Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Nine Alignments Of Movies

If reading’s not your thing, click here to skip ahead a bit. Otherwise…

Before there were movies, before men and women gallivanted in front of a camera, tugging at our heartstrings, before Spielberg and Kubrick and Scorsese, before even time itself, there was a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. At least, it started before I was born, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s right around when time began. My birth was apparently quite a hassle—I came out mouth first and the doctor thought I had a gaping hole in my head. I mean, I did, but he thought it was an unnatural hole when really I was just hungry. After that, it was smooth sailing for 12 or 13 years, until…

Doesn't a game that takes place in your collective imagination sound COOL?!

My friend, tempter that he was, showed me the magical world of D&D. And like any self-respecting nerd, I salivated over descriptions of Barbarians killing things in a raging frenzy, over Druids cavorting sexily with nature, and over Sorcerers who could bend the world to their will thanks to the dragon blood that coursed through their veins. Sure, at high school I was a pimply outcast, but in the game I could be whoever I wanted! I could be powerful! There was no way the jocks could defeat my level 13 Wizard and his maximized fireball spell.

Now I’ve grown up and of course become absurdly popular, but you know that. What you didn’t know is that I owe it all to Dungeons & Dragons. The tools I learned in those books were the keys to understanding and conquering life. Whenever I meet someone, I figure out what Character Class they would be. The hot girl at the party is a Rogue, trying to weasel drinks out of me but hiding her true motives. That guy everyone likes is a Bard, using his charisma and good looks to win hearts and minds, but deep down, he has no real skills. That dude wearing resplendent white full plate and wielding a dazzling longsword in one hand and an oversized cross in another is a Paladin, trying to stamp out evil in the name of God. You see, once I classify my competition, it’s easy for me to navigate the ins and outs of that daunting thing known as “basic human interaction.” But the most important tool by far is Alignment.

There are nine Alignments, each a combination of the two Axes.

I'm pretty sure Descartes died graphing on one of these.

On one side, Law and Chaos, on the other, Good and Evil. Put it all together and it looks a little something like this:

Take a moment to classify yourself, then let me know in the comments so I'll be able to interact with you socially.

If people, complicated beings that they are, could be broken up into 9 easy categories, then why shouldn’t movies? Exactly. They should.

Don’t worry, good citizens. Russ Nickel is on the job.

The system of giving movies stars, thumbs, and scores is as antiquated as it is uninformative. For years, we have abided by these subpar schemes, too afraid to stand up and say enough. But we need fear no longer, for I, intrepid innovator that I am, have devised an entirely new method of judging cinema, and I call it:



The Nine Alignments of Movies






Below, you’ll find each category expertly explained, if I do say so myself.

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Spectacular Gold

We know them when we see them—movies that spin tales so brilliant even Rumpelstiltskin would be proud. They win awards for their acting and direction, but they’re not so artsy that they bore us common folk (not that you’re common). Yes, these are the films that help critics and bumpkins set aside their differences and embrace in the joy of cinema.

My Pick: Gladiator. To answer Peter Graves’ question, I do like movies about gladiators, especially this one. Russell Crowe is a champion (just like all Russells), the plot is poignant, and the action is awesome. It’s nearly universally praised, and it boasts an award for Best Picture.

Other Examples: Forrest Gump, Groundhog Day, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, Pretty much all Pixar movies

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Spectacular Fluff

The acting may not be award-worthy, the plot may be absurd, and there might be a distinct lack of originality, but these movies are fun dammit! Of medium quality, film snobs will ignore them, but you and I know better. Good work, us.

My Pick: Independence Day. Will Smith entertains with his alien-punching and general badassery, Jeff Goldblum amuses with his ability to hack into a computer system of alien origin when most of us can barely make Windows Vista do what we want, and Bill Pullman rouses our patriotism with his epic speech. Plus, there’s an awesome Russell in this movie too. Unlike him, however, I certainly haven’t quit drinking.

