Monday, 12 April 2021

Horror Film Review: The Banishing (2020) (A Shudder Original) ★★☆☆☆

There are some houses that should remain empty, whose histories are built on such pain and suffering that the only answer is to demolish them and cleanse the ground. When a priest, his wife and her daughter move into a house in a small village, their neighbours want them to leave. Have they stumbled upon the most haunted house in England? Directed by Christopher Smith (Triangle), The Banishing is a Shudder Original starring Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible franchise).

The Banishing | Horror Film Review

The Banishing is a strange, disconcerting film. The tone is set very early in the film when Sean Harris and a woman dance onscreen for a full two minutes; it is unsettling, uncomfortably intimate and drawn out, a feeling that will pervade the rest of the film. We don't know Sean's character yet but we know to look out for him.

The discomfort continues as we come to meet the priest Linus (John Heffernan) and his wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay). Far from being an upstanding man and a role model, Linus is weirdly insecure and quite cruel.

The Banishing | Horror Film Review

Then again, so is his Bishop Malachi (John Lynch), what is it with this church?

Linus assures his step-daughter Adelaide that she is completely safe in the house and every fibre of my body fills with the desire to shout at the screen. No, no she's not Linus. You're cruel and strange and I'm starting to hope something bad will happen to you!

Jessica Brown Findlay (Brave New World) is a shining beacon in a very strange film. Stuck in a loveless marriage and misinterpreting her child's increasing demonic influence for normal estrangement, she is tumbling headlong into a fight of epic proportions.

And so she meets Harry Price, the dancer from the opening scenes and a local occultist. Price is obviously the only person who can tell Marianne about the house they're living in, the nature of the threat and how to beat it. It's a fairly paint-by-numbers approach to horror that has been done many times before.

Indeed, other than Adelaide's increasingly obvious possession, there is nothing essentially scary in The Banishing. It is not a horror film as much as a disconnected sequence of scary visions.

If the true danger was merely visions, what was the point? A lot of scared people and some interesting cinematography?

I was struggling to understand why I should care and what the significance was to the viewer when the film ended and those thoughts dissipated to make way for one enduring impression: what did I just watch and what the hell was that ending?

The Banishing | Horror Film Review
I usually hesitate to give poor reviews but I know there is an entire subclass of horror fans who love bad horror films, the worse the better. Fans of Christopher Smith and Triangle are also going to rush to see this film. With that in mind, I give The Banishing a grudging two out of five stars and recommend to fans of creepy British horror. If you had to choose, I'd recommend last week's Shudder exclusive The Power over this one.

★★☆☆☆

A Shudder Original, The Banishing will be released on Thursday, 15 April 2021.

The Banishing (2020) -Directed by Christopher Smith) - Trailer

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Saturday, 10 April 2021

Randi Pink's 'Angel of Greenwood' ★★☆☆☆

May 2021 marks one hundred years since the Tulsa Massacre when the thriving African American community of Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma was attacked by a mob of armed white Tulsans, killing as many as 300 people and displacing 8,000 more. I first read about the events in Lynn Hudson's excellent West of Jim Crow: The Fight Against California's Color Line and followed that up with the superb middle grade picture book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper. Naturally I was very interested when I first heard about Randi Pink's Angel of Greenwood, a YA novel set during the terrible events of Tulsa in 1921.

Angel of Greenwood | Book Review

This book has received almost universal acclaim, so it feels daunting to be an outlier. I do think many people will love this novel and they should definitely read it but I'm going to explain why it didn't work for me.

Angel of Greenwood: Bringing to Life Greenwood in 1921

Greenwood in 1921 was a thriving community and the high street was known across the States as the "Black Wall Street". Randi Pink does an exceptional job of depicting the bright colours, bustling high street, vibrant fashions, diverse occupations, culture, and sense of community of Greenwood's residents.

Angel of Greenwood: Historical Novel or Romance?

While we get a taste for the cultural richness of Greenwood, Angel of Greenwood is not simply a novel about a certain point in time; it is a novel about a horrifying event in history. If we consider the purpose of an historical novel, to educate readers about historical events and times, Angel of Greenwood fails because we learn very little about the actual Tulsa massacre, except in the end notes of the book.

Instead Angel of Greenwood is, for 80% of the book, a romance novel but it wasn't quite a romance I felt comfortable shipping.

