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let me kvetch about storytelling some moar

So, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. And ... it was kind of rubbish. Which might not surprise anyone who was around for my reaction to The Avengers, my baseline assessment of which –

the good: it wasn't bad. It was shiny and kaboomy and, uh, shiny, and it got the job done, picked us up at A and delivered us firmly to B. There were moments, genuine moments of oh hey, that worked amidst the flow of so, hey, that happened.

– applies equally to GotG. And Pacific Rim, while we're at it. I'm not angry like I was with Avengers, probably because I've learned to adjust my expectations, that when fandom goes SQUEALING INSANE over a movie, my reaction to it will most likely be something along the lines of, "... Oh." Also, I'm pretty sure I am simply out of shits to give. So the good news is, you won't get another long screed of me clawing my face off because WHAT and WHY OMG WHY, and instead just mostly leave my personal reaction at the faint praise that it ... wasn't terrible. It wasn't, for example, The Phantom Menace.

But it was still kind of rubbish.


Okay. Let's start by acknowledging there is a catch-22 issue in discussing the storytelling problems in blockbuster/tentpole movies such as The Avengers, Pacific Rim, or Guardians of the Galaxy put out by Hollywood, and that is that the system does not facilitate – and often works against – the telling of a good, solid story. (Although gleefully ripping into it, as in the Phantom Menace podcast commentary linked above, is wonderfully cathartic.) A good solid story requires – among other things – a basic level of internal coherence, and the system producing them is fundamentally incoherent.¹

Now, if a really good, solid story was the only way to ensure box office success, then you can bet your ass that Hollywood would rearrange to find the best ways to achieve that (much as you can bet your ass that it will evolve in response to the growing unprofitability of the blockbuster/tentpole model that's emerged in the last decade). In fact, you can see exactly that evolution in progress right now if you look at the tv world. With movies, the DVD market has collapsed, so to be successful within their current model they need to make their money back IMMEDIATELY, and A WHOLE, WHOLE LOT, and the movies are crafted – gimmicked – accordingly. With tv, which has been evolving in response to a glut of product availability (among other problems), success means hooking a long-term returning audience. Gimmicks are strictly short-term, and what's more, everyone's got 'em. An engaging story – the interconnecting trifecta of characters, setting, and what happens – is the only thing that will carry the long haul.² Hence the received wisdom that tv is a writers' medium (whereas film is a directors' medium). (Also why we're seeing so many books being adapted to series.) With the current "golden age of television" going on, as well as the devaluing of the writer's role in movies, that's going to keep diverging for a while (until the next evolution of the medium/economic model).

(Although with the partial decompartmentalization of tv and film going on – remember when it was a big deal that George Clooney made the leap from one to the other? and Quentin Tarantino directed an episode of CSI? – people in the industry who value storytelling for itself will follow the good material when they get the opportunity, which right now will boost the quality of tv even more. Ie, Rian Johnson directing Breaking Bad episodes. And "film quality" actors jumping into tv series, such as Game of Thrones. And Natalie Dormer showing up in everything, although I think that's just a thing, not a trend. Not that we mind it either way.)


TL;DR: the current model producing movies is so chock-full of financial risk that they can't afford to take risks with story. Tv, with its far lower risk parameters, has space to play and find story and, as an economic model, is directly, repeatedly rewarded for doing so (positive reinforcement: it works!).³


So take a look at the three, or, actually, four examples up there. Phantom and Avengers had direct lead-ins to their box-office successes and, to a lesser extent, big Names attached (relative to the other two at least); GotG had the consumer faith and goodwill MCU has been building for their brand, as well as a very pointed promotional comparison to the original Star Wars, so even though the specific product was virtually unknown, it is riding the coattails of the exact same lead-ins Phantom and Avengers profited from. Pacific Rim, by far the lowest on this little totem pole, was an unknown product with no coattails to ride and no Names to speak of (I know, you guys, I adore Idris Elba too, but at the time he really wasn't a Name name), and therefore did astonishingly well. From a storytelling perspective, it was also the best-constructed of the lot, and I don't think that's a coincidence, in fact I think that's what gave it what boost it got.

Having said that, the reason the Star Wars and MCU lead-ins are so strong is because they come from really good, solid stories that engaged the audience in the first place. (And, tellingly, both those franchises began with smaller, experimental movies with little to no expectations riding on them.) As anyone who has held on with a tv show long past the point it went to crap knows, once a good story really hooks us, it takes a lot of subsequent crap story to lose us. Hollywood's counting on it, and will sequel and reboot every originally successful story into the ground. There are plenty of individuals in Hollywood who are there to make stories, and sometimes they are in a position to carry that through; the problem is, it happens within the system as a whole, and the system as a whole is there to make money. The system as a whole also can't run without money. Thus, in the storytelling industry, the industry takes priority over the storytelling.


Back to GotG, it had a lot going for it. The actors are charming, the character designs are distinct and memorable, the themes of found family and meaningful connections and teamwork and self-sacrifice are perennial favourites, the plot device is serviceable, the visuals are stunning. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a clunker in the mix. The problem is the mix itself: it's got way too much stuff going on, all the time, and as a result, none of it really lands the way it should. Call it the broccoli soup problem, after the infamous Gordon Ramsay incident. As this article observes,

Ramsay challenges a stubborn chef to a competition to make broccoli soup (6:44). The chef pours 16 ingredients into his version, it takes forever to make, has a sewage color and, worst of all, you can barely taste the broccoli.

Ramsay's version? Broccoli, water and salt. It was a lush forest green. The other chef admitted it tasted much better. Best of all, it was quick and inexpensive. It is a dish that can be done better, faster and cheaper.

So much of what we do in business is broccoli soup. Once the company has identified the need and built its plan, it's time to make the soup. But so many of us are well educated, ambitious, academically curious and eager to show it. So we wind up tossing all of our mental ingredients into every broccoli soup we make. It's the ultimate trap. We recreate the wheel instead of relying on our systems.

