Category Archives: Reviews

“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Quantum-realm conundrums.

Out of all of the new heroes introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one with the worst timing is easily Ant-Man. Here is a guy who, no pun intended, is much smaller than his Marvelite peers. He shrinks to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids size and zips around like the Road Runner from “Looney Tunes.” His sidekicks are literal insects. And he has released not one, but two movies directly after the Avengers’ last two outings. When will this guy learn you can’t piggyback off of the Avengers? The only insect-based hero capable of doing that is Spider-Man, and something tells me we won’t be hearing from him for quite some time.

In this sequel to both Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after helping Captain America and crew fight Tony Stark in Germany. Sick of his frequent bouts with the law, Scott just wants to take it easy on the superheroing gig and finish his sentence so he can be a free man and reunited with his daughter Cassie (Abby Fortson).

Unfortunately, his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) have other plans for him. After Scott escaped from the Quantum Realm in the first movie, Hank has been eager to travel back to search for his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been lost to the Quantum Realm for several years. Believing that Scott somehow still harbors a connection to the realm, they recruit him into their scientific endeavors to shrink back into the Quantum Realm and save Janet. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is following them, also seemingly interested in the Quantum Realm and Janet.

First thing’s first, I love Paul Rudd. Watching him playing a character who is one part superhero and another part awkward dad, I was reminded of why I like him so much: he’s just such an earnest performer. In his introductory scene, he’s seen pretending to be Ant-Man with his daughter Cassie, and he navigates her through his own cardboard maze complete with its own giant-sized ants and wasps replicas. Watching the way he seemed so excitable with Cassie, filling this young child with the wonder and imagination of being a superhero, it was sweetly sentimental in the way it reminded me of times when I was a kid playing pretend with my own father.

That speaks to Rudd’s skills as an actor, and also exemplifies why every scene he’s in just feels so natural. Part of why Ant-Man is so appealing is because of how unassuming he is. He’s not a high-strung billionaire like Iron Man, or a literal Norse deity like Thor, or even a Star-spangled super soldier like Captain America. He’s just some guy, and he’s trying to juggle superhero life with his everyday problems as an ex-convict and a father the best he can. That makes him shine throughout the picture regardless if he’s trying to be dramatic or comedic. There was one part in particular where he mimicked Michelle Pfeiffer so well that I wondered if the real Michelle Pfeiffer would have done any better. It had me dying in laughter.

But it isn’t just Rudd who improves his artistry for the second outing: Peyton Reed also fleshes out his skills as a director to make a much more creative action movie. One of the things that underwhelmed me from the first film was how basic Scott’s abilities were. The full extent of his powers basically involved shrinking, controlling ants, and once in a while enlarging objects, and that’s it. I was bored watching Ant-Man, but here I’m exhilarated seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp shrinking, expanding, zipping, zooming, and zapping their enemies back-to-back. If you don’t think superheroes named Ant-Man and the Wasp can be taken seriously, think again. Their lightning-quick reflexes and their special effects-heavy spectacle was so dizzying that I was surprised at how immersed I really was in all the action. And be honest here, fellow reader: there’s something really satisfying about watching a giant Pez dispenser nearly crush an exasperated criminal chasing the miniature duo.

As with most Marvel movies, the villain isn’t very interesting and lacks the depth and complexion that made villains like Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War stand out in their movies. Some of the gimmicks and jokes repeated so much that they got old after a while, and there was one part of the film that was so eye-rollingly cheesy that I wondered when the director was going to yell “CUT!” and show the next outtake.

Still, for all of its immaturity and childishness, Ant-Man & The Wasp is a fun, lighthearted outing: a breather we desperately needed after being emotionally exhausted from the other two Marvel movies released earlier this year. The first Ant-Man movie seemed to struggle between deciding whether it wanted to be a heist movie, a comedy, or a superhero film and split itself into three different parts. Ant-Man & The Wasp demonstrates a better understanding of its characters and premise. For once, I’m excited to see what the third installment will bring in a trilogy. Somebody just needs to tell Scott to wait a little while longer after the next Avengers movie releases.

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“JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM” Review (✫✫)

CREDIT: Getty Images

Dinosaur activism gone awry.

The smartest guy in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by far is Jeff Goldblum. No, I don’t mean his character Ian Malcolm. I mean Jeff Goldblum. He’s the smartest person in the movie for three reasons. One: Being a series staple since 1993, he probably got paid a lot for the small role he had in this movie. Two: He only had a couple of lines, so in total he saved time, money, and effort in accepting this part. Three: When the dinosaurs are facing an extinction-level event that could potentially wipe them all out, he says the most intelligent thing out of anyone else in the movie: just let them die. “Man tampered with nature the way it wasn’t supposed to,” he says. “This is nature correcting itself.”

If only more people had listened to him, then we could have avoided two catastrophes: one on Isla Nublar, and the other in the movie theater. In this sequel to the Jurassic Park reboot Jurassic World, Fallen Kingdom follows Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) teaming up to save all of the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano expecting to engulf the entire island. While on their venture, Owen is reunited with Blue, the raptor that Owen has trained in the park ever since she was a infant. Now racing against time and a whole slew of dinosaurs chasing after them, Claire, Owen, and Blue have to save the dinosaurs, all while avoiding being eaten by them.

Before we hop into the review, I’d like to take you through a quick recap of the Jurassic Park series. Ever since 1993, we’ve been watching these dinosaurs chomping, stomping, clawing, and ripping their way through one human body after another. We’ve seen T-Rexes, Velociraptors, Spinosauruses, Phterodactyls, Mosasauruses, and until recently Frankenstein’s dinosaurs killing people in all sorts of grisly, gruesome fashions. It’s been 25 years guys. I think the consensus is pretty clear by now: Dinosaurs are dangerous.