Angel of Greenwood: Characterisations

There is an enduring theme of worthiness in the novel. People treat the main character Angel well because she is perceived to be churchgoing and virtuous. The boy in the story, Isaiah, initially bullies Angel. He begins to treat her better than he treats his own girlfriend Dorothy Mae once he sees Angel as intellectual and worthy in his mind. I did not like this at all. What about treating people with respect just because that's the right thing to do? More than that, worthiness is an enduring theme in many abusive relationships. I cannot trust a love interest who pits women (or girls) against each other and puts one on a pedestal while treating another like an object.

Angel of Greenwood | Book CoverThe problem was two-fold: while portraying prominent themes of the time, Isaiah expresses extremely outdated ideas about girls which ultimately go unchecked. We see this in his treatment of Dorothy Mae and how he patronises Angel. In addition, all of the characters are one-dimensional: Angel is good, Isaiah is misunderstood, the people on the other side of town are poor, and Isaiah's best friend is bad. Perhaps most offensive of all was that Dorothy Mae was probably the most mature, kind character in the book and yet she wasn't treated well at all and again, that goes unchecked.

The issue with one-dimensional characters is that you can immediately spot when they do something out of character and this becomes obvious during the last 20% of the book when Angel and Isaiah make incredibly unrealistic and uncharacteristic responses during the fires and chaos. Also, I wish authors (and directors) would learn more about the true nature of fire before having characters do impossible things during fires on page and on screen.

Ultimately, Angel of Greenwood fell very flat for me. I wanted to learn more about the events of Tulsa in 1921 but instead I'm tied up worrying about one-dimensional characters, an unlikely love story and impossible heroics during a fire.

With a heavy heart, I give Angel of Greenwood a disappointing two out of five stars, one for the beautiful depictions of life in Greenwood, one for drawing attention to an important event in history, and the other for the gorgeous cover, but less one star for the issues I mentioned above. I'm not saying 'don't read it', just that there are better sources if you're seeking to learn more about the Tulsa race massacre in 1921.

★★☆☆☆

I'm compiling a list of superior YA fiction. Visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations (affiliate link; I will receive a small commission if you purchase using this link at no extra cost to you).

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Monday, 5 April 2021

Horror Film Review: The Power (2021) (A Shudder Exclusive) ★★★★☆

At a time when coalminers' strikes bring darkness and blackouts across London, a young nurse is forced to work the night shift in an old and decaying hospital. As unwelcome memories risen unbidden in her consciousness, she realises that, for some, the nightmare is ongoing. A Shudder Exclusive, The Power is written and directed by Corinna Faith and stars Rose Williams (Sanditon) as Val.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

The opening scenes of The Power set the tone for the significance of the events to come. Waking from a nightmare, Val walks around her tiny bed sit, switching on all the lights and lighting it up like a carnival. It is clear that Val is no friend of darkness. It is her first day working at her new placement.

Proud as she is to finally be a nurse, Val's fresh-faced, spotless demeanour contrast starkly against the old hospital with its sick-coloured walls and peeling paint. Indeed, a hospital is the perfect setting for this story and Corinna Faith makes great use of the angles, lines and frames provided by the endless corridors and stairwells. It's easy to get lost in a hospital like this, as Val learns on her first day, and the perspectives and converging lines immediately plunge the viewer into Val's claustrophobic discomfort.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

The generators can only do so much and most of the patients are evacuated to another hospital across town. Despite her inexperience, Val is chosen to remain in the night shift, keeping watch over the remaining patients in an empty and increasingly dark hospital.

The Power is terrifying yet subtle from the first frame. Hints of Val's childhood are released in a series of flashbacks, just enough to elicit a physical, defensive reaction from the viewer. Val's memories are not the darkest actor at play in the hospital and a malevolent force begins to stalk her as we watch the fresh-faced nurse turn haggard and dishevelled. If only she can survive the night with her wits and sanity intact but to do that means discovering the sickening nature of the presence.

Shakira Rahman is Saba | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review

Rose Williams is superb in her role as Val and is supported by excellent performances from Gbemisola Ikumelo as Comfort, Emma Rigby as Babs and newcomer Shakira Rahman as Saba. With extremely heavy and traumatic themes, The Power is a dark and brooding British horror that explores sexual abuse, class and gender. The excellent costumes and setting contribute to the overall atmosphere of the film. It is a reminder of the desperate days of the early 70s and the ways in which people were kept in their place.

Rose Williams is Val | The Power 2021 | Horror Film Review
I give The Power an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of dark, atmospheric and claustrophobic horror. I eagerly look forward to what Corinna Faith will deliver in future.

★★★★☆

A Shudder Exclusive, The Power will be released on 8 April 2021.