And, look, I get it. It takes confidence to stick a story. To trust that it works, to not embellish it until you can barely see it, not ram it down people's throats, not fill up the negative space, to fight off the voices looming over your shoulder demanding "movies with [xyz] in them made lots of money, so you have to put [xyz] in it!", to let it – and the audience – breathe. It is not easy to have that confidence, because there is something unquantifiable about a story, and all those other factors are easier to measure, easier to be sure of, easier to pack the movie with to the gills. GotG was largely just a bunch of (too much) stuff happening, with little to no connection or reinforcement of each other, frittering away their piecemeal impact. It was a fireworks display, when what it should have been was a multi-stage rocket.

Someone, somewhere, at some point, was at least trying. They just got snowed. The most glaring relic of their attempts being Peter's specific refusal to take his dying mother's hand at the beginning, to the specific taking of Gamora's hand at the end. The problem was, it needed at least one more beat to set up the significance of him doing so – and probably, at some point, the script did indeed contain that beat, before it got cut to make way for some other piece of glitz or drawn-out action or [xyz]. So what did they do to smack you in the face and make sure you didn't miss the deep personal significance of the action that was not once apparent in any of Peter's other actions or characterisation in the intervening two hours of Stuff Happening So Much Stuff Ohmygod? They give Peter a literal vision of his mother on her deathbed reaching out her hand to him. HAY GUISE THIS IS ABOUT WHEN HE DIDN'T TAKE HIS MOTHER'S HAND WHEN SHE REACHED FOR HIM AND HE RAN AWAY INSTEAD AND THEN SHE DIED AND THIS IS SO PERSONAL TO HIM, U GUISE. AND THIS IS THE ONLY WAY YOU'D KNOW THAT BECAUSE WE ACCIDENTALLY FORGOT TO INCLUDE ANY CONNECTING SET UP AND ALSO IT HAS NO INHERENT EMOTIONAL RESONANCE WITH THE OTHER TIME WHOOPS. SOOOO PERSONAL AND SIGNIFICANT U GUISE.

Honestly, I might have physically cringed in the cinema. It. was. terrible. It was painfully clunky for something that was an incredibly easy fix; again, the problem is the piecemeal nature of the system of production, that there was no one person in a position to craft something coherent and unified out of the ingredients, so problems like this get solved within the single piece rather than within the whole. Some easy fixes for it, right now off the top of my head:

— Flip the roles. Gamora, not Peter, grabs the Infinity Gem to try to contain it, and, as the power of it is killing her, weakly turns to look at him just like his dying mother did. Frame the two shots the same way to make it unmistakeable. Unlike his mother, she does not reach for his hand (which would link him to the power and kill him too, whereas taking his mother's hand would have linked him emotionally to her death, which he feared and so let her die "alone"), but might give a very slight wave goodbye; Peter would be afraid, but not flee, instead deciding to take her hand (and thus, with Rocket and Drax following his lead, saves her life and that planet). SELF. EVIDENT. NO WTF SPACE HALLUCINATIONS OF DYING MOTHERS NEED APPLY.

Bonus: cut out the similar, weaker scene where Peter risks death to save her life that does nothing else but bring the plot to a screeching halt (again) and prematurely ejaculate that emotional beat. Anyone in the team being at the point of being willing to die for another (outside of the Rocket-Groot partnership) should be the emotional climax of their story, compounding the plot's climax. Having it happen, even once, around the half-way point creates the emotional perception – logical or not – in the audience that they're all at that point, because to us, they're already a team. When they all do it later on, they're lagging about half a movie behind the emotional impact of that stage of evolution of their teamy-ness. (Original Star Wars comparison: did Han Solo actively put himself in danger to save the others? No he fucking did not. When stuck in the life-and-death situation of the Death Star, he and Chewie fought beside them, but every time he had the choice, he chose his own self-interest. Until the very climax, when his choice to come back and put himself in harm's way to help Luke saved Luke's life, and that planet. And that was the moment everyone knew they were all really, truly, an inseparable team.)

Also bonus: Rocket and Drax following his lead into death for the sake of their teammate viscerally reinforces how deeply Peter has been accepted as the leader of the team, rather than just having him delivering stirring self-deprecating hero speeches and getting them all to stand up. Visually echo that now-we're-all-standing-up beat for added heartwarming pathos.

Likely piecemeal-type overruling of this fix: "But Peter's the hero! He has to be the one to grab the thingy! That's what the hero does!"

Sigh.

— Okay, fine. Then repeat the beat early on to reinforce it, and let us see it's an ongoing issue in his life, not just something his eight-year-old self couldn't handle. Easiest, and earliest, and best opportunity? The one-night-stand fuchsia-skinned space babe he forgot was still in his starship when he went Indiana Jonesing for the orb in the first place. Make it so that although she finds it rude that he forgot her presence in his ship, she still quite likes him, and after his charming-rogue apology tries initiating just a casual emotional connection/come-on and reaches for his hand. He is receptive to being persuaded to a repeat hook-up, but the moment she goes for his hand, he freezes and gets awkward about it, showing us it still haunts him more than two decades later. This means that when, two hours later in screen time, he's being killed trying to contain the Infinity Gem, and Gamora reaches to take his hand and connect with him in it, and he lets her, the significance of him doing so is SELF. EVIDENT.

Bonus: Fuchsia-Skinned Space Babe's casual expectation of some level of emotional connection following sexual connection would give us some kind of calibration for the alien society, letting us know without exposition (or space visions!) that Peter's resistance to it is not a product of the cultural norms he was raised in since childhood, for which we otherwise have no reference to judge. The indifference she actually showed (beyond a very mildly vindictive prank) to his indifference was an amusing beat, but served to radically diminish any personal significance to how emotionally closed-off and immature he is. Maybe everyone in that society is that way, so he is too, we don't know.

— Or, I don't know, just one beat, anywhere in all those stand-alone sequences of So Much Stuff FFS Stoppit, of him refusing to take someone's hand, with a slightly constipated look on his face. Or when he initially refuses to take his mother's hand, establish one shot of the group of his other family members standing around the deathbed holding hands with each other in support and comfort and general togetherness, in a way that will be echoed when the team hold hands as a group later. ANYTHING.

— The top of my head is sick of this shit. In particular, and in general.

