Movie Review: NOTORIOUS, 1946. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Horror/Thriller Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Review by Tom Coatsworth


Miami, Florida; 1946. Alicia Huberman’s father is imprisoned as a Nazi spy. She drowns her sorrows with good times. But when Devlin, an American agent, woos her to work for Uncle Sam her better self answers the call. They fly to Rio De Janeiro where she infiltrates a group of Nazi Industrialists led by her former boyfriend, Sebastian. Torn between love for Devlin and duty to the job — she marries Sebastian, going deep undercover to discover their secrets. But soon she’s found out and is slowly poisoned. Devlin must see passed his jealousy and bitterness before he can save her.


“Notorious woman of affairs… adventurous man of the world!” — the original tagline. But with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains who needs taglines? There may be greater movie stars and there may be finer actors but there are no finer actors who happen to be movie stars. Put these three in a film, let Hitchcock direct, and you have the cinematic equivalent of a royal flush — you simply cannot lose. And indeed ‘Notorious’ is a classic for the ages. It didn’t always seem so — the critics were tepid in their initial response. I suspect the story, which veers toward the tall end of the tall-tale camp, is responsible.

Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is the lady in question. Her father has been imprisoned as a German spy. She is determined to wipe the bitterness clean with gin and good times until T.R. Devlin(Grant) crashes her party and offers her a chance to work for the good guys. Devlin and company have had her under surveillance. They know that beneath the brash smirk lurks the heart of a patriot. And so with some reluctance she accepts the job and they fly to Rio where she infiltrates the Farben Group.

— a band of Nazi industrialists who are cooking up the Fourth Reich. But wait — not until she and Devlin have had a chance to fall in love.

Then the job comes as a thunderbolt. She must “land” a former boyfriend, Alex Sebastian (Rains), who is the head of the Farben Group, and find out what they’re up to. In a cruel dilemma she must play ‘Mata Hari’ and bed down and marry him in order to conduct her ‘undercover’ work. Her affair with Devlin is finished — however their love will not die and it simmers on beneath the surface and this is the true beating heart of the film.

On the surface Alicia is living a dream in a mansion surrounded by riches. Inside her spirit dies a slow weary death. For Devlin it is all business and he has no sympathy. In fact he’s blind with jealousy. It is the life she chose, he tells her. Back to business — Sebastian throws a party to introduce his wife to Rio society. Devlin manages an invite. There he and Alicia gain access to the wine cellar where they discover uranium ore in a wine bottle. When Sebastian stumbles on them they fake an embrace to cover their spying. Sebastian is coldly furious until he discovers he’s married to an American Agent. Then he would gladly kill her except that it would alert his colleagues to his bungling. And so with the aid of his Mother he slowly poisons Alicia — with coffee, kindness and arsenic.

Alicia discovers the trap but she is too weak to get away. She collapses and is confined to a bedroom. Cut off from the world and surrounded by enemies she faces certain death unless Devlin can see passed his bitterness and come to her rescue.

Filmed in sumptuous black and white by Ted Tetzlaff, ( Edith Head designed Bergman’s gowns) these stars have never shone brighter. The chemistry between Grant and Bergman is electric, legendary. The moral of the story hasn’t aged as well: that a party girl must be poisoned just shy of extinction before she can earn the love of a gentleman. But Alicia is more than that — she is the German people, wayward at times but good as gold underneath. And this was America in 1946 — a country with a huge German demographic in a hurry to forgive. Likewise we must forgive a rather gimmicky plot and recognize it’s function: it is a torture chamber for the human heart and it works quite wonderfully. Watch for Hitchcock at the bar downing a glass of champagne.

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Movie Review: TRIPLE 9 (2016) ****

triple_9.jpgTRIPLE 9 (USA/UK 2015) ****
Directed by John Hillocoat

Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Gal Godot, Kate Winset, Aaron Paul, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams

Review by Gilbert Seah

No stranger to violent films, director John Hillcoat’s (LAWLESS, THE ROAD and his best film THE PROPOSITION) latest entry into gangster genre proves himself apt at serious comic book sensibility. TRIPLE 9, the code for ‘officer down’, plays like a ‘real’ serious adult comic book version of DEADPOOL.

