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:: Friday, JAN. 29 - Thursday, FEB. 4 ::

Editor's note: The Yuri Norstein screening at the Film Studies Center would have been in the Crucial Viewing section if it was not sold out. We include a write up in Also Recommended up for informational purposes. For those who were unable to reserve a space, the Complete Works of Yuri Norstein DVD is available for sale (Facets, Amazon, etc.) and rent (Odd Obsession, Facets, etc.).


Jeff Kreines and Joel DeMott's SEVENTEEN (Documentary Revival)
Block Cinema (Northwestern University) - Friday, 7pm

For a director who has devoted decades (and hours upon hours of screen time) to recording American institutions, Frederick Wiseman has captured remarkably few American lives. In the early 1980s, documentary teams like Nick Broomfield & Joan Churchill and Joel DeMott & Jeff Kreines adopted Wiseman's formal rigor and subject matter and, by shifting the scope from macro to micro, created films at once more radical and more human. For an illustration of the value in considering the individual within the institution, contrast BASIC TRAINING with SOLDIER GIRLS, or better yet, HIGH SCHOOL (which screened last week in Block's Teen Screen series) with SEVENTEEN. Commissioned by PBS as part of the Middletown Film Project, a Wiseman-esque, six-pronged exploration of life in Muncie, Indiana (which also included direct cinema pioneer Richard Leacock's powerful COMMUNITY OF PRAISE), SEVENTEEN indelibly tracks the interracial love life and social circle of foul-mouthed high school senior Lynn Massie. With mind-boggling coverage and astonishing intimacy (achieved over the course of an 18-month shoot), DeMott and Kreines cultivated a seemingly telepathic rapport with their subjects, and their dedication shows in the film's dense characterizations. In accordance with its subjects, SEVENTEEN is unabashedly emotional, and it's to the filmmakers' great credit that Lynn and her classmates come across as hilarious, irritating, charming, irresponsible, surprising, obnoxious, exuberant, heartfelt, and contradictory - often all at once. Due to its casual portrayal of typical high school behavior like teen drug abuse, pregnancy, and racism, the film was deemed unfit for broadcast in the American homes in which these same activities were taking place. Any Midwesterner will recognize this chaotic parade of home ec classes, keggers, cars, and parking lots as surely (and mortifyingly) as their own yearbook.  Despite a strong critical reputation, SEVENTEEN has existed as little more than an exalted rumor since its original theatrical release; any Chicago cinephiles without tickets to see Yuri Norstein on Friday night would be insane to pass this screening up. (1983, 120 min, 16mm) MK
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Films by Marie Menken (Experimental Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Tuesday, 7pm

Marie Menken was a giant force in life and in cinema.  She was immensely beloved by and influential on the generation of filmmakers that included Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Andy Warhol. She took the handheld 16mm Bolex camera and found the poetry and the spirit in every object in her world. In the Hagia Sofia and around Isamu Noguchi's sculptures, that poetry is perhaps more easily found by her inquisitive dancing camera. But in her masterpiece, the superb NOTEBOOK (1940-1962) the masterful connectedness of her eye, her hand, and her camera is what creates the poetry. As Jonas Mekas wrote: "She filmed with her entire body, her entire nervous system....She took the film (the non-narrative film, the poetic film, the language of film) in a completely new direction, away from classic filmmaking and into a new adventure." Sixteen more titles will be screened, including other highly regarded work: GLIMPSE OF THE GARDEN (1957), ARABESQUE FOR KENNETH ANGER (1958-61), and GO GO GO (1962-64). (1940-68, approx. 99 min total, 16mm) JM
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Hong-Jin Na's THE CHASER (New Korean)
Facets Cinémathèque - Check Reader Movies for showtimes

