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Wonder Woman² – With a Comparison to Captain Marvel

***There are spoilers for both movies ahead***

Check out Nancy’s take on Captain Marvel, which she wrote shortly after it came out in theaters.

On our quarantine weekends, Fiancé and I have been marathoning movies. We pull out the couch (it doubles as a futon), sprawl out with pillows and snacks, and go to town. So far we’ve marathoned Lord of the Rings (extended editions, obvs), Batman (pre-Nolan and Nolan directed), Christopher Reeves’ Superman saga, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, bounced around between some DC animated movies we haven’t seen yet, and now we’re working on the DC Cinematic Universe that started with Man of Steel.

I’m sure this has been done, because how could it not have been, but I couldn’t help thinking while watching Captain Marvel of the comparisons it drew to Wonder Woman. Watching Wonder Woman again only threw the differences into greater relief.

Wonder Woman is the DCU’s take on Diana’s origins. Set during World War I, Diana leaves her home, Themyscira, when she rescues a pilot named Steve Trevor. He carries important information that could end the course of the war. Believing that Ares, the god of war, is behind the rampant destruction, Diana spirits Steve off the island and pursues Ares to fulfill the Amazon’s sacred duty of protecting the world from the vengeful god.

Captain Marvel follows the story of Vers/Carol Danvers, a Kree Starforce member/human fighter pilot. After absorbing a vast amount of energy from an experimental engine, she gains incredible powers but loses the memory of her life on Earth. What she does remember comes back to her in dreams and short flashes. In 1995 she winds up back on Earth, escaping from the Skrull (with whom the Kree are at war), and instead of trying to get back to Kree, decides to team up with a man named Nick Fury to find out more about her past.

The simplest way to explain the plots of both movies is perhaps: flagship female superhero finds herself out of her element, and must find a way to save the world while simultaneously working within the confines of a setting she’s unfamiliar with.

Wonder Woman did this SO much better than Captain Marvel did, and here’s why.

The first reason is in the portrayal of the heroines by their actresses, and how they interact with their mentor of the world they are unaccustomed to. Gal Gadot’s performance of Diana suggested naive innocence and idealism. Diana is doggedly determined to rid Man’s World of Aries’ influence and stop the war, but she has very different ideas of how to do it than everyone else. She doesn’t understand all the hoops and red tape Steve knows they need to navigate, and gets frustrated with the inconveniences. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is cynical, world-weary, yet focused and determined to do something too – and he’s willing to indulge Diana’s seemingly crazy ideas if she’ll help.

Watching these two – it’s magical. There’s real chemistry between these characters. Half the fun of watching this movie is watching Steve’s exaggerated, exasperated patience with Diana asking a million questions a minute, like a petulant child. Yet, you can’t help but love them each for it. Their relationship progressed organically from mentor/student to friends to lovers, all while remaining mostly equals, making it seem more real and believable.

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Steve Trevor and Diana Prince after saving the village of Veld.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol was, to put it nicely, unemotional to the point of being flat. I suppose it was to show how the Kree are generally in strict control of their emotions… but Carol is human and not Kree, right? So despite her thinking she was Kree for most of the movie, it would stand to reason that we would see some excess of emotion from her at some point, right? Even if it was on accident?? Even in moments where it’s completely warranted and expected, such as her reuniting with her best friend, Maria – right???

The vibe I got from Carol and Nick Fury’s interactions were more of almost a buddy cop dynamic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s just less of that mentor-ship that we see going on with Diana and Steve. It’s clear both Carol and Nick have been around the block, albeit in different ways and in different galaxies. However, their connection seemed a bit forced to me; yes, they teamed up out of necessity, but if I felt Carol was feeling anything at all, it was smug arrogance, solely through her interactions with Fury. More on this in a moment.

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Nick Fury and Carol Danvers infiltrating a U.S. Air Force Base.

Though both Diana and Carol are superhuman beings, and warriors to boot, Diana is shown to be more well-rounded in the emotions department. There was never any point in Captain Marvel where I felt emotionally connected to Carol. I think this is more the fault of the writing more than it is Larson’s portrayal, which leads me to my second point:

The way misogyny is handled in both movies is VASTLY different, and makes a HUGE impact on the way the titular characters interact with their environments, and the emotional weight of each story.

You ever wonder why the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman is so powerful? Why you cry like a baby every time you watch it? Admit it, you know it’s not just me 😉

It’s because, for the entire movie up until that point, we see Diana being told “no.”

  • No, you can’t be a warrior
  • No, you can’t leave home
  • No, you can’t dress that way
  • No, you can’t come into this war council
  • No, you can’t go to the front

Now, no one says these things in so many words, and it’s not always that obvious. It may be only on your second or third viewing that you REALLY pick up on all the subtle ways that Diana is being restricted – which mirrors what happens in real-life with instances of misogyny. It’s not always being told “no” exactly, more often it’s being dismissed or sidebarred – which we see Diana go through. When we get to the No Man’s Land scene, and Steve tells Diana they are not going to help the village of Veld, Diana has heard her last “no.”

It’s so powerful because Diana is FINALLY standing up for herself, what she believes in, her mission, and she is going to do it no matter what anyone says. It’s so powerful because she has tried to assimilate into Man’s World and to their ways, but she finally realizes that their ways don’t work, and she carves herself a new path, her own way. It’s so powerful because she is embracing her feminine power to save the world, and her ultimate superpower: not her brute strength, but her ability to provide hope in a completely hopeless situation.

The brilliancy and beauty of this scene is in the movie’s moves up until this point to try and hem Diana in, so subtle that it’s nearly subconscious. When you see her finally break free in this scene, the movie has earned all the ugly tears you shed over it, and then some.

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Yup, it’s right about here that I always start sobbing

Captain Marvel didn’t have an equivalent scene, though it tried to. Near the end of the movie, Carol confronts the Supreme Intelligence and breaks her inhibitor chip. It also gave us a slew of flashbacks to Carol’s childhood in which we are shown in quick succession how Carol has been told “no,” and that’s what’s allows her to break free and come into her full power, which we then see in the next scene: the “I’m Just a Girl” scene, where Carol fights her former Kree squadron for the Tesseract.

