May 2011 Archives

Drive Angry DVD Review: Watch Disappointed

I wish the Accountant had taken this back to Hell before I saw it.
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Nicolas Cage, a name you can no longer trust with your entertainment dollar, plays Milton, a man who busts out of Hell with a purpose: to find cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) and get back what's his. Milton is revealed to be quite the badass with a gun and has no qualms about going through whoever stands in his way. Although she has no idea what's she's getting herself into, a young woman named Piper (Amber Heard), a badass herself, befriends Milton and helps him with his mission as she leaves her life behind. The Devil also wants back

Old Dracula DVD Review: Bloodsucking Fun with David Niven

Part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
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Once upon a time there was an audience for pictures like Old Dracula (1975), one who watched movies from the comfort of their car. A film like this does not mind if you get distracted by spilled popcorn, beer, or your date. In fact, it was all part of the drive-in experience. The seventies were the last hurrah of the genre, but they went out in a blaze of glory. Old Dracula is a prime example. It just so happens that there is to be a Playboy photo session at Old Dracula's (David Niven) castle when we tune in, which

The Snob Seven: War Movies

The Sentries remember their favorites on Memorial Day.
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As the United States celebrates Memorial Day in commemoration of the men and women who died in military service and the unofficial start to summer, Cinema Sentries takes a look at their favorite war movies. The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) by Greg Barbrick William Wyler's The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946) is a brilliantly crafted study of three returning World War II veterans. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director - and set attendance records. There are a number of reasons this film is so special, chief among them being its realism in

Criterion Collection Eclipse Series #27 DVD Review: Raffaello Matarazzo's Runaway Melodramas

Beautifully shot, painfully overwrought Italian melodramas.
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Raffaello Matarazzo (1909 - 1966) was an Italian director who specialized in some of the most melodramatic pictures to ever grace the silver screen. In the post-war period of the late forties and early fifties, Matarazzo enjoyed enormous success with tales of star-crossed lovers and the villains intent on keeping them apart. While these movies resonated with the public, critics hated them. For tastemakers, the neo-realism of Vittoria De Sica and Roberto Rossellini were very much the order of the day. Consequently, Matarazzo's name has been largely written out of serious studies of Italian film. These factors make Matarazzo a

M*A*S*H Blu-ray Review: A Brilliant Military Farce

The bits of comedic insanity are separated by the insanity of war.
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Based on Richard Hooker's novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors and, as it turns out according to the extras, on Ring Lardner Jr.'s script to the screenwriter's initial chagrin, Robert Altman and the cast deliver a brilliant military farce equal to classics like Duck Soup and Dr. Strangelove. In fact, while M*A*S*H is celebrated as an antiwar film, the anti-authority anarchy plays out very much like an R-rated Marx Brothers movie would have, particularly because there's not so much a story taking place but rather characters making their way through a series of comedic vignettes. However, the film

The Great Dictator Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Most Courageous Act of His Remarkable Career

Chaplin's masterful skewering of Hitler remains a remarkable cinematic achievement.
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Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) is undoubtedly his most controversial film. It is also one of his greatest. His portrayal of Adolph Hitler as Adenoid Hynkel was scathing. By also playing a look-alike Jewish barber, Chaplin managed to contrast good and evil in a remarkably simple manner. But there is nothing simple about The Great Dictator as a whole. Unprecedented is more like it. This is a truly funny, poignant - and ultimately inspiring film about (of all things) the Nazis. Only Chaplin could have pulled off such an audacious feat. One day in the not too distant future,

I Am Number Four Blu-ray Review: Number Six Would Have Been Better

Director and stars fumble badly, but co-star Teresa Palmer shines.
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Proving that its middling box office performance was no fluke, I Am Number Four arrives on home video this week with very little to recommend. Based on a young adult novel and featuring a script by TV vets Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) along with Marti Noxon (Buffy, Angel), the film predictably carries all the weight of an episode of any of the CW network's teen-centric series. It doesn't get any help from its director or leads either, with D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) failing to elevate the project above its tired high school clichés and stars Alex Pettyfer (Beastly) and

The Great Dictator Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Charlie Chaplin Still Gives Hope Today

