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The Lego Movie Unless you're comfortable with hearing the song 'Everything is Awesome" in
your head for the rest of your life, avoid this movie.  It's like "It's A Small World, After All".  You
can't un-hear it.  But with that caveat, this movie is spectacular.  It's inventive, hilarious, and
unlike anything you've seen before.  It's so good that I even like Will Ferrell in it, and that's saying
something.  To tell you the plot would be pointless and would ruin the surprise at the end of the
movie.  Just go see it.  You can thank me later.  (2/17/2014)

Godzilla  This humble website was established in 1999 (hence "In Our Second Century of Serving
America"), so we weren't around to dump on the 1998 version of
Godzilla--which I totally would
have done.  Roland Emmerich, Matthew Broderick, Madison Square Garden...any of this ringing a
bell?  If not, count yourself fortunate--you were lucky to miss it.  But now we have a
Godzilla for
the new millennium, so we can put that unpleasant memory out of our minds.  G'zilla was always
a Pacific Rim kind of guy, so it's nice to see him back on his home turf after his Gotham City
adventure (in which he was a her, but I digress).  I don't know what Honolulu ever did to deserve
getting stomped, but hey, who wouldn't like to see San Francisco taken out?  Brian Cranston and
Juliette  Binoche are with us for all too short a time, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen
and Ken Watanabe take over.  Essentially, they're just providing background noise as we await
'Zilla and his radioactive foes, the MOTU's,   A MOTU is military jargon for "Big Ass Reptile," and
Godzilla--according to Dr. Watanabe--provides Nature's balance to them.  Whatever.  All I know
is that "Nature's balance" took out about half of San Francisco. With all due respect to Raymond
this is the Godzilla you want to see again.  (5/18/2014)

The Past   is an interesting puzzle.  The movie begins as a French/Iranian man returns to Paris
(from Tehran, I guess) to sign his divorce papers.  He's surprised to find that his wife has moved
on to a new guy who seems decent enough.  Her biggest problem is her eldest daughter, whom
we soon discover is not the child of the man from whom she's getting divorced.  As we learn
more about the characters, we find that they all have issues which need to be explored, and as we
peel the proverbial onion, we uncover LOTS of painful memories.  I'm not sure I'd say this is a
great movie, but I was fascinated by the way the story unfolded.  If you don't mind reading
subtitles (and you'll need to, unless you speak both French and Farsi), it's a compelling look at
family dynamics in a family that needs a flow chart to remember who belongs to whom.  

The Good Lie   The good people who brought you The Blind Side are back with a similarly
earnest movie about the Lost Boys of Sudan.  (If you're like 99.99% of Americans who weren't
paying attention at the time, the Lost Boys were refugees of the Sudanese civil war who fled
across the border to Kenya to escape the savagery that was plaguing their homeland.)  The Good
Lie is a movie of two distinct halves.  In the more compelling first half, we follow a group of
teenage boys and girls who watch their village burn down around them and face the brutal task of
walking over 800 miles to the safety of the refugee camps across the border.  The journey is
harrowing in every sense of the word.  Of the original eight or nine who started off in the group or
got picked up along the way, only three boys and a girl make it to the camp.  The second half of
the movie picks up thirteen years later when the boys and girl are in the twenties and have been
selected to be transported to America.  This is where Reese Witherspoon comes in.  She helps
them find jobs and adapt to their new home.  Despite what you see in the ads, this is not a Reese
Witherspoon movie--and that's a good thing.  She's fine in her supporting role, but the stars of the
movie are the young actors who play the refugees, both as teenagers and young adults. My only
complaint about the movie is that whoever was in charge added some unnecessary plot points to
make the story more "dramatic"--as if hiding from mindless soldiers with automatic weapons and
fighting off cheetahs for an eland carcass so that they won't starve to death weren't enough. One
of those plot points is the source of the movie's title. (10/9/2014)  

