 different ways.”

I’ve always wanted to talk noir with him, so I asked him why these films have such enduring appeal. “We’ve always had murder mysteries and who doesn’t love that? They have an endless appeal. It’s the shadows and lights and tough people like Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino.

Setting up inside the Roosevelt Hotel.

“To call ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ [a 1945 movie that played at last year’s fest and stars Gene Tierney] a noir is stretching it – ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ is a lush Technicolor movie about rich people.

“My idea of film noir is people in the gutter – tough dames and guys in trench coats up to no good. And nobody did it better than Hollywood in the ’40s.”

As for his favorite femmes fatales, he names Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall (in the Bogart films), Marie Windsor and Jane Greer, describing them “as very feminine women that were also dames who could give it as well as they took it.”

The TCM fest has a great mix of movies.

And what did he think of remakes such as HBO’s version of “Mildred Pierce” by director Todd Haynes, starring Kate Winslet? Osborne praised Winslet’s performance but said he was disappointed. “They told the whole story too closely; it was too long and drawn out and too ponderous. In the original [Michael Curtiz's 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford], writer Ranald MacDougall’s addition of the murder really made the whole thing crackle. [The remake] should’ve been three hours at the most. I’m not fond of remakes generally.”

What is he most looking forward to in this year’s fest? “Night Flight” by Clarence Brown, “The Constant Nymph” by Edmund Goulding, opening night’s “An American in Paris” by Vincent Minnelli, Leslie Caron’s special appearance, and meeting Peter O’Toole.

I also asked Osborne, who got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006, if he had any advice for O’Toole who will be honored at a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre this Saturday. “Behave!”

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On the radar: TCM Classic Film Festival starts next Thursday in Hollywood; big cats on the big screen; crime does play

One week from tonight is the TCM Classic Film Festival, which runs from April 28 to May 1 in Hollywood. There will be more than 70 screenings, as well as special introductions, guest appearances, panel discussions and other events. The red-carpet gala screening on Thursday is “An American in Paris.”

Marlene Dietrich

But naturally I’m more excited to see the 10:15 p.m. screening of Josef von Sternberg’s “The Devil is a Woman” from 1935 with Marlene Dietrich. Katie Trainor, film collection manager for the Museum of Modern Art, will introduce the film.

TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne is the official host of the festival. Peter O’Toole, Kirk Douglas, Leslie Caron, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Warren Beatty, Alec Baldwin, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, Richard Roundtree and Roger Corman are just a few of the notables slated to appear. Can’t wait!

Big cats: The nature doc “African Cats” opens Friday (Earth Day). For the first week, a portion of every ticket sold will go to the African Wildlife Foundation. Disney and Jordin Sparks, who did the movie’s end-title song “The World I Knew,” are also donating to the foundation.

Score hard: The “L.A. Noire” video game, featuring “Mad Men” star Aaron Staton’s voice and vibe, launches May 17. “L.A. Noire” will screen Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival, the first video game to snag that honor. Brendan McNamara is the writer/director.

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