Chaplin shows off his mastery of the cinema and tells us life can be free and beautiful.
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When we last saw Charlie Chaplin in 1936 at the end of Modern Times, The Tramp and his muse, "the gamine" were walking away from us to a hopeful future. A mere four years later, the world had changed and so had that future. In Modern Times, Charlie used the old style of the silent film to give hope to those still mired in the Great Depression. In 1940, Chaplin would utilize sound film to look forward and give hope to those who saw only strife. The Great Dictator (the most recent release from The Criterion Collection) would tackle subjects

Lemonade Mouth Extended Edition DVD Review: Detention Ain't a Bad Place to be

A nice family film with a positive message for kids.
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In the World of Disney when five high school kids meet in detention, they do not talk about deep dark secrets and learn a life lesson by the end of the day like a great John Hughes film. In a Disney film, they play music, sing, and dance. Following along in the footsteps of High School Musical and Camp Rock, Lemonade Mouth is another teen flick filled with pop music. It's not a musical because they don't randomly break into song. The songs are self-contained within the story and have a legitimate reason for appearing where they do. Filmed in

Gnomeo & Juliet Blu-ray Review: A Mostly Pleasant Surprise

Not a classic, but worthwhile and sweet family entertainment
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Somewhere there's a big Random Idea Generator that spit out a doozy for this film, uniting three things that have absolutely nothing in common: Shakespeare, ceramic garden gnomes, and Elton John. Surprisingly, the results of this bizarre collaboration are mostly successful, making for some heartwarming animated family entertainment that measures up fairly well to the big guys at Pixar and Dreamworks. That's not to say it's must-see viewing, but it is definitely an unexpected surprise. Borrowing the same conceit as the Toy Story films, the ceramic stars of the film are sentient but can only talk and move about freely

Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray Review: Captivating for Both Kids and Adults

Jack Black is the star of the show and doesn't disappoint.
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Po (Jack Black) dreams of being a kung fu master but being an overweight, uncoordinated panda makes working in his father's noodle restaurant seems more appropriate. One day the tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a vision that Tai Lung (Ian McShane), a kung fu master who went bad, will escape from prison so Oogway calls for a ceremony to select the Dragon Warrior, who legend says is to be a supreme kung fu master. The red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) believes that one of the Furious Five [Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis

Diabolique (1955) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Crime and Punishment

An unforgettable revenge thriller.
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There’s a clear point part way through this French classic where it drops its conventional nature and morphs into an unforgettable revenge thriller. That point is illustrated on Criterion’s cover artwork for their new DVD and Blu-ray release, with a man’s head forcibly held underwater. It’s completely understandable how the film reaches that event, but a surprising thrill ride as its aftermath plays out. The head belongs to a sleazy cad named Michel (Paul Meurisse), a womanizer seemingly out of place in his occupation as co-owner of a respectable boarding school. The hand belongs to his mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret),

The Misfits Blu-ray Review: An Overlooked American Classic Looks Stunning In High-Def

The last film of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable is more than a mere career footnote.
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The Film With the powerhouse combination of writer Arthur Miller and director John Huston behind the camera and the star power of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift in front, The Misfits seems like it should be a stone-cold classic. Chances are, it's more likely known for being both Monroe and Gable's last film -- he died of a heart attack just days after filming completed and her overdose-induced death came several years later before she could finish another project. But The Misfits shouldn't be regarded as a mere career footnote for anybody involved, as its tale of midlife

The Times of Harvey Milk Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: History in the Making

An outstanding documentary that presents an important chapter in the United States civil rights movement.
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The Times of Harvey Milk is an outstanding documentary that presents an important chapter in the United States civil rights movement as homosexual men and women strove for equality in the 1970s, which unfortunately still eludes them four decades later. Winning a seat on the San Franciscan Board of Supervisors in 1977, Harvey Milk earned the distinction of being California's first openly gay elected official and one of the first in the country. His pro-gay legislative work and his calls for gays to "come out of the closet" made him a de facto leader of the gay-rights movement. Tragically, Harvey's

Diabolique (1955) Criterion Collection DVD Review: Influential Horror that Stands the Test of Time