The Power (2021) dir. Corinna Faith - Trailer

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Saturday, 3 April 2021

Five YA Audiobook Releases Not to Miss in April 2021

UK YA Audiobook Releases April 2021

When I began this series, it was with the aim of listening to at least 2-3 audiobooks a month. I haven’t finished one single audiobook. This is the nature of lockdown – entering it’s 5th month in Kent today – I can’t concentrate on a single thing long enough to enjoy.

I’ve promised that’s going to change in April. I’ve spent my weight in gold on seven audiobooks this morning and when I’ve finished those, here are the UK YA audiobook releases I’m most looking forward to in April 2021.


House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Narrated by: Eleanor Bennett
Release date: 13-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. Everybody knew it.

A seductive horror story from the extraordinary Krystal Sutherland.

The Hollow sisters - Vivi, Grey and Iris - are as seductively glamorous as they are mysterious. They have black eyes and hair as white as milk. They share the same birthday, spaced exactly two years apart. The Hollow sisters don't have friends - they don't need them. They move through the corridors like sharks, the other little fish parting around them, whispering behind their backs.

This one sounds deliciously creepy. I’m either going to love it, like Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls or I’m going to inexplicably be the only one to not love it, like Rory Power’s Wilder Girls.

Pre-order  House of Hollow


Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet By Laekan Zea Kemp

Narrated by: Andy Aragon, Arami Malaise
Length: 8 hrs and 45 mins
Release date: 06-04-21
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers

Summary

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter meets Emergency Contact in this stunning story of first love, familial expectations, the power of food, and finding where you belong.

Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father's restaurant, Nacho's Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans - leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she's been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho's who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she's been too afraid to ask herself.

This book sounds delicious, full stop. With it’s promise of culinary delights, I get a definite With Fire On High vibe and I suspect that like Acevedo’s books, this one will be best enjoyed on audiobook.

Pre-order Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet


Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

Narrated by: Izoriah Glover, Ashh Blackwood
Release date: 20-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

Trust no witch....

Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from her home on the island nation of Aiyca when she was just a child. But every day brings her closer to freedom - and vengeance.

Jazmyne Cariot grew up dressed in gold, with stolen magic at her fingertips. Daughter of the self-crowned doyenne, her existence is a threat to her mother's rule. But unlike her sister, Jazmyne has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother's power.

Sworn enemies, the two witches enter a deadly alliance to take down the woman who threatens both their worlds.

But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain - except the lengths Iraya and Jazmyne will go to win this game.

Two witches. One motive. And a very untrustworthy alliance..

This one is giving me strong Children of Blood and Bone vibes. I never could get into Children of Virtue and Vengeance so I’m hoping this will fill the slightly disappointing gap left by the Legacy of Orïsha series.

Pre-order Witches Steeped in Gold


The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Narrated by: Sue Jean Kim
Length: 9 hrs and 30 mins
Release date: 20-04-21
Publisher: Listening Library

Summary

Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur's The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep listeners guessing until the last word.

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani's family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

Years later, Detective Min - Hwani's father - learns that 13 girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate...only to vanish as well.

Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village - and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol - Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.

This sounds very dark. I’ll be very interested to know if it has a Courtney Summers Sadie feel or more of a Rin Chupeco Girl From the Well feel. Then again, maybe we’ll be utterly surprised with a new and unique voice. Nevertheless this is on my watchlist, as well as every other bookworm in the country.

Pre-order The Forest of Stolen Girls


Way of the Argosi (Spellslinger #0.5) by Sebastien de Castell

Narrated by: Kristin Atherton
Release date: 15-04-21
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary

The Alchemist meets The Three Musketeers - with card tricks. A brilliant origin story of adventure, wit and philosophy to enrapture devotees as well as newcomers to the Spellslinger series.

Ferius Parfax has a simple plan: kill every last inhabitant of the spell-gifted nation that destroyed her people, starting with the man who murdered her parents. Killing mages is a difficult and dangerous business, of course, but when she meets the inimitable and extraordinary Durrall Brown she discovers that physical strength is not the only way to defeat evil of all kinds.

So Ferius undertakes to study the ways of the Argosi: the loosely-knit tribe of tricksters known for getting the better of even the most powerful of spellcasters. But the Argosi have a price for their teachings, and by the time Ferius learns what it is, it may be too late.

Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett, Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.

The third book by Hot Key Books on this list. I don’t usually include books from series on this list unless I’ve read and loved the other books in the series. Nevertheless, this promises to be accessible to both novices and fans of the series and honestly? They had me at Guardians of the Galaxy and Ben Aaronovitch.

Pre-order Way of the Argosi


Click on any of the audiobook covers or links above to go straight to Amazon to pre-order. Alternatively, support local bookshops and visit the Addicted to Media YA Fiction Bookshop to see my recommendations.