Lucy   Luc Besson is at it again, trashing big swaths of Paris for our amusement.  Lucy's not
much in terms of plot but fun to watch.  In his last outing,
3 Days to Kill, he put Kevin Costner
and Amber Heard in charge of the job. Now he's turned the gig over to Scarlett Johansson, who is
fine in the title role as a reluctant drug mule who's ingested a ridiculous amount of an untested
drug that allows her to unlock the potential of all of her brain.  You could get a headache trying to
comprehend the curious blend of science and theology on exhibition in
Lucy, but don't try.  Just
go with it.   (God's name never comes up, but eternal life is definitely on the table.)  Morgan
Freeman has the thankless task of being the "neurophysicist" visiting Paris and gets to : 1) try to
help Lucy understand what's happening to her; and 2) explain to the audience what's happening to
Lucy.  He's still that curious mixture of God and Tallahatchie County, so naturally, you believe
whatever he's saying.   But it's really Scarlett's movie, and she's much more relatable here than she
was earlier this year in
Under the Skin (below).  That may have something to do with the fact
that she's clearly a human here, and in
Under the Skin, who knew?  (SPOILER ALERT: In both
movies, she turns into a puddle of black goo at the end.  Coincidence?  Or is someone trying to tell
us something?)  
Lucy is less than an hour-and-a-half long, and it goes by quick.  The more time
you spend processing what's on the screen, the less time you'll have to think about it.  (8/5/2014)

The Hundred-Foot Journey   is a mash-up of Slumdog Millionaire and  Chocolat  (also directed
by Lasse Hallstrom), and if you liked either of those movies, you'll like this one as well.   In
addition to adorable Indians and food loving Provencals,
Journey also features a couple of secret
weapons that put it over the top--namely Helen Mirren and Charlotte LeBon.  OK, Mirren's no
secret, but the surprise is LeBon, who could well be the Audrey Tatou of the new millennium.  
She's adorable, and this may be the movie in which a star is born. But as adorable as LeBon and
the rest of young folk are, the movie really sizzles in scenes with Mirren, the owner of an elegant
Michelin one-star restaurant in the countryside and Om Puri, the patriarch of a food-obsessed clan
who left India for political reasons and then left England because the vegetables there had no soul.  
As fate would have it, their van breaks down near the town where the abandoned restaurant
across the road from Mirren's establishment just happens to be for sale.  The result--well, let's just
call it Asian Fusion.  Like an overcooked asparagus, the movie seems to go limp in the last twenty
minutes or so, but by that time, you've had a great time and you're ready to finish the ride.  

Wild  Reese Witherspoon is back.  She's fallen off the dark course that led her to places like Water
for Elephants
and This Means War.  With The Good Lie earlier this year, producing Gone Girl,
and this movie, she is again showing us that not only is she one of the best actresses in the
business, she's one of the most insightful and smartest
people in the business.  I didn't read Cheryl
Strayed 's book which served as the basis for this movie. (I tend not to read Oprah's selections.)
But I've read that the movie  is faithful to the book and respectful of its spirit.  That's fine with
me--all I know is that it's a heck of a movie. We follow Strayed's shame spiral of drugs and
prostitution. (This may be the first time we see Reese naked and doing it.  I'll have to check my
notes.) And then we follow her path of redemption as it follows a three-month journey through the
deserts and mountains of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Along the way, she learns useful life skills and
comes to terms with what she thinks she 's lost in her life.  It's a spectacular movie. Welcome
back, Reese! (12/23/2014)

Take Me to the River   In Only Lovers Left Alive (below), Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton
are hipster vampires driving around Detroit late one night in some cool car. Tom asks Tilda if she
wants to see the old Motown studio. She responds with, "No, I'm more of a Stax girl." I
wondered at the time how many people in the audience caught that line. To anybody who doesn't
know, Stax is a legendary recording studio in Memphis that gave the world Booker T and the
MGs, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Blue Bland, Al Green and scores of other talented musicians who
created what came to be known as the Memphis Sound.
Take me to the River is their story, and it
will lift you up and bring you close to tears. Told in documentary form, there's great footage from
the past and interviews of those who are still with us. In flush times, everybody was riding high
and Isaac Hayes was tooling around town in a gold Cadillac. Everything changed after the
assassination of Martin Luther King and the world of Stax fell into bankruptcy and ruin. But the
musicians were still around, waiting for the Memphis music scene to rise from the ashes--which it
has. I use this phrase a lot in describing movies I like, but it was one of those movies where I just
sat smiling at the screen. (11/6/2014)