The defining trait of most serial killer movies is the idea that serial killers are more interesting than the regular people chasing them. It's also often the problem with them, too. The investigators either become paper-thin dramatic foils for our beloved villains (who in turn become showcases for the idea that misanthropy is inherently charming) or have to be "troubled" (results may vary; William Petersen's Will Graham, in MANHUNTER, takes that characterization to its poetic extreme). Hong-Jin Na's scenario for THE CHASER is essentially based on giving the middle finger to that convention, as well as to the equally common ploy of making the killer's apprehension the film's climax. Here, the ex-cop-turned-pimp investigating the crimes is more interesting than the sorta boring dude he pursues and catches within the first 40 minutes. The guy even confesses. But the script doesn't let the investigators off easy: the confession's inadmissible, so for most of the rest of the movie, our pimp and his former colleagues have to scramble and find evidence (and a missing woman) before the 12 hours they're legally allowed to hold a suspect without evidence are up. Besides a clever script - and the shot where Yun-seok Kim whacks a guy over the head with a folding chair - what THE CHASER has to recommend it is its first half-hour, cut very quickly but almost never between the same takes. Every edit instead brings a new image - and not just of lowlifes, but low life. Too often in film, the criminal (under)world is a place in stasis. But THE CHASER's Nighttown is a place where people actually live and work, like in a Yuzo Kawashima movie. None of that "it's hard out there for a pimp" nonsense - it's a hard world, period. Everybody here has pincers for hands. Na doesn't marvel, and it gives the film a criminal vigor. (2008, 125 min, 35mm) IV
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Thomas Comerford's THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE (Experimental Doc)
Conversations at the Edge at the Gene Siskel Film Center - Thursday, 6pm

A fitting remembrance of the passing of the indomitable Howard Zinn would be spending an evening with the work of Chicago-based Tom Comerford this coming Thursday. His newest film, both quiet and compelling, collages together the story of the treaty that established the boundary between Native-American land and Settler territory in the locale we now know as Roger's Park. THE INDIAN BOUNDARY LINE is an extension of the vocabulary Comerford develops in his earlier pinhole pieces. He builds site-specific histories of local places inviting the viewer to sit in these locations and re-walk their paths. A regionally-scaled piece, it provides a space for us to consider the look of the land before we were born and the decisions, political and personal, that paved the way for us to live here now. As Chicagoans, we get to recognize some of these spaces as our own, which make us culpable members of the history that has slowly stripped away almost every reference to the area's original inhabitants. Playing on the tensions between the conditions of the two worlds present and past, comfortable and unconquered, developed and free, Comerford's movie displays a resonant compassion and a visual patience that infuses forgotten history with new life. Showing with Comerford's LAND MARKED / MARQUETTE. Comerford in person. (2010 and 2005, 75 min total, Digibeta and 16mm) CL
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Claire Denis' 35 SHOTS OF RUM (New International)
Music Box - Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am

[We rarely run the a capsule two weeks in a row, but we're so impressed with Denis' film and want to make sure procrastinators take note of its last two screenings at the Music Box - Ed.] Claire Denis is the greatest director of our time. Every new film of hers provides sufficient evidence to prove that statement. Let's take the case of 35 SHOTS OF RUM, which isn't her newest film (that would be WHITE MATERIAL), but the newest to screen in Chicago. 35 SHOTS is set, like her earlier NENETTE & BONI, in a small world, one that consists largely of a handsome, quiet train operator approaching 50 (Alex Descas, who gets better with every gray hair) and his beautiful college student daughter (Mati Diop). Crossing over their borders are three intruders: a neighbor (Gregoire Colin, almost as familiar a face in Denis' films as Descas) threatening to move away while playing out a sort of romance with the daughter; the train operator's on-and-off girlfriend (Nicole Dogue), a cab driver that he tries to keep at arm's length; and Rene (pensive Julieth Mars Toussaint), the train operator's melancholic ex-colleague. There are a few locations: two apartments in Paris, two bars, a balcony, a car, a classroom, a locker room, a train, an apartment in Hamburg. What Denis is able to make out of these elements isn't a lesson in economy, but a story of how the most mundane things (a For Sale sign, a blue door, two rice cookers, a cerulean table top, an iPod's white headphones, a bar's asparagus-colored walls, The Commodores' post-Lionel Richie hit "Nightshift") and gestures (half-hearted dancing, a kiss on the cheek, a lean, a glance) acquire meaning in our lives, and how, through that shared meaning, we come to understand one another. Denis' previous non-documentary feature, THE INTRUDER, was arguably the most revolutionary film since Tati's PLAYTIME (which screens next month at the Film Center). It rediscovered of the world by divorcing itself from consciousness. It wasn't concerned with who was experiencing what or why, or the traditional delineations of character and time. 35 SHOTS OF RUM rediscovers both character and time by showing us things that seem to lie outside both. (2008, 100 min, 35mm) IV
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Yuri Norstein's TALE OF TALES (Animation Revival)
Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) - Friday, 7pm (SOLD OUT)