The problem with this scene – and with the movie in general – is Carol is explicitly told “no,” in so many words, in those flashbacks. We are beaten over the head with scenes like this:

  • Carol and Maria getting hit on by a sleazy guy at a bar
  • Carol and Maria can’t become fighter pilots
  • Carol needs to control her emotions
  • Carol can’t play baseball
  • Carol can’t go that fast on a go-kart track
  • … All because they are girls or women.

Carol, and the audience, are explicitly told these things, instead of being shown them. The subtlety that worked so well in Wonder Woman is missing altogether from Captain Marvel. The obviousness of the misogyny in this movie strip much of the meaning away from the instances in which they occur, or their motivation for Carol.

I mentioned above that I felt Carol to be a cold, arrogant presence throughout this movie – this is why. It felt as if she was so hell-bent on proving her worth, despite her being a woman, that that’s all her character became. This crippled her relationship with Fury. Instead of Fury becoming a guide to Carol when she returns to Earth, he became the receiving end of the superiority she picked up from her time as a Kree. It felt as if he was reduced to a comic relief sidekick alongside Carol, instead of the force of nature we had previously seen and known him to be. Though this is a prequel movie for Fury, and he arguably doesn’t quite have the experience to be a mentor yet as he’s early in his career, the fact remains that as far as she knows, he is still Carol’s bridge between Kree and Earth – and to me it felt like Carol knew better than he did.

Now, I know Carol was brainwashed to believe she was really a Kree. It seemed as if all the flashbacks from Carol’s former life on Earth shown in the movie were instances like these: blatant misogyny. What it really needed was more of Carol being a badass like Maria talked about during the kitchen scene. The Carol Maria talked about sounded awesome! She was a pain in her best friend’s butt! She was an amazing pilot! She loved to go out and dance and do kareoke! She was an aunt figure to Maria’s daughter, Monica! THAT’S the Carol we needed to see – the truly human Carol!!!

In fact, the one thing Captain Marvel did better than Wonder Woman was the inclusion of Maria’s character. What little we saw of Maria and Carol’s friendship was AMAZING!!! They had such a great friendship, of two women (one of them of color!!!) LOVING AND SUPPORTING EACH OTHER UNCONDITIONALLY!!! There wasn’t enough time spent on any female characters other than Diana in Wonder Woman for us to see any friendships form between her and another woman (though I am hopeful we see this between Diana and Barbara Ann Minerva in WW84, coming out in October at time of posting).

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What Captain Marvel really needed: more Maria

The movie needed more of this truly human Carol. The pre-brainwashed Carol as seen through Maria and Monica’s eyes, to make the audience care about her, and to make us believe that she is more than a single dimension: that of being a woman with something to prove. It’s otherwise difficult for the audience to remember that she IS supposed to be human, and therefore it’s difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with her.

The heavy-handed misogyny in Captain Marvel also strips away any and all emotional impact we are supposed to feel from anything – especially the final fight scenes, after Carol finally comes into her full power. The movie tried SO HARD to show us Carol’s girl power that that’s all her character was reduced to. When we finally get to the “I’m Just a Girl” fight scene, we just roll our eyes at yet ANOTHER in-your-face instance of Carol’s femininity. Captain Marvel hamstrung itself on its’ own feminism.

The dynamic of each movie within its’ respective universe is also interesting to think about. The DCEU was okay at best until Wonder Woman (the 4th installment) finally helped them to find their stride. While no DCEU movie they create afterward will come close to being on the same level, their subsequent movies have become overall lighter and more fun in tone than their predecessors – and more like the MCU.

The DCEU tried too hard in their beginnings to become what the MCU was in their middle that they rushed into a huge crossover with no other basis than Man of Steel, and failed at it.

The MCU is a carefully-crafted, decades-long cinematic event. I may be a die-hard DC fan, but even I can admit that Marvel’s movies FAR outstrip DC’s in scope, continuity, and storytelling. Captain Marvel was the third to last installment in the Phase 3 of the MCU saga – between Ant Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Endgame (technically, but I personally consider it the second to last because I don’t count Spiderman: Far from Home as being part of Phase 3, but that’s a post for another day). My point being, this movie is smack dab between a hilarious, high-stakes heist, and the epic ending to one of the greatest cinematic sagas in all of film history, and introduces a character VITAL to that ending, just one movie before. And it unfortunately feels like a slog to get through. It feels like forced required reading just before that cinematic climax that only serves two purposes: to explain the Carol-Ex-Machina moment in Endgame (disappointing), and how Fury lost his eye (even more disappointing).

The MCU tried to recreate with Captain Marvel what the DCEU did with Wonder Woman – a first movie for a female hero in their camp – and failed at it.

– Kathleen

… Okay, now that I got my nice, objective views out of the way, I’m sorry I can’t hold it in anymore I need to say it the very biased way I said it to a friend: Captain Marvel??? More like Captain Knockoff: Superman Without Any of His Likeable Qualities Wearing a Chinese Bootleg Wonder Woman Costume

Y’all KNOW they PURPOSELY created CM’s costume to look TOO SIMILAR TO WW’S like JUST LOOK AT IT AND TRY TO TELL ME I’M WRONG

I think y’all knew which camp I was in to begin with, but I hope I explained the important differences between these two movies, and why those differences had a significant impact on each movie, sufficiently!

Batman vs. Two-Face

A few weekends ago, our state moved into Phase 3 of their COVID-19 reopening plan. This enabled non-essential retailers to open with recommendations for mask-wearing, disinfecting, and social distancing for staff and customers.

What did this mean for Fiancé and I? A trip to our favorite used media store.

I didn’t buy anything. I was just happy to be there and browse: doing something somewhat normal. While Fiancé was looking for something specific, he couldn’t find it. He did find this movie and bought it for us. We already own the first season of the ’60s TV show, which we enjoy, and he wanted this film for his collection.