All links above are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission from your purchase at no extra cost to you.

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Monday, 29 March 2021

Horror Film Review: Shortcut (2020) ★★★☆☆

"Every journey has its road and every road, sooner or later, comes to a crossing, a sudden juncture and only one choice to make". Five British teens are on a school trip in Italy when an obstruction causes them to back up and take a shortcut through the woods. Directed by Alessio Liguori and written by Daniele Cosci (who previously worked together on In the Trap), Shortcut is a film about the choices we make and the decisions that come back to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Shortcut 2020 | Horror Film Review

Cinematically, Shortcut is quite striking. Liguori made beautiful use of light and colour, evident immediately in the juxtaposition of a little yellow raincoat against the fallen leaves and then the little red school bus against the green forest. The score throughout the opening credits sets the scene for what is to come and we know immediately that this is not a tale with a happy ending for all.

If you've not read the synopsis for the film, Shortcut will surprise you. It seems to go in one hair-raising direction before going in another darker, altogether more terrifying direction. I won't spoil it for you if you don't know, but I was quite thrilled with this sudden genre-bending change.

Shortcut 2020 | Horror Film Review

Ultimately, Shortcut is about five teens put in an unprecedented situation in which they must fight for survival. Cosci wrote five distinct personalities, each with their own character traits and issues to overcome, and the young cast excelled in bringing them to light. Jack Kane and Sophie Jane Oliver showed great chemistry as Nolan and Bess, while Zac Sutcliffe and newcomer Molly Dew showed great range as outsiders-to-heroes Reggie and Queenie. My only complaint was that the film relied a little too heavily on fat-shaming but Zander Emlano did a great job of adding gravity and bravery to the character of Karl.

Jack Kane is Nolan and Sophie Jane Oliver is Bess | Shortcut 2020 | Horror Film Review

Was it scary? Shortcut is gory and quite a thrilling caper but not particularly scary. Nevertheless, it's visual candy, has good performances and was a lot of fun.

I give Shortcut (2020) three out of five stars. The visuals, red herring, use of music and acting each earn a star but sadly the fat-shaming takes one away again.

★★★☆☆

Shortcut will be available on DVD and Digital Download from 29th March! Order your digital copy here & DVD copy here (affiliate links, I may earn a small commission if you buy using these links).

Shortcut (2020) trailer

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Friday, 19 March 2021

Keep Or Delete: Music Discoveries March 2021 #NewMusicAlert

Keep or Delete | New Music Friday

I didn't listen to as much new music as I'd wanted to in February. Snow and icy weather had me hibernating, hiding away from the world and when I do that, I just listen to old favourites. It's still ridiculously cold and dreary in March but suddenly this is perfect weather for discovering new stuff and I've returned to my roots listening to goth, industrial and indie, with a little folk and afropunk thrown in.

Brand New Music

"Noyalain (Burn)" by Lisa Gerrard & Jules Maxwell

This is my single of the month and might well be my favourite track of 2021. I love Lisa Gerrard and once famously played "Sanvean" on repeat for six months. I also adore Dead Can Dance. This track? It's so good that I think it easily charts in my top ten favourite Gerrard / DCD tracks of all time.

Jules Maxwell is no stranger to Dead Can Dance fans. He is the currently keyboard player for the band and is a songwriter and composer. "Noyalain (Burn)" is the first track of the album Burn which will be released on 7 May 2021. Post-Punk reports that seven short films will accompany the seven tracks on the album and that "Noyalain" is an invitation to walk in peace.

"Oblivion" by Wisborg featuring Jørgen Munkeby

Back in the days when I lived in Doc Martens and had a spider web shaved into my undercut, I lived at Alcatraz, a goth, punk, industrial club in Johannesburg. I learned about Wisborg on the I Remember Club Alcatraz Facebook group. I love "I Believe in Nothing" and "Oblivion" from their upcoming album Into the Void which is out today 19 March 2021.

I love the drama of this track. It would be incredible to dance to on a packed dance floor.

"Gong" by Anna Wolf

I bet many female artists rue the day Kate Bush ever opened her mouth because so many of them get compared to her. In the case of Anna Wolf, it's impossible not to make that comparison but "Gong" is much more than that. This powerful track is begging to be played at full tilt and I've gone from not knowing Wolf to being a fan in the space of a song.

Now if only she could release a full length album!

"All Else is a Curse" by Astari Nite

Astari Nite found me on Instagram after I showered some love on Wisborg and I'm glad they did. Their music reminds me a lot of The Cure or Sisters of Mercy but it's Mychael Ghost's Bowie-esque vocals that give this band their distinctive sound. This track is a definite keeper and I'm looking forward to more of their stuff.

