“American Sniper” – Two Different Views

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A long time friend suggested we both see Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and then get together to talk about the film.

We haven’t had that talk in person yet, but I suggested we could both write about the film, and I’d post what we both wrote (without having seen each other’s comments).

I’ve posted his first and mine afterwards.

Please feel free to add your thoughts, civilly of course, in the Comment section of this post.

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If You Want to Understand Courage, Go See American Sniper

Review by David Stang

My good friend Rick Miller challenged me to write a review of American Sniper for his blog after I sent him this accolade regarding that film and praise for Clint Eastwood: “Eastwood is my archetype of manliness and courage. His American Sniper is spectacular.”

So what I’m going to do is tell you why I admire Eastwood and his films, including Sniper.  Why do I praise him?  What is his message? It means in part that adversity builds character. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

This kind of value system was drummed into me since I was a kid. Never say “Uncle.” When you are boxing and your opponent knocks you to the deck, you don’t cry and run home to Mama. You don’t become a Mama’s boy. You get up off the deck, shake it off and go knock your opponent on his butt, and if he gets up, you knock him down again.

When you are running a race you run past the guy ahead of you. Even if every muscle in your body hurts so bad it feels like you are going to die you keep running and passing guys in front of you until you win the race.

If you are playing football and you are on offense, you score touchdowns. If you are on defense, you hit your opponent so hard he fumbles the ball, and you have a turnover, and you convert that turnover to a touchdown.

What it means to play on a team is that you protect your buddy’s back. This is true in sports. True in the military. True in the work place. True at home. True in marriage.

Marriage? Marriage as well? Yes, indeed.  What many women have respected about a good man since caveman days is that he is reliable, strong, courageous.  He is his wife’s protector, provider and trustworthy companion. He cares enough to give his heart and life for her. He cares enough to give the same for his family and friends.

As a military man, he cares enough to lay down his life for his country. In the work place, he is an achiever, a go getter.  He makes things happen. Whatever he does, he gives it his best. He is a winner, not a loser.

When Clint Eastwood was acting, these were the values he portrayed in the characters he played. He was a tough guy. When the bad guy threatened to kill Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s response was “Make my day!” I recall attending nearly all of his early films including A Fist Full of Dollars, A Few Dollars More, The Bus and others. In fact I’ve enjoyed every Eastwood film I ever saw.

Since he  became a director and producer, these same values are what he continues to exhibit in the films he makes. The heroes in his movies represent the archetypes of these values. He selects dramatic situations which demonstrate that these principles are particularly applicable in the extremes.

American Sniper too epitomizes Eastwood’s values. As a young boy growing up in Texas, our protagonist was taught by his father to hunt. While still a kid, he became a sharpshooter. After high school, he became a rodeo cowboy, fearlessly riding bucking broncos. When he saw news reports of the horrific 911 bombings, he signed up to become a Navy SEAL. Navy SEALs are the toughest guys around. Many are called but few are chosen. He was older than most of the other SEAL trainees, but he stuck with it and succeeded.

Our protagonist was trained to be a sniper and sent to Iraq. He faced extreme situations. To protect his buddies he made morally tough choices. He made these soul-straining decisions not because he had a blood lust and really enjoyed killing people but rather to protect his fellow troopers and to defeat the authors of 911.

His reputation as a fearless super hero grew. He was targeted by al Qaeda as their number one enemy and tracked day and night. He maintained a cool-headed sense of humor in the face of constant danger. He grieved for his buddies who were slain without allowing himself to become dispirited. He was given the nearly impossible task of taking out two of al Qaeda’s top snipers who were picking off American troops like flies.

His commitment to his cause was unflagging. He signed up for four tours in Iraq. His long suffering wife who wanted him to be home caring for his family almost left him. But, during his fourth tour, he woke up to her concerns and came home to be a good husband and daddy.

In his spare time he volunteered to visit veterans with missing arms, legs and those suffering missing minds due to PTSD.  Our man was Eastwood’s archetype of courage, heart and tenacity.

These are the values of what my buddy Rick would call a mensch.

**              **              **              **              **              **              **.              **

American Sniper: A Polemic?

Review by Richard Miller

A professional movie reviewer once told me that when she was new to her job, she received the following advice from a film critic who had been doing the work for 30 years:

Think about these three questions:

*What was the director trying to do?

*How well did he/she do it?