Batman and Robin, along with their friend District Attorney Harvey Dent, attend a secret demonstration of a new machine built by Dr. Hugo Strange. He calls it an “Evil Extractor,” and it’s designed to suck out evil in a person. At first, it works! The evil in the villains Strange selects to demonstrate the machine is extracted and deposited in a vat. Things go awry when the villains start to laugh, overloading the machine and causing the containment vat to explode. Harvey is splashed with the pure evil extract and transforms into Two-Face, despite Batman’s attempts to save him.

After six months of Two-Face’s villainy, Harvey Dent has had reconstructive surgery and is fully rehabilitated. Eccentric millionaire Bruce Wayne is ecstatic to have his friend back, but his ward Dick Grayson isn’t so sure. Batman and Robin have had to deal with multiple stings by different villains, all of which leave behind clues of duality, or the number two. Surely this points to Two-Face being behind everything? When the Dynamic Duo come face-to-face with the Cleft Criminal, they are forced to admit that Two-Face is back – with a vengeance!

As mentioned above, this animated feature is done in the style of the 1960’s Batman TV show. And boy, did they knock it out of the park! There are action stunts, sound effect speech bubbles, and visual gags and Easter eggs galore. Character designs stay true to their source material. One change I really liked was that the eyebrows on Batman’s cowl were animated: they didn’t change shape much, but moved up and down to indicate emotion or tone. This was a nice touch that’s been done in other animated iterations of Batman (BTAS comes to mind). It may have been difficult to determine emotion from voice alone, without any other body language cues we get from Adam West while watching the live action show.

Speaking of Adam West, this was the last project he worked on before his death in 2017. All his lines were already recorded before he passed. There is a lovely tribute to him at the end of the film. Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprised their roles as Robin and Catwoman, respectively. William Shatner was brilliant as Two-Face. It was clear that everyone had fun lending their voices for the film, whether they were an original cast member or a newcomer.

I felt the story was a little too convenient and predictable. I also thought the visuals could have been better served by animating more in the style of the times, not the ultra-clean, modern imitation of traditional animation we get today. In spite of this, there were a whole lot of laughs to be had through written or visual jokes, over-the-top camp, excessive but impressive alliteration, and so on. This is where the real joy of the movie comes in: perfectly capturing the spirit of the beloved classic in a new, modern package.

-Kathleen

Morales, Rick. Batman vs. Two-Face. 2017.

Kathleen’s Annual Spooky Musical Marathon

Well-known fact about me: Halloween is my favorite holiday. Little-known fact about me: I love musicals. Whether they are movies with songs or written for the theater, I love them all. I hum show tunes under my breath while doing every day tasks. I love to dress up, do my makeup, and go to the theater with my fiancé to see them on stage. The experience of live theater is simply unmatched. However, most of the time, tickets are too expensive, or we’re too busy – luckily for me, many musicals have been recorded or remade into movies 😉 I have an annual viewing of these musicals every Halloween:

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  • Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas/Corpse Bride

I mean, come on! You can’t have a spooky musical marathon without a little Tim Burton animation 😉 Of the two, I personally favor Corpse Bride, in which Victor accidentally marries himself to a corpse named Emily while practicing his vows for his arranged marriage to a girl named Victoria. The muted color palette of the land of the living versus the color of the land of the dead challenges your expectations; you’d probably assume it would be the other way around! The three main characters’ struggle to reconcile their misunderstanding and make the most of a bad situation is inspiring to me. While Nightmare is a classic, it just doesn’t do too much for me. I find the Nightmare-inspired levels in Kingdom Hearts more fun than the actual movie… however, Zero is just the cutest lil ghost puppy and I love him.

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  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

This cult classic starring the late David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly is a new addition to this year’s rotation. In a moment of frustration, the imaginative Sarah wishes the Goblin King would take her baby stepbrother, Toby, away. To her astonishment, the Goblin King shows up and abducts Toby. Sarah must navigate his realm, where nothing is as it seems, and outwit the master trickster himself to save her baby brother. The world building is whimsical and dark. All of Jim Henson’s creatures are crafted beautifully. And, of course, who doesn’t enjoy Bowie’s music?

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  • The Phantom of the Opera

This classic Beauty and the Beast type story takes place in Paris in 1881, where we see the titular Phantom’s obsession with chorus girl Christine Daaé unfold. For her part, Christine is caught between her fascination with, physical attraction to, and desire to save the Phantom, but also her love of her childhood friend and betrothed, Raoul. Joel Schumacher’s rendition is beautifully rendered in a gothic style. While not particularly “scary” in the traditional sense, it’s frightening to see the lengths that an obsessed man will go to win the heart of a woman, and frightening how the Phantom is cast as a tragic figure more often than a creepy one… But if it’s Gerard Butler, it’s okay, right??? /sarcasm

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  • Repo! The Genetic Opera

I was introduced to this movie by a high school friend, and was instantly fascinated. In a not-so-distant future, a corporation called GeneCo offers transplants to the population of a world that’s suffered from an epidemic of organ failure. There is a price to their services, however. If a patient fails to pay, the Repo Man will hunt them down and take the organ back by any means necessary. Science fiction, horror, black humor, drama, and tragedy are blended here in a catchy rock opera format. You are drawn into the world and not let go until the end, when you sit back and ruminate upon it some more.

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  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This Stephen Sondheim production based on London’s urban legend is my favorite musical. I’ve seen the Tim Burton movie, and a YouTube upload of the original 1982 run with Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury, dozens of times. I’ve seen two different live productions: one with a boy not worth mentioning during my college years, and one with my fiancé just a few years ago. That last production was easily the best I’ve ever seen.

Now, you might be thinking. Why the heck is THIS your favorite musical, Kathleen? It’s about a couple of crazy cats who kill people and bake them into pies! Well, yes, but also no. It’s the allegory that really makes it my favorite. The entire story is a metaphor for the way society “eats,” or takes advantage of, the lowly, the disadvantaged, and the castoffs. It’s why the climax of the story is so satisfying, when one of those castoffs finally gets his comeuppance against the high society person who wronged him.