Unbroken  The reaction to this movie from critics around the country has been mixed at best.
Most say that director Angelina Jolie has been too worshipful and uncritical of her subject, Louis
Zamperini, who ran for the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He fought in
WWII, in which he was shot down over the Pacific, spent 45 days in a life raft with two other
men be fore being "rescued" by the Japanese navy and spent the remainder of the war in a prison
camp where he was savagely beaten and worked nearly to death.  (Mr. Zamperini died in the
summer of 2014, shortly after Ms. Jolie had shown him a first cut of her movie.) Well, hell. Do
these people really want to know more about the prejudice he experienced as a first generation
American growing up in Torrance, California? Do they want to know what the three men did in
the raft while they weren't catching sharks with their bare hands to eat raw? Do they want more
information about how prisoners of war treated each other in the camps?  If so, that's too damn
bad. The movie's already two-and-a-half intense hours, and that's plenty of time to discover that
Louis Zamperini is an American hero who deserves the respect and affection that Ms. Jolie gives
him. Good for her. (12/26/2014)

CITIZENFOUR  Edward Snowden--whistle blower or traitor?  Regardless of what you think
about him, you should see this documentary. The reportage in the movie is unashamedly skewed
in his favor, but that's okay. Listening to him explain himself provides not only valuable insight into
what he was trying to accomplish, it also shows the level of paranoia that one can expect to
experience if one decides to cross the government in the manner that he did.  The extent to which
your government is able to look into every aspect of your life is a public debate that we need to
have as a country.
CITIZENFOUR provides a good place to start the conversation  (11/11/2014)
Click on the Movie
Posters Below to See
My Top 10 Lists for the
Past 16 Years!
This is going to be more difficult that I first thought.

I thought it would be easy to present the ten movies I enjoyed most this year.  But no.  
As it turns out, half the movies I enjoyed the most actually came out in 2013.  

Here are five (in alphabetical order) that would have made the list if we'd been
allowed to count movies from last year:
The Blue Room A few years back, this was a play on Broadway starring Nicole Kidman. It was a sensation because Mrs. Urban appeared
nude in one scene. I remember that one of the New York newspapers actually provided a seating chart of the theater, showing which seats
had the best view of her, um, assets. What nobody mentioned was whether or not the play was very good. Based on the new French movie
adapted from the play, I'd say that the reviews were not good. The sad sack main character works at the John Deere dealership in a small
French town. (I am not making this up.) The job must pay well because he's got a great house, a great car, a beautiful wife and child, and
enough time left over to diddle the wife of a local pharmacist--who's crazy, by the way. During the course of the movie, his wife and her
husband end up dead. Who did what to whom is the crux of the piece, and I have to tell you that French police procedurals are
boring. I'd even go as far to say that nothing in this movie is as interesting as Nicole Kidman's breasts. (11/7/2014)

Boyhood  For reasons that escape me, this movie is receiving almost unanimous critical praise.  Ordinarily, being the contrarian isn't a big
deal to me, but in this instance, I'm just confounded.  The "hook" of this movie is that a family in Texas are portrayed by the same four
actors over the course of twelve years--which is not to say that the movie follows a real family for twelve years.  Inexplicably,
focuses on the least interesting member of the family.  Patricia Arquette is the idiot mother who manages to compact her entire life into
twelve years.  In the beginning, she's thinking about going back to school.  At the end, she's an empty nester psychologist who's
contemplating a retirement in which she can travel and write.  Along the way, she manages to marry and divorce not one, not two, but
three alcoholics.  (One wonders what it is she's thinking about writing at the end of the movie.  Why would anybody want to read
something from a psychologist with such a record?)  The first alcoholic she falls for and has children with is the ever-irritating Ethan
Hawke, who's not nearly as passionate about his children as he is about the Beatles.  The children are pitiable, and the highlight of their
childhood is being abused by three different alcoholics.  I suppose you could consider the movie to be an interesting look at how the
development of coping skills in teenagers pretty much ruins their lives later on.  If any of this had actually happened to someone, that would
be noteworthy, but like I said earlier, this is fiction.  And not very good fiction at that. Yuck.  (8/9/2014)