*Was it worth doing?

Not being a professional or trained reviewer of films, I kind of like that as a frame for looking at films. It gives me a way of thinking about a film beyond just “Did I like it or not?” It helps me focus on the film itself and not what I want a film to be.

If I use that frame for thinking about Clint Eastwood’s just released box office hit American Sniper, I come up with the following:

Although we can’t know everything Eastwood was trying to do, it seems clear he wanted to make a film about a particular individual, Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL, known as the “Legend” for his sharp shooting skills honed over four tours of duty in Iraq and for his successes in ‘taking out’ enemy forces and in protecting American troops.

In addition, I suspect Eastwood was also intent on portraying what it means to be a soldier in war today, both what it is like in the war zone and what it is like when that soldier returns home.

Using Kyle’s autobiography, also titled American Sniper, as a starting point for his film, Eastwood has certainly given audiences a tribute to Kyle. With his usual craftsmanship, Eastwood has directed a film that will grab you from the opening scene, keep you focused throughout and will stay with you long after you have left the theater.

American Sniper both glorifies Kyle and the war in Iraq and also shows you the toll it takes on Kyle, on other soldiers and on their families at home. Eastwood does that well too.

However, it is the answer, my answer, to the third of the three questions above that troubles me the most about American Sniper.

And that question begins with an underlying premise of the film.

In making this film the way he did, Eastwood perpetuates the view that what Kyle did, what happened in Iraq and what the U.S. forces did was justified and right.

Kyle is portrayed as motivated to participate in the war particularly because of two terrorist events he saw on TV, one towards the US in East Africa and the other the tragedy of 9/11. Both are calls to arms for him. Kyle — and Eastwood too — appear to accept without question that the war in Iraq is a noble endeavor because it is linked to these acts of terrorism and to our response to that terrorism.

That is a premise I cannot accept.

And what follows from this premise is the view that we are on the side of all that is good and that our enemy is on the side of all that is evil. Kyle makes this clear when he declares he “hated the damn savages.”

As we now know, the link between those terrorist acts and our invasion of Iraq was based on a false premise and manufactured arguments that Iraq was behind those attacks on the U.S. The film perpetuates the lies told to the nation that our invasion and fighting in Iraq justified both the killing of Iraqis and the deaths — as well as the physical and psychological wounds — suffered by our solders.

And that makes me question whether American Sniper was little more than a polemic.

An Apology to Mr. Rizzo

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According to the Washington Post:

The Washington Nationals radically altered the baseball landscape Sunday night, ending a winter of relative inactivity by agreeing to a seven-year contract with free agent pitcher Max Scherzer, according to a person with direct knowledge of the talks.

I shoulda listened to my father, the chess player.

He tried to teach me to take my time when my opponent made a move that perhaps seemed weak, foolish, or one I didn’t understand.  He warned not to jump too quickly in my next move and to beware of what further moves my opponent might have in mind.

For the most part, I’ve followed that advice, at least with reference to MillersTime.

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Your Predictions: A One Question Contest

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Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays

 

 

 

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Thanks to the suggestion of a long time baseball fan and a MillersTime reader (and with some adjustments on my part), I’m creating a new Baseball Contest, this one limited to just one question.

Contest: List three impacts you predict the trade of Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar will have for the Nats and/or for the Athletics.

Prize: Two seats in Section 117, Row G or H (three or four rows behind the Visitors’ dugout and between home and third base) for a Nats’ game next year.

Details:

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Baseball: Business vs Family

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My post yesterday, Nats: Terrible, Terrible Decision, reminded me of what most bothers me about baseball, a game I’ve loved for as long as I can remember (at least six and a half decades).

There were a number of articles and posts (and I assume there was similar coverage on TV and radio) about how the Nats’ fans reacted to the loss of one of their favorites, Tyler Clippard (hint: not well). Particularly striking was the reaction from young people, kids whose first baseball experience has been with the Nats and who have come to love Tyler Clippard.

Lots of tears. Lots of disbelief. Lots of not understanding (How could you trade a player who was so important to your team?).

Parents had difficulty explaining to their kids that baseball is a business, and in business the ‘rules’ are different than what we teach our kids. Or at least the values are different.

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Nats: Terrible, Terrible Decision

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Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays

“Tue ere maricon” – “You are a faggot” – Just a joke? Some of his best friends are gay!