It takes a while for the film to settle on its bearings. The script by first time writer, Matt Cook is clever enough not to reveal all the plot points, but keeps the audience always one step behind what is happening. An example is the bank heist. Who are the robbers working for? What is their aim? One point is a bank officer removing a safety deposit box from the vault. As far as I now, it requires two keys, one from the officer and the other from the customer to open a box. It is a good tactic. For example, the audience is aware that one officer is going down, but never sure which one or for what reason. The characters are also individually distinct and eccentric all aided by superlative performances from a eclectic cast.

The key performance comes from Casey Effleck (brother of Ben) who has proven his acting mettle in previous films like THE TOWN. His character is the only uncorrupt one, and the key one that puts the whole story into prospective. The good must always prevail. The script contains a few too many close calls for his character. As for the ambiguous baddies, there are too many too count. Interesting enough, many do good for the wrong reasons. The true baddie appears to be the Russian moll, Irina played by Kate Winslet , complete with Russian accent and is barely recognizable in her makeup.. She is also doing bad for a good reason, to aid her crooked husband escape.

Hillcoat keeps the action and fury fast and furious and nonstop. Be prepared to be glued to your seats! The film alternates between highly charged action and drama sequences. For the action segments, the bank heist at the film’s start is hard to beat. The robbers show no mercy and show they mean business. They do not shout warnings. They fire and beat up the victims, and talk later. All this makes the heist even more gripping. Hillcoat also realizes that the devil is in the details. On the highway, a robber points his rifle at a car, only to have it rammed from behind and the robber moving backwards to avoid being hit. The camerawork is excellent, the best example being the one where the camera pulls back during a car chase showing where each in on the maze of highways in the city.

Hillcoat does not skimp on the violence as evident by showing a bag of bloodied teeth at another point in the film. The characters are always angry, screaming at each other but not without reason. Every character is desperate. Every character is ready to kill.

Stay for the end credits. The 1980’s song ‘Pigs” (called so for obvious reasons) by Cypress Hill is inventive, catchy, hilarious and totally appropriate. The song can also be played on YouTube.

Movie Review: DIAL M FOR MUDER (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
Review by Steve Painter


An ex-tennis pro carries out a plot to murder his wife. When things go wrong, he improvises a brilliant plan B


Alfred Hitchcock is known as “The Master of Suspense.” This is true when it comes to the film world. In the literary world, no one was a better suspense writer than Frederick Knott. So when the mater of literary suspense had his play optioned by the master of cinematic suspense, a quality movie was sure to be produced. It was in the form of Hitchcock’s most suspenseful picture, Dial M For Murder (1954).

Unlike in other movies adapted from literary works, Hitchcock didn’t tinker with the successful stage play Knott had written. There are a few Hitchcock touches, like stalling the climatic murder sequence by having Ray Milland’s watch stop and then having him wait to make a phone call as someone is using the phone booth. All this heightens the suspense as the audience waits, paralyzed to see if Grace Kelly will be murdered.

One of the most poignant Hitchcock touches comes at the very beginning. We see Milland kiss Kelly in a standard, everyday, run-of-the mill kiss given by a wife to a husband before he leaves for work. When the American, Mark, arrives on the screen he has a passionate kiss for Kelly. Without words we know the relationship of the three main characters of the story. That is a standard device employed by Hitchcock. It allows the audience to see the exposition quickly at the beginning of the movie and does not have it intrude on the story. Much like his cameo appearances. He appears here in a photograph Tony shows Charles Swann. It appears about 20 minutes into the picture.