Earth to Echo   At the end of this movie, a twelve-ish kid with annoying abandonment issues blubbers that the twelve-inch high, metallic,
non-talking alien he finds in the Nevada desert one night is one of the best friends he ever had.  Really?  I'm thinking that if he's going to get
that worked up after spending twelve hours with a metallic gremlin, he's got a lot of therapy in his future.  That, however, is one of my
least concerns.  I firmly believe that every generation is entitled to its own
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, and parts of Earth to Echo, in fact,
look like a shot-by-shot remake.  However, if you're going to have your own
E.T., you darned well better have your own Drew Barrymore
and Henry Thomas.  Sadly, nobody this movie--earthling or alien--has the charm of their counterparts in the Steven Spielberg classic.  But
what is both interesting and different about
Echo, however, is the extent to which kids today are masters of and slaves to smartphones and
social media.  Watching the young actors in the movie interact with their devices (which never seemed to lose their charge) does actually
say a lot about this generation.  Unfortunately, one of the things it says about them is that the next time somebody gets around to remaking
E.T., there might not be any children in it at all.  (7/7/2014)

The Face of Love   If Tim's Vermeer (above) asks the question, "What is art?", The Face of Love provides lots of answers regarding what
art is not.  (Frankly, I don't even know why I'm bothering to tell you about this movie.  You've never heard of it, and you're never going to
see it.  I make these claims based on the fact that I was only person in the theater watching it on a Saturday night.  But I digress.)  Annette
Bening, who seems to want to be the Katherine Hepburn of indie movies, plays a fashionable Westside woman whose architect husband
(An embarrassed looking Ed Harris) dies on a vacation in Mexico.  After five years of moping and mourning (offscreen, thankfully), she's
sitting in the garden of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, looks up and sees old Ed again--this time in the persona of an art professor
at Occidental College.  After some not-too-creepy stalking and what passes for a car chase on public radio, she invites him out and makes
him fall in love with her.  The main question to be answered in movies like this is how Id's going to find out he's a doppelganger for the
dead husband.  Will he find out when the sad-sack neighbor (a tragically miscast Robin Williams) sees her at the Farmers Market?  When
the daughter from Seattle makes a surprise trip home and finds them in bed together?   You'll just have to find out for yourself.  More likely,
you won't.  (4/7/2014)

Horrible Bosses 2  Have you ever gone to a movie KNOWING it's going to suck?  It's kind of like watching the Hallmark Channel.  You
know you're never going to get back the precious hours of life you spent watching it, but you just can't help yourself.  In the first
movie--which is referenced early and often, what little The only surprise there was came from seeing Jennifer Aniston as a slut. The
equivalent here is seeing Chris Pine. He plays the son of a billionaire who cons Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day into pulling a
fast one on his father.  In reality, the plot is irrelevant because we're only concerned with the inside jokes among the actors.  The oddest of
them have to do with how good looking Mr. Pine is. The first movie entailed a little bit of critical thinking, but the second is little more than
a genocide of gray cells. (12/2/2014)

Left Behind  If you'll go back and check the record, you'll see that I'm one of the few people on Planet Earth who liked the Kirk Cameron
version of this material from about ten years back.  It was a faithful telling of the hugely successful series of novels that told the story of
the Rapture and the ensuing tribulations described in the Book of Revelations.  It went way overboard on the theological angle of the story
and was terribly earnest, but my theory was that if you're going to be terribly earnest about something, you could do worse than The Bible.  
Now we have this inexplicable remake which jettisons all that pesky theology and tells a very straightforward tale of how Nicholas Cage
lands a 747 on a freeway in the aftermath of said Rapture with the help of his daughter. As I was watching all of this unfold, it occurred to
me that if we're being honest, we shouldn't name the movie after the
Left Behind books and movies.  Instead, we should name it after it's
true source material--
Airport 1975 (Remember? Pilot Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., is blinded in an explosion and plucky flight attendant Karen Black
has to land the plane.)  I hate to say it, but
Airport 2014 is pretty dreadful.  Beyond all this, there is something to say in the movie's favor: it
provides a vivid picture of what the Rapture will look like in Baton Rouge (where the movie was filmed).  We see kids disappear before our
eyes in the food court at the Mall of Louisiana, a bizarre suicide scene (by anybody's standards) at the top of the Earl K. Long Bridge, and
random mayhem in City Plaza.  There's a scene about halfway through in which people are running out of a hospital.  There's a woman in a
red pantsuit in the middle of the frame who was my secretary a long, long time ago, and I can totally see her doing something like that. But
beyond that little bit of personal realism--yikes. (10/13/2014)

