First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

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Murdoch
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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#51 Post by Murdoch » Tue Jun 19, 2018 9:22 am

All the Best People wrote:
Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:28 am
I'm actually not sure I agree with that reading of the ending of Winter Light. To clarify, while I don't think he
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abandons belief at the end, I'm not sure he fully embraces it either; I think he ultimately subscribes to the ritual as a proxy for belief. Then again, maybe the upshot is that these are the same choice.
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Embraces was too strong a word, submits to his faith is more what I meant in regards to Winter Light. I don't think the pastor's belief is stronger in the end, but he takes comfort in the mundane rituals of Christianity to weather the storm. Hawke's touching and kissing of Seyfried on the other hand came across to me as fuck it all, the church, BALQ, Esther, the kid that jumped down his throat at therapy, etc.

But, I could just as easily see it as Hawke being on the brink of that nihilism and Seyfried's appearance pulling him back from the ledge.

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mfunk9786
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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#52 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Jun 19, 2018 10:49 am

I don't buy into the idea that Toller is a particularly faithful man, in the sense that he is using this vocation as a temporary salve for his wounds rather than a true salvation from them. He lived a life centered around structure in the military, and more importantly a life centered around a 'cause' that made him feel that he was making a contribution to the world. With that hole still smoking he went to look for something else that could give him that same sense of self-importance and found religion - but he works at a sparsely attended church and is struggling with his attempts at contributing to youth counseling. So when the events of the plot begin to unfurl, he finds another, last ditch, desperate way of directing his need to feel as if he is making a difference in the world - and ironically his heart is more in the right place than it ever was, because it's too late - he is broken beyond repair, both physically and psychologically. The story uses the tenants of faith through some key metaphors to show us all this, but I don't think that just because Schrader is willing to go there, he has anything but disappointment and contempt toward his lead, and is certainly not trying to imply to us that this is a man of true religious faith.

Faith as a synonym for optimism is what I see as the reason for his change of heart at the end of the film, a last gasp of faith for the future in the remaining light in his life - but true faith in God? His initial potential action would be very far from godly ones - it would be incredibly, immensely selfish. And the one he actually settles on, while obviously much more selfless, isn't exactly going to earn him the forgiveness of the Holy Spirit either.

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Persona
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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#53 Post by Persona » Tue Jun 19, 2018 12:04 pm

I think Toller's faith is genuine. I don't really see the film painting it as anything other than that. But it's a faith that is trying to find a way to coexist with tortured psyche. And one of the things the film presents is that if we really take in what's happening in our lives, our world, our reality--shouldn't all of our psyches be tortured? So faith becomes almost the response to that reality. The continual experience of despair, the continual choice of hope. Toller's hope is crumbling throughout the course of the film. That changes at the very end.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#54 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Jun 19, 2018 12:11 pm

I disagree completely about whether or not his faith is genuine. His reasons for seeking it are medicinal to the extent of almost being wholly practical, and he continues to be self-destructive despite "finding" God, so it clearly is doing more harm to him than good (and the movie bears that out). One of the great aspects of this film to me is that we're presented with someone whose piety and psychological stability we take as granted from the first frame. But a recollection of the events of the film and/or a rewatch belies that there's obviously a whole lot wrong with this man from the moment it begins.
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No one takes such a psychological nosedive overnight, and the warning signs are all there from the very beginning despite initially seeming to be a very serious engagement with his faith and not what they are - symptoms of a dangerous loner who could easily be pulled into self-harm or violent jihadism.

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Murdoch
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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#55 Post by Murdoch » Tue Jun 19, 2018 1:13 pm

I don't think that because his reasons for seeking out religion are medicinal that that means his faith isn't genuine. I've encountered quite a few people who embrace religion following a loss or tragedy and Toller is no different. As someone who grew up Christian (and have since largely abandoned it), Toller's path is fairly common and I don't doubt his faith just as I don't doubt the plenty of other people I encountered at church who only began attending after a family member died or illness overtook them. That his psychological problems remain despite his choice of profession isn't surprising. Faith doesn't cure personal failings and it may have even exacerbated Toller's as, toward the end, he spirals into depression and anger, finding the world around him lacking in the moral certitude he believes himself to possess.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#56 Post by Persona » Tue Jun 19, 2018 2:05 pm