Other Examples: Live Free or Die Hard, Troy, The Notebook, How to Train Your Dragon, Basically every good action movie

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Spectacular Crap

My personal favorite category. Riddled with terrible dialogue, these movies are endlessly quotable, and the outlandish setpieces are a blast to describe to your friends! Whether it’s wolves on a boat in the middle of a city street or a bus that has to ramp off a freeway because it can’t slow down, these films’ plots are laughably over-the-top, the characters’ motivations are bipolar, and there’s usually a preposterous amount of illogical action. What’s not to love?

My Pick: G.I. Joe. Just listen to this dialogue:

Cobra Commander: “This will only hurt a little. What comes next, more so.” Very reassuring, doc.

Zartan: “Oh. That’s right. You don’t kill women.” Storm Shadow: “For you, Zartan, I’d make an exception.” Buuuuuurn!!!

Storm Shadow: “When our master was killed, you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.” How fitting!

James McCullen: “Once unleashed, the nanomites will not stop. Ever.” They won’t stop EVER?!? That doesn’t sound like a smart plan, seeing as they can eat entire cities.

As for ridiculous action sequences, the Eiffel tower explodes (a digitally embiggened version of the Eiffel tower, no less—you know, to make it more epic), there’s an underwater base that gets crushed when a bunch of ice sinks onto it, and two ninjas duke it out in a giant reactor core. That, my friends, is some Spectacular Crap.

Other Examples: Speed, The Day After Tomorrow, Speed Racer, The Core, Most disaster movies

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Standard Gold

They come out every year, the run-of-the-mill, Oscar-hopeful films. Brimming with great actors, these movies deal with whichever depressing issue currently holds the nation’s attention. The director is probably foreign and it’s almost certainly a period piece. Perhaps a young white boy with a mental disability learns to play the piano with the help of his black football teammate despite the fact that they’re both orphans and everyone on the team persecutes them for their friendship. Or maybe there’s a war on, and only the fastest warhorse the world’s ever seen can turn the tide, but how is it supposed to run with a degenerative leg condition, especially when the only one standing up for him is a plucky cavalryman who’s coping with his homosexuality in an oppressive and close-minded society?

My Pick: True Grit. Great actors? Check: Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Great director? Check: The Coen Brothers. Heartwarming and semi-tragic tale? Check: the drunkard who cares only about himself learns the value of caring about others. The problem is that there’s just not much to this movie. The acting and dialogue are superb, but the story is unexciting. There’s little emotional attachment, and therefore it’s only somewhat enjoyable, even if it is Gold.

Other Examples: Seabiscuit, The Blind Side, Brokeback Mountain, The Pianist, Movies about boxing

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Standard Fluff

Devoid of anything even bordering on original, these films leave absolutely no impression on you. Six months later, you won’t be able to recall more than one or two details, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply means your brain realizes it’s not worth committing the hard drive space to that hour and a half of mindlessness.

My Pick: Clueless. So my parents rented Clueless because they thought it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. We promptly watched it and went on with our lives. A few years later, my parents rented Clueless thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes, I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu, and I say, “I feel like she’s going to get mugged.” My parents brush off the idea as absurd. A mugging in a light-hearted comedy? Never. Then, a few minutes later, boom! She gets mugged. My parents were amazed that I was a psychic, but then we went on with our lives. A few years later my parents rented Clueless, thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu déjà vu. I say the mugging thing, parents brush it off, boom! She gets mugged. I kid you not—we watched this movie THREE times before any of us were able to remember having seen it. Man, were we Clueless. And that, my friends, is Standard Fluff.

Other Examples: I don’t even know. That’s the point right? Every romantic comedy ever. Every subpar action movie. Everything about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Every animated Disney movie in between Mulan and Tangled and all but about three Dreamworks movies.