… Or something =P

Any of these musicals your favorites, too? Any more spooky ones to add to the list for next Halloween? ;D

– Kathleen

Aladdin (2019)

I’ve been waiting and wishing ( ;D ) for this movie for a while. Aladdin is my very favorite Disney movie and I was curious to see what else they could do with it in a live action remake. Last year now I reviewed the Broadway show, and I’m excited to review the live action movie too! I’ll keep the story synopsis simple, and talk more about the similarities and differences between the original animated movie (abbreviated from here on out as “OG animated film”), the Broadway show (abbreviated as “BW show”), and the live action remake (abbreviated as “LA remake”).

The young man Aladdin is street-wise, charming, and dashing. Everything a girl could wish for. One problem. He’s a street rat – an urchin and a thief living on the streets of Agrabah. He’s got dreams of becoming something, someONE, more. He believes he can when he meets a beautiful girl in the marketplace, and it turns out, she’s the princess! The law states that Princess Jasmine can only marry a prince, so Aladdin’s got next to no chance. That all changes when he is recurited by the Royal Vizier, Jafar, to steal a treasure from the legendary Cave of Wonders, and by accident Aladdin ends up with that treasure: a magic lamp with a Genie inside. He can now wish anything he wants, including turning himself into a prince. Changing himself on the outside affects how people see him, but can it change who he is on the inside?

First, the similarities!

The core story is unchanged. At it’s heart, Aladdin is two tales. The first is a tale of integrity, honesty, and friendship. Beneath it’s glamour and gusto, it whispers “Be careful what you wish for.” As Aladdin discovers, having a magical Genie and three wishes at your disposal won’t solve all your problems – it can, in fact, make them worse.

The second tale is Jasmine’s. She’s an interesting Disney princess in that she’s not the star of her own movie, but a secondary character. However, in every iteration of the story, we see her struggle to assert her worth and independence in a world that allows women no agency. We learn from her that love can be found in unexpected places, and not to judge a book by it’s cover.

Guy Ritchie takes this desert romance and gives it a different spin. There are elements of action, heists, and even hip hop. Though there are more high-speed magic carpet chases through the Cave of Wonders and the streets of Agrabah, but the film never loses sight of the core stories.

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I fell in love with the sets and costuming with Entertainment Weekly’s first look at this film!

Though the OG animated film was rich in desert colors, in my opinion, the BW show and the LA remake have the “real” Agrabah feel. Through the sets and costuming, we get all manner of luxurious textures, sparkles, a deeper rainbow of colors. The rich sensual experience translates better in either live-action experience for me, though I will admit the magical and fantastical elements translated best in the OG animated film. There’s some things that just work best with traditional, hand-drawn animation, and the Genie’s magic was one of them!

Speaking of, let’s talk about the blue elephant in the room for a moment. I believed from the start that Will Smith could pull off the Genie. Of course, no one can replace the late, great Robin Williams, and many were afraid of that. But replacing Robin Williams was never the point. No one was up in arms about Genie’s Broadway casting, were they? Will Smith got a lot of crap from fans about “getting Genie right” and “replacing Robin,” which made me sad. I don’t believe Robin Williams would have wanted this. Will Smith has the acting chops, plus the comedic ability, and he is also a record-selling rapper and musical artist. If I was afraid of anything, it was that Will Smith’s performance would overshadow those of Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott, the relatively new actors they cast as Aladdin and Jasmine.

(Though, really, it’s like tradition for Genie to overshadow everyone – I just didn’t want him to be too much)

Will Smith was phenomenal, just as I’d predicted. I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face throughout the whole Friend Like Me sequence because I had just KNOWN he would be great, and he didn’t let me down. They let Will Smith… well, just be Will Smith. They gave him a whole lot of razzle dazzle in post (while not a fan of blue Will in the first trailer, I’m adamant the CGI wasn’t finished at that point; he looks MUCH better in motion), but for the most part, they just cut him loose and let him have fun. His enthusiasm billowed out through the screen and infected everyone in the theater.

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Genie and I both say “See? Told ya so!!!”

Casting was spot on for most everyone else as well. Mena Massoud’s Aladdin is as charming and bumblingly endearing as the original. His rougish smile melted my heart; I couldn’t bring myself to be mad when he broke into Jasmine’s quarters to talk to her again (oh, I wanted to. Oh, HOW I wanted to be mad. NEEDED to be mad. I could not!).  Naomi Scott brought new life and new elements to Jasmine (more on this in a moment) while staying true to her independent nature. She and Massoud had great chemistry, though I found their singing abilities left something to be desired. I wasn’t moved to tears during A Whole New World as I should have been; the BW show had me sobbing in the theater and I wanted the same experience, dang it!

Now for the differences.

While Jasmine’s character was given more agency, more of a voice, and a new song to match (Speechless as opposed to These Palace Walls from the BW show), her new voice amounted to… next to nothing, unfortunately. Her moment was built up from the very beginning, when Jafar told her to hold her tongue in the presence of a man. She finds her voice in the climax of the film – only for the rest of the third act to unfold exactly as it did in the OG animated film. I was waiting and rooting for her triumph only to be extremely disappointed when she became the damsel in distress once again. I suppose there would have been no other way to do it without changing the ending events too much… but I am a little bitter about it.

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Let Jasmine sing!!!

More backstory was added about the Queen, Jasmine’s mother, and Jafar and how he rose to his station. However, this exposition was so paper thin, added nothing new to the story, and was mentioned only once or twice. At that point, why bother? I couldn’t suspend my disbelief about Jafar’s backstory especially.

Jafar was the only character I took real issue with. Though Marwan Kenzari portrayed Jafar appropriately misogynistic, he didn’t appear scary enough… or dare I say, old enough. In the OG animated film, Jafar is a creepy, lecherous, and truly sinister old dude. I don’t think the film gained anything by aging him down. His preying on Jasmine was toned down, I think, in favor of his thirst for Agrabah’s throne, but I wasn’t truly sold on his performance.