"Afraid" by Mackenzie Shivers

"Afraid" is the second track from Mackenzie's upcoming album Rejection Letter and it's pretty devastating. It's about being afraid, something which Mackenzie notes is "especially relevant now" and it genuinely feels like she's speaking to my soul.

Can I be afraid
And still be free?
I am afraid
What will become of me?

"Daisy" by Ashnikko

This track is absolutely not safe for work. Ashnikko reminds me a lot of Die Antwoord and I like this goddess manifesto track a lot. I'm not entirely sure I could listen to the entire album which means it's not exactly a keeper but I'll keep this track for now.

"1999" - Katie Kuffel

How beautiful is this woman's voice? Katie's album Alligator is finally out today and it's a definite keeper. It's Sunday-afternoon-tea-socks-and-cats type of music and I like it a lot. Definitely give "Carillon" a listen too.

Music That Is New to Me

"Mine" - Ohmme

I love this track a lot. It's the grandchild of the 1970s Focus track "Hocus Pocus" and love child of 1990s girl rock bands Breeders and Elastica. Mackenzie Shivers recommended this Sub Pop act to me and I'm glad she did!

"Threads" - Naut

This band reminds me so much of Fields of the Nephilim which I bet is no coincidence because I suspect the band name is a homage to my favourite Fields of the Nephilim track "Psychonaut". The whole Naut discography is worth listening to and I hope they bring out some new music soon.

"Africa" - GNL Zamba

Switching up the tempo completely is Ugandan rap icon GNL Zamba. Released in November 2020, this ambitious album reminds me a lot of Leftfield's Leftism.

"Shadow Love" - Astralseid

Norwegian Astralseid wrap up today. This track reminds me of Dead Can Dance, Return to the Source and Branco de Gaia. I'd recommend listening to the whole album, on repeat, for several days.

Keep or Delete Spotify Playlist

Subscribe to the Keep or Delete playlist. I'll be adding more tracks every 4-6 weeks.

What are your discoveries of 2021 so far? Check out my review policy if you'd like me to listen to your track.

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Monday, 15 March 2021

Horror Film Review: Koko-Di Koko-Da (2019) ★★★★★

How do you escape the inevitable, when you don't know what you're running from? How do you live through the worst possible experience a human can face and come out intact on the other end? How do you write about a masterpiece of a Swedish film without giving away the entire plot? These are the questions flying around in my head after watching Johannes Nyholm's fantasy horror Koko-Di Koko-Da.

Koko-Di Koko-Da | Horror Film Review

Koko-Di Koko-Da is about a young couple on holiday with their daughter when tragedy strikes and there's just two of them left. With the event threatening to tear them to pieces, the couple takes a camping trip to try find their way back to each other. What they find instead is that they're stuck in a perpetual loop of horror as a sideshow artist (Danish rockstar Peter Belli) and his troupe of misfits arrive to terrorise and humiliate them. Day after day, they are stuck in the same pattern, inevitably tumbling towards the same terrible conclusion.

Part live action film, part puppet show, Koko-Di Koko-Da is utterly spectacular. It reminds me of The Babadook, the film that made me fall in love with horror back in 2014 and the puppet scenes also remind me of the brilliant Impetigore.

Koko-Di Koko-Da | Horror Film Review

There isn't a single moment when Koko-Di Koko-Da releases it's closed-fisted grip on your heart; it is relentless and painful to watch, buoyed by the performances from Leif Edlund Johansson as Tobias and Ylva Gallon as Elin.

A Carnival of Emotions

Koko-Di Koko-Da is an emotional rollercoaster of a film, dragging the viewer along with Tobias and Elin's terrible journey. Grief is an utterly surreal experience; every day is a complete dumpster fire as wave after wave of devastation slowly takes you out. There are times when you question your sanity, when you simply can't fathom going on for a minute longer and other times when you are so angry that you feel it might physically devour you from within. You are never so alone as you are with your grief but loss has the added injustice of watching your loved ones in pain and being utterly powerless to do a single thing about it. And then you wake up again the next morning and start all over again.

Koko-Di Koko-Da captures this endless cycle of despair with surreal, utterly morbid clarity.

It's a long time since I've watched a horror film this perfect and I give Koko-Di Koko-Da a superb five out of five stars. Absolutely recommended.

★★★★★

A Shudder Exclusive, Koko-Di Koko-Da premieres on Shudder on 18 March 2021. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles.

Koko-Di Koko-Da Trailer

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