Every seat's already been reserved for the Film Studies Center's free screening of TALE OF TALES. The director, Yuri Norstein, will be in attendance; we therefore have no other course of action but to advise readers to use bluffing, forgery, subterfuge, bribery, blackmail, disguise, or the trusty chloroform-soaked rag to get in. It's time to exercise the criminal element inherent to cinephilia. The promise of seeing TALE OF TALES projected - and of seeing the elusive Norstein work (he'll be making a few drawings in the course of the evening) - is worth a few misdemeanor convictions. Either that, or you can show up and hope someone doesn't claim their ticket by 6:40. "Why should I care?" you ask. "Because TALE OF TALES is one of the one of the great works of 20th century art," I say, "and Norstein is a capital-P Poet." A few (film) comparisons: NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, MY FRIEND IVAN LAPSHIN, MURIEL, THE MIRROR. During the 1970s, Norstein made animated films as though the form had been invented for him, if not by him. His animation is never in imitation of live action and his cartoons are full of examples of techniques only possible in an animated film: the figures coming to life out of frescoes and mosaics and the massed armies galloping under a sky of cracked paint in THE BATTLE OF KERZHENETS (co-directed with Ivan Ivanov-Vano, a justly legendary fellow member of the Soyuzmultfilm studio); the playful changes in size and shape of THE FOX AND THE HARE; the shifts in perspective of THE HERON AND THE CRANE, creating moments impossible with a real space and real actors; the cavorting textures of HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG. Just as a way with words or a good eye aren't enough to be a great writer or photographer, so Norstein's genius isn't limited to the quality of his animation. Though it was an intuition for the ideas of the animated film that made Norstein a great animator, what made him our greatest living animator is what he expressed through that intuition. What we can call his "formal purity" is just the most obvious aspect of his emotional purity. In its half-hour, TALE OF TALES presents - in images, references, and metaphors - simple enough for a child to understand what war does to the people of a country, how deeply personal memories can become shared, and the unfathomable trauma of the 20th century. And it has a little cartoon wolf in it. Norstein in person. (1979, 30 min, 35mm) IV
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Zhao Liang's PETITION (Documentary)
Film Studies Center (University of Chicago) - Sunday, 3pm

Over a ten-year period, filmmaker Zhao Liang filmed the masses of people who come to Beijing from all across China to petition against real and perceived injustices. What they discover is that their search for justice is more of a fool's errand: the bureaucratic ineffectiveness and corruption they encountered in their home provinces is just as rife in the capital. Many of these petitioners spend years pursuing their case; they are trapped in a fruitless Kafkaesque situation but are unable or unwilling to give it up. Meanwhile, they are reduced to extreme poverty, living in squalid shantytowns, makeshift tents, and under bridges. Zhao works in a semi-verite style; his observational approach captures the daily existence of the petitioners visiting the petition office, cooking, finding or making shelter, getting arrested, and avoiding the brutal retrievers sent to return them home. But Zhao is not invisible. He interviews many of the petitioners and has developed a level of familiarity with them over the decade of filming. One woman and her daughter serve as a thread through the film; we see the girl grow up as her mother continues to right the wrong of her husband's death. Zhao becomes a participant in the action he is filming; he becomes a tacit abettor of change in the girl's life and attempts to provide some comfort to her mother. The intimacy he develops with them and with others allows his subjects a humanity and emotional connection that would have not been possible with a more distanced approach. Zhao is traversing a middle-ground between Frederick Wiseman's institutional portraits and the individual portraiture of SEVENTEEN (see above). Ultimately PETITION is a powerful and affecting (and sometimes shocking) look at how social and political dysfunction leads to ruined lives and tragic consequences. Zhao Liang in person. Introduced by Ling Zhang, PhD student, Department of Cinema and Media Studies. (2009, 124 min, DVD) PF
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Luchino Visconti's THE DAMNED (Italian Revival)
Museum of Contemporary Art - Saturday and Sunday, 1pm