Knott’s story is not that original. A husband wants to kill his wealthy wife for the insurance money. It is the motive in countless suspense or mystery stories. What makes this so suspenseful is that Ray Milland’s character, Tony, sets out how the murder will be committed. From there the audience is hooked as to how everything should go. It is up to Knott and in the movie Hitchcock to introduce devices that stall the plan and make the audience squirm as they wait for Grace Kelly to be murdered. It is suspense at its most basic, but most brilliant. A key aspect to making the suspense work is the way Ray Milland acts. He is a suave criminal who is completely confident in his ability. He meticulously blackmails common criminal Charles Swann, played by Anthony Dawson, to help him murder his wife. Throughout the picture, the audience wants Tony to be successful. He has gotten us to believe that murder is a perfectly innocent thing to do, like buying a car.

Another interesting aspect of this movie is that it was released in 3D. Just like today, in the 1950s the 3D craze was in. Most famously The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) was shot in this way. Hitchcock had amazing foresight, one of the qualities which make his movies so wonderful for today’s audiences, and felt that the 3D craze was just a fad. In order to not ruin his movie, but still give in to the 3D crazy studio bosses,

Hitchcock used to form sparingly, but effectively. The most breathtaking example of 3D occurred while Grace Kelly was being strangled. At one point she reaches back for a pair of scissors. For an audience watching this in 3D it seemed like she was reaching out at them. In today’s prints without the 3D, the shot is still stunning. Ray Milland gives a great performance. As does Grace Kelly, who seems unaware of the whole thing. Robert Cummings as Mark, the American, is good in a supporting role. As is detective, and constant Hitchcock supporting actor, John Williams.

Anyone interested in the art of suspense needs to see this movie. It should be taught in film and writing classes as textbook examples of how to manipulate an audience.


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Movie Review: VERTIGO (1958) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak
Review by Steven Painter


A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend’s wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.


Vertigo (1958) is the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s four straight masterpieces of the late-50s and early-60s (North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds being the others). It also might be the best of the four. It is the most complex.

The story revolves around Scotty Ferguson, played by James Stewart, who is a retired detective in San Francisco. Ferguson retires after coming down with arachnophobia. The move opens with a rooftop chase. Scotty and another officer are hot on the trail of a criminal. They jump from roof to roof. The other officer makes the jumps fine, but Scotty has trouble on one. The officer stops his pursuit to help Scotty. Unfortunately for the two, Scotty has a case of vertigo and the officer loses his balance, falling from the roof.

While trying to get over his arachnophobia, Scotty spends a lot of time with Midge, a former fiancée, who is nothing more than an interesting character. In fact, she is basically forgotten in the second half of the movie for some reason. She is basically someone who is inserted for Scotty to talk to. She has some fine qualities, but they are not accented enough in her brief screen time.

Anyway, a former schoolmate of Scotty’s, Gavin, calls him up for a job. At first Scotty refuses — saying he is retired. But Gavin convinces him that the job is good. Scotty is asked to look after Gavin’s wife, Madeline, who seems to believe she is the reincarnation of an ancient relative named Carlota. Carlota had committed suicide and Scotty’s friend feels that Madeline will do the same.

Scotty sees Madeline first in a restaurant and then follows her throughout the next day. He is struck by her. In fact, the audience is captivated by her. Kim Novak, despite her tumultuous relationship with Hitchcock, does a great job in this movie. She is very photogenic and her presence captivates the audience. Hitch also devoted a lot of time to her trivial routines. Or at least what would normally be a trivial routine. Hitch makes sure we pay attention to Novak’s beauty and the beauty of the city.

This is where Vertigo stands out from a lot of Hitchcock movies. The story might be more complex than a lot of his other movies, but the photography is so simple. The city of San Francisco has never looked so good on film. The winding streets, the local shops (Ernie’s was one of Hitch’s favorite restaurants), the Redwood forest, the deep history of the Bay Area, are all brought to life. Of course there is the famous Golden Gate Bridge and the monumental scene where Scotty saves Madeline when she jumps into the bay. Typically movies shot in Technicolor tend to make colors too bright. That is not the case here as all the color saturation seems perfect.