The basic ingredients for a strong story were there, until they got swept away/buried in an avalanche of STUFF (unlike Avengers, which was a whole lot of STUFF that Whedon used the wrong story structure to wrangle, and so was fucked from the beginning). It could have worked. But if Marvel, the studio completely dedicated to making tentpole comic book movies out of their own material, can't get the storytelling element right, then no one can. (I know, I know, it was bought by Disney in 2009. Which ... kind of reinforces the point. *curls up quietly weeping*)


So, that was a lot of words. Maybe I can finally finish my Avengers character status calculus post now. (Probably not.)


¹ Further reading: these Cracked articles on 5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst; 4 Ways Hollywood Is Completely Imploding; and 4 Reasons 2015 Could Be the Movie Industry's Worst Year Ever. [Edited to add: Half in the Bag discussing the MCU model for a few minutes in their review of Ant-Man.]


² It can, of course, go too far the other way. Further reading: tv tropes on Continuity Lock-Out.


³ Further listening: the same crew who did the Phantom podcast also did a recent one just discussing upcoming Disney-Star Wars stuff that gets into that whole lower-risk dynamic, comparing it to the benefits of the post-Gene Roddenberry decentralization of Star Trek.
ETA: for evolving tv content, see also this Vulture article, The Age of the Streaming Auteur.



Further multi-stage rocket plot propulsion watching: Star Wars (same crew's podcast commentary); SPEED (podcast commentary); Dredd (podcast commentary). On a personal note, it probably won't surprise anyone to learn that, though I acknowledge the skill that goes into fashioning the biggest and most expensive fireworks displays, I still find them all same-samey and mostly boring. You know what I find utterly breathtaking, though? Here's a hint.

Comments

( 12 speakses — have a speak )
im_ridiculous
Oct. 11th, 2014 11:19 am (UTC)
I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1
Ok, let's start here shall we, because it's the least emotionally taxing of the ramble I'm planning to ramble at you in the immediate future. :) Also because this is the only one on which we actually disagree to any real extent, and even then, only to a point. It won't surprise you to learn that I still agree with you a lot. :D So...

*cracks knuckles and clears throat*

So look. Full disclosure: we don't really disagree. I think your criticisms of the film are completely legitimate. I guess it's more that I think we're looking for different things from our popcorn movies and my standards are, as usual, SUBSTANTIALLY lower ;P

I did not hate Guardians of the Galaxy. Just as I didn't hate The Avengers. I didn't particularly fall in love with either of them, neither have particularly lingered in my consciousness as films, but I didn't even nearly hate them. I actually had a very similar reaction to them both. Which, in case you've forgotten, and/or lest you be mislead by the fact I write Avengers fanfic... because I acknowledge that is kinda misleading ;P, was basically: Yeah, this is pretty dumb, but OOOooo! Shiny! Explodey! \o/ It wasn't the film, but fandom (Bee, specifically. I miss her actually :( I hope you're ok Bee, wherever you are) that pulled me into Avengers, rather than any great and undying love of the source material. Is it weird I can't write (or often even read) fic about the stuff I really *do* love, unless the thing I love ends badly? ANYWAY THAT IS NOT THE POINT OF THIS COMMENT. /werds

So look, a lot of my view of this genre of film (more of less all the Marvels, with a couple of exceptions, Pacific Rim, the Star Trek reboots) is coloured by the fact that I love sci-fi, and I kinda love this iteration of sci-fi *for* its stupidity. Mainly because, a few years ago, at the tail end of one of the most personally and professionally intense, stressful and overwhelming weeks of my life, I instinctively felt that what I really wanted to do was sit in the dark, in front of the biggest screen I could find, and watch shit explode. I wanted to switch my brain off. I wanted the OOoooh! Shiny!! YAY HAPPILY EVER AFTER RESOLUTION WHO CARES IF YOU DON'T MAKE SENSE, without the thinking, and these films deliver that in spades. And it worked. And I've subsequently found that a really useful stress reliever in similar circumstances ever since. Is it great art? No. Do I enjoy it? Yes. Am I proud of that? Eh, whatevs, I'm a fangirl, I left my pride at the door. ;) Also? This:

the reason the Star Wars and MCU lead-ins are so strong is because they come from really good, solid stories that engaged the audience in the first place.
...once a good story really hooks us, it takes a lot of subsequent crap story to lose us.


It's manipulative and horrible that they're sucking it and us dry, and depressing as hell if I think about it, just how cynically some of these films are made (A + B + explosions = BIG OPENING BOX OFFICE WEEKEND CASHOLA ... OH HAI THERE MICHAEL BAY) but, well... look, actually I can't and don't want to justify it.

Hollywood's counting on it, and will sequel and reboot every originally successful story into the ground.

...Indeed. For example, X-Men 3, the pre-Nolan Batmen, Tobey McGuire Spiderman 3 and the most recent Spiderman incarnation (I mean ffs, is was JUST rebooted you guys), Star Wars 1 and 2 (I didn't mind 3 so much, but still) and, inevitably, the forthcoming Star Wars-es. Hell, I may as well just go ahead and add The Matrix 2 and 3 to this list of shame too....

But... well, that's just the world we live in, right? And against that, and maybe this is naive and wishful thinking, but I wonder if there aren't small glimmers that all is not completely lost in the Marvel Popcorn Movie Universe.

(...which are in the next comment cos I neither email nor lj CAN EVEN HANDLE US)
im_ridiculous
Oct. 11th, 2014 11:20 am (UTC)
I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
(....ahem, as I was saying before lj so rudely interrupted...)

Specifically, the X-Men rebooted reboot. First Class was, in my view, a genuinely first class film of its genre. Days of Future Past was, it's true, based on a highly questionable conceit (sending Wolverine's consciousness back into his younger self in order to rewrite history..... I mean.... okay? I... I guess?), sure, BUT. If you can get past that, the rest of the film is actually pretty cool. And, more importantly, it indicates to me that the studio realises the massive clusterfucks it produced with X-Men 3 and Wolverine's not one but TWO, god help us, terrible origins/solo films, and is genuinely trying to make it right. Will that make them a lot of money? Yes. But I would argue it's also making it up to us, the audience, AND for once, prioritising story. Or at least it's an attempt to. (As opposed to the Spiderman rebooted reboot, which in my view falls smack bang into The Hobbit School Of Cynical Cinematic Money Making.) And then you've got Nolan's Batman reboot. Perfect? Hells no. But at least *trying* to tell a decent story? At least in the beginning? Absolutely.