And, speaking of mothers, to my last point: why on Earth didn’t they include Aladdin’s mother, or at least the song about her? Proud of Your Boy, Aladdin’s ballad about mourning his mom and wanting to do right by her, was cut from the OG animated film. It was included in the BW show, however, and brought feeling and depth to his character. I was expecting it here, for whatever reason… dunno why I’m so surprised it’s not! Apparently I’ve forgotten how much Disney hates mothers! After hearing the less-than-stellar vocal performances by much of the cast, I can now understand why it was cut here, too… but I still feel it should have been included. I would have welcomed an effort at Proud of Your Boy and the reprise over the two “blink and you miss it” mentions each of Jasmine’s mother and Jafar’s past.

I’ve heard mixed things about all live-action remakes Disney’s made to date, and only seen one and a half myself (all of 2015’s Cinderella and the second half of 2014’s Maleficent), but overall I was not disappointed with this live-action remake of my childhood favorite. Guy Ritchie’s direction took us to a more action-oriented Agrabah, but his vision never lost sight of the desert glamour or the heart of the story. Casting for the most part was done very well; Will Smith’s Genie especially. Going in with an open mind on this one makes for a magical carpet ride at the movies ;D

Kathleen

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Ritchie, Guy. Aladdin. 2019.

 

Shazam!

***There are minor spoilers ahead***

I’m gonna be honest here. I’ve learned the hard way to go into a DC movie with low expectations. My fiancé and I’ve endured too much: trudged through too many sluggish, gritty, grey overtoned color palettes; winced through too many poorly-written, edgy, grimdark facades of the characters we know and love; and pointed out so many potholes, the whole DCEU could easily be mistaken for one of many poorly-maintained streets in the major city nearest us. To say DC movies have been a slog to sit through is a major understatement.

It was with this mindset that I sat down in the theater with my fiancé and ordered my dessert. The trailers had looked good, much better in my humble opinion than those of Shazam’s Marvel counterpart, Captain Marvel (and made me laugh at the use of Eminem’s “My Name Is” in one of the trailers; after the use of “Without Me” in Suicide Squad, it makes me wonder exactly how much of a hard-on DC’s marketing team has for the rapper’s old hits), but if I was optimistic it was cautiously so.

Billy Batson is a 14-year old foster kid. He’s been shunted from home to home, because he keeps running away. Billy is on a mission to find his mom. When he was very little, he and his mom got separated at a carnival. He’s tracked down half a notebook’s worth of female Batsons in the Philadelphia area, but none of them are his mother. Nevertheless, he’s determined to find her, whatever it takes.

A couple named Rosa and Victor Vazquez are the next family to take Billy in. They foster five other children who have been difficult like Billy has been, or have special needs. The Vazquez’ are a loving couple, who were foster kids when they were younger, so they know the ropes and are confident Billy will fit in well and become part of the family. All the children take to him: Freddy Freeman, his new roommate and superhero enthusiast, most of all. Billy, however, doesn’t really want anything to do with anyone in the house; to him, it feels like they’re keeping him from finding his mother, from his real family.

While plotting to run away again to chase down the next Batson on his list, Billy is summoned to a mystical cave. A very old wizard named Shazam tells Billy he has been chosen to become the next champion to protect the world from the manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins. Out of everyone else in the world, Billy has been chosen because he has the purest heart. Billy is skeptical; there are no truly good people left in the world, right? And he can’t possibly be one of them, right? But the wizard is adamant, and Billy lays his hand on the mystical staff and shouts, “Shazam!”

A crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, and Billy is transformed into an adult superhero. The wizard fades away, his quest fulfilled, leaving Billy alone and very confused. He makes his way back home to Freddy, the superhero expert, and together they test the limits of Billy’s powers, film them, and post them on the internet. He immediately becomes a viral sensation, and Billy soon starts using his powers not for good, but to show off and make money. When the Seven Deadly Sins escape and a threat arises, can a teenaged and untrained Billy even rise to the challenge? Will he keep chasing the mother who gave him up for adoption, or learn the true meaning of family?

As usual, the good first:

Guys. GUYS. GUYS. THIS is what a superhero movie should be. Shazam! was everything I had previously been missing from the DCEU, and more.

The difference with this movie was, it felt like they finally just let loose and had FUN with it. They took the concept “what would a 14 year old boy do if he suddenly got superpowers?” and really rolled with it. Of course he would not know how to pee while in costume! Of course he would film himself showing off his powers to become famous! Of course he would try to buy beer while in his older disguise!

What would you have done if you acquired superpowers at that age? Probably about the same stuff, if you’re being honest with yourself! I know I might have ;D Billy behaved exactly as I would expect any 14 year old to, as I would have expected myself to at that age. It was for that reason that the entire theater was in stitches for what I’d say was the first third of the movie.

For all the laughs it provided, it has soul too. Billy has a good heart and is worthy of the mantle of Shazam, though he doesn’t believe it and doesn’t show us at first. It’s over the course of the movie that we, and him, learn it. Rosa and Victor, though they have limited screen time, are obviously loving and caring parents for their foster children. I wish they were my parents! Freddy has a physical disability, for which he has to use a crutch to walk, but his knowledge of superheroes is encyclopedic, and he at turns acts as Billy’s conscience and rival, much as real brothers would.

For all their faults, the DCEU sure knows how to cast. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are perfect for the roles of Billy/Shazam. Angel is quick on his feet and unafraid to show deep emotion, allowing him to bounce from sarcastic joking to disbelief to fear all in the same sentence. He’s so young, but obviously an artist to watch. Levi, maybe pulling from his own childhood fantasies of gaining superpowers, gives a hilarious and believable performance as adult Shazam. The character fumbles a bit at first, but soon finds his stride, much as a teenager really would.

The bad? There isn’t much. I’ve been mulling it over for a few weeks, and really my one big nitpick is that Billy went from typical teenager in a costume to a hero too fast. That character development was saved only for the third act. At that point you’ve sat through the hilarity of the first act, the very middle-y and bogged down second act during which the Big Bad gets a lot of attention and Billy’s antics have gotten kind of old, before getting to any “meat.” A two-hour movie isn’t a long time for significant character development, but a little bit more of a gradual uptick in hero-ness as the film went on would have been appreciated.