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Standard Crap

The acting is a few shades short of acceptable, the dialogue is just above cringe-worthy, and the plot is riddled with holes so big you could drive your Hummer through them. Still, you can’t help but enjoy yourself, mostly thanks to the fact that there’s probably a hot girl in it.

My Pick: Fantastic Four. Jessica Alba is good looking. We can all agree on that. And I think some basically entertaining stuff happened. There were special effects and fight scenes and…well I’m not sure what else, but it was enough.

Other Examples: Clash of the Titans, Tron: Legacy, Alexander, Season of the Witch, Most Adam Sandler movies

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Unbearable Gold

It wins all sorts of awards, but for the love of god, why?! Your parents think it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, but apparently we’re jaded since we’ve never known a time when bread required effort on our part. You sit through it because you love your parents, but you’ll harbor that resentment forever. It’s just so slow moving, and there’s so much talking, and Nothing. Ever. Happens.

My Pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Monkeys banging sticks around, 15 minute scenes of a spaceship landing on a planet, 20 minutes of some guy re-experiencing his birth. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, this film is sure to bore anyone who’s seen Star Wars or virtually any other movie. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, and whatever it is goes on for SO LONG. Sometimes I find it hard to keep on living when I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back.

Other Examples: Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Ben-Hur, Master and Commander, Almost anything that’s over 2 hours that adults say you need to watch because it’s a “classic.”

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Unbearable Fluff

With Unbearable Fluff, you’re not quite sure what went wrong. You know you want to stab your eyes out, but you’re almost positive you haven’t slept with your mother. What could it be then? These movies have good actors, maybe even a good premise. You can see how some people might not be driven into a frothing rage by the inanity of it all, and yet you notice foam spewing uncontrollably from your maw. If it were better, maybe you could enjoy it; if it were worse, you could rip on it, but instead it’s in that horrible middle ground, a spiky, castrating, death trap that no one in their right mind wants to straddle.

My Pick: Dinner for Schmucks. ’Twas truly a movie for schmucks. Look at that poster. Even Paul Rudd is ashamed. The only reason he’s involved in this travesty is because he got paid a boatload of money. But what about us saps, the viewers? We had to fork over a very small raft of our own hard-earned moola just to sit through this torture. It had actors with the potential for hilarity, but instead of being funny, this movie was a plodding endeavor in mental anguish. Finally the situations got so painful I had to leave the theater. I wandered around, striking up conversations with the employees I encountered, because I literally could not bear to watch this film. On the plus side, the employees were very friendly.

Other Examples: Meet the Fockers, Across the Universe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Transformers 2, Anything with Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Kevin James, or Ben Stiller that’s more about uncomfortable situations than about clever writing.

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Unbearable Crap

The worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. The unbearablest of the crappiest. These “films” have no redeeming qualities. By the gods, do they suck. Halfway through you have to run to the bathroom to wretch, and the only reason you don’t walk out is because you’re on a hot date. Even that wouldn’t be enough to stop you, but she’s also your ride. If you rented this, you’d watch it on fast forward and then throw the disc in the fire, fees be damned, because you’re doing the world a service by removing even one copy of that abomination from this world. And then you don’t even tell your friends you ever watched it. It’s that embarrassing. Or, if you’re like me, you spend the rest of your mortal existence bashing it, hoping that if you can get enough entertainment out of it that way, maybe, just maybe, the regret and guilt will stop and you’ll be able to sleep again at night.

My Pick: Fucking The Last Airbender. I already spent an entire review explaining why this is my least favorite film of all time, and then I proceeded to give it virtually all of the negative awards in 5¢S’s version of the Oscars, but I’m always willing to write just a little more, for I am driven by a hate so powerful that no matter how much I pour out, I can never be sated. The battle sequences are devoid of excitement and originality, the dialogue is delivered by children who clearly have no grasp on what emotions should look like, and the pacing is too terrible for words. The whole thing is narrated, presumably because Shyamalan was too lazy to explain things with actual scenes, and it was impossible to tell what was going on, though that may have been due to the fact that I spent a great deal of my focus driving a spork into my leg to help distract me from the much greater pain of watching the movie.