Once Scotty saves Madeline, the two fall in love. Madeline is crazy though. Because of his love for her, Scotty is unable to notice the warning signs of Madeline’s suicide. She and he make a trek down the coast to an old mission. This is where Carlota died — it is where Madeline wants to die. Because of his arachnophobia, Scotty is unable to prevent Madeline from climbing the steps and throwing herself out the bell tower at the mission.

During an inquest, it is found that Madeline died accidentally and Scotty could do nothing to prevent her death. The scenes in the mission bell tower are most famous for Hitchcock’s “Vertigo shot.” The shot that mimics the effect of vertigo was something Hitch had been working on for over 20 years. It was finally perfected here and was done by using miniature models. The camera was moving toward the models while the lens was zooming out. The technique has been used in movies many times since Hitch first pioneered it.

Devastated by another death he feels he could have prevented, Scotty goes into rehab. This is the last time we see Midge, as she and the other doctors are unable to get Scotty back on track. After an unspecified length of time and for some unknown reason, Scotty is taken out of rehab and put back in the real world. Here he drifts along thinking about Madeline. One day, while walking along the street, Scotty notices a girl who looks a lot like Madeline. He stalks his prey to her hotel where he makes his move. The girl’s name is Judy. After some resistance she agrees to go out with Scotty. After their first date, in which Scotty talks a lot about Madeline, it is revealed to the audience that Judy is in fact Madeline. Kim Novak plays both characters and just has dyed her hair. Although there are times when it seems that she has done more than just dye her hair to change from Madeline to Judy.

This would be a good time to mention that Novak was not Hitch’s first choice for the role. He wanted to use Vera Miles. But since it took so long for a script to be written, Miles was unable to be used because she got pregnant. So Novak was used and Hitch didn’t like her. The two didn’t get along. Novak had other ideas on how the play the character. Despite the tension, the performance on the screen is great.

Scotty decides to remake Judy in the model of Madeline. Of course Judy resists this. She had been hired by Gavin to play Madeline once in order to cover up the murder of Gavin’s real wife, the real Madeline. Since Scotty had arachnophobia, something Gavin knew, Scotty would be unable to save Madeline when she “jumped” from the bell tower. In fact, Judy ran up the bell tower where Gavin threw his wife’s body off.

This is not realized by Scotty until the fully remade Judy puts on a necklace that had belonged to Madeline and Carlota before her. Obsessed with the crime, Scotty forces Judy back to the mission and up the steps of the bell tower. In triumph, Scotty makes it to the top. In tragedy, footsteps are heard coming up the stairs and Judy jumps out of the tower in one of the most frightening scenes of the Hitchcock cannon.

Vertigo is a masterpiece plain and simple. It is regarded highly by critics, scholars and audiences. The main reason for this can not be found, at least to me. It has some sort of quality that just makes it enjoyable to watch. Maybe it is the complex story. Maybe it is the luscious scenery. Maybe it is the performance of Jimmy Stewart. Maybe it is the chemistry between Stewart and Kim Novak. Whatever it is, this movie is a must see for anyone who likes movies.



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Movie Review: NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Classic Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
Review by Steven Painter

IMDB fan rating: 8.4/10


A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.


In 1935 Alfred Hitchcock made a movie called The 39 Steps about a man who is falsely accused of murder and is chased throughout the Scottish countryside by the police and a group of spies before clearing his name. Nearly 25 years later, Hitchcock made a similar movie, this time based in America, called North by Northwest (1959).

What separates North by Northwest from the majority of Hitchcock’s wrong man accused movies is that there is a lot of humor here. The talented Cary Grant plays the lead role of Roger Thornhill. Grant had been a huge success in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940). He had also been one of Hitchcock’s favorite actors to use.