Now, those could be outliers. And I have absolutely no beef with your (and Cracked's) central argument that studios are basically inflating a genre bubble while bleeding its geeky, engaged cash cow fandoms, dry. That is clearly happening. But. T'was ever thus, t'will ever be.

But look. ALL OF THAT ASIDE, and we're back on the same side. Because I don't *really* get the massive eruption of fandom excitement over the films in and of themselves... the excitement over the *fandoms* sure, because FUN!, but ... yes. And I pretty much endorse all your GotG edits too - I KNOW, TOTAL SHOCKER AMIRITE.

I guess (and really, this whole comment could ACTUALLY have been just this one line long), it just doesn't get under my skin as much as it does yours :) But then, your brain does analysis better than mine, so it's inevitable this shit is more nails-on-chalkboard for you :)

And in any case, I love you so much when you're grumpy. *buys you a drink*
themonkeytwin
Oct. 18th, 2014 05:08 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
This reply could also probs be one line long, something along the lines of agreeing agreements are agreeing. :D BUT since that's just no fun at all....

we're looking for different things from our popcorn movies and my standards are, as usual, SUBSTANTIALLY lower

Well, I mean, hun. Yes and no – I watch all kinds of rubbish and enjoy it unironically. I enjoy Dog Soldiers. I enjoy Equilibrium and hell even Doom, fer cryin' out loud. So ain't nobody around here got a leg to stand on when it comes to "standards" and things that just happen to push the right buttons for us. That's totally legit; "the right buttons" does not translate necessarily to "great storytelling". And I guess, if pressed, I'll allow fandom's right to be button-pushed en masse and get their excitement-snowball on (I'm magnanimous like that), I'm just a cranky bastard being unreasonable and wanting them off my lawn. :)

Yeah, this is pretty dumb, but OOOooo! Shiny! Explodey! \o/ It wasn't the film, but fandom (Bee, specifically....
Is it weird I can't write (or often even read) fic about the stuff I really *do* love, unless the thing I love ends badly?


TOTALLY THE POINT because, actually, it makes total sense, and if I hadn't got distracted with reaming out Hollywood (who, though fandom is far more annoying simply by being more in my face/on my lawn, is really who I'm side-eyeing), I would have remembered I was gonna mention something about this. Namely, that fandom's activity largely occupies the negative space within the story (and its horizons). The looser, broader, sloppier, and more dissatisfying the storytelling, especially with very tasty ingredients, the more room and impetus to play. The tighter – or more satisfying – the storytelling, the less room and impetus. Which, other than the coattails of fifty? sixty? years of beloved, childhood-formative stories to ride, is why OUaT is so popular despite being the lowest common denominator of childish, addled, junkfood storytelling (again, not necessarily condemning those qualities in their place, but OUaT, good lawd).

And, yeah, the community of story-engagement and generation is TOTALLY the best part. Heck, I wrote Avengers fic too, AU though it was (and largely for Bee; ditto on the hoping she's doing okay). I agree with the whole of fandom: those ingredients are mighty tasty. I just hate the meal Whedon chose to cook up with them. Mostly because it destroyed whatever respect I once had for him as a storyteller, because he knows exactly better, and he just fucking punted. And used his skills instead to manipulate audience response. I mean, I know WHY – apart from that being a thing with him, there's everything I just said about the Hollywood system/GotG – I just HATE it. (For comparison, he wrote a little indie movie called In Your Eyes, and it ... was pretty weak in some areas, and didn't fully come together, and was kind of forgettable – but while I was watching it, I was enjoying it (relatively) way more, and even warming up to him again just a little bit, because he was clearly trying, stepping out of his comfort zone and his gimmicks, being a bit vulnerable instead of manipulative in how he expressed the story.)

I kinda love this iteration of sci-fi *for* its stupidity.
... and these films deliver that in spades. And it worked.


First, *HUGS*. And I'm super, super glad it worked, and yeah. Nothing wrong with that at all. Again, look at the trash I've been watching because it's trash and that's what I needed at the time. And ... moar *HUGS*

OMG lj CANNOT even handle us ;D
themonkeytwin
Oct. 18th, 2014 05:14 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
It's manipulative and horrible that they're sucking it and us dry, and depressing as hell if I think about it, just how cynically some of these films are made (A + B + explosions = BIG OPENING BOX OFFICE WEEKEND CASHOLA ... OH HAI THERE MICHAEL BAY)

Lol. Sorry about this, but ... I ... can't entirely agree with the Michael Bay part. *hangs head* I KNOW I'M SUPPOSED TO DESPISE HIM BUT I CAN'T. There goes all movie-critiquing cred I could ever hope to have. I mean, YES, the studios are completely manipulative and cynical in how they're producing this stuff, but I – oddly, with all my heart – don't believe Michael Bay himself has a cynical, manipulative storytelling bone in his body. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I think he's necessarily telling good, or strong, or deep (LOL NO) stories, although occasionally a fairly decent one will wander into his view-finder and get made; it's been quite a while, but I seem to remember The Rock as having a fairly good, basic story, and others – Armageddon – have some silliness, but are still fundamentally fine. I (ohgod, sorry, *cringe*) respect Michael Bay's storytelling skills in that the things he wants to get up on that screen, he absolutely succeeds in getting up on that screen – and once he has, everyone else can take it or leave it, fuck it, whatever. He likes awesome vehicles and manly men doing manly things and clearcut missions to save the day, and tough, desireable women, and lots of batshit crazy action, and explosions. And, bygod, he absolutely nails it every time. He is very, very skilled; unlike George Lucas, who is (now) also making exactly what he likes, Michael Bay happens to know exactly what he's doing. As with Grey's, I respect the achievement of communicating precisely what you're trying to communicate – and letting it be received by audiences on their own terms, evoking rather than trying to control how we respond – even if I'm not particularly interested in the subject itself. The fact that what Michael Bay fanboys is what the global consuming public fanboys enough to make his movies box-office gold is ... well, it is what it is. If it weren't him and his preferences, it'd be someone/something else, and we'd still find it shallow and objectionable. However, I do believe that, no matter what was most globally profitable, even if it made him no money and he had to self-fund shoots in his own backyard/basement, Michael Bay would still be making the exact same things – and very impressively, for whatever budget he had.