So when I see a screenplay where its main characters are getting weepy-eyed about man-eating monsters on the verge of going extinct, my first impulse is to take a PETA pamphlet and use it to choke myself into unconsciousness. Fallen Kingdom is bad, and not the kind of bad where it’s cheesy, over-the-top, and kind of fun in a B-movie way. More like mind numbingly half-baked and forced with such on-the-nose social justice themes that even Madonna wouldn’t want to be associated with it.

I’m not saying that the premise itself isn’t interesting. The whole question of whether dinosaurs have the same rights as animals do is an interesting concept, and a question I would at least like asked in a movie like this. The problem is that it isn’t asked: it’s beaten over your head with a dinosaur bone multiple times, whacking you over and over again while shouting at you “Do you feel sad for the dinosaurs yet? Do you feel sad now? HOW ABOUT NOW?! NOW??? NOW?!?!”

There’s zero nuance to the story. If it had simply asked the question and allowed the audience to come to their own conclusions, then I would be supportive of this premise. But instead of leaving the answer open-ended, writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow have to spell everything out for you, belittling the audience by thinking that all they want to see is big-budget dinosaur action while rushing through all of the development behind it. And I’ll be honest, humanitarian questions or big-budget dinosaur action, I’m fine with either one. But the movie fails to fully deliver on either front, and in doing so it leaves the audience frustrated and unfulfilled.

That’s not to say that there aren’t enjoyable moments in a picture like this. In its subtler moments, director J.A. Bayona (The Impossible, A Monster Calls) elevates the movie above mediocrity, manipulating his environments to usher in a sense of unease and paranoia similar to the first film. I find that in most movies, it’s not the threat itself that is so unsettling, but rather the anticipation behind it that makes it so riveting. Steven Spielberg understood this in the first movie when we saw the T-Rex for the first time. It wasn’t the dinosaur itself that made us so tense, but the way we heard its heavy breathing through the forest trees, its ominous footsteps pounding onto the ground, water rippling from the shockwaves of its steps. More often than not, it’s not just the creature alone that is so scary; it’s our own perceptions of it as well.

Bayona, at some level, understands that exercising his film similarly leads to the best thrills. When dinosaurs are running away from an exploding volcano in his picture, I’m yawning. When carnivorous beasts are fighting, clawing, and biting at each other, I’m looking at my watch. But when the humans are cornered in a dark, isolated mansion and are quietly evading a mutated Velociraptor hunting them? There’s your moneymaker. Now I’m on the edge of my seat.

Overall, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not the worst Jurassic Park movie (see Jurassic Park III), but it definitely isn’t anywhere near the quality of the first film. Even the second movie The Lost World had the good sense to not take itself too seriously, something that would have drastically improved Fallen Kingdom if it had taken a similar approach. Where will the series go from here? Unfortunately to a sixth movie, which I sorely do not want but in any case am powerless to stop anyway. I know one thing for certain: if they call it anything besides Jurassic Planet, I will be extremely disappointed.

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“THE INCREDIBLES 2” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One childhood later…

Can a good thing come too late? You tell me. Can a thief return your wallet after spending all of your money? Can a firetruck put out the fire after your house already burned down? Can a lover apologize after admitting to cheating on you? The answer is yes, a good thing can absolutely come too late. And like Syndrome once said a long time ago, Incredibles 2 came too late: 15 years too late.

In perhaps the most unnecessary sequel since Cars 2 (oh yeah, I went there), Incredibles 2 picks up right after the Incredibles encountered the Underminer at the end of the first movie (which is incredibly frustrating, since Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack haven’t aged a day, whereas I’m so old that I’ve grown a beard). Despite saving the day not once but twice, supers are still outlawed by the federal government and are still considered menaces to society, despite the good that they try to do.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications CEO and super-fan that wants to legalize superheroes and bring them back into the spotlight. Pouring his investments into a massive PR campaign to make supers well-liked again, Deavor enlists in the help of Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to carry out missions and change the public perception of superheroes. With Elastigirl busy out superheroing, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is left at home to watch over the kids, and despite being Mr. Incredible, he is certainly not the most incredible Mr. Mom.

First thing’s first: Incredibles 2 looks gorgeous. That’s to be expected of course, considering we waited a decade and a half for the bloody thing to come out. Regardless, the visual feats Incredibles 2 achieves are nothing short of spectacular. It not only deserves to be compared to its predecessor, but it demands to be seen as superior.

The action is much more proliferate in Incredibles 2, and that’s generally to be expected, considering how heavy a role the action played in the first Incredibles. Still, I was impressed at how unique and clever the spectacle was and how Pixar didn’t just repeat themselves from the first movie. In one exhilarating chase sequence, Elastigirl was chasing a runaway train on her Elasti-cycle, which separated into two halves, allowing her to make flexible leaps with her torso while driving. That was an incredibly inventive way to use Elastigirl’s abilities, and I caught myself being on the edge of my seat as I watched her leap on top of cars, railroads, and buildings chasing the train. My favorite scene from the film had to be when the adolescent Jack-Jack’s powers were emerging and he fought a raccoon rummaging through his trash in the backyard. No, this is not some special, super-powered raccoon. It’s just a super-baby fighting an everyday, average, frightened raccoon. Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy would have been mortified.

The visuals and the action were great in the the first Incredibles, and they’re just as fantastic to watch here. Where its sequel begins to falter is its plot. Unlike the first movie, where its writing was fresh, organic, and addressed real-life family issues and emotions, Incredibles 2 feels too generic for its own good; like it knows it has to churn out a sequel and just came up with the most basic concept it could just to save time on its production schedule. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything ground-breaking with Incredibles 2. Lord knows the movie could have been The Godfather of animated superhero sequels and still not be up-to-par with the first movie. Even with that expectation, however, I was disappointed at how unspectacular the film’s premise really felt.