French New Wavers trashed it, but Hitchcock was inspired.
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Henri-Georges Clouzet's Diabolique (1955) is a classic suspense/horror film. Although Clouzet was maligned as "old guard" by the up and coming leaders of the French New Wave, the movie has definitely stood the test of time. Comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's work are often cited, and the influences clearly worked both ways. Hitchcock's masterful Psycho (1960) for one was directly inspired by Diabolique. On the surface, the story is fairly routine - if a bit fantastic. Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is the principle of a boys boarding school outside of Paris. He is a villainous character from the outset, terrorizing the

My Last Movie Before the Rapture

It's too late and would be disingenuous to start pandering now.
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While I don't understand it myself, a number of people in the media have apparently decided to stop paying attention to important matters to instead focus on (what I presume are) the mad ravings of Harold Camping, a Christian radio evangelist and president of the Family Radio network, who has predicted that May 21, 2011 would be the day the Rapture would take place as prophesied in the Bible. He even specified the hour, 6 p.m. local time. Considering he made the same claims about the Rapture taking place on September 6, 1994, it seems odd that Camping would be

The Horse Soldiers Blu-ray Review: One of John Ford's Lesser Films

The Horse Soldiers is an acceptable genre film, but mostly undistinguished among John Ford's body of work.
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The Film John Ford elevated the western from sturdy B-picture to bona fide art form with his 1939 film Stagecoach, and would build a career on westerns that transcended genre conventions and explored human nature like The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ford's 1959 film The Horse Soldiers is not one of those films. His only full-length crack at a Civil War film, The Horse Soldiers features a steady directorial hand and several impressive action set pieces, but with so many great Ford pictures to choose from, it's doubtful this one will be coming of the shelf

Pirates of the Caribbean At World's End DVD Review: Third Time is Not the Charm

Becomes exhausting on so many levels, but the visual effects are incredible.
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This review originally was written in 2007 with the understanding that the fourth film was still a rumor on a storyboard. Personally, I will be seeing the fourth installment simply to see if any of these loose ends were tied up and to enjoy all of those beautiful special effects on the big screen. Ten years ago when someone said "Pirates of the Caribbean," the classic Disneyland ride came to mind, complete with "yo hos" and "dead men tell no tales." Now with The Pirates of the Caribbean films, pirates have a whole new association, Captain Jack Sparrow has even

Dead Men Do Tell Tales (for Better and Worse) in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy

A look back at Disney's first three Pirates movies before setting sail On Stranger Tides.
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In anticipation of tonight's midnight screenings of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at my reviews for the first three films in the series. Won't you join me? Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black PearlReview originally published Dec. 1, 2003 Way back in January 2003, I, Sombrero Grande, offered up a review of the teaser trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl on the Masked Movie Snobs web site. Let's take a nostalgic look back, shall we? When I first heard that

Pirates of Tortuga DVD Review: A Love Story at its Core

Fans of Classic Hollywood spectacles should enjoy this romantic tale.
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Captain Bart (Ken Scott) and the crew of the Mermaid have been requested to stop the piracy of former British officer Henry Morgan (Robert Stephens) and his cohorts who have taken over the Caribbean. They have cut off the British subjects on Jamaica from the rest of the Empire, no ships get in or out. After accepting the mission, Bart rounds up his former officers who used to serve with him. On his way back to the ship, Bart rescues a pickpocket named Meg (Letícia Román) from an angry butcher who was her latest victim. She is very feisty and

A High Wind in Jamaica DVD Review: This Children's Pirate Adventure Blows

An action film starring Coburn and Quinn sounds good on paper. Unfortunately, that's not what this movie contains.
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At the time of its release in 1965 A High Wind in Jamaica might have been an adequate adventure for children, but it does not stand the test of time. There's not enough action and it moves too slowly. It might be a fun treat for people who grew up with it or for fans of classic Hollywood, but no one from Generation X onward could sit still through this. A hurricane hits the Caribbean and the Thorton family takes cover. Young Emily, a precursor to Ripley from Alien, risks her life by running out to save the cat. Her