I read last night as the story was developing about the Nats trading Tyler Clippard for Yunel Escobar.

I understand that baseball is a business.

I understand there are problems with the Nats at second base.

I understand that Ian Desmond has only one year left on his contract and could go elsewhere. I understand Escobar could play second base this year and move to shortstop next year if that’s necessary.

I understand Escobar’s hitting has averaged .276 over his career, (tho only .258 in 2014) and he has averaged 145 games a season over that career.

I understand Escobar “has a team-friendly contract that will pay him $5 million in 2015 and $7 million in 2016…(and) the Nationals hold a $7 million club option for 2017.”

I understand the trade “saves the Nationals somewhere between $3 million and $4 million, depending on Clippard’s arbitration process.

I understand that this is Tyler Clippard’s last year of arbitration before being eligible for free agency and that there are “”young arms behind him” in the Nats’ organization.

However,

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2015 Baseball Contests – Help Needed

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Hus-on-firstby: JamieD 9/3/10, Total ProSports.com. (If you’ve never seen, or want to see the Abbott-Costello piece Who’s on 1st: http://bit.ly/1mV1fyH)

 

Baseball Fans:

Now that it is officially 2015, and we are all freezing, my thoughts naturally turn to the upcoming baseball season and the annual MillersTime Baseball Contests.

And I’m asking for some help.

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32 Hours in NYC*

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* Any resemblance to the NYTimes series “36 Hours in ____” (you name the city) is mostly accidental.

Most New Yorkers stay as far away from the city as they can the last few days of the year, but we actually love it. So, we planned to meet our KC daughter there just before New Year’s. In the end, she couldn’t make the trip. But we did.

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32 Hours in New York City

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“Selma” *****

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Selma *****

If you lived through the 60’s, then there is a lot in this film that you will remember and some that you may have forgotten or not known. But it’s certainly a film to see.

If you are of a later generation and only know MLK because of his “I Have a Dream” speech and/or because of a national holiday that now takes place in his honor, I hope you’ll see this film.

Similar to the recent film Lincoln, where the focus was on a slice of President Lincoln’s life, so too is Selma a slice of a man’s life, Martin Luther King’s life.

Know that Selma is not a biography of King, but as is sometimes the case, when we look at a part of the whole, we can learn and see perhaps much of the whole. It also leaves room for the imagination and the opportunity to seek further information.

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The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2014

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Once again, you’re gonna need some time for this post.

And probably pen and paper to jot down some titles that you’ll likely want to add to your ‘to read’ list for 2015.

Despite a recurring theme in contributors’ emails about not reading as much this year, not finding as many memorable books and not remembering the titles read, I think you’ll find a diverse and rich list of titles and comments.

Seventy-four of you contributed this year, listing approximately 450 books, with fiction leading nonfiction 60% to 40%. At least 300 of the titles were only listed once. The female-male division of contributors was 56%-44% (F/M), about what it has been in the past. The contributors are listed alphabetically to make it easier to find specific individual’s choices.

Titles that appeared three times or more were:

  • All the Light We Cannot See (F) by Anthony Doerr (12)
  • The Goldfinch (F) by Donna Tartt (11)
  • The Boys in the Boat (NF) by Daniel James Brown (6)
  • No Place to Hide (NF) by Glenn Greenwald (6)
  • Americanah (F) Chimananda Ngozi Adichie (6)
  • The Lowland (F) by Jhumpa Lahiri (6)
  • Stoner (F) by John Williams (6)
  • The Invention of Wings (F) by  Monk Kidd (5)
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (F) Anthony Marra (5)
  • The Children’s Act (F) Ian McEwan (4)
  • The Signature of All Things (F) by Elizabeth Gilbert (4)
  • The Light Between the Oceans (F) by. M.L. Stedman (4)
  • Gone Girl (F) by Gillian Flynn (4)
  • Zealot (NF) by Resa Azlan (3)
  • Wonder (F) by R.J. Palacio (3)
  • The Woman Upstairs (F) by Claire Messud (3)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North (F) by Richard Flanagan (3)
  • Orphan Train (F) Christine Baker Kline (3)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, (F) Harper Lee (3)

For me, however, the strength and value of this (and previous) years’ lists have more to do with what contributors said about the books they enjoyed than the number of times a book was listed.