Oh, more of Mary would have been most welcome too. She’s an American treasure, a sweet baby, and must be protected. The cameo right at the end could have been expanded upon a tiny bit more, buuut I suppose there was a good reason, so I can let it slide =P

Overall, Shazam! is a genuinely funny romp through finding the true meaning of family, and back through childhood dreams of becoming a hero. All through the hilarious first act (and at the very end!), we the audience are also back in Billy’s shoes as children, longing for superpowers of our own. To see our wishes fulfilled through Asher Angel and Zachary Levi’s Billy Batson on the big screen is truly fun and heartwarming. I stated in my Aquaman review that it was DC’s best since Wonder Woman, and while nothing DC does can ever top Wonder Woman for me, I feel Shazam! was leaps and bounds above what Aquaman accomplished. Shazam! had more consistent characterization (despite my above nitpick), a main character you truly saw yourself reflected in, and overall, superior writing, a bit of a tighter plot, and a better time at the theater. I appreciate that the DCEU is letting lesser-known characters come out to play… if the rest of it (though I’ll settle for a spin-off series) could be Shazam Family Shenanigans, I would be very satisfied indeed ;D

After Justice League was yet another disappointment, I gave the DCEU three chances to redeem itself in my eyes. With Aquaman and Shazam!, it used two of those chances, the third being Wonder Woman 1984. I mean, I’ve never doubted WW84 would be good, but now I truly have hope for the rest of the DCEU going forward. Don’t screw it up, DC!!!

– Kathleen

Sandberg, David F. Shazam! 2019.

Captain Marvel movie review

Marvel FINALLY got around to having a woman headline one of their Avenger movies, and it was very well done. After a slow start and some confusing world building, it hit it’s stride and I settled in for a great movie. Although my daughter and I went to see the Captain Marvel movie a few weeks ago, due to some scheduled posts and a busy schedule, this is the first I could sit down and reflect on the movie. So similar to what I did with the movie Solo I will address a few issues and then move into seven character studies instead of a standard movie review.

I was a bit nervous about the movie, as her character is brand new to the Avenger movie universe, and I wondered how they were going to tie her in. I haven’t read much about her character, the little I know is her horrible depiction in Civil War II in which she came off as misguided and fool-hardy. Before that, what I knew of her consisted of a backstory of Rogue’s on the animated X-Men series, and how Rogue sucked her powers from her leaving her comatose. I knew she was somehow tied to the Kree aliens, but the world building they were forced to do in the beginning of the movie to explain things to the movie watchers, felt clunky. The movie started to hit it’s stride a third of the way in and then I was able to settle in for the narrative.

Brie Larson was a perfect fit for the role of pilot Carol Danvers. She was the right balance of tough and smart without being too sexualized. She was practical, yet funny, and took her mission seriously. There was a learning curve with her powers and she didn’t take her powers or her relationships with others for granted. She truly did go higher, further, and faster! Now that Marvel showed us they can create a nuanced role for a leading woman, let’s see what they can do with Black Widow and Scarlet Witch!

Samuel Jackson veers towards being a caricature of himself, and I’ve never been a fan of his tough, always ready with a quip,  Nick Fury persona. But the movie de-aged him for the movie and gave him some needed character development. We also get the explanation of how he came to lose an eye, and its not what you would expect.

I experienced a huge generation gap with my daughter as we were discussing the movie afterwards when I made a comment about Jude Law as Yon-Rogg being good-looking, but that didn’t mean he was a good guy. She didn’t know who I was talking about because she did not consider him good looking as he was too “old”. Sigh.

I don’t want to give away too much by revealing who this character ended up becoming, but I was thrilled that actor Ben Mendelsohn wasn’t typecast as the baddie in this role, after his villainy in Ready Player One. I was cheering him on by the end of the movie.

Loved seeing Annette Benning get her groove on with the great 90’s soundtrack! Dr. Wendy Lawson was an intelligent woman who wasn’t quite as she seemed. More roles like this need to be available to older actresses!

Best Friends Forever! Maria Rambea’s friendship with Carol was authentic and much needed. There is a real lack of representation of female friendships in movies and books, so their relationship was welcome. Marie was also a kick-ass single mother to her daughter Monica, whom I’m sure will play a role in future movies, when the Avengers are in modern day.

Goose the Cat stole the show! One of my four cats looks like Goose, so now I will wonder do I live with kitties or flerkens?

While Marvel diligently built Carol into the existing framework of the Avengers universe, I am concerned how a jump from the 1990’s to now might prove problematic, but despite this, I am all in for Avengers: End Game coming out next month.

-Nancy

Aquaman

***Contains spoilers for Justice League and Aquaman***

A lonely lighthouse owner in Maine named Thomas Curry is strapping everything down before a storm, before something down on the coast catches his eye. A woman has washed up practically at his front door. He takes her in and nurses her back to health. She reveals herself as Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, the nation under the sea. She was attacked while escaping Atlantis, and the arranged marriage that awaited her there. Eventually, Thomas and Atlanna fall in love, and they have a son they name Arthur.

Eventually, the Atlanteans come for her.

Atlanna fights them off, but realizes this is just the first wave of the army that is sure to come after her. She decides to go back to Atlantis and give herself up, in order to protect Thomas and baby Arthur. She sends the royal vizier, Nudius Vulko, to help raise Arthur and train him in the Atlantean ways. As the boy grows, so too do his questions about his mother. Eventually, Vulko reveals that Atlanna was sacrificed to the Trench for treason – falling in love with a surface dweller and having a half-breed son. Arthur, sixteen by that point, decides he wants nothing more to do with Atlantis or his mother’s heritage.

In the present day, a year after the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf, Arthur continues to use his Atlantean powers for good. He stops a pirate attack on a Russian Naval submarine, though he causes the death of the leader. His son, David Kane, vows revenge against him. An Atlantean named Mera comes looking for Arthur, pleading for him to return, dethrone his villainous half-brother, Orm, and reclaim his mother’s throne. Orm is marshaling all the forces under the sea to attack the surface world, and must be stopped. To do that, he must find and retrieve the mythical trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. But it’s just a fairy tale, impossible to be true… isn’t it?