Take for example the movie’s villain Screenslaver (Bill Wise). Simply put, he’s your average supervillain megolomaniac, a guy conjured up just to fight our heroes with nothing more to add to their personal stakes. Compared to Syndrome from the first movie, who had a traumatic childhood experience where he reasonably felt betrayed by his heroes, Screenslaver simply does not have the gusto to be a driving force behind this movie’s conflict. Yes, his powers are interesting and unique enough to control the supers against each other. So what? That doesn’t make him a compelling character, and his motivations for fighting the Incredibles are just plain weak. One of my best friends even turned to me in the theater and told me how he thought the movie was going to end. Sure enough, the film ticked on like clockwork, and my friend’s predictions almost happened word-for-word.

I’m not surprised by the simplicity of this film’s story. Quite honestly, I was expecting it. What I am surprised by is how long it took for writer-director Brad Bird to make this. It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles came out. Since then, Bird has released multiple stellar pictures, including the masterful and moving Ratatouille, the exciting and revitalizing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and even the mediocre Tommorrowland was filled with vision and imagination. Time and time again, Bird has proved his worth as a creative storyteller. And you mean to tell me you waited half of my literal life span for the right inspiration???

Sorry, I’m not buying that. I was Dash’s age when the first Incredibles was released, and now here I am older than Violet, expected to feel the same way about it when I was younger. Real life doesn’t just pause like that. Even Toy Story 3, which also had a 10-year release gap between Toy Story 2, had the good sense to fast forward in time with its characters. That’s because as Andy grew, so did we. I was a little kid playing with my favorite toys when Toy Story 2 came out, and then I grew up, becoming a young adult by the time Toy Story 3 was released. I even graduated from high school the same year that Andy did. But with The Incredibles, there is no growth, no reflection that we’re supposed to look back on. I’m just an adult expected to go back in time to my youth so I can feel the same about The Incredibles as I did when I was 11. How is that reasonable? How is that fair?

I’m tasked with answering the most basic question here: Is Incredibles 2 good? The simple answer is yes, it is very good. Like the first movie, Incredibles 2 is fast-paced, funny, and exciting, further challenging the blurred lines between animated and live-action films and what they can accomplish for their audiences. The complicated answer is that its quality doesn’t matter. I’ve long left my childhood behind, just like millions of eager fans like myself have years ago. Time has passed. We’ve already grown up. And Incredibles 2 means less to us now than it would have if it were released seven or eight years ago.

In either case, be on the lookout for Incredibles 3 in the future, where it will undoubtedly come out when I turn 60.

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“THE INCREDIBLES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Buena Vista Pictures

Mister and Misses (Plus the kids)

I’ve never seen a film like The Incredibles before, and I doubt I will ever see another one like it again. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of my fair share of superhero movies before, including more recently X2 and Spider-Man 2. But The Incredibles in particular is special even compared to those movies. Like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles challenges the visual and emotional capability of the animated motion picture and asserts it as equal to its live-action peers, and so it is. The Incredibles has earned every right to be compared to the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the many others that will come after it.

Taking place in a world where Supers are as common as regular folks are, The Incredibles follows one super-heroic family trying to re-accommodate into normal American life. Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is the super-strength super-dad of the family going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, while his wife Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is just trying her best to be a good housewife and mother for her kids. Speaking of the kids, they’re facing adolescent issues of their own, with the force-field wielding Violet (Sarah Vowell) struggling with her shyness around a school crush, the speedster Dash (Spencer Fox) frustrated that he isn’t allowed to participate in school sports, and the baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile)… well, everything and anything that can go wrong with being a super-baby.

One day, Bob gets a secret message enticing him back into superhero work, despite it being outlawed by the federal government. Reminiscent of the old days of superheroing and wanting to give it one last go, Bob suits up as Mr. Incredible and sets off for one incredible adventure with his family.

The visuals are nothing short of astounding in this movie. Just like with Toy Story and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles is a colorful, vibrant adventure beaming with impressive detail and saturation. Yet, even by Pixar’s already impressive standards, The Incredibles still manages to stand out. How? Simple: the speed and motion of character’s animation is fast-paced and exciting, on-par with other superhero fan-fares that features similar exhilarating action.

It doesn’t take long for us to notice this. In fact, in the first 10 minutes alone, Mr. Incredible 1) Saves a cat from a tree, 2) Stops a high-speed car chase, 3) Interrupts a rooftop robbery, 4) Saves a citizen from leaping off of a building, 5) Fights a super villain in the middle of a bank heist, 6) Saves a child from a bomb attached to himself, 7) Stops a train from derailing off of its tracks, and 8) Makes it just in the knick of time for his own wedding. When I say this movie feels like the Spider-Man, X-Men, or Superman movies, I mean it. This movie is so exciting to watch that you feel like it can compete with most action movies, let alone animated ones as well.

I wondered why this movie felt so different compared to the rest of the animated genre? It doesn’t feel like its aimed at children, after all. What with its highly-stylized action violence, explosive spectacle, and more darker, mature moments, I wondered why this felt so adult-oriented despite its PG rating? Then I remembered: this film was directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed the animated science-fiction film The Iron Giant years ago. Like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles is a movie filled with ambitious vision; daring in its visual art and far-reaching in its emotional range. In many ways, they’re both very similar films. They both portray the modern American family robbed by normalcy and dysfunction. They are both thrown into extraordinary circumstances that they find mesmerizing and fascinating. And ultimately, they pull themselves out of their dire situations through the greatest superpower of all: family.