Argh. Sorry. HOWEVER, like I said, I fully, totally agree with your wider point about the studios. Although I might be sliiiightly more forgiving of the cynicism if it weren't marred by so much self-interested incompetence.

First Class was, in my view, a genuinely first class film of its genre.

Totally, totally agree. XM:FC was aces, and really strong on its story/character integration, I thought; I haven't seen DoFP yet, but it's on the list and I'm cautiously hopeful for it, from all I've heard.

prioritising story. Or at least it's an attempt to.

Ha, well, I'd say both – the reception of those sloppy, terrible, just-throw-in-moar-stuff-the-audiences-like, Wolverine, they like Wolverine, right? movies made them realise that they'd lost their (paying) audience, and they needed to turn it around. Which they did with ... cutting loose all the once-the-draw-now-the-baggage of developed characters and events, and making a simple, strong story, literally going back to the basics. Financially, it was a "risk" worth taking at that stage. I guess we'll see with the second "third" one if they've learned their lesson for the time being; that period of studio risktaking is when the storytellers get more creative space to deliver what they – and we – want, before the success makes the studio clench up again and replace them with writers, directors, etc that'll do what they're told, dammit. But really, that's the cycle of supply and demand, and the inflating bubble, and the rest of it. So yeah, I think we're pretty much on the same page there.

... I'm really glad you love me when I'm grumpy. :):) *downs drink* Another! *smash* For my boon companion also!
im_ridiculous
Oct. 18th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
BUT since that's just no fun at all....
Another! *smash* For my boon companion also!
Indeed! *slams* Hot DAMN!! *smacks bar* ...mate, yeah, dude behind the bar - y'know what? Just leave the bottle. Cheers.

I watch all kinds of rubbish and enjoy it unironically.
I'm just a cranky bastard being unreasonable and wanting them off my lawn. :)

Yeeeeeeah, maybe? But if you say so. ;P :D \o/ heh.

The tighter – or more satisfying – the storytelling, the less room and impetus.
This is a very good point, actually. Negative space indeed. Maybe that's exactly why fandom does go batshit insane - the FEELS are as big as the explosions, but there's really nothing but fairy floss to hang them on, hence: full-strength fangirling is engaged... That's actually a very good hypothesis, monkeytwin, I could buy that for sure. (OUaT remains its own special category of ridiculous. Please hurry up and come back Hart of Dixie - between SPN and TWD... I'm gon' need some watchable fluff. Stat.)

As for Joss and his storytelling... well, as you know, I'm not as frustrated with him as you are either ;) Having said that, I do, broadly speaking, get where you're coming from. But I think his brand of sarcastic self-awareness is not badly suited to a superhero popcorn film, so I'm kind of ok with it? And see: used his skills instead to manipulate audience response... kiiiiiiinda what Michael Bay is doing too. Just sayin' ;) It's what all of them do though, isn't it? That's just..... storytelling, no? I mean, I take your point that, for example, Bay, is just putting stuff up on screen and going 'eh, take it or leave it', but fundamentally... I dunno? Aren't all storytellers, ultimately, trying to make us feel what they're trying to communicate? I acknowledge that as I do tend to experience my shows through the prism of my own personal, well...FEELS EXTRAVANGANZA ALWAYS 4EVA (that is, the emotional response to the content is how I typically engage (or, in its absence, why I don't engage) with my shows etc), there's always a chance that's just me. :)

ANYWAY I AM RAMBLING AGAIN WHEN I'M TRYING TO BE CONCISE HERE IT IS NOT WORKING.

And speaking of Michael Bay........ HA! Bless you, sweetheart, you're allowed to like Michael Bay movies. And don't misunderstand me - hell, I don't mind the odd Transformers flick either (they're certainly among the films I've watched and kinda gleefully giggled at in the cinema)... but at the same time, it's unusual for me to be pulled out of the world of the story, to view objectively/critically what/how they're telling the story, while I'm watching it for the first time, rather than just be caught up in the story.... but even I found myself watching the latest Transformers enjoying it, but simultaneously guffawing at the...well, if not cynicism on his part, certainly just the sheer brazen, brash, straightup LOOK THIS IS A POPCORN FILM MKAY of it. Which, look, is totally its prerogative. And how much of that is Bay, and how much is the studio.... eh, I have no idea. I don't feel like I know him well enough to judge what his non-popcorn fare might be like. ANYWAY. RAMBLING AGAIN. Point is YOU'RE ALLOWED TO LIKE MICHAEL BAY IF YOU WANT I WON'T TELL ANYONE YOUR SHAMEFUL SECRET ALSO THIS IS MAKING ME FEEL BETTER ABOUT SOME OF MY LOW-BROW TASTES COUGH EARLY-SEASON-OUAT COUGH. :DDD

AND SCREW YOU LJ IT'S MY COMMENT AND I'LL TYPE WHAT I WANT TO.
im_ridiculous
Oct. 18th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
I haven't seen DoFP yet
I will be very, very interested, whenever you end up getting round to it, to hear your thoughts on this one. As I say, I think the premise is... a little sketchy. But I LOVE what they do with it. You're so right - seeing where they go in this third installment will be most interesting, and telling re: lessons (hopefully) learned... and it could really go either way, because having wiped the slate totally clean, they really could go anywhere they like. As an X-Men franchise afficianado, I cannot freakin' wait. Also, it means James Marsden is back (ok, he is the LAST ONE to add to my list. It's the smile. Again. I'm weak. I regret nothing. ANYWAY.)

And as for Pacific Rim... yeah, I'm totally fine with all your criticisms there. Actually, I think this is the other film where I had my atypical Transformers/enjoying-but-also-very-aware-of-the-mechanics reaction. I do give the film props for not going Full Shipper at the end... for no other reason than, yeah, they're ok but I don't really ship that for no particular reason? (See, no kidding, my shipper is broken monkeytwin... /remembers latest Beth/Daryl feels... backtracks... Ahem.)