Thornhill is an advertising executive who deals with the hustle and bustle of New York City the best way he can. He always seems to be on the move, but he makes sure he enjoys himself. On the way to lunch one day, he is stopped in a restaurant by some men. The men say they need to talk to him and then they kidnap Thornhill. He is taken out to the countryside where the kidnappers believe he is government agent named George Kaplan, a man who is supposed to be hot on their trail as the kidnappers are doing some spying on the U.S. government.

The spies are never specified as to their country of origin or really what the significance is of what they are after. Microfilm is what drives these spies, we find out. This is the largest McGuffin used in Hitchcock’s movies. It is merely a device to further the story, but matters little as the real story is about the relationships between the people in the movie.

Thornhill denies being Kaplan to no avail. The kidnappers decide to get him drunk and then set him loose on a drive through the countryside. This scene is similar to the one in Notorious (1946) where a drunken Ingrid Bergman takes a wild car ride with Cary Grant. Even the scene in To Catch a Thief (1955) with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant comes to mind. Grant seems to find himself in dangerous automobile situations when working with Hitchcock. He was even in a treacherous car ride in Suspicion (1941), just before Joan Fontaine gave her Oscar winning speech.

Getting back to the story, Grant ends up drunk in a police station and has to call his mother for help. The mother is a frequent character in Hitchcock movies. Thornhill’s mothers might be the most quirky of all Hitchcock ones. Anyway, Thornhill explains that he was kidnapped and the cops go with him to the countryside estate where the kidnappers are. At least that is where they were. No one knows what Thornhill is talking about. They say the house belongs to a man who is a part of the United Nations.

Embarrassed, Grant goes to the United Nations to find the man who owns the estate. This is an important scene in the movie and one that almost didn’t happen. The government would not allow Hitchcock to film on the UN property. So Hitch asked if he could go in to make measurements so they could rebuild some of the building in the studio. Hitch snuck a camera into the building and got some of the great shots used in the movie illegally.

Thornhill goes to the UN where the man he is looking for is killed. Stabbed in the back by someone. Thornhill is the only one around and he pulls the knife out of the man’s back. Being the UN, there are photographers around and Thornhill is captured while holding the knife over the dead man. He is obviously branded as the murderer. Now the situation is set up: Thornhill is on the run from the spy ring because they think he is Kaplan. He is also on the run from the police because they believe he killed the man in the UN.

At this point we cut away from Thornhill’s troubles and listen in to a meeting in Washington. Here it is explained by government officials that there is no man named Kaplan. He was just made-up to keep the spy ring occupied while the real secret agent infiltrates them. Since Thornhill has become the target of the spy ring, the government officials believe all is well. No sense in disrupting their good fortune by telling Thornhill that there is no Kaplan, although it would mean saving his life.

Thornhill makes his way onto a train headed toward Chicago, where Kaplan is supposed to be at this point. On the train he meets the cool blonde Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint. In a scene similar to that of The 39 Steps, Thornhill is on the run from the police and ends up “accidentally” stepping into the cabin of the cool blonde. Unlike in The 39 Steps, here Eve accepts the advances of Thornhill.

The train makes it to Chicago where Eve makes sure she handles all the details between Thornhill and Kaplan, as it would be a bad idea to have a wanted man picked up in a public phone booth. Eve says Kaplan will meet Thornhill at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. So Thornhill gets on the bus and heads from the city to farmland.

The famous crop duster scene occurs here. Hitchcock took the typical cliché of being set up from the dark alleys of the major metropolitan area to the warm sunshiny cornfields of the Midwest. Film noir this is not, but it is suspenseful.

Getting chased by a crop duster would make anyone angry and Thornhill is just that as he makes it back to Chicago. He discovers that Eve has been playing him for a sap and vows vengeance on her as he discovers she has been palling around with Philip Vandamm, played by James Mason, the head of the spy ring.