Memphis  represents something new in the history of movies--a movie made exclusively for consumption at film festivals.  Trust me, it's
dreadful.  The guy who sold me the ticket at the theater where I saw the movie in Memphis that most people walk out of it in the
middle--which is fairly remarkable, since it's only about 75 minutes long.  As I was watching the miserable thing, it occurred to me that
there was a lot about the movie I didn't know--like whether it's supposed to be fiction or a documentary--and wasn't going to find out by
just watching the damn thing.  After an hour of waiting for something dramatic to happen, it occurred to me that nothing noteworthy was
imminent. Furthermore, if something did happen, I'd probably resent it because the lack of focus of any kind made me feel that the movie
wasn't entitled to any kind of honest reaction.  The biggest surprise came when the credits rolled and I saw that someone actually wanted
credit for writing it.  It wasn't until I got home and went online to read reviews that it occurred to me that the people who made the movie
didn't care what I or some other mere ticket purchaser thought about it.  The reviews were all eerily similar--they all knew that the
characters were real and that a woman whose seen in the movie with the children is both the mother of the children and the girlfriend of the
main character--facts that someone just watching the movie couldn't know.  All of the reviews I read also compared the movie to Robert
Nashville.  Something was fishy.  This movie resembles Nashville like 2001: A Space Odyssey resembles Gone With the Wind.  
Clearly, the reviewers had access to a media kit that covered these details--and maybe suggested a connection to the Altman movie.  
Maybe, just maybe if any of these points could have been gleaned from actually watching the movie, the ticket guy at the Malco wouldn't
have to tell patrons that if they didn't like the movie, they could sneak into
The Hundred-Foot Journey next door and watch the end of it.  

Muppets: Most Wanted  It's time to let the Muppets go.  Jim Henson is dead. Frank Oz has moved on to more interesting projects.  The
new guys just aren't getting it done.  I'll admit that I haven't seen the last couple of installments in this franchise, but if they weren't any
better than this, it's a mercy killing.  Just my opinion, you say?  Maybe.  But I can report that throughout the course of this movie, I didn't
hear one person in the audience laugh AT ANYTHING.   And the music. Oy, the music.  There was actually groan when one of the songs
started. (OK, that was me, but still.)  Hell, you even made Celine Dion look old.  In this age of special effects, I didn't even think that was
possible.  Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey are funny people, but they just looked lost.   You wouldn't know it from
Mr. Peabody and Sherman,
but Ty Burrell can also bring the laughs. He, too, was wasted.  To sum up, if this is what the Muppets are going to be going forward, give
it up.  (3/23/2014)

The Other Woman   This movie thinks that watching a Great Dane take a crap on the floor of somebody's apartment is comedy.  If you
agree, you'll like it a lot. (4/30/2014)

Tammy   is woeful.  While there were a few stray chuckles echoing through the theater during my showing, the predominant response was
pained silence.   In addition to being Tammy, Melissa McCarthy also takes on the responsibilities of producing the movie and co-writing it
with her husband Ben Falcone, who is, by the way, the director.  Sounds like nepotism, no?   At the very least, I think Mr. and Mrs.
Falcone try to do too much and should have brought in some real writers, at least to polish the script.  For example, at one point, Tammy
and her grandmother go to a lesbian Fourth of July picnic in Louisville, Kentucky.  How is it possible not to find at least one joke in a set-up
like that?  Speaking of Tammy's grandmother, Susan Sarandon (who in real life is only 24 years older than McCarthy) is on hand to infect
the movie with her signature brand of anti-comedy.  (Think about it:  What did she really bring to the party comedy-wise in
Bull Durham,
The Witches of Eastwick or The Rocky Horror Picture Show?)  On the other hand, Ms. McCarthy brings oodles (literally) to the table.  In
her best roles, she plays her overbearing personality off of accomplished actors who know how to handle the responsibility, witness Sandra
Bullock in
Heat, Jason Bateman in Identity Theft and Kristen Wiig and others in Bridesmaids.  Here, all she's got is Sister Helen Prejean.  I
love McCarthy, but
Tammy's not her best work.  (7/2/2014)