Other Examples: The Hottie and the Nottie, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Santa with Muscles, Everything by National Lampoon (ok, except Animal House), Everything by writing team Friedberg and Seltzer (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck, and Scary Movie). If you ignore their first film (Scary Movie, after which they’d used up every idea they ever had), their remaining 5 films have a total of 16% on rottentomatoes.com. 16% total! For 5 films! They’ve been called “evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization’s decline” and “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team.”

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Phew, that was a mouthful. For those of you who managed to read this far, it is now your sworn duty to spread this wonderful, amazing, spectacular and golden new rating system as far and wide as you can manage.

Why? Because it is time for change, my friends. Time to move away from simple numbers and stars. You know as well as I that a 2.5 out of 5 could be a time-sucking romantic comedy just as easily as it could be a life-changingly eyegasming G.I. Joe. It is up to us, armed with this new system, to help viewers everywhere make more informed decisions.

Thus, I rate this post:

Score: 5/5¢

Alignment: Spectacular Gold

If somehow this post leads to internet fame, I swear by Cinæmus, god of film, that I shall sacrifice a small goat in honor of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax.

Written by Russ Nickel

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THOR!!! A Magical Ride on the Bifrost Bridge

By Grabthar's hammer, by the Sons of Warvan, you shall be...avenged!”

I was to be married in but a few hours. Someone had to be, and my Sigma Pi brethren had voted that I was the man to forge an alliance with the Delta Delta Delta chapter. I could no more shirk those duties than I could forsake the bonds of brotherhood, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy my last moments of freedom. There was still time, time before I tied the knot, before the metaphorical Bifröst Bridge was shattered and I could no longer travel as I wished, trapped in the realm of married life.

As my final act of bachelordom, I decided to venture to the theater and see the manliest movie I could: THOR! Hold on, I’ll have to come back to this; it’s time for the ceremony…

Soooo…things didn’t quite go as planned. There was apparently a lot of alcohol involved, and I think, in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe my vows were too slurred, maybe my wife didn’t like that I was grinding on all those other girls, or maybe it was the fact that we’d only known each other for half an hour; but no matter the cause, I’m a free man again, and as my first order of business, I’m supplying you lovely internet people with a review.

In Thor, we are presented with an otherworldly hero of extreme power who hails from the planet Asgard. Thanks to his reckless arrogance, he is stripped of his strength and cast out from his home world, forced to live as a mere mortal on the planet known as Earth. Before he can regain his hammer and his power, he must overcome his faults, thus proving that he is fit to be king. Thor’s comic book plot and over-the-top fantasy could have made it unrelatable, but Chris Hemsworth’s grounding performance saves it from such a fate. He’s chiseled enough to fill schoolgirls’ dreams, but more importantly, he really nails this role. He manages to be spoiled and conceited, yet charming. He is a powerful prince and warrior but somehow hilarious. By the end of the film, he’s the kind of hero you love to root for. And then there’s Natalie Portman, every nerd’s dream. She’s as cute as always here, but unfortunately her character is not particularly relevant.

You know, for a crazy homeless person, he's pretty cut.

In fact, Earth itself isn’t particularly relevant. Most of the movie takes place on Asgard, the Asgardians are the main characters, and all the drama and conflict is between their world and Jötunheim, land of the evil frost giants. Earth is involved only tangentially, connected to these other realms by Yggdrasil, the world tree. A whole bunch of mythology is thrown at us, and though I tried my best to catch it, a great deal went over my head. Although I liked all the Asgardians simply because they were attractive and wore shiny clothing, I found it a bit hard to care about them when my old standby, humanity, was left out of the mix. I mean, Earth is never even in any danger! The trailers make it look like all sorts of evil creatures are going to start flooding our cities, threatening to destroy us with robots that shoot fire from their faces. In reality, only one villain ever comes to Earth to destroy anything. And in fact, its only purpose is to capture Thor—it’s got nothing against us puny humans!