Yeah, I mean I don't at all disagree that there's clearly a lot "wrong" with Toller and that's true before the story even starts. He is in a dark place, has been since the death of his son and possibly prior to that. But I also think his faith isn't a facade or purely symptomatic of/responsive to what's wrong with him. I think Schrader underlines the idea of holding two contradictory ideas together at the same time to be true, in this case hope and despair, and the glimpse we get in the movie of Toller is the point at which his hope finally starts to fail him completely and he really gives in to this dark path that he sees as a way out, that his psychology kind of gives an almost religious justification to. So I guess I am not fully disagreeing with what you're saying, mfunk, but I think maybe I interpret Toller's investment in his faith as not something that is utterly self-serving and medicinal, although the film necessarily does kind of emphasize that aspect of it for him. Toller's character is very much one who has lost touch with the idea and experience of grace. I think the final moment of the film, whether real or not, brings that back to him.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#57 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Jun 19, 2018 3:34 pm

You're right in that I might be too damning of his motivations for getting into the faith, but I still remain somewhat uncertain how faithful a person he ultimately is during the time we see him in the film. That said, your final point is incredibly well said and well stated, and works well for both predominant interpretations of the ending.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#58 Post by John Cope » Tue Jun 19, 2018 5:30 pm

Armond's rather unsurprising review at First Things.

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Persona
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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#59 Post by Persona » Tue Jun 19, 2018 6:24 pm

That was an interesting read. Armond definitely gives a unique perspective in how he frames what he feels to be the film's thematic and narrative shortcomings, and I have to say it really feels like he was trying with this piece, as opposed to what often feels like him just trying to be contrary. It was nice to see him flex his knowledge and really think through his angle for once.

That said, as the review finishes I found myself asking, "So, wait, are you sure you didn't like the movie, Armond?"

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#60 Post by Kirkinson » Mon Jun 25, 2018 3:23 am

I thought this was extraordinary, overwhelming even. It's going to take me a while to gather more of my thoughts together, but I wanted to briefly respond to this:
wattsup32 wrote:
Thu Jun 14, 2018 12:47 pm
mfunk9786 wrote:
Wed Jun 13, 2018 11:36 pm
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And if you're keeping score at home - LQ saw the ending as entirely imagined, a death rattle - and perhaps because I needed it right at this moment, it never even crossed my mind that it was anything but real. Not sure what that says about anything, except that this is one of those films that demands that level of high level discussion and engagement, even on the drive home. It simply must be reckoned with.
I read it similarly to LQ. In fact, I wonder if we don't have to read everything after:
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Toller rips out the two pages from his journal as not real or at least highly unreliable as "true" from anyone else's perspective.
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I actually started interpreting the narrative as some flavor of unreliable/unreal/surreal/subjective even earlier than that, when Toller is going through the dead husband's photos of environmental devastation and the first piece of non-diegetic music begins. The soundtrack had been so sparse and silent up to that point that the introduction of underscore struck me as signaling a major shift in the storytelling. The reference to torn out pages seemed like another clue, as did Toller's late conversation with his boss, who gives him the extremely on-the-nose admonishment, "You're not living in the real world!" By the time the final scene arrived, there was no doubt in my mind that it did not represent "reality" as any of the other characters would recognize it. Which is not to say that I was not swept up in what was going on — on the contrary, I was in excruciating dread the whole final sequence!
I have to admit that I don't know exactly what it all amounts to for me yet, but I know it's going to haunt and confound me for a long time, and that's something I very much appreciate.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#61 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jun 25, 2018 10:40 am

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I still remain unconvinced that tearing out the pages, shifts in music, etc are meant as anything other than to represent the psychological descent of Toller. I don't think I can buy into the idea that what we're seeing isn't really happening when he is preparing the vest, etc. For example: the scene when he relays the elevator story to Mary is played to show us how profound Toller believes what he's saying is, but also plays Mary's reaction pretty straightforward - she is puzzled and even a little put off by what Toller said, mostly just confused as to how it applies, but holds herself back from questioning it further. Were we truly seeing this scene from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, wouldn't she be profoundly moved by it, as Toller intended her to be, and as he clearly is through his increasingly cloudy philosophical vision?

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#62 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:03 pm

I really enjoyed this section from last week's A.O. Scott interview with Schrader, which I think speaks to some of the discussion above:
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SCOTT You take the audience into this condition of extremism, but you’re there as if it were a perfectly natural place to be.

SCHRADER I’ll tell you the trick, and I figured it out years ago. It’s a three-stage trick. First stage is nonemotive narration. So it’s like intravenous feeding. You’re getting nutrition but you can’t taste it. The next stage is the world is only as our protagonist perceives it. You see no other reality. There’s never a scene that he’s not in. So now you’re seeing his life, you’re being filled up with his thoughts and after about 45 minutes or so, you’ve identified. How could you not identify? Then, often slowly, you have to go off the rails a little bit, a little bit, a little bit. The first few times it doesn’t bother you, but then all of a sudden [you’re] saying whoa, I’m identified with somebody that I don’t think is worthy of identification. What do I do about that?