Some Like It Hot Blu-ray Review: A Timeless Comedic Classic Impresses on Blu-ray

Billy Wilder's 1959 film is an American classic -- and it's not even his best film!
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An enduring classic that's often considered one of the finest American comedies ever made, Some Like It Hot is a testament to the greatness of director Billy Wilder and his writing partner I.A.L. Diamond. Some Like It Hot features a perfect balance of visual and verbal gags, impeccable pacing, and a willingness to push the envelope that ensures its guys-in-drag plot doesn't feel even a bit dowdy today. And this isn't even Wilder and Diamond's best film together! (That would be The Apartment, which was their next project. Let's get that Blu-ray cracking, folks.) The Film Jack Lemmon and Tony

Army of Shadows Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Different Kind of Spy Thriller

An impressive film that honors those whose story it tells.
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Writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville's Army of Shadows (1969) opens with a powerful image: an extended take of a long line of Nazi soldiers marching in front of Paris' Arc de Triomphe. No one else can be seen in the frame, as if Paris has become a ghost town now that the German army occupies it. This scene helps remind the viewer of how evil the Nazis were as opposed to the goofy, bumbling portrayals so often seen in the media from Captain America comic books to the Hogan's Heroes television series and the Indiana Jones movies. A sense of dread permeates

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Blu-ray Review: Effective, if Dated, Political Paranoia

John Frankenheimer's thriller is anything but subtle, but remains a classic nonetheless.
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The Film Political thrillers don't get much more famous than The Manchurian Candidate, John Frankenheimer's entry into the pantheon of Cold War paranoia films. But rather than the implicit threat of communism glimpsed in scores of '50s American films, the villain here is American fanaticism, paired with a blunt evocation of McCarthyism that could hardly be less subtle. Still, for all the clumsy tendencies and the conspiracy hokum found in George Axelrod's script, based on the novel by Richard Condon, the film earns its classic status with tense atmospherics, sly humor and a collection of strong performances. The film takes

Friday the 13th (1980) Blu-ray Review: The Uncut Edition

The one that launched a franchise.
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After the success of John Carpenter's Halloween, producer/director Sean Cunningham decided to rip it off, according to screenwriter Victor Miller. In doing so, they, along with make-up artist Tom Savini, created a pop culture sensation that returned more than 70 times its budget at the box office. Unknowingly, they were starting a horror movie franchise that would create more sequels and earn more money than its inspiration. Friday the 13th opens in 1958 at Camp Crystal Lake in New Jersey. A young couple of counselors sneak off to have sex in an attic and are killed. We flash-forward a couple

Something Wild Criterion Collection DVD Review: Jonathan Demme's Vision of a Yuppie Nightmare

A film definitely worthy of revisiting.
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"It's better to be a live dog, than a dead lion." So says Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels) as he leaves his Manhattan office for the final time. The line was given to him by the disheveled caretaker of a rundown motel, helping Driggs recuperate from a five-star whisky hangover. The genesis of the statement (which sums up the whole movie) was one of the many happy accidents that occurred during the filming of Jonathan Demme's classic Something Wild (1986). It was an ad-lib by a character whose total screen time added up to about 30 seconds. Something Wild belongs to

Something Wild Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Jonathan Demme's Film is a Wild Thing

Put together with a soundtrack as important to the story as any John Hughes soundtrack of the day.
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The Criterion Collection is on a serious roll this Spring. I've had the pleasure of reviewing White Material (a superb modern French film), Sweetie (an early, classic Jane Campion film) and now I get to spend a couple hours with the release of Jonathan Demme's oft-forgotten 1986 cult classic Something Wild. The arrival of this film on Blu-ray a mere 25 years after its theatrical release is a curious exercise for me. I just finished reviewing Betty Blue - another forgotten '80s cult favorite that is trying to find a home in a world that doesn't allow films to slowly

Summer Children DVD Review: A Lost Film is Found Again

This previously unreleased rarity features gorgeous cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond
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Never properly released after it was shot in 1965, Summer Children was recently unearthed by producer Jack Robinette and finally premiered at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival. Now on DVD, the film would probably be little more than a stilted oddity were it not for the impressive early work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would go on to shoot Robert Altman's stunning McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For most of the rest of the people involved, this would be their high point. Director James Bruner and writer Norman Handelsman would never direct