And man are we puny. Natalie Portman’s apprentice tazes Thor, but that’s about the most any of us evolved apes does. Portman herself is just in the movie as a shallow love interest to fulfill the hero-learns-humility-by-falling-in-love trope. Not to say that I wouldn’t fall for her immediately, but Thor spends only one or two days on Earth, and there are very few scenes of him and Portman interacting at all. He does appeal to the scientist in her, however, saying “The answers you seek shall be yours, once I claim what is mine.” (Which, incidentally, is how I’m going to be hitting on all women from now on.) Their romance just didn’t hold water for me, especially since [Minor Spoiler Alert] the movie ends with them worlds apart, longing for each other. There simply wasn’t enough time for their relationship to go from whirlwind romance to the “I’ll spend my life searching for a way to travel through space so we can be together” phase. [End Spoiler Alert]

I am going to be so attracted to their children. Err, you know, when they're grown up.

While those faults keep this movie from achieving true greatness, they certainly don’t prevent it from being basically awesome. Thor is a great character, the other worlds are breathtaking, and there’s a good balance of action and comedy. Plus, Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard, is undeniably badass; he wields a giant golden sword, sports a matching horned helmet, and has bright orange eyes that can see across the cosmos. Also, he’s literally immune to being frozen to death.

Be afraid, children. Heimdall sees EVERYTHING

The only actually bad part of the movie was when Thor supposedly dies. [Spoiler Alert] The main character DOES NOT DIE! I know it’s shocking, but it’s the truth. He’s lying there, all dead like, and the camera just keeps lingering and lingering on a close up of his face. Finally, he grabs his hammer and surges back to life, more powerful than ever now that he’s proven he’s willing to sacrifice himself. The moment is painfully cheesy, and yet, somehow, I found myself cheering. [End Spoiler Alert]

When it comes down to it, Thor is your basic superhero movie. Even though it’s not too original and there’s little sense of danger, the characters are eminently likable, the CGI is stunning, and the action is fun. It’s a lighthearted film, and  unless you try to follow the mythology of it all, you won’t have to think too hard.

Score: 3.5/5 ¢

Alignment: Spectacular Fluff

Most worthless character: Hogun, the token Asian Warrior. All he did was repeat what the other characters were saying in a much more ominous, Asian-y way.

Written by Russ Nickel

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Fast Five: aka Vin Diesel Beats the Shit Out of The Rock

Vin Diesel vs. The Rock. ‘Nuff said.

What’s that, blog reader? It’s not enough? Oh, I see. Here goes, then. The Fast and the Fiveous is a high octane thrill ride that speeds along at a frantic pace, leaving plot and character in the dust. But that’s ok, because all we care about is who wins the race. The movie gets into gear with the opening scene and never lets up. Sure, it’s low quality. I know, the writing is bad and the characters’ choices make no sense. And yes, watching Vin Diesel try to smile is a painful experience. But in the end, you’ll find the whole thing stupidly entertaining.

In fact, it was so stupid that my brain sort of shut off while I was watching and I’m having serious trouble coming up with anything useful to say. Did I already mention that Vin Diesel fights The Rock? Basically, if that sounds good to you, you’re gonna love this movie. Otherwise, steer clear. But if you feel like reading on, be warned that my mind is not firing on all six cylinders. Five Fast Five Furious picks up where the last one left off (as if anyone’s keeping track), with Dom (Vin Diesel) in jail. It takes all of 30 seconds for some stunt driving to flip the prison transport bus he’s on, sending Dom twirling towards freedom–and man does it flip, over and over and over and over, until it comes to its final resting place. Boom: title screen. What an opening. Though there were only 6 people in the theater, it immediately filled with cheers. The movie must have anticipated my fear for all those poor prisoners’ lives, for shortly after the title, we get a news report assuring us that no one was harmed. Dom and co. would never hurt an innocent prisoner.