But yes. SO MUCH pesky nonsense plot going on. ALSO, YES WHUT BULLDOG? Did they get confused between Australians and British people again, and think the bulldog is a symbol of Australian and not British tenacity? Also, the Australian accent of young grumpy dude was SO BAD. Like, seriously, Hollywood is full of Australians - not even the oldest-and-least-famous Hemsworth was available? An Edgerton, perhaps? Sam Worthington doesn't seem to have anything better to do than hang with Lara in NYC these days, surely they could have twisted his arm? No? Sigh... Such a shame. Nice fanvid tho!

I'm really glad you love me when I'm grumpy. :):)
SO much. You have no idea. :DDDD

Aaaaaand... man. All those words and we haven't even got to the emotionally-invested TWD bits yet (thoughts are en route, by the way).... Holy shit, woman.

IN YOUR FACE LJ, WE CANNOT BE TAMED.

Aaaaaaaaaaaand... *scene*.
themonkeytwin
Oct. 19th, 2014 01:25 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
HERE I GO, I'M AIMING FOR ONE COMMENT-LENGTH REPLY, WATCH ME FAIL. :D

THIS IS MAKING ME FEEL BETTER ABOUT SOME OF MY LOW-BROW TASTES COUGH EARLY-SEASON-OUAT COUGH.

Well, look, at least in season one they clearly started off with some kind of plan. But they are literally trafficking in stories, and to do that successfully, you need the kind of mind of someone that lives and breathes story mechanics; you need a Joss Whedon, or a Ben Edlund. Stories are alive; stories are like cats. And you need to be really, really, really frikkin' good to herd as many cats as OUaT inadvisably brought home from the store. (And yes, I am totally calling Whedon really, really, really good (you already know how I feel about Edlund); it's part of the reason I get so fucked off about what he does.)

AS TO LOW-BROW TASTES. DID YOU SEE ME LIST DOOM UP THERE? I adored The A-Team, and I have only the haziest memories possible of the tv show as a kid to justify it. I love The Losers, too. I like Vin Diesel; sometimes I even kinda love him. Low-brow, high-brow, makes no difference around here; it's all human. (The very best storytellers run the whole gamut *cough*Shakespeare.) And I guess, if I were gonna do some self-examination at this stage, my thing is, are you treating honestly with the story you're handling/telling? That whole the man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time (George Bernard Shaw) principle – it applies from one end of the board to the other. Everything else is just society's insecurities about itself, trying to order things via arbitrary value judgements, so it can shame people into agreement and perpetuating them. To bring it back to recent events – TWD is hardly "high-brow". But it's brilliant. And it's brilliant because it's honest about what it's exploring (even if people aren't paying much attention, just tuning in for the "low-brow" trappings). Aaaaaand ... well that's just gonna get ranty. ;p BUT ANYWAY THE POINT IS, COME TO MY LOW-BROW BOSOM AND BE EMBRACED AND FUCK SOCIETY'S ARBITRARY VALUE JUDGEMENTS. Or ... well now that's an image. /leaving it unedited

All that to say, though ... that's the thing, I actually don't particularly like Michael Bay's stuff. I mean, I don't care one way or another (AGAIN: I ADORED THE A-TEAM. I HAVE NO STANDING-LEGS), I've just developed a tic about seeing him always being criticised as a bad filmmaker, and then I went and got it all over you, sorry.

kiiiiiiinda what Michael Bay is doing too....
Aren't all storytellers, ultimately, trying to make us feel what they're trying to communicate?


Oh, totally; that was me not being clear enough (and is waaaaay more pondering than can fit in a comment-reply or three). But, trying to boil it down here (and exaggerate the binary for effect), there's a difference between trying to make an audience feel something specific, and trying to dictate how they respond to feeling that specific thing. One treats the audience like playmates, the other treats the audience like puppets; one's a story, the other's an agenda. Bay (and, for example, Kripke) does the first; Whedon slides over into the second – not always, but too often for my tastes.

ALSO, YES WHUT BULLDOG?...
surely they could have twisted his arm? No? Sigh... Such a shame.


EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING YOU SAID HERE. WTF. ALL OF IT. (Although "Striker Eureka" was ... decent, I guess (I might have gone for the "Bloody Ripper", but I can see how that might cause confusion in non-Aussie audiences ... could possibly get away with spelling it "Bloody Rippah"?; or "Little Battler" maybe? In any case, the fact that "digger", "rat", "Suvla/Gallipoli", "Tobruk" or "Kokoda" weren't used just goes to show no Aussies were consulted in the stereotypes FUCKING BULLDOG ASDFGHJKJHGFDS) ... BUT OMG they almost completely won me back over with the moment – and the dialogue – with the flares. NAILED. IT. <3)

... GASP DIDN'T FAIL. *changes icon*

Edited at 2014-10-19 01:26 am (UTC)
im_ridiculous
Oct. 19th, 2014 03:12 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
I LOVE YOU AND ALSO THAT ICON :DDDDDDDDDDDDD

But they are literally trafficking in stories
This is actually a very good point, and the OUAT v Edlund/Whedon comparison is very well made. AGREED. And yeah, I totally know what you mean about Joss - it's like, you CAN do better, so... do better already!! :D Not angry, just disappointed..... and therefore angry. Because we're fangirls and that's how we roll :)

DID YOU SEE ME LIST DOOM UP THERE? I adored The A-Team ... I like Vin Diesel
LOL ALRIGHT FINE WOMAN, I BELIEVE YOU, STOP ALREADY bwaaaaaaahahahahahaaaaa :DDDDDDD
COME TO MY LOW-BROW BOSOM AND BE EMBRACED AND FUCK SOCIETY'S ARBITRARY VALUE JUDGEMENTS. Or ... well now that's an image.
Legit, actually killing myself with laughter over here. Like, without a word of a lie, LITERALLY GUFFAWING LOLZ. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. BWAAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA \o/

Because yes, y'know what, that's exACTly what it boils down to, isn't it: are you treating honestly with the story you're handling/telling?
It's like that stupid Helen Razer thing from the other day - we can't judge a horror film by how good a rom com it is. So, I could ramble some more but esstentially: nail, head, you hit that. ... ... um... y'know what? Leaving it.