You’ll also notice how the movie has an aesthetic that satires 90’s spy movies such as James Bond and Mission Impossible. I wasn’t sure how exactly that was going to work for an animated superhero movie like The Incredibles, but it works beautifully. The scenery evokes the feel and grandeur of MI6 headquarters, while the Incredibles’ gadgets are reminiscent of the toys that Q provides Bond to bring with him on his missions. Speaking of Q, there’s a spoof of the character here named Edna Mode, who’s hilariously voiced by Brad Bird himself, and she provides a personality so melodramatic and overbearing that she couldn’t help but remind me of those high-strung fashionites not unlike Edith Head or Anna Wintour. And the music by Michal Giacchino is especially sleek and snazzy, with its jazz horns blaring and its drums beating like those smooth spy jams you listened to growing up.

Go and see The Incredibles. My review cannot get much simpler than that. It’s an exciting, action-packed, suspenseful, funny, and wildly entertaining thrill ride that not only blows most of its animated competition out of the water, but also most of its live-action superhero counterparts as well. To put it in one word, the movie is simply… incredible.

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“SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Ron shot first.

There are two key problems with Solo: A Star Wars Story. First, nobody asked for nor wanted a Han Solo movie. Second, this isn’t a Han Solo movie. If it were, it would have the real Han Solo in it with Harrison Ford, or at the very least, somebody who looked like him. As it stands, all we have is the kid from Hail, Caesar! wearing a Han Solo costume playing pretend on a film set. A more accurate title for this film would have been Star Wars Cosplay: The Movie.

The plot follows a younger Han Solo (ish) played by Alden Ehrenreich, growing into the smuggler that we know of before the events of the original Star Wars. The film shows us everything that has made Han Solo (ish) become Han Solo, from how he got his name, to meeting Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), to where he got his signature blaster, to getting the Millennium Falcon. Because, you know, all of those were glaring questions we had from the first eight movies.

There are several things wrong with Solo: A Star Wars Story, but let’s start with its execution. Reportedly the biggest point of contention between producer Kathleen Kennedy and previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Solo was previously going to be handled in a loose, improvisational style similar to Thor: Ragnarok. After Kennedy got fed up with Lord and Miller’s direction and fired them, she brought on Academy Award-winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Rush) to finish production, sticking closer to the script and deviating less from what was on the page.

That’s a problem for Solo, because the script is monotonous at its best and insipid at its worst. Written by veteran Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan, Solo is a muddled, incoherent mess, forcing an explanation for every small, insignificant detail that never came into our minds. Some scenes were done well, like when Han met Chewie for the first time after the Wookies were forced out of Kashyyyk in Revenge of the Sith. Other scenes, however, are downright pompous and silly. For instance, were you ever curious how the Millennium Falcon got its iconic shape (besides being simply designed that way)? Did you know that a giant squid was chasing the Falcon during the Kessel Run, as if it wasn’t impressive enough that it ran it in 12 parasecs? And what about the biggest shocker: how Han Solo got his name? Hint: his parents didn’t give it to him.

All of this leads to the core issue here: who, in their right science-fiction fanboy mind, wanted a Han Solo prequel? I would think that out of all of the Star Wars characters, Solo is the least you would need backstory on next to the Skywalkers. What was the point of all of this? Was a prequel so desperately necessary that we needed an explanation for every single mundane detail surrounding Han Solo? Did this story really need to be told? Did Harrison Ford’s legacy really need to be brought back from the grave just so it could be tarnished at the box office?

Speaking of Harrison Ford, Ehrenreich is downright cringeworthy as the younger Han Solo. And to be fair, it isn’t his fault. Hell, it was damn near impossible from the get-go making a Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford. But it wasn’t completely hopeless. Australian actor Anthony Ingruber gave a great Han Solo impression way back in 2008, and he even impeccably mimicked Harrison Ford’s mannerisms in 2015’s Age of Adaline. So a movie portraying a younger Han Solo wasn’t completely out of the question; only far-reaching at Galaxy length.

So what went wrong with Ehrenreich’s portrayal? Besides looking nothing like Harrison Ford, his mannerisms are completely wrong. When you look at the smooth, coy, inherently self-centered smugness of Ford’s Solo in the original trilogy and compare it side-by-side with this kid, you see a guy tripping over his blaster pretending to be a character he isn’t. Ford was cool and confident. Ehrenreich was clumsy and clueless. Ford was sharp and smooth. Ehrenreich was awkward and out of place. Ford has personality and attitude. Ehrenreich had no personality and wishes he had attitude.

Admittedly, not everything in Solo was terrible. The visual effects are impressive as always, and the action is fast, thrilling, and exciting to watch. The small Easter Eggs scattered are about as fun as they always are, with one cameo from the prequel trilogy in particular surprising me quite a bit. And the performances outside of Ehrenreich’s are mostly reliable, with Donald Glover shining in particular as he channels Billy Dee Williams into a younger, spunkier Lando Calrissian (although he had a romance with a droid character that felt, for a lack of a better word, artificial).

All of this just further reinforces how unnecessary Solo: A Star Wars Story was. Again, why was this movie made? A fan of the franchise could not give you an answer that would make any sense. Walt Disney Studios, meanwhile, could give you several reasons relating to the box office. Pray that the studio doesn’t decide to milk the franchise any further to the point where we’re getting a Jabba the Hutt movie. And before Kathleen Kennedy asks, no that was not an actual recommendation.

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“DEADPOOL 2” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Really? Three stars AGAIN?!

SCREW David Dunn. First, he has the balls to give Logan half a star higher than my first movie after it rode MY R-rating (Yeah that’s right, you’re a freeloader Hugh Jackman), but then his balls grew to tumor-size to give my second movie the same rating?!?! WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS TO ME, DD???

First, don’t compare my initials to a bra size. Second, since you basically did the same thing twice, so am I (hence why we’re also having this conversation a second time).