Will Arthur claim his heritage? Can he gain the trust of the Atlanteans, who view him as little more than a half-breed? Can Orm even be stopped?

DC is getting steadily better with their movies… hopefully, they are learning their lesson! I let this one sit for a few days before starting to write so I would be able to think about it more critically.

Overall, the tone was much better than past DC movies. Aquaman has very little of the doom-and-gloom of past DCEU installments. It struck a good balance between serious and goofy. There are moments of suspense, urgency, tragedy, and passion – but they are lightened by cheesy one-liners and Jason Momoa’s roguish smile. The bright color palette did wonders as well, especially in some underwater sequences.

Speaking of Jason Momoa… he is an excellent Aquaman. It’s true the man is VERY easy on the eyes, and it’s easy to just go in and just… stare… (not that I did that) but hear me out!

Aquaman has a history as the joke hero of the DC Universe. Though the character debuted in 1941, his appearance in the 1960’s animated Super Friends show did him no favors. He was portrayed as a lovable goofball with the weakest powers of the bunch. He became infamous for these reasons, leading DC to try rewriting the character multiple times to change public perception for the better. Thus, his arcs are convoluted… which also didn’t help much. Today, Aquaman is still a bit of a joke.

Jason Momoa has a presence about him. He’s a physically imposing dude with an intense stare. He’s best known, of course, for his role in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo, the ruthless Dothraki warlord to whom Danerys Targaryen is married off to by her brother, Viserys. The Dothraki are a war-loving and hard people, and Momoa pulled off that stoic role perfectly. Yet, if you watch his interviews and behind the scenes snippets – he’s totally different! He’s funny, humble, charming, he drinks beer and throws axes. He’s someone you’d like to sit back and shoot the breeze with.

I think that by casting Momoa, DC wanted to accomplish two things. First, they probably wanted to yet again try to change the public’s perception of Aquaman’s character for the better. To do this, they needed someone with the ability to look very serious, imposing, almost intimidating. Second, they knew from reviews of past movies that they needed to get away from their dark tone. They needed someone who, at the same time, could be light and charming, and be able to hold that balance between hulking and friendly well.

Boom. Enter Jason Momoa, our new Aquaman.

Casting for other characters was also excellent. Amber Heard portrayed Mera in the character’s cinematic debut. In the comics, Mera is often portrayed as Aquaman’s equal in powers, sometimes even more powerful. I appreciated that history placed in some scenes, where she saves Aquaman instead of the other way around! Willem Defoe as Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, was a surprise, but he pulled it off well. Patrick Wilson as Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and the self-stylized Ocean Master, had some of the best costuming in the movie. (Also, blond, he looks just like a younger Eminem, and it really threw me) His Ocean Master costume looked exactly like the comics.

Speaking of comics, you know who wrote for this movie? Our boy Geoff Johns. This is HUGE. So far, only one other comic book author has written for the DCEU movies, and that was Joss Whedon’s late rewrites for Justice League. Johns has written the New 52 Aquaman, part of the Blackest Night arc, mid-2000’s Green Lantern, and many more comic books, as well as the CW DC shows. The BIGGEST and MOST CONSISTENT nitpick I’ve had with the DCEU movies so far has been the shoddy writing and characterization. I was overjoyed when I saw Johns’ name in the credits and knew instantly that THAT is what made the difference in Aquaman. They got an ACTUAL COMIC BOOK AUTHOR to write the story, for the first time in the entire DCEU.

In short: THANK ALL THE POWERS THAT BE!!!

That said, the movie was far from perfect, and there were inconsistencies that are nagging at me. I thought it was mentioned pretty early on that only half-human, half-Atlantean hybrids could breathe air as well as water – yet, multiple full-blooded Atlanteans spent LOTS of time out of the water, doing just fine. The only instance where a full-blooded Atlantean struggled to breathe oxygen was during the Ring of Fire sequence, where Mera interferes and manipulates Orm into an air tornado.

(Also, wouldn’t Orm have won by default because Mera interfered with the trial? Those are some unresolved politics that are REALLY bothering me X,D )

The color palette in this movie was much brighter than in past DC movies, but in one respect they took it too far. Mera was too oversaturated for my tastes. I feel they wanted to make her pop and draw the eye, and make her bright on land to make her look otherworldly, and perhaps out of her element – but they took it way too far. Her neon red hair was glaring and distracting at times, especially during bright lit sequences. With her equally bright green costume, she forcibly reminded me of Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid… which was also highly distracting for me. It was almost as if they were trying so hard to get the audience to take Aquaman seriously that they threw poor Mera under the bus.

The movie was much too long for a standalone title only loosely related to the rest of the DCU. The thing that could have been cut was Black Manta. Yayha Abdul-Mateen II did a great job portraying the revenge-fueled villain – but his plotline really bogged it down. It was bare bones, for sure, but it added 30 minutes to what could easily have been only a 2-hour movie. Black Manta is Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, and I understand why they wanted to include him – imagine having the first Batman movie without the Joker. You can’t, right?

However, this movie was about Arthur’s struggle with finding his place and claiming his heritage in the sea after a lifetime on land. Orm was more than enough villain for this movie, not only as the big bad hellbent on world domination, but as Arthur’s foil: his half-brother, born in the sea, intent on claiming the surface world, hating it for taking his mother away. Black Manta’s sequence could have easily been cut down to the opening scene, where Aquaman foils the pirate attempt, and a post-credit scene with him building the signature helmet. That would have allowed for the unnecessary explanation of the connection between him and Atlantis that was in this movie to be moved to the next one, in flashbacks or as the opening sequence.

Also… for a movie with a budget as big as this one’s was (at least $160 million)… the CGI was, at times, abysmal. We’re talking early 2000’s, low budget, TV show Smallville pilot abysmal. Overall, it was decent, but there were a few sequences that were truly awful. Consistently, the movement of the character’s hair underwater bothered me. It looked highly unnatural and was also distracting for me.