Pale Flower Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Essential Japanese New Wave

Cool couple chase illicit thrills in 1960s Tokyo
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Although this is a Japanese film, the words that immediately come to mind to describe it are largely French: a classic film noir with an avant garde soundtrack and co-starring an ethereal ingénue. Add one Japanese word to the mix, for its dramatic tale centered in Tokyo's criminal underworld hews closely to the gekiga school of manga. Now thanks to Criterion, Pale Flower is available in a fantastic new Blu-ray release that further enhances this film's legacy and its surrounding era. The story focuses on a veteran yakuza thug named Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) emerging from prison after a three year

The Snob Seven: Comic Book Movies

With great source material can also come great films.
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In honor of Saturday's Free Comic Book Day and the release of Thor continuing the onslaught of comic book properties adapted for the silver screen, Cinema Sentries takes a look at their favorite movies based on comics. Batman Returns (1992) by El Bicho Before 1989, the majority of the general public used to think of Batman as the camp character played by Adam West on the TV series. Tim Burton, along with his talented cast and crew, changed that. Burton's vision of the caped crusader was dark, similar to both the character's first appearances as well as his portrayal in
Take the Karate Kid Part II, replace the karate with cars, and you have The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Now that may sound like a bubblegum movie (not life-impacting, but good while it lasts, then spit it out, and move on), and it is. That's okay, because it knows it, and it works. This film is not out to fool anyone, nor is it out to win any awards. It's fast cars, fast driving, big crashes, a pounding soundtrack, and beautiful women. Grab some popcorn, and enjoy the ride. Not having seen the first two installments will not

All-Star Superman Blu-ray Review: You Will Believe a Man Can Die

An action-packed adventure that has something to offer even to those who aren't fans of the character.
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I've always been ambivalent towards Superman. Though a longtime fan of superheroes, I didn't collect any of his comics unless he was paired with other heroes; however, as a kid, I enjoyed the old Filmation cartoons and Superman II. Admittedly, I may not have read the right books, but I've never felt a connection with the character. While I know all heroes will eventually triumph, the outcome of Superman's battles never seem in doubt. Plus, Clark Kent lacks the angst and struggle of every day life that characters like Peter Parker or the X-Men experience, which make them more accessible.

Book Review: I Know Where I'm Going - Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler

A biography of the screen legend in her own words, more or less...
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Katharine Hepburn certainly ranks among the most legendary of American film stars. With her patrician bearing, her Bryn Mawr accent, and her highly individual sense of style, she graced the screen in some of the most memorable films ever made. Hepburn exemplified the term "movie star." Charlotte Chandler's I Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography offers the reader some insight into Hepburn's long and interesting life in the actress's own words and occasionally those of close friends and colleagues. Based on a series of interviews recorded over a period of many years, Chandler's book is less a

Betty Blue Blu-ray Review: This Dark, Passionate Film is a Colorful Outing

Twenty-five years later, the reviewer sees a completely different story though finds it no less enjoyable.
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The recent Blu-ray release of Betty Blue from Cinema Libre Studios as part of their The Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection takes me back to my formative movie-watching days in Ann Arbor in the mid-'80s. I saw this film at the Michigan Theater in 1986 and reveled in the raw sexuality of the relationship and admired the way the couple seemed to rebel against society. I found Betty (Beatrice Dalle) irresistable and fell in love with her gap-toothed smile. I was 19 years old and I thought that this was the most romantic film of its day. Now, 25 years later,

I'm Dangerous with Love DVD Review: Michel Negroponte Examines an Unorthodox Cure for Addiction

"We should start listening to the people who wear feathers."
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This 2009 documentary is about addiction and redemption. But in this case, redemption is not achieved through talk therapy, prayer, or methadone. Directed by Michel Negroponte, I'm Dangerous with Love is the story about Dimitri Mugianis, a former drug addict and front man of the band Leisure Class, who found a cure to opiate addiction without the horrors of dope sickness and withdrawal. And what is this cure? Ibogaine. It's an alkaloid that is found in the root bark of the iboga (tabernanthe iboga) plant. This shrub is common to the jungles of central Africa, and is an integral part

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