From there, we launch into a kickass train sequence with all sorts of fighting and stunts that would leave the main characters dead a dozen times over (I’m looking at you, 500 foot fall off a cliff). But who cares? It’s awesome! That’s sort of the theme of Fiveous in case you hadn’t noticed. Unlike Source Code, which fails because it tries to be smart but is instead riddled with errors, this movie succeeds with flying colors. It tries to be dumb, so we watch it on its own terms, accepting everything that doesn’t make sense.

For example, the characters are totally weak and one-note. Doesn’t matter how many cops Vin Diesel kills. He’s not a bad guy. He just loves his sister and gets put in tough situations. We feel so much empathy for that dude. Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) isn’t just a cop who turned against the force and became a car-stealing criminal. No, he’s a guy with a wife. How can you not feel for him? Especially when his wife is extra hot. She is, after all, the lovely Jordana Brewster. She doesn’t do a whole lot, but not only does she have an amazing body, but also she’s pregnant. Gotta care about her if she’s got a baby in her belly. The characters make all sorts of irrational decisions and have no depth, but they’re exactly good enough.

The cops are even worse though. Dwayne Johnson’s motivations are all over the place, and his sexy partner lets her lust for Vin Diesel’s muscles get in the way of her job time and again. In another film, these might be problems, but in Five Furious, everything’s already so ridiculous we just don’t mind. Like I said, we get to see Vin Diesel fight The Rock. That’s all I need, and it’s probably the highlight of the movie. My friends and I kept shouting “Ohhhh” when someone would land a particularly devastating blow (which happened like every other punch). I’m pretty sure the other 3 members of the audience were as into it as we were.

When people weren’t fighting or smashing things, the movie did start to drag, however, and not the race sort of drag. Every once in a while I’d catch myself actually listening to the dialogue, which was a big mistake, because I’d overhear things like this: There’s a basically uncharacterized Hot Girl repairing part of a car or something. The also uncharacterized Asian Guy walks up and says: “You really like doing that stuff, huh?” Hot Girl thinks a normal response to that question might be something along the lines of: “When your life is on the line–that’s when you learn about yourself.” Then Asian Guy says: “That’s a fair deal.” Deal? What deal? Are these people even talking to each other? The exchange makes absolutely no sense, which apparently gets Hot Girl off, cause next she flashes this overly flirtatious look, followed by a cut away. What a beautiful scene. But hell, when the two of them hook up while driving at the end of the film (very dangerous. do not recommend), I was happy for them. Why not?

Why not? I’m pretty sure that’s what the screenwriter must’ve said whenever someone questioned one of his scenes. But it works! I mean, this is an action movie first and foremost. Whether or not it’s a good film boils down to one thing: how much did it kick ass? The answer to that question, my friends, is A Lot. I mean, Dom literally rips a 20 ton bank vault out of a wall. Before this movie, if you’d ask me how many times I could be entertained by seeing a giant bank vault smash a cop car while being dragged along the street chained to two sleek racing vehicles, I’d probably have said four or five times. But now I  know the truth. It’s dozens and dozens of times. Scores of times! Vault smash this car. Vault smash that car. Vault smash one car. Vault smash two cars. I think the movie actually states that the vault smashes every single cop car in all of Rio. A very impressive feat by anyone’s standards, to be sure.

There ya go. Fast Five is pretty awesome. Shut off your brain and turn on your, I dunno, eyes? If you go to this expecting B-grade entertainment, you’ll have a great time. Fast Five does a surprisingly good job of keeping up the excitement at all times, and as long as you don’t listen to the dialogue, there won’t be a single dull moment.

Score: 3.5/5 ¢
Alignment: Spectacular Crap

Was anyone else constantly afraid that Mia might have a miscarriage when she was jumping off of roofs and crashing through windows and flying around hairpin turns?

Written by Russ Nickel

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