Aquaman was finally a step in the right direction for the DCEU. The writing by, thank all the powers that be, actual real-life comic book author Geoff Johns, truly sets this movie apart from all others in the DCEU. The casting of all characters was, as always, spot-on, but this time the actors actually had the writing to back them up, save for a few inconsistencies and a missed trip to the cutting room for an over-long plot. Gone is the grimdark of past DCEU movies: Aquaman ably jumps between serious and fun. You can go for Jason’s irresistible charm – but you’ll stay for the overall good time 😉

– Kathleen

Wan, James. Aquaman. 2018.

Ready Player One Movie

I adored the book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, so I have been eagerly looking forward to the adaptation of the movie. But books are always better than the movies and this continued to be the case, although the movie was solid. There were some significant changes between the movie and book and usually I would be in an uproar about this, but the author co-wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation, and thus he himself tweaked some scenes to better fit an action movie. These changes worked, and gave it a better narrative flow.

**In tribute to the premise of the book and movie, I will be sending you on Easter Egg hunts. Follow my links to find other awesome bloggers out there who have a connection to the Ready Player One movie and the word I hyperlink it to. Enjoy their blogs!**

We first meet Wade Watts aka Parzival in 2044 living in a trailer park wasteland.   Much of society is in shambles, but people can escape from their mundane lives by entering the Oasis, an online massive multiplayer simulation game.  The founder James Holloway has died, and he has created a hunt for control of the game and it’s profits, and players need to embark on a journey to find three keys, each that would unlock puzzles or a riddle with a clue to the location of the next key.  Wade is an expert on 80’s nostalgia, as Holloway based the quests off the games of his youth.

The first key was obtained by participating in a huge car race. Right away this is a major change, but much better suited to film than the original fun (but long and drawn out) scene from the book. We begin to truly see pop culture references here, with vehicles and characters  you will recognize from other franchises. Director Steven Spielberg refrains from referencing too many of his own previous film’s but we still see a DeLorean car, King Kong and a T-Rex. We also eventually spot Batman, the robot Gundam, the Iron Giant, and Chucky in future scenes.  Unfortunately, licensing prevents some classics such as Star Wars or the Avengers heroes from being used.

For the second key, Parzival had to reenact word by word the movie WarGames, but this this movie switches up the film he needs to immerse himself in. This new film was actually a nice surprise. If it was going to go off-script from the book, why not give the viewers a chance to experience an iconic horror movie and some key scenes that will give you the chills.

As an evil corporation honcho tries to win at all costs and has endless money and workers at his disposal to win the game. Parzival is helped greatly by a fellow online avatar Art3mis, who is established as a love interest early on, and his best friend Aech.  Yet another change is that the movie shuffles some timelines with Art3mis and other online friends, before they arrive at the final gate. An epic showdown occurs, and (come on, this is no surprise) Parzival wins the game and the girl!

All in all, this was a fun movie and I look forward to watching it again on DVD so I truly can catch all the shout-outs from movies, music and tv that was embedded in scenes. However….this was no blockbuster and it really didn’t do the book justice. If I were watching it with no preconceived notions, I would have enjoyed it even more. Yet on the other hand, the movie was strong enough and made some interesting cinematic choices that let me enjoy it even as it diverged greatly from it’s source material. My advice is to read the book if you truly want the grand adventure!

-Nancy

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you! Hope you’re all having great dates ;D

This past weekend, as those of you also residing in the Midwest know, was a nightmare! All the snow we got on Friday made my work close, which was awesome, but left me at home shoveling and throwing snowballs for the dogs. It also almost left me without a Valentine’s day date – it was doubtful my fiancé would be able to come visit, but he managed to on Saturday after the weather blew out. We spent that afternoon out and about playing PoGo and it was the best time we’ve had together in a while. Sunday, though, we stayed in, baked, and watched this movie we didn’t get to catch in theaters.

Professor William Moulton Marston is being interviewed by the Child Study Association of America about the moral integrity of his creation: the comic called Wonder Woman. As he defends the themes and images in his work, he also reveals his life story and the inspiration behind the character. In 1928, Bill and his wife, Elizabeth Marston, are teaching at Harvard University and developing the lie detector test. Olive Byrne, daughter of Ethyl Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, becomes their teaching assistant and helps them develop the test. The three become close, and it’s soon clear that their feelings for one another go deeper than any of them expected them to. Once their relationship is revealed, the Marstons are fired from Harvard. Adding to their struggles is Olive’s pregnancy. How can the three possibly rebuild their lives after their scandal, let alone build a family together?

I’ve read The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, so I knew already about the man behind Wonder Woman and his family. I would say a good bit of the film was built from speculation because, due to the taboo behind polyamory and discussing sexuality at the time, there probably wasn’t a lot of primary sources from the subjects of the film to draw from. Still, the story is crafted well, and I was able to suspend my disbelief easily enough to enjoy it.

One of the things that surprised me the most was the emphasis on Elizabeth and Olive’s relationship rather than either of the women with Bill himself. Though he is part of the title and one of the main characters, Professor Marston was almost a secondary character in his own film. Thinking back now, it seems as though we the spectators were watching the film unfold mostly through Bill’s eyes. Many of the scenes place him in the background, with Elizabeth and Olive in the spotlight. Sometimes we see them from far back, as if we were Bill watching from the corner of the room. We are spectators too, but we are also Bill the spectator, watching these two powerhouse women fall in love with each other. I certainly hope it opens the door to more romance movies with same-sex or polyamorous couples in the future!

To the eye, every detail was perfect. The costumes and sets were fantastic. To both casual fans and diehard Wonder Woman fans, there are tons of cameos to pick out. The soundtrack was also very good, especially in the romance sequences.

It was an enjoyable film. There is a greater emphasis on the women who inspired Wonder Woman than on the creator himself, which opened the door to a romance film between two women. If Diana wouldn’t be proud of that, I don’t know who would be! It’s crafted well, from the costumes to the music. For reading with your viewing, I recommend either The Secret History of Wonder Woman or Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley to learn more about Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive, and how their dynamic shaped Wonder Woman!

– Kathleen

Robinson, Angela. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. 2017.

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