Oh, shut up. I have Josh Brolin and a metal arm! Doesn’t that count for something?!

Not particularly, since the Marvel Cinematic Universe also has both of those things. What’s he doing in your movie again?

He time-traveled from a dystopian future to kill a kid and save his timeline.

So… he’s the Terminator?

Pretty much, yeah.

Gotcha. So, run the whole thing by me again. How exactly is Deadpool 2 different from the rest of the superhero genre?

I’m glad you asked! First, [INSERT SPOILER ALERT] dies at the beginning of my movie! Second–

That’s already happened.

I beg your pardon?

[INSERT SPOILER ALERT] dying at the beginning. That’s literally happened in every superhero movie like… ever.

Baloney sandwich. Name ten.

Superman, Blade, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman V. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. The last two, by the way, were also released this year and are better than both of your movies.

Curses. Outdone by Disney again.

Not for much longer, I suspect.

Okay, but what about everything else in the movie? The action? The drama? The jokes? The Easter Eggs? The cameos? I mean, you HAD to enjoy all that?!

Actually, I did, and I suspect your fans will enjoy it just as much as well. Profane, loud-mouthed, and obnoxious as you are Wade, the one thing you keep proving is that you’re consistently funny. And man, did you have me rolling on the ground laughing. I really liked the opening sequence where you spoofed the James Bond credits, and how you parodied team-up movies like The Avengers and X-Men by bringing together the X-Force. And don’t even get me started on how you commented on the financial stinginess of 20th Century Fox.

Hahaha, hell yeah. Thanks Double-D, I’ll take that fourth star now.

Sorry Wade, but no can do. That’s only reserved for movies that I feel really deserve it.

WHAT THE ****, YOU ************** *** ** * *** ***** *******, WHY DOESN’T DEADPOOL 2 DESERVE IT?!?!

Wade, it’s the same movie. It’s the same freaking movie. Deadpool 1 IS Deadpool 2. You even bring in the same roided-out Russian at the end to solve all of your biggest problems.

Ah, yes. Just like Donald Trump.

Please keep the politics to a minimum, Wade.

Alright, so give it to me straight. What do I have to do to make you give me four stars and an MTV Movie Award?

Wade, I don’t think it’s about a star rating. You found your niche. You’ve made not one, but two fantastic movies that deliver a hilariously violent spoof of the superhero genre. Yeah, it’s not quote-unquote “outstanding.” So what? Maybe the fact that you aren’t some profound, emotional, culturally relevant blockbuster isn’t your weakness: it’s your strength. Maybe you don’t need to be like Captain America, or Spider-Man, or Iron Man, or Wolverine. Maybe you just need to be yourself.

… it’s because I’m white, isn’t it?

Wade.

It’s because I’m white.

I’m very uncomfortable talking about this.

Is that why you gave Black Panther four stars?

I’m done with this conversation. Hit me up when you release X-Force. And a four-star movie.

Oh, you piece of—

I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

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“AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The beginning of the end.

We live in an age of gargantuan expectations. That’s why we’re able to accept a movie with 30 superheroes fighting in it when six years ago, it felt a bit much to have just six superheroes together on one screen. Well, if Marvel achieved nothing else with Avengers: Infinity War, they achieved the impossible. They made a superhero movie with a larger cast than any of the 18 films that came before it, and they pulled it off magnificently.

A sequel to (*takes deep breath*) Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther, (*breathes again*), Avengers: Infinity War follows the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) on a quest to find the six Infinity Stones, magical gems imbued with supernatural power. The Avengers know the location of a few of the Infinity Stones. The Power Stone, for instance, was stored away on the planet Xandar in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, while the Space Stone is housed in the Tesseract, which was on Asgard when it was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro) has ownership of the Aether, a.k.a. the Reality Stone on Knowhere, while Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have the Time and Mind Stones respectively. If Thanos finds all six of the Infinity Stones first, he will use them to wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Scattered and displaced, the Avengers must team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find the Infinity Stones before Thanos does and put a stop to his madness.

The sheer size of Avengers: Infinity War is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: a double-edged sword to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this franchise started 10 years ago with the release of Iron Man, its world was relatively focused and self-contained, keeping it small with just a handful of names featured in each individual movie. Now, they’ve straight-up exploded into pure comic-book madness. Previous MCU movies typically did not have a billed cast that went significantly beyond 10 actors. Even Captain America: Civil War, the biggest MCU film before Infinity War, was pushing it at a 18-member cast. Infinity War blows that away with 35 actors.

With that large of a cast, there’s plenty of action to show off, and there’s plenty of spotlight to share amongst all of the stars here. Whether Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange are fighting Thanos’ minions in New York, or an elderly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rescuing an injured Vision, or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, there’s plenty of memorable moments to pick out from the film to make you grin from ear-to-ear. It’s almost like a cinematic wheel-of-fortune for the movie theater: spin the wheel, and see what special prize you win at random.

This both works and backfires for the film’s available cast. On one hand, the fact that there’s so many amazing moments to pick from really brings a plethora of joy and thrills into the movie theater, making for some outstanding blockbuster entertainment. But with this large of a cast and this ambitious of a scope, that also brings in a key problem: it’s too easily distracted. Since the movie is basically one overstuffed comic-book Easter Egg lined up one after the other, there’s no real room for anyone to have their individual moment to shine, and as this is the case, our heroes are forced to share the frame with everyone else packed into the screen with them. With the original Avengers, you could pinpoint one key moment where each Avenger outshined the rest, whether Tony was threatening Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in his penthouse, Captain America was issuing out orders to the team, or Hulk was smashing Puny God’s brains in. You could not pinpoint one such moment in Infinity War, because there are no individual moments. Everyone is fighting everyone for everyone, and it’s very easy to get lost with all of the spectacle going on at once.