THE DAMNED is Luchino Visconti's most polarizing film, an allegory about the rise of Nazism staged like a night at the opera. That it's an intoxicating piece of filmmaking (The colors seem to be painted in oil) is beyond dispute; the argument has to do with the devotion of so much technical mastery to so distasteful a concept. THE DAMNED has passionate followers, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who called it his favorite movie. It's easy to see why: Visconti's highly artificial approach to difficult history anticipates Fassbinder's own BRD Trilogy. But the film has a sustained intensity that merits comparisons to Verdi or Wagner rather than Strindberg or Sirk. Visconti views the central industrial family, modeled after the Krupps, as mythological creatures, and he intends to evoke Germany's sins in their reprehensible acts. Those acts include pedophilia, incest, and patricide (touchstones of 19th-century opera) as well as profiting from fascism; clearly, Visconti is not after "realism." He can only conceive of Nazism as the ultimate affront to good taste, but in achieving a style so resolutely beautiful he allows full expression of that period's absolute ugliness. The talented cast includes Dirk Bogarde and Ingmar Bergman regular Ingrid Thulin. (1969, 156 min, 35mm) BS
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Peter Bogdanovich's NICKELODEON (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Friday and Tuesday, 6pm

Quentin Tarantino has said that Peter Bogdanovich "died for our sins," and this rarely revived comedy may help explain that cryptic praise. Bogdanovich spent the 1970s trying to forge a mainstream American cinema informed by academic film study and Baby Boomer cinephilia; despite a few early successes (peaking with THE LAST PICTURE SHOW in 1971), his next several films were commercial failures that weren't popular with many critics either. In retrospect, the movies are fascinating experiments in personal filmmaking that remain instructive regardless of the results. NICKELODEON comes from the middle of Bogdanovich's ambitious period. It's a sentimental piece set in the early days of American filmmaking, with Ryan O'Neal and Burt Reynolds in the leads and a lot of elaborate gags in tribute to two-reel comedies. "Many viewers found the film too broadly farcical in the first act and too darkly melancholic in the last," Dave Kehr wrote last year, upon the DVD release of Bogdanovich's director's cut. The Film Center gazette doesn't specify whether they're showing the original release or the newer version (we suspect the original, given the running time), but in Kehr's estimation the latter is far superior. The director's cut restores the film to black-and-white as Bogdanovich originally intended (It was shot and released in color); and according to Kehr, "[i]n black and white NICKELODEON is obviously more true to its subject, and it has unexpected emotional effects as well. The broad farce of the first half seem less hysterical and eager to please, and the conflicted emotions and encroaching sense of lost innocence in the second half (a pattern followed by many of Bogdanovich's films) seem more substantial and plangent." Lecture by Virginia Wright Wexman at the Tuesday screening. (1976, 121 min, 35mm) BS
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Elia Kazan's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (American Revival)
Gene Siskel Film Center - Saturday, 3pm and Monday, 6pm