SO. PACIFIC RIM AND HOW IT FAILS AT AUSTRALIAN. (Or: I'd forgotten how much ALL THE AUSTRALIAN THINGS annoyed me...)

Dude. I couldn't remember the flare scene so I just looked it up, and you're right, I DID love that. Extremely Aussie dialogue (and sentiment). But man, even the dad dude's accent... That said, he totally gets a pass because his performance and accent were generally pretty good, and because behaviourally and tonally (his physicality, somehow, and the gruff manner of his speaking as much as his accent) is just, ON POINT AUSSIE. Bravo sir. And also, because if you break down how Australians actually say 'stupid' (the best phonetic rendering of which that I can come up with is SCHTEW-puhd... which, I mean lol. I love us.), that actually makes that line really hard to deliver for someone faking the accent. Props to him.

BUT. In looking that up, I also rediscovered young grumpy dude's name, which I'm now pretty sure I couldn't remember because I had actually blacked it out... because it is 'Chuck'. He was called 'CHUCK', monkeytwin. I mean... have you EVER met an Australian Chuck? It's NEVER Chuck. If you're a Charles at all, you're a Charlie, or, more likely still, some shortened version of your surname with an -ie or -o suffix, lbr. On the other hand, if someone asked me to come up with a stereotypical name for an American character with the same attributes as this character.... IT WOULD BE CHUCK. It's not even a neutral anglophone name! IT IS SO QUINTESSENTIALLY AMERICAN. WTF, MOVIE. And I mean, his dad's 'Herc', which is just. Well. But 'Chuck' is just goddam offensive. *iz irrationally annoyed*

As for 'Striker Eureka'. Yeah, dude, I'm with you, WTH. I mean 'Eureka', sure, I guess, but you'd think we would have gone war reference first? And 'striker' just doesn't feel right either. (And, lbr, knowing our people, it'd probs be something scatological.) I'M NOT ASKING FOR RESEARCH, WRITERS, JUST A CURSORY WIKIPEDIA SEARCH WILL DO. IN WHICH CASE YOU'D PROBS ALSO HAVE FOUND OUT ABOUT KELPIES. JUST MAKE THE DOG A KELPIE. EASY. AND CALL CHUCK, LIKE, DAVE OR SOMETHING. REALLY ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE WOULD BE BETTER. (And thank you for letting me rant at you, and I'm sorry, and I'm stopping nao.)

edited because I CAN NO LONGER SPELL, APPARENTLY.

Edited at 2014-10-19 03:23 am (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Oct. 26th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
um... y'know what? Leaving it.

You know it babe. ;]

THE DAD DUDE GETS ALL THE PASSES. Hell yes. Yeah, as you say, something about the attitude/physicality, it was perfect, even with the dodg accent. Him, I did forgive everything.

CHUCK. CHUUUUUUUCK. WHAT EVEN. (I think I'd blocked that out too.) As you say, Herc, well ... *shrug*, I guess? But CHUCK LOLNO. Aside from just going with the suffixed last name, we might, if wanting to be especially dickish, call him Chuckie. Veeeery outside chance of the neutral "Chazza" – in certain areas. You nailed it, "Chuck" codes so American it's not even funny. (As for the dog, my first thought was Blue Heeler – smallish, smart, agile, fast, matches the jaeger, but yeah, Kelpie too would have been great.)

But the more I thought about it, the more bullshit ALL the stereotypes in that movie were. I mean, "Stacker Pentecost"? WUUUUUUT. (I have now headcanoned that he gave Chuck the bulldog to wind him – or more likely Herc – up. ... And now I have headcanon about PR. What is my life.) I doubt anyone was well-served by their stereotypes, unless you were in the market for heaping helpings of WTF. And, much as it pains me to admit it, I can see why tptb might have thought that "Striker Eureka", and even "Herc and Chuck" might have a more *Australian* flavour to non-Aussies, in much the same way that Nacho Doritos passingly evoke "Mexican" food, or fortune cookies are "Chinese". (THE BULLDOG IS STILL A BRIDGE TOO FAR. As a (non-Aussie!) friend put it: "They just figured English, Australian, what's the diff? WORST INSULT, THAT'S WHAT." WORD, NON-AUSSIE FRIEND WHO GETS IT.)


Aaaaaand ... I watched DoFP. It was fine! There was a lot going on but it all contributed to the thrust of the plot, they gave things plenty of space to breathe when they needed to, it took some serious risks (again, because it pretty much had to), managed to work the good stuff it had at its disposal well. I didn't mind the premise, because they committed to it and played it out within the story parameters they'd set up (OMG DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, FLAMES, FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE). So, yeah. That's my short version. :) Anything specific you were curious about?
im_ridiculous
Nov. 2nd, 2014 06:50 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
Ok, once again I'm starting here because ranting is easier to articulate than actual thoughts, and also I'm confident this won't spill over one comment :D

we might, if wanting to be especially dickish, call him Chuckie.
Right?? See this is the thing - if we were trying to be dickish to a dickhead called Charles, absolutely that is the time we might use Chuck. And this character is absolutely a dick deserving of such an ignominious moniker, but an Australian would never accept that Chuck was his name. OMG. My current name preference: Scotty. I know where you're coming from - and feel your pain in acknowledging - that t[american]ptb for a major motion picture not solely intended for Australian audiences will always have to succumb to stereotypes for shorthand/accessibility purposes, but I reckon everyone in the rest of the world probably also sees 'Chuck' as just as American as we do. Ultimately, I'm willing to forgive them Herc, and Striker Eureka. Because whatevs. But I just cannot get past Chuck or the damn bulldog (word to your friend. WORD.). And yes, a Blue Heeler would also have been perfect.