I did enjoy Josh Brolin quite a bit as Thanos. In a franchise where the villains have consistently been the weaker aspect of these superhero movies, Marvel has finally pushed out not one, but two fantastic villains in the same year: Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War. They’re very interesting for very similar reasons. One, their performances are on-point, and the actors fully commit themselves to the complexities and absurdities of their roles. Two, they are given very compelling reasons for their villainy, and you sympathize with them not because of their moral compass, but because of their life experiences that drove them to make the decisions that they did.

Killmonger, for instance, wanted to start a race war to compensate for years of suffering the African-American people have had to endure at the hands of the white majority. Thanos, while not race-driven, has an equally motivated reason for seeking universal genocide: he’s trying to save the universe. In one particular scene, he explains his violent reasoning to a hesitant listener, and he makes his position clear. This universe’s space is finite, its resources finite. And its population is growing too big to sustain itself. Comparing it to one memory where he wiped out half of one planet’s population, he pointed out that the children were starving and dying on that planet before he came. Now, their bellies are full and they are healthy and happy. In the perspective of population control and prolonging extinction, Thanos makes the hard decision to cut down on what he sees as the fat to extend life in the universe. His commitment to his mission makes him a very compelling villain to watch, even though you don’t enjoy the cruelty and violence that he brings with him.

I do think some of the material is too disturbing for some younger viewers. I myself even struggled to watch some of the movie’s harsher, more vindictive moments. Still, Avengers: Infinity War is ambitious and daring in its art, even if it is equally devastating in the same sentence. These movies used to represent something more lighthearted about superheroes; a greater ideology to be the bigger, better person and to help other people achieve the same thing. Now it’s about facing harsh conclusions and realities, and I’m not sure if I enjoy it quite as much.

When Thanos set out for his galactic conquest, he did so believing in one thing: that he could save the universe by wiping out half of it. We already know that his crusade is monstrous and horrifying. The scary part is not knowing whether he’s wrong.

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“READY PLAYER ONE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Easter Egg: The Movie

Ready Player One is a celebration of entertainment, a pop-culture explosion jam-packed with all of your favorite characters, icons, and memorable moments from your childhood growing up. I couldn’t tell you how many times I grinned ear-to-ear while watching this film, or how many times I jumped up and down in my seat in excitement, or how many times I was overwhelmed from recognizing all of the cameos popping up on the screen at once. This film could have been retitled as Easter Egg: The Movie, because that’s exactly what it is: one giant, gorgeous, deliciously colorful Easter Egg, and man is it fantastic to look at.

Taking place in Columbus, Ohio in 2045, Ready Player One shows us a dystopian future devastated by the effects of climate change and economic inequality. The middle class no longer exists. People live in sheds and old trailer homes instead of houses. The education system is practically non-existent. And no matter where you turn, all signs point to old American life ceasing to exist.

Enter the Oasis, a virtual reality experience where just about anything is possible. The Oasis has become people’s new reality: their place of escape. And whether they’re racing in a re-creation of 1940’s New York City, dancing in an anti-gravity night club, or literally building their own “Minecraft” world, the Oasis is a national treasure that everyone shares together.

One day, the creator of the Oasis James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, but before he does he records a message for all of his video-gaming fans everywhere. He says that he’s hidden an Easter Egg in the Oasis, an object which hands control of the Oasis over to whoever finds it first. Now determined to find the Easter Egg before business CEO and corporate shrill Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) teams up with his friends to find the Easter Egg and save the Oasis.

The appeal in Ready Player One lies in its nostalgic value; in your ability to discern entertainment icons and characters and get excited at their unexpected appearance. This, of course, seems too simple to be taken seriously. However, Ready Player One is a simple film, and it never asked to be taken seriously. With these rules established, we’re ready to plow ahead and dive head-first into all of the pop-culture fun this movie delivers, and man does it deliver it.

How common are the Easter Eggs in Ready Player One? Very. They are so prominent in the film that they are as integral as the visual effects themselves are. Virtually every scene has at least one throwback to 80’s or 90’s culture. In one of the earliest shots, for instance, Wade can be seen driving around in the Delorean from the Back to the Future franchise. I’m telling you guys, after 28 years with its engine shut off, there’s no greater joy than seeing the Delorean revved up again and tearing the streets up, even if the Delorean and those streets are artificial.

That’s only one Easter Egg among hundreds. King Kong is back from the dead ripping buildings apart, the Iron Giant is reactivated after being shut off for several years, and there’s even a blood-soaked tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. My favorite cameo was one where the Chucky Doll was tossed into a crowd like a grenade, and he starts slicing through hoards of computer-generated enemies like a mincemeat grinder. Yes, a Chucky Doll will do that in this movie. It will do a lot of things.

The cameos, the Easter Eggs, the surprise appearances: they’re all so fun and exciting to watch, and it’s a pure joy to just glance at the screen at random moments and go “Oh look, it’s so-and-so! And also what’s-his-name!” But that’s not the core component of the movie. It’s an important one, yes, but what makes Ready Player One so cherishing is how much these characters mean to these kids playing as them. We’ve all been through those moments in our childhood where we grab our toys, trucks, and action figures and spit out silly noises as we scream and pretend like our toys are fighting each other. Ready Player One is the video-game equivalent of that. Yes, these kids and the villains they’re fighting are inhabiting a fictional world, but the love and passion they have for it is not. For them, it’s as real as any action figure, costume, and video-game controller ever could be. The Oasis is not based in reality, no. But it is their reality, and that’s the important part.