And that’s a great place for an artist to take a viewer because you can’t predict how people will respond when they’re opened up that way; they’re going to have to do something to defend themselves. Here’s how you can defend yourself: Just take a jump, you know.

SCOTT On one hand you’re appalled by what he’s contemplating and you realize that you are in some way rooting for …

SCHRADER … a jihadist.

SCOTT On the other hand, you can’t say in terms of his analysis of the relevant information that he’s wrong.

SCHRADER This is the path that he’s meant to take. One thing I cut out of the film: When he has the [suicide bomber] vest on, he had written three entries in [his diary] and I filmed them and then decided no, it’s better to let the audience imagine what his last words are.

First he writes, “magical mystery tour” and then he crosses that out. Then he writes, “Will God forgive us?” and he crosses that out. Then he writes, “I wish I could’ve chosen a more convenient way to die.” And then he closes the book. And that’s exactly Gethsemane. Take this cup away from me. Lord, take this cup of Drano away from me.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#63 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:08 pm

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I wish he would've kept that final diary stuff in, but in a sense it's a testament to his approach in this film that he left it out.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#64 Post by Kirkinson » Mon Jun 25, 2018 1:17 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Jun 25, 2018 10:40 am
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I still remain unconvinced that tearing out the pages, shifts in music, etc are meant as anything other than to represent the psychological descent of Toller. I don't think I can buy into the idea that what we're seeing isn't really happening when he is preparing the vest, etc. For example: the scene when he relays the elevator story to Mary is played to show us how profound Toller believes what he's saying is, but also plays Mary's reaction pretty straightforward - she is puzzled and even a little put off by what Toller said, mostly just confused as to how it applies, but holds herself back from questioning it further. Were we truly seeing this scene from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, wouldn't she be profoundly moved by it, as Toller intended her to be, and as he clearly is through his increasingly cloudy philosophical vision?
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Excellent point with that example. I don't think my position was that what we're seeing isn't necessarily happening (except perhaps for the last shot) just that we're seeing a heavily filtered version of reality. But I say "was" because after sleeping on it I think I was maybe overinterpreting what is actually just an aspect of the methods Schrader talks about in the interview excerpt DarkImbecile just quoted. In any case, I'm still sorting through my reaction and may need a second viewing!

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#65 Post by whaleallright » Mon Jun 25, 2018 11:19 pm

I was quite shaken by this film, and I think it transcends the rather programmatic way that Schrader seems to have gone about conceiving it. There's something a little embarrassing about the way he repeats back film-crit clichés about "slow cinema" and places his own practice in that "circle," but damned if he hasn't made some powerful movies, and I wouldn't presume that's "in spite" of his pedantic bent.

I also want to single out Philip Ettinger's performance as Michael for praise. It captured a true despair; each word he spoke seemed to stick in his throat, painful in arriving. For all the well-deserved plaudits for Hawke, I think Ettinger's side of the pivotal conversation is what I'll take with me most strongly from this film.
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I wonder what it says about our world that more people haven't responded to ecological catastrophe in the way the two characters do here. Of all possible causes in whose name one might commit suicide, this is certainly the most righteous.
NB Schrader has been giving lots of interviews lately, but the long interview in the most recent issue of Cineaste is one of the best, and worth checking out.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#66 Post by McCrutchy » Tue Jun 26, 2018 1:59 pm


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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#67 Post by DarkImbecile » Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:24 pm

Finally caught this for a second time nearly a year later, and it more than held up on second viewing, especially after having been able to soak in the conversation surrounding it for the last month or so. No question in my mind that this is among Schrader's best work ever as a director and a writer, and that Ethan Hawke has never been better. I was extremely interested in how the "Magical Mystery Tour" and the finale would play without the element of surprise, and I think they're even better when you're not focused on how jarring they are amidst the formal and narrative grounding of the rest of the film, and can be evaluated as exceptional mile markers on the road of Toller's decline.

As to the debate about
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the reality of the final moments: immediately after seeing it I assumed the embrace was actually happening, became more split on it as the months went on (and especially upon hearing Schrader say he intended for it to be ambiguous), and - while I think there's no definitive reading of it purely on the evidence of what we're shown - I have now come around 180 degrees to believing that Mary's appearance is Toller's dying fantasy/hallucination.