At the suggestion of one contributor, I have linked each book to Amazon’s site so you can read more about that particular book. I am not a fan of Amazon nor am I encouraging purchasing through them, but I did want to give readers a link to more information about each book. Hopefully, you will consider supporting your independent bookstore if you have one in your area.

Just a reminder that this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2014, but rather what the title of this posting states – The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2014.

The List:

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“Red Army” and “Foxcatcher” – Much More than Sports’ Movies

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Red Army *****

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Put this one on your list.

You don’t have to be a hockey fan (neither I nor my wife Ellen is) to be mesmerized by this documentary.

If you are a hockey fan, so much the better.

Actually, if you like any particular sport, then I suspect you’ll find much to like in Red Army.

But know that the hockey here is not the primary reason for why this film is captivating. It’s about the athletes themselves, particularly the “Russian Five,” and about friendship, loyalty and betrayal.

It’s about how the Soviet Union used these athletes throughout the Cold War to project supremacy. It’s about the price these players paid for their fame.

And it’s about what happened to these players when some (eventually many) of them came to play in the US in the NHL, and, in some cases, became “athletes without a country.”

It’s almost as much about politics as it is about hockey. It’s about the Cold War. It’s about the Soviet Union, Russia, and the US.

Writer and Director Gabe Polsky uses a combination of archival footage and interviews to tell how the Soviets used hockey as propaganda and the price the players paid for that decision. He does that well.

Trust me on this one. You do not have to know, care about, or like hockey to learn something and to thoroughly enjoy this film.

Foxcatcher ****

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Another sport’s movie that isn’t so much about a sport (Olympic wrestling in this case) as it is about the three characters at the core of the story.

Although not a documentary, Foxcatcher is based on a true story, a grim one, about  the multimillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and two world class wrestling athletes, brothers, Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo).

In many ways the film is a painful one.

The true story itself is painful. And Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball & Capote) and writers E. Max Trye and Dan Futterman have chosen not to ease the pain, neither for the characters nor for the audience.

There are terrific performances, starting with Carell but also excellent ones from Tatum and Ruffalo. There is also a minor part (Jean du Pont) played with her usual brilliance by Vanessa Redgrave.

Know that it is not an easy film to watch, not because of any physical violence but because of the story itself and the way that story is portrayed.

*               **               **               **               **               **               *

In a post several days ago, I listed my Favorite Films, 2014.  Some readers have told me that many of these films are not available where they live. Two things: Some of these films have not yet been released nationwide, so keep your eye out for them. However, some are already available through Netflix, for those of you who enjoy watching films at home. Larry Makinson, friend and MillersTime reader, has kindly identified which of those from my list are currently attainable. Check back to Favorite Films, 2014 to see which ones you can see right now.

Favorite Films, 2014

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Favorite Movies

Here is a list of many of the films I saw in 2014, largely ones that I rated four stars or higher (out of a system of 1-5 stars).

As I was posting this list, I thought of adjusting a few of the ratings (up or down) but decided to leave the ratings the way I made them a day or two after seeing each film.

These categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three and half star ones were more problematical films but still worth checking out.

If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review.

The ones listed below I recommend for your consideration.

A significant number of these films are either documentary, foreign, or small films, often only in the theaters for a few weeks, usually in one of the independent theaters in the DC area or in our DC Film Club.

(I have refrained from reviewing or listing any of the ‘children films’ that I have seen with my grand kids. They would be in the one or two star categories, if that. However, I must admit that my grand kids, and the other kiddies who filled the audience, seemed to have a very different opinion from mine.)

If you click on any of the titles below, you will link to my mini-review of that film on MillersTime.

Five Stars:

Clouds of Silas Maria

Finding Vivian Maier

GETT, The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

Ida  (Available on Netflix)

Mommy

Particle Fever  (Available on Netflix)

The Imitation Game

The Square  (Available on Netflix)

Red Army

Selma

Four and a Half Stars:

Abuse of Weakness   (Available on Netflix)

Boyhood

Citizenfour

Happy Valley

Last Days in Vietnam

Life Itself

The Case Against 8

The Past

The Rocket   (Available on Netflix)

The Way He Looks

Two Days, One Night

Whiplash

Four Stars:

A Most Wanted Man

Chef

Child’s Pose   (Available on Netflix)

Cracks in the Concrete

Get on Up

Glass Chin

Manos Sucias

St. Vincent

Still Alice

The Immigrant   (Available on Netflix)

The Lunchbox

National Gallery

Rudderless   (Available on Netflix)

The Theory of Everything

Wild

Words & Pictures

Foxcatcher

Three/Three and Half Stars:

Birdman

Elsa & Fred

Force Majeure

Korengal   (Available on Netflix)

Grand Budapest Hotel

Oscar Nominated Short Action Live Films

Oscar Nominated Documentary Short Films

The Good Lie

The Mountain

Unknown Knowns   (Available on Netflix)

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Also, if you’re looking for slightly older films to rent, etc., check out these two links from 2013 and 2012.