(But actually, on reflection, and actually factoring in the need for some kind of shorthand-Australian-stereotype reference for the jaegar's name... I actually think they should have gone an ALL AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE WILL KILL YOU reference. I mean, is 'Eureka' actually a reference any non-Australian would mark as Australian anyway? It's pretty obscure, internationally speaking. Something shark or spider or venom-related, however... Maybe, given the Japanese flavour of the monster's name, irukandji? ...but now I'm just being really ridiculous. :) )

As for dofp - yay you enjoyed it! I was just curious to know whether you bought the premise/time rewrite conceit as much as anything, or whether it was just a case of me being blinded by my love of a great X-Men film and/or loving them so hard for trying so hard to clean up their mess. I agree, they absolutely committed to it, and I think, ultimately, it worked. I've never been a Trekkie (in fact, the only Star Trek I've ever seen is Reboot Movies 1&2), so I'm not remotely emotionally invested... but even I find the whole kiiiinda-but-sorta-not-really-cos-two-simultaneous-Spocks-whut history do-over kinda... hmmmmmmm. Also holy gratuitous lens flares, Batman. Wow. Still, so many pretty explosions. Sooooooo many, :)

Speaking of finally seeing movies though - finally got round to watching Winter Soldier last night. And. Well. Now THERE'S a great super hero film. That was *fabulous*. Although... y'know... shipper that I am, I was like, pft, there better be a good canonical reason why Nat isn't tracking down Hawkeye right now, just sayin you guise, they are A Team, as if. But, y'know. Arguably total shipper goggles there. I loved it. And Chris is beautiful and delightful. :D
themonkeytwin
Nov. 3rd, 2014 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1.5
Yeah, let's start here. I have a feeling this is gonna be a three-cuppa morning. :)

an Australian would never accept that Chuck was his name.

Yes, exactly! UGH. (The only Charles who I know personally is of my parents' generation, so it's not like the nickname would be likely in any case, but yeah, he's just "Charles". Also, not to get into class markers on top of everything else, but he's pretty firmly modest upper class, so you know. It just brings us back to Herc – you're telling me that guy called his kid Charles? I will assume it was the mum's choice, and still. I have questions.) And yet – I've been doing the same, trying to figure out what a stereotypical Aussie name would be, and I'm forced to have sympathy for the writers or whoever was coming up with this crap, because I'm not coming up with much. "Scotty" would be fine but (ironically) it reads British/Gaelic. (Refrains from more ALLCAPS about the bulldog.) I find myself circling back to "Steve-o", but I'm not that happy with it. What I actually want is Baz/Bazza (although that's not inherently dickish), but would they be afraid that's gonna invoke Moulin Rouge or something?

I love the wildlife-shorthand idea, although again, irukandji doesn't code Aussie to anyone else, and that's what we're looking for. Because virtually everything that reads Australian to us has immigrated in, and on the surface – which is all we're interested in, clearly – still projects the flavour of the original nationality. Unless you go with something Aboriginal and that gets sticky. I don't know, redbacks maybe? FFS, even crocs, they've lent their name to our two most thoroughly ocker high profile exports. But look, at the end of the day, if Aussies were even consulted, they just clearly weren't interested in our opinion of what gives the vaguest possible impression of *Aussie* to the rest of the world. (And I am now deeply disappointed that someone couldn't somehow get drop bears in there.)

As for DoFP, yeah, I totally bought it. It wasn't the same problem with the problem-solving that threw me out of PR, because the essentially magical properties of their powers are well-established (and were played firmly within the rules they set up), whereas apart from anything else the real-world physics/engineering involved in PR are completely ludicrous, let alone terrifyingly inefficient. Plus DoFP did a brilliant job of showing just how desperate their situation was, and fully justified the lengths they were willing to attempt. It all made sense from not just a character-driven view but a world/setting view, I never once had to ask, "Seriously? That's how you're gonna handle this?" I mean, sure, they had to jack around and stretch some stuff, especially Charles and the serum, but they justified it, and didn't just make sure the consequences landed but made them integral to the character arcs and plot. So yeah, two thumbs up for that story construction, I'm a fan.

the only Star Trek I've ever seen is Reboot Movies 1&2
.... kiiiinda-but-sorta-not-really-cos-two-simultaneous-Spocks-whut history do-over kinda... hmmmmmmm.


I've only seen those two, too. I thought the first one was really slick and smart and well done as a movie, regardless of whether it was *Trek* (I'll leave that argument to others). The second was unimaginably lazy with Khan from start to finish and THAT IS ALL I WILL SAY ON THE MATTER EXCEPT IF YOU BASICALLY HAVE TO HAVE OLD!SPOCK SAY "NO HE'S TOTES THE BAD GUY, LIKE, TRUST ME" AND NOT EVEN SHOW US THAT TERRIBLY CONVINCING CONVERSATION I'M SO SURE, THEN YOU HAVE SERIOUSLY FUCKED UP YOUR ENTIRE STORY CONSTRUCTION. IN SERVICE OF A POLITICAL AGENDA. The whole thing is a total clusterfuck. But the explosions were pretty, I was down with them. The *action* overall was great, and at least propelled the plot rather than being great individual set pieces that stalled the plot right out, ie, GotG. (Full circle! \o/)

TWS WAS AMAZEBALLS. I still have quibbles (because of course I do), but srsly. AMAZEBALLS. See, MCU? It's not impossible! (Have you seen the first Cap movie yet? Because also amazeballs. And Hugo Weaving Hugo-Weaving it up all over the shop. \o/)
themonkeytwin
Oct. 18th, 2014 07:44 am (UTC)
Re: I love you so much when you're grumpy: a ramble - vol. 1
Ooh! Oh! (three reply comments, good gravy, sorry) I had issues with Pacific Rim mostly because the problem-solving approach undertaken by the heroes at every turn, just, ??? and I simply couldn't get onboard with it, like, seriously, THIS is your best idea? And if it is, for parameters and obstacles that make every other more efficient solution somehow prohibitive for *reasons* (which, I might add, you have not adequately even acknowledged, let alone explained) THIS is how you're going to go about it? And the whole thing seemed to boil down to THE NONSENSICAL SOLUTION WITH THE MOST WARM FUZZIES WINS, and ... I. what. no. can't. HOWEVER, if what you want in the moment is LOTS of warm fuzzies FEELS and awesome visuals, then by all means, carry on, and I sometimes really wish some of those were things I could shut my brain off for, but unfortunately I can't. Because I completely acknowledge the skill with which the Warm Fuzzies Initiative itself was executed – all of which to say, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS FANVID, I really enjoy it and the way it captures the essence of PR's FEELS, without all the pesky nonsense plot getting in the way. OR THAT FUCKING BULLDOG WAT.

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