Some other moments and elements that stood out to me this time:
  • The grimly hilarious cut from Toller's absolutely brutal rejection of Esther to Toller's narration in the next scene ("I feel much better...") is the apotheosis of Schrader's flair for darkly comedic juxtapositions; both times I've seen it the timing sent a wave of nervous laughter through the audience. The song at the memorial is a close second.
  • I was far more acutely aware of how unreliable Schrader makes Toller as our protagonist/narrator; the narration regularly intrudes over what other characters are saying, and sometimes contradicts what we see and hear from Toller and others - even misquoting the lines in the diary on at least one occasion.
  • I think the use (or lack) of sound is so important in this film - the subliminal rumblings of the score in the second half are the perfect undercurrent to Toller's drift from his moorings - so if I have one outstanding question I'd love to have someone more knowledgeable elaborate on, it would have to be whether there is any significant historical/religious/musical context to the psalms/songs sung in the first act at Esther's choir practice and by Esther herself in the final moments of the film. The latter especially seems significant to a reading of the last scene, and I'm completely lacking in that background (and can't even find the names of either song online to do further research myself).

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#68 Post by HinkyDinkyTruesmith » Sat Jun 30, 2018 11:56 pm

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I have yet to see it again, but one aspect of the final shot that struck me, and I don't believe anyone has mentioned it in this thread, was its connection to Vertigo. The hammed up kissing paired with the spinning camera is strongly reminiscent of Scottie and Judy's kiss when she "completes" the transformation. Likewise, that kiss, with the background changes into other spaces, can be seen as an aesthetic model for the levitation scene in First Reformed. While it didn't occur to me on first watch that the finale might not be real, I think the possible Vertigo intertext is a further argument, at the very least, for the debate.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#69 Post by dws1982 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 8:33 am

DarkImbecile wrote:
Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:24 pm
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I have one outstanding question I'd love to have someone more knowledgeable elaborate on, it would have to be whether there is any significant historical/religious/musical context to the psalms/songs sung in the first act at Esther's choir practice and by Esther herself in the final moments of the film. The latter especially seems significant to a reading of the last scene, and I'm completely lacking in that background (and can't even find the names of either song online to do further research myself). [/list]
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The songs are "Are You Washed in the Blood?", sung by the choir, and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", by Esther herself. ("Leaning" was prominently used at the end of the Coen's True Grit.) Both were written (or co-written) by Elisha Hoffman who was a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in the late 1800's and early 1900's, which is a very similar religious tradition to the one Toller is part of--both are definitely the types of songs that a minister like him would've known very well, and possibly would've used on a regular basis in his church services. Anthony Showalter was inspired to write "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" (which he did in collaboration with Hoffman) in response to letters from some former seminary students whose wives had died. He used Deuteronomy 33:27 as his inspiration: "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you and said, ‘Destroy.’"

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#70 Post by What A Disgrace » Sun Jul 01, 2018 9:09 am

...I really hope a 4K edition happens a little later.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#71 Post by Kirkinson » Sun Jul 01, 2018 2:09 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Sat Jun 30, 2018 10:24 pm
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is any significant historical/religious/musical context to the psalms/songs sung in the first act at Esther's choir practice and by Esther herself in the final moments of the film. The latter especially seems significant to a reading of the last scene, and I'm completely lacking in that background (and can't even find the names of either song online to do further research myself).
The first hymn is "Are You Washed in the Blood?" composed by Elisha Hoffman in 1878. I can't find anything terribly significant about it in relation to the film. The full lyrics have a bit of contextual relevance but there are likely hundreds of hymns that would match up just as well given the film's themes.

As for the second hymn,
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that would be "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," also co-written by Hoffman. It's a very popular hymn, and while it may not have any particular religious context, it has a great deal of cinematic history behind it as it's been used in many many films throughout the last century, perhaps most (in)famously in Night of the Hunter. In fact, I think I would have to admit that this association probably colors my interpretation of the ending, because I can't hear that hymn anymore without feeling creeped out!

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#72 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:37 pm

4th of July weekend problems - there were some new user posts in here that had their approval delayed, so apologies to everyone for some possible redundancy in answering DI's questions since the new user's answers predated Kirkinson's. Also, welcome to all!

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#73 Post by Persona » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:30 pm

There are a lot of hymns that could have thematic relevance to this film for sure. I think Schrader likes these songs, so that's probably why they were the ones picked (for how they sound and the mood they invoke), but I do think each connects thematically. The first hymn is posed as a question "Are You Washed in the Blood?" Basically, are you absolved of your sins and do you receive grace? This is something that Toller has trouble accepting more and more for himself and for all of humanity as the film goes on. The second song, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" implies more of a resignation to and dependency on some sort of grace.
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Whether or not Toller's still alive in the film's final moments, I think it's an absolutely beautiful juxtaposition of music with those haunting images.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#74 Post by McCrutchy » Mon Jul 02, 2018 7:09 pm

Special Features for the US Blu-ray:

Audio Commentary with Director Paul Schrader
"Discernment: Contemplating First Reformed" Featurette

Really looking forward to the audio commentary.

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Re: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018)

#75 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:20 pm

Amazon just canceled my preorder?

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