Favorite Films Seen 2013

My Favorite Films in 2012

As always, please feel free to Comment on any of the above and/or on films you particularly enjoyed in 2014.

 

“Wild” – The Movie vs The Book

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Wild ****

As is most often the case, I would chose the book over the movie.

That said, the movie is good enough to put on your ‘to consider’ list. It’s certainly better than the previews make it out to be.

What it does particularly well is mix the journey that Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) has undertaken with flashbacks to earlier times in her life. So rather than just be a tale of her ‘trek’ on the Pacific Coast Trail, we’re presented with what is going on in Strayed’s mind, what is it about her past that has brought her to this journey.

What made the film problematic for me was that Strayed was played by a known actress, and I could not get over the feeling I was watching Witherspoon play Strayed. I often have that conundrum, but sometimes an actor or actress is able to totally become the character he/she is portraying. (Eddie Redmayne is a recent example in his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.)

Maybe I wanted to be seeing a documentary? Which is probably not fair to those who made Wild.

But then I doubt a documentary would have as wide a viewing as Wild is getting with Reese Witherspoon?

Still, I put Wild in the category of worthy films to see.

But the book’s better.

 

“Still Alice”

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Still Alice ****

If you know someone struggling with Alzeheimers, then put this film on your ‘to see’ list.

I say that because what Still Alice does effectively is to take you along as this terrible disease first strikes and then ultimately devastates Alice (Julianne Moore). Alice is Dr. Alice Howland, a successful professor of linguistics who is diagnosed with early-onset of the disease.

The film, based on the book by the same name by Lisa Genova, excels because of the insights it gives the viewer to what it means for an individual to be stricken and gradually lose oneself. Julianne Moore is simply terrific as Alice. Not only is she able to get into the mind of Alice, but she also somehow gets into her body. You see the deterioration of both mind and body.

The film is not as successful, for me, in the portrayal of Alice’s family members, her husband John (Alec Baldwin), her elder daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth), her son Tom (Hunter Parrish) and her younger daughter Lydia (well played by Kristen Stewart). They are almost minor characters to Alice.

While Alice’s family are all affected by what is happening as the disease progresses, just as are all families who struggle with the ‘fallout’ of Alzeheimer, it is really Alice’s story, made more powerful because Alice was a linguist and has focused her professional life on the issue of language and communication. She is able to describe in words what it means to lose words and to lose one self.

If you truly want to get some understanding about what this mental decline means for the person suffering from it, see Still Alice.

Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland both wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

Impressions from Two Weeks in Vietnam & Cambodia

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Nov. 8 – Nov. 23: Hanoi –  Halong Bay – Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – My Tho – Mekong River – Phnom Penh – Tonle Sap – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)

mao.2(Thanks to Larry Makinson, cartographer)

Drawing too many conclusions from spending a couple of weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia is foolish.

However, Ellen’s pictures give you a good sense of what we saw. (If you haven’t seen those pictures, stop now and go to: Through Ellen’s Eye: Vietnam & Cambodia.)

A few takeaways from not only what we saw but also what we did:

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Through Ellen’s Eye: Vietnam & Cambodia

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Here a two dozen of Ellen’s pictures from our recent trip.

But they are nothing compared to the full screen slide show she’s created. When you’ve scrolled through these two dozen, there is a link to her slide show. You must see them on a lap top or a desktop.

I promise you, it’s worth the effort.

They’re the best she’s ever done.

Ho Chi Minh House

Ho Chi Minh House

Water Lillies

Water Lillies

Hanoi 'Hilton' (Prison)

Hanoi ‘Hilton’ (Prison)

Hanoi Street Scene

Hanoi Street Scene

Halong Bay 1

Halong Bay 1

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