Film history pop trivia might have you believe that Elia Kazan's film version of Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire would have been much better had Jessica Tandy been allowed to transplant her stage performance to screen. However, for anyone with a soft spot for Vivian Leigh's staunch Southern belle act (a la GONE WITH THE WIND), Kazan's film still renders the play into a unique slice of Hollywood melodrama, albeit quite different from Williams' original. The critics at the time agreed. Kazan won 5 Oscars for STREETCAR, and many felt that Brando was born to play Stanley Kowalski. Although Kazan produced a number of plays for the stage and directed many films, STREETCAR was the only time he filmed a play he had previously directed for the stage. Melodrama aside, it endures as a haunting dissection of female desire and denial - a stunning and vicious pendulum of violence: physical, sexual, and linguistic. (1951, 125 min, 35mm) BC
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David Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS (American/Cult Revival)
Doc Films
(University of Chicago) - Wednesday, 7 & 9:30pm
David Cronenberg is the master of squeamishness. DEAD RINGERS is possibly his most exquisitely balanced film. It's the place to start for a novice, containing all of his most cherished themes. The preoccupation with biology, most particularly the shape and function of body cavities; the examination of the way personal identity can be permeable; the meticulous exploration of the ways substances alter perception. What cements the equilibrium is the sober, almost clinical way Cronenberg frames the action, no matter how bizarre the story gets. It's about twin gynecologists and their psychic imbalance, so his tone is entirely appropriate. And because Jeremy Iron's dual performances are so spot on, you'd barely know that special effects were involved at all. Carol Spier's art direction doesn't get nearly enough credit in Cronenberg's oeuvre: DEAD RINGERS is preoccupied with color - the blood red surgical gowns (iconic) contrast brilliantly with pale skin tones and the gray Toronto winter. Details like these do a lot of the heavy lifting. By this point Cronenberg was not a horror filmmaker any longer, if he ever really had been. There's relatively little actual gore onscreen because he's much more interested in heightening our discomfort. He does this by telling rather showing (an extended description of a vagina is both hilarious and unsettling) and by amping up our expectations of witnessing something horrific (as during the lovingly through examinations of gleaming gynecological instruments). And through dialog, of course. You can't beat a line like "Pain creates character distortion. It's simply not necessary." (1988, 99 min, archival 35mm) RC
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Richard Kelly's SOUTHLAND TALES (American Revival)
Doc Films (University of Chicago) - Saturday, 7 and 9:30pm; Sunday, 3:30pm

After NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Richard Kelly's follow-up to DONNIE DARKO was the most divisive US film of 2007. Critics and audiences alike dismissed it, but the impassioned defense among cinephiles included veteran reviewers at the Village Voice, who were all but in awe of the film's attempt to encompass the entire zeitgeist. (Nathan Lee went so far as to name it movie of the year.) A confusing, hallucinatory work, it's difficult to summarize SOUTHLAND TALES' tangle of paranoid sci-fi premises, which touch on federal corruption, terrorism, declining energy sources, Hollywood schlock, and other issues currently plaguing the American psyche. Detractors argued that the satirical free-for-all lacked a cohesive political awareness, but that seems integral to the film's impact: Politics emerge as simply another facet of the contemporary confusion. Where NO COUNTRY was deeply conservative in its structure and iconography, SOUTHLAND TALES was defiant--indeed, anarchic--lashing out at even the desire to be taken seriously while attempting bravura changes in tone and genre. This clash between formal ambition and weird humor is reminiscent of the novels of Thomas Pynchon (to which the movie was sometimes compared), as is Kelly's obsession with pop culture as a distorted mirror of mainstream ideology. Like the intentionally bad songs that litter Pynchon's books, the cast of SOUTHLAND TALES is drawn from the detritus of pop culture, but Kelly still elicits some resonant performances.  Dwayne Johnson (formerly pro wrestler The Rock) is strangely touching as a conservative action star who's lured into an anti-government plot; Sean William Scott (of AMERICAN PIE and DUDE, WHERE'S MY CAR?) also stands out as twin police offers with amnesia; other major roles are played by Saturday Night Live veterans, HIGHLANDER's Christopher Lambert, and Justin Timberlake, who performs a disturbing and brilliantly staged musical number. These screenings of SOUTHLAND TALES are free and replace the previously scheduled THE ROAD. (2007, 144 min, 35mm) BS
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NOTE: Cine-File contributors Ben Sachs and Mike King ponder Richard Kelly's most recent film THE BOX on our blog. View their exchange here.