In that, Steven Spielberg finds the human part of this story; the part that turns this movie from merely an entertaining experience to an extraordinary one. When Steven Spielberg was filming the underwater scenes for his shark film Jaws, or had E.T. pointing to Elliot’s forehead, or had that magnificent T-Rex let out a loud, dominant roar in Jurassic Park, he didn’t make any of these scenes from the corporate, money-grabbing mindset of Nolan Sorrento. He created these moments like the kids in Ready Player One created theirs, thinking, dreaming, and playing like storytellers in their own worlds. In that, Spielberg speaks to something much more profound than the need to be entertained: he speaks to the much larger questions of creating ourselves.

Yes, Ready Player One’s message is a straightforward one. But then, it was meant to be straightforward. What we are given here is not an opportunity to critique, but an opportunity to place ourselves in the VR mindset of these kids, let loose, and have fun. And for all of the action, visual spectacle, humor, heart, and fun that this movie delivers, Ready Player One has only one flaw, and that is that the Super Mario Bros. didn’t make an appearance.

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“PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

More like downsizing.

The biggest flaw with the first Pacific Rim was its third act, where its runtime extended so long with so much content packed together that it really could have been cut out and edited into its own separate movie. This flaw, unfortunately, carries over into its sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which descends into a classic case of sequelitus with all of its ideas spent. It has a stupid plot, dull characters, boring dialogue, and humor so unfunny that Adam Sandler could have done a better job at writing it. The movie’s one saving grace is its visual effects. Gee, I wonder where else we’ve seen that before?

Taking place 10 years after Raleigh Beckett, Stacker Pentecost, and the other Jaegers closed the Kaiju portal at the end of the first movie, Pacific Rim: Uprising follows Stacker’s son, Jake (John Boyega) living the good life in a post-Kaiju world. He parties, drinks, trades on the black market, swindles dangerous mob bosses, and steals any Jaeger tech that he can find.

Well like clockwork, Jake’s criminal activities leads him into the jail cell, and this time he can’t simply just bail himself out. Now faced with a potential prison sentence, his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi) gives him an ultimatum: come back to the Jaeger program and help train the new cadets, or rot in a cell for the next 30 years. Jake slightly prefers military service over prison. Slightly.

The problems with Pacific Rim: Uprising all starts with its writing, which is such a poorly-done retread of the first Pacific Rim that it feels more like fan fiction than it does a faithfully-produced sequel. The writer and director Steven S. DeKnight has had several television credits prior to his film debut in Uprising, including writing episodes for Warner Bros.’ “Smallville” and being the showrunner for series’ including “Spartacus” and “Daredevil”. Trust me, he’s definitively a talented storyteller. Unfortunately, all of his experience is wasted here in his first foray into film, and there is no evidence that any skill or talent exists behind his camera at all.

Case in point: the screenplay. It is essentially the exact same plot as the first Pacific Rim was, point by point. We start with a big, epic Jaeger fight, follow with an underdog hero who doesn’t believe in himself, suddenly recruited into a military operation, bonds with the girl in closest proximity to him at the base, a shocking revelation is made about the alien threat, and our heroes team up to disband of said threat.

That’s it. That’s the whole story in a nutshell, a preposterous copy-and-paste of the first Pacific Rim and adding Uprising at the end of the title. Granted, sequels don’t have to be original in every aspect of their storytelling. Shoot, even the most recent Star Wars movies are almost straight rip-offs from the original trilogy. The difference, however, lies in the extra details the filmmakers put into those movies to further their interest. Pacific Rim: Uprising’s mistake was thinking that the interest lied in its derivative plot, which of course, it doesn’t.

Look at the first Pacific Rim as evidence of this. It has the same plot, yes. Yet it succeeds so much more in being fun and entertaining to its audience. Why? It’s because Guillermo Del Toro knew which details to focus on and why. He knew that the size and scope of the Jaeger/Kaiju fights needed to be reflected in the buildings and environments around these monsters. He knew Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba needed on-the-spot, quick-witted dialogue to make them more than the average one-dimensional movie heroes. And (most importantly), he understood the movie he was trying to make. He knew he wasn’t trying to make some seriously out-there, psuedo-dimensional experience like Inception or Gravity. He was trying to make the next explosive, Transformers-esque action fest that overjoyed the inner child in him. That was the movie he aimed for, and he succeeded spectacularly in making it.

Compare this to the desperately confused approach behind Pacific Rim: Uprising. It has no idea what it wants to be. It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a serious action movie, a silly Hollywood blockbuster, a complex science-fiction fantasy, or all three at once. All it knows for sure is that it wants to be like the first Pacific Rim, but it doesn’t know how to get there. That’s because the screenplay hasn’t earned the right to compare itself in its storytelling. The sad part is that it knows it too.

Yes, the fight scenes between the Jaegers and the Kaiju are cool. So what? The fight scenes were just as fantastic in the first Pacific Rim, and that was made over five years ago. The music’s electric jams sound fantastic, but again, there’s nothing there that you can’t find in the original already. The only thing to really set this movie apart from its predecessor is John Boyega, who brings such an oafish charm to the movie that he can make something as mundane as eating ice cream seem funny to us.

Even then though, his performance is plagued by the mediocre cast members surrounding him. Scott Eastwood fills out the generic stiff-necked soldier cliché to a “T”, and he demonstrates little personality outside of pure smugness. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny plays the movie’s second underdog, and she overacts so much that she fits better inside of a Disney Channel movie. And Charlie Day? God-awful. His character does such a forced 360 turn from his personality in the first movie that I couldn’t take him seriously or urgently. He felt more like a parody of a mad scientist than an actual mad scientist (and if you didn’t like him in the first movie to begin with, wait until you see him here).

All in all, Pacific Rim: Uprising is a haphazard, unnecessary sequel; one that would have added value to the franchise if it were never made at all. The first Pacific Rim was an epic love-letter to Japanese Anime and monster movies, a rock-em-sock-em creature feature that was loads of fun. Pacific Rim: Uprising is just clueless. At the end of the movie, the big baddie Kaiju monster grows three secondary brains to fight our movie’s heroes. Perhaps it would have helped if Steven DeKnight grew a few extra brains himself.