To give a quick recap of what happens, the officials in Washington step in to help Thornhill out as he has almost blown the cover of their secret agent, Eve, while trying to embarrass here at an auction. The officials take Thornhill to Mount Rushmore where he is briefed on the situation. A plan is executed, Thornhill is almost executed, and the movie ends with a harrowing trip around the monuments of Mount Rushmore. Like the UN building, Hitch was unable to film on the monuments — something about defacing them by having people run over the faces. It didn’t matter, as they were recreated in the studio.

North by Northwest is one of Hitchcock’s best movies. It is also one of his most beloved. This is because the movie is filled with plenty of suspense, plus an equal amount of comedy. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are a wonderful team on-screen and James Mason plays a wonderful bad guy. This is simply an enjoyable movie for people of all tastes.

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Movie Review: POINT BREAK (2015)

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point_break_posterPOINT BREAK (USA/China/Germany 2015) *1/2
Directed by Ericson Core

Review by Gilbert Seah

POINT BREAK is a remake of the Kathryn Bigelow 1991 hit film starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Bigelow is a female director able to create big hits with strong male content action films like THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, STRANGE DAYS and my favourite and her first film, NEAR DARK. Director Ericson Core has tough shoes to fill.

The surfing definition of POINT BREAK refers to the type of long-lasting wave found off a coast with a headland or point. A point break is formed when a swell moves around the land almost at a right angle to the beach and a break which begins near the point gradually progresses along the wave. Bigelow’s film involves a FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers disguising themselves as surfers.

The difference in the new POINT BREAK is a series of robberies done by not surfers but extreme sport specialists. They do the big surf in the last climatic scene but engage too, in other sports such as snowboarding, rock climbing and wingsuit flying.

The story of the new POINT BREAK involves a young FBI agent, Utah (Luke Bracey) infiltrating a team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists. He engages in this quest as redemption after losing his brother in an extreme sport accident. Deep undercover, and with his life in danger, he strives to prove these athletes are the architects of the mind-boggling crimes that are devastating the world’s financial markets.

Newcomer Luke Bracey delivers a weak performance. With his blond hair and chiseled body, he looks like a model in many scenes with his perfect blond hair flung across his face. Delroy Lindo playing Utah’s boss fairs worse. All he does is bitch about Utah’s job. Utah takes the risks and fights the bad guys but his boss keeps complaining and giving Utah a hard time. Edgar Ramirez (an up and coming star, his last film JOY), who plays bad guy Bodhi, cannot help much either.
The film contains some good scenes involving extreme sports. The rock climbing, surfing and motorbike segments are well shot. But the action and fight sequences lack any excitement.

The plot lacks credibility. The eight ordeals that Bodhi seeks make little sense. He ends up completing seven with the last one left in limbo. Utah somehow manages to figure out all the ordeals Bodhi has completed, something hardly believable.

POINT BREAK which costs close to $100 million only made $10 million domestic the first weekend. However, being a Chinese and German co-production, it opened elsewhere a week before North America grossing a remarkable $50 million, which helps the poor domestic numbers. Still, POINT BREAK is far from being a satisfying action flick. The film sags after the first 15 minutes and picks up just a little towards the end. The open ending does not help either. Action fans prefer closure. Open endings are more suited to artsy films which POINT BREAK definitely isn’t.

POINT BREAK ends up the most boring action film of 2015.

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DETECTIVE Stories from the Writing and Film Festival

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See the best of Detective Stories, Screenplays, and Short Films:

Action, USA

April 2014 Reading
by Ibba Armancas

May 2014 Reading
Written by GK Parker

“Ideology of Cops Scene” from RUSHING WITNESS
September 2014 Reading
Written by Tuvia Solomon

November 2014 Reading
Written by Tom Pavloc

June 2015 Reading
Written by Arthur Holden

February 2015 Reading
Written by Angelina Carkic

April 2015 Reading
Written by Niel Thompson

February 2015 Reading
Written by J. Alan Hostetter

March 2015 Reading
Written by Alexandre Kounde

Written by Carl A. Chase

    * * * * *

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