Bank of America Cinema has a 1945 noir double bill on Saturday at 8pm: Joseph H. Lewis' MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS and Anthony Mann's TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE. 

Also at the Museum of Contemporary Art this week is Federico Fellini's 1976 film FELLINI'S CASANOVA on Saturday and Sunday at 3:30pm.

Chicago Filmmakers screens New Animation Showcase on Friday at 8pm. Included among the fifteen shorts are local artists Andy Cahill's TRAPEN HOLE and Lilli Carre's HEAD GARDEN; also showing is Bill Plympton's SANTA: THE FASCIST YEARS.

On Friday at 8pm The Nightingale presents Experiments in Realtime2, which promises a potpourri of experimental realtime audio/video performances. 

Also at Doc Films (University of Chicago) this week: on Friday night and Sunday afternoon it's Joel and Ethan Coen's A SERIOUS MAN; Sunday is Howard Hughes' 1943 western THE OUTLAW; Karel Reisz's 1960 drama SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING is showing neither of those times, but rather on Monday; John Ford's great 1950 western RIO GRANDE is the early show Thursday; and Karl Krogstad's 1973 film student porn feature THE LAST BATH is the late show Thursday. 

Also at the Music Box this week: two classics by Carol Reed, THE THIRD MAN AND ODD MAN OUT receive a run; Terry Gilliam's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS continues; Jacques Becker's 1954 French gangster film TOUCHEZ PAS AUS GRISBI is the other Saturday and Sunday matinee; Wolfgang Petersen's THE NEVERENDING STORY and Wes Anderson's FANTASTIC MR. FOX are the Friday and Saturday midnight films; and MYSTERY TEAM, with internet comedians DERRICK Comedy in person, is Thursday at 7:30pm.

Also at the Gene Siskel Film Center this week: Elia Kazan's 1947 BOOMERANG is Saturday and Wednesday; local filmmaker Justine Nagan's new documentary TYPEFACE plays for a week. Nagan in person on Friday (which is SOLD OUT) and Sunday; local filmmaker Steve James' new documentary NO CROSSOVER: THE TRIAL OF ALLEN IVERSON screens Sunday and Thursday, with James in person at both shows; other documentaries this week are AMERICAN ARTIFACT: THE RISE OF AMERICAN ROCK POSTER ART (week run, with director Merle Becker and poster artists Jay Ryan, Mat Daly, Steve Ryan, and Jim Pollock in person at the 8pm Saturday show), Brendan Canty and Christoph Green's ASHES OF AMERICAN FLAGS: WILCO LIVE (Friday, Saturday, and Monday), Kimberly Reed's PRODIGAL SONS (Sunday), and Don Hahn's WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (Wednesday, with director Hahn and producer Peter Schneider in person); on Tuesday at noon is a free Oscar Nominations Panel featuring Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune film critic and co-host of At the Movies), A.O. Scott (The New York Times film critic and co-host of At the Movies), Janet Davies (ABC-7 Chicago entertainment reporter and host of 190 North) and Hank Sartin (Time Out Chicago film editor).

Also at Block Cinema (Northwestern University) this week is the 1995 documentary THE WAR WITHIN: A PORTRAIT OF VIRGINIA WOOLF on Saturday at 2pm and Kimberly Reed's PRODIGAL SONS on Thursday, with Reed in person. Both of these screenings are free.The Portage Theater screens a quadruple feature on Saturday staring at 4pm, with KING KONG ESCAPES, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, and VAN HELSING: THE LONDON ASSIGNMENT.

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CINE-LIST: January 29 - February 4, 2010


CONTRIBUTORS / Beth Capper, Rob Christopher, Michael King, Christy LeMaster, Josh Mabe, Ben Sachs, Ignatius Vishnevetsky, Darnell Witt

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