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“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Fox Searchlight Pictures

A lone woman trapped out in redneck country.

Here’s an uncomfortable question to ask: in the cases of rape and sexual assault, who suffers more? The victims, or their families? We often focus so much attention on the victims that go through these unforgivable tragedies, as we rightfully should. But do we ever think as much about the father who raised her? The mother who gave birth to her? The brother that grew up with her? What regrets are they experiencing? What battles are they facing outside of the courthouses and police stations? Not to mention that’s for the cases where the victims survived. What about those who didn’t?

I know that’s probably as uncomfortable reading for you as it is typing for me, but it needs to be said. Silence on these issues marginalizes these victims to the point of forgetting them, and the one thing that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri definitely isn’t is silent. Like its loudmouthed protagonist, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is fearless, outspoken, confrontational, aggressive, and uncompromising in its truth. It needs to be seen solely on the basis of understanding what a sixth of American families are going through right now.

In Three Billboards, one of those families belongs to Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and her family is a broken one to say the least. Her son is estranged from her, while her abusive husband divorced her so he could be with some girl that is 30 years younger than him. Her daughter is also no longer with them, and without getting into the grisly details, she was sexually assaulted and killed over a year ago.

Frustrated by the local police’s lack of progress in the investigation, Mildred takes her own initiative and rents out three billboards saying “RAPED WHILE DYING. ONE YEAR, NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Needless to say, Police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his loyal protégé Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) are a little less than amused at her antics. This spurs them and the town to protest her signage displays, pitting one lone woman against an entire town of rednecks.

While watching the film, I was reminded of a small town in Athens, Texas where my family occasionally travels out to on a piece of property that we own. You will notice that most of the people there are more, shall we say, blunt than city folks are. They don’t beat around the bush. They speak their mind, and rarely do they stray from coarse, unfiltered honesty. Profanity is a second language to them. Drinking, chewing tobacco, and spitting to the side of the road is common practice. And calling someone a bastard is a sign of affection.

I paint this picture to show you that writer-director Martin McDonagh was inspired by these same experiences while writing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and he uses these same people as a current to demonstrate serious institutionalized problems that go on within our justice system. Three Billboards hits on multiple issues all at once. Police brutality. Institutionalized racism. Homophobia. Free speech. And, of course, rape culture. You would think that the film would be overloaded talking about all of these topics at once, and would feel less like a story and more like a university studies lecture.

Not so. The conversations and the concerns these characters share feel genuine and believable, as if they are real people talking to each other and not just actors reciting a screenplay for the camera. I think this is because McDonagh centralizes the conversations around one key topic: the three billboards. McDonagh once saw similar billboards over 15 years ago while traveling in between Georgia and Alabama. Taking that image in his mind and backtracking the narrative, he creates a dialogue about the nature of peaceful protesting, and whether those protests should be tolerated regardless of the communities’ reaction to them.

I was reminded of another recent protest while watching Three Billboards: the NFL kneeling controversy. In both cases, the issues are the same: X problem is going on within local law enforcement, so I’m going to do Y until the issue is addressed. Yet, in both of these cases, the protestor is the one that is being blamed for the issues, not the entity that person is protesting. Here’s a litmus test for you: are you more offended by a billboard calling out your best friend by name, or are you more offended by the dead teenager that was killed under his watch?

In that, McDonagh forms an important conversation that needs to be had: should the victims of these circumstances be silent in their suffering, or should their additional scrutiny be even more of a reason to speak out? Political commentators note all the time that in some sexual assault cases, victims were “asking for it” with what they were wearing or how they were acting. I’m pretty sure Mildred’s daughter Angela wasn’t asking to be killed. Just an educated guess on my part.

But the movie isn’t all doom-and-gloom with dread and weariness. There are brief moments of humanity and humor that shines through the bleak shades of the film, and most of that is thanks to Frances McDormand. She’s such a spitfire of a woman in this movie, a firecracker full of attitude that refuses to take any more B.S. that she doesn’t deserve. I’m telling you, this woman has been through the ringer. She’s faced the abuse and abandonment of her ex-husband, the frustration and anger of her son, and the violation and murder of her daughter. I don’t blame her one bit for being a little off the cuff, and that’s exactly what she is here: a loose cannon ready to throw hands with anyone who approaches her with hostility. She makes you outwardly laugh in moments where she spits deep-cutting jabs, while at other times your jaw drops saying out loud to yourself “I can’t believe she just did that.”

And yet, her character isn’t devoid of sympathy or understanding. She’s actually a very kind-hearted and considerate human being, who very understandably has a hard shell for the people who have abused her kindness in the past. She is not afraid to get confrontational, and she is especially not afraid to get physical. In one moment of the picture, she makes fun of a midget for wanting to sleep with her. In another, she kicks a teenager in the groin and punches another one in her genitals. Yet, in more surprising moments, she expresses genuine care and concern for people she was mocking mere moments ago, sympathetic to their pain in moments where they weren’t sympathetic towards hers.

In fact, describing Mildred Hayes best describes the rest of the movie: a thick skin with a soft heart.

I find no faults in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, only actions and conversations that will make you uncomfortable at watching. They’re supposed to. There are people like Mildred and Angela Hayes all over the world today facing the same anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, and lack of closure from what they’ve experienced. All they’re left with is the pain, and they’re given nothing to compensate for it. McDonagh had two choices in portraying that loss: either show it in its rawest, most honest form, or don’t show it at all. McDonagh chose the former. If you don’t want to experience that for yourself, that’s totally fair. You can always leave the movie theater. Mildred Hayes can’t leave her life.

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