Belle  is lovely.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw (hereinafter referred to as Gugu because I like the name) plays the illegitimate
daughter of a British admiral and a slave who in 1769 is rescued by her father from a life with no prospects after her
mother dies. A few months ago,
Entertainment Weekly whined in their usual pitiful way about the sad fact that there
aren't enough good roles for Lupita Nyong'o.  No offense to Ms. Nyong'o, but with the arrival of Gugu, I suspect her
casting options just shrank considerably.  Belle is terrific. (5/24/2014)

Jodorowsky's Dune   Like Lost in LaMancha a few years back, this is a chronicle of a movie that was never made.  
"Jodorowsky" is Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean film maker who achieved cult status in the early 70's with an acid
mess called
El Topo.  In the current movie, it's referred to as the "first midnight movie."  "Dune," of course, is the
iconic Frank Herbert sci-fi novel.  After
El Topo had became a cult hit, a producer told Jodorowsky that he'd back
whatever he wanted to do next, and despite the fact that he'd never read the book, "Jodo" said that he wanted to adapt
Dune.  And off they went. If you're into science fiction, you've got to see this movie.  If you're not, you'll still enjoy it.  

Only Lovers Left Alive   In 2001, Tilda Swinton played the mother of a teen-aged boy who was seduced by Josh
Lucas in
The Deep End.  In 2014, she looks a lot younger than she did then--but she is playing a vampire, so maybe her
freshness of face and spirit is beyond something as mundane as hydration or moisturizing.  As is usually the case, she's
terrific--and for once it's nice to see her playing the more sane half of a couple.  She is Eve, a unimaginably old vampire
living in genteel obscurity in Tangier.  Her husband, Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston (Loki from the
Thor movies) is a
musical type holed up in a dump in Detroit. They cruise Detroit at night, and Eve points out to Adam that
"self-obsession is a waste of living." Leave it to a vampire to make the very good point that one should always embrace
life, whether your alive or just undead.  (5/16/2014)

Tim's Vermeer   I'll assume that you're aware that Johannes Vermeer was a brilliant painter who lived in Delft in the
17th century and tell you that Tim is a brilliant inventor of optical and electric equipment who lives in San Antonio and
has never had a painting lesson in his life.  Vermeer's canvases are considered to be remarkable in the way they capture
light, and Tim suspected that Vermeer used some sort of crude lens device to help him capture effects of light and
shadow that the human eye alone could not comprehend.   So naturally he set out to recreate The Music Room, one of
Vermeer's most famous paintings, using his own two new-to-painting hands and a device similar to the one he thought
Vermeer might have used. It's a fascinating movie. (4/3/2014)

The Unknown Known  Errol Morris is a movie maker best known for a documentary a few years back in which he got
Robert McNamara to take limited responsibility for the Vietnam War.  I suppose his motive in making this movie was to
attempt to elicit a mea culpa for Iraq from Donald Rumsfeld.  Knowing this, a better question would be to ask Mr.
Rumsfeld why he was willing to participate in such a venture. At the very end of
The Unknown Known, Mr. Morris
asks Mr. Rumsfeld that very question, and Rumsfeld's response is that he doesn't know.  The movie, of course, takes
its name from a memo that Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense during the Iraq era stating that there are Known Knowns
(things we know we know), Known Unknowns  (things we know we don't know), Unknown Unknowns (things we
don't know we don't know), and Unknown Knowns (things we think we know but really don't).  Your reaction to this
movie (It was produced by The History Channel.  It's bound to pop up there eventually.) will no doubt be determined by
what you think of the War on Terror and those who claimed to be fighting it in what they thought was the best interest
of the country. (4/13/2014)
Now, here's the Top Ten for 2014.
To quote Frank Sinatra, "Mistakes, I made a few...."  I saw some stinkers.  They might
not be awful (although some of them are)--but they just weren't for me.

Here are the ten movies I saw this year that I enjoyed least--alphabetically, to
protect the guilty.  
Click here for all
2014 Reviews