Archive for the ‘My take on…’ Category

My take on…The Shape of Water

February 19, 2018

My take on…The Shape of Water

Before I get into plot details (and I’ll give you a Spoiler Alert before I do), I’ll give you some general impressions.


The Shape of Water

did pass what I call my “flashback test”. By that I mean that I spontaneously thought of the movie in the days after I’d seen it. Many movies and TV shows down pass it. I see it, and if I consciously think about it, I remember it…but it doesn’t just bubble up on its own. “Bubbling” is a good thing: it means that the movie/TV show is still being processed by my brain. 🙂

Second, it was visually striking…I would expect it to get nominated for Art Direction, quite possibly for Costumes, and maybe even Cinematography.

Third, Sally Hawkins was impressive, and deserves the plaudits she’s been getting.

Fourth, though, I had some issues with the script…which requires the


Guillermo Del Toro, who directed the movie and co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor (who, among other things, has written episodes of Game of Thrones), has described TSoW as a “fairy tale”.

I think that’s reasonable.

Fairy tales are great, but they aren’t known for character subtlety…especially in the case of the villains. You don’t wonder about the motivations of the Big Bad Wolf, or if maybe the Wicked Stepmother has a point about Cinderella’s behavior.

That’s how it is with Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland character in The Shape of Water. He is simply, uncomplicatedly evil…cartoonishly so (and that’s not a knock on cartoons). That’s also not a criticism of Michael Shannon’s performance…he’s fine in the part. It’s the way the part is written, and the way the movie is (expertly) directed. It’s what GDT wanted it to be.

It made me less involved in the movie…while we don’t know exactly what he’s going to do, there’s never any mystery about his feelings.

I also had some issues with how the Gill-Man was handled. It looked great, especially the blinking eyes. I’m a fan of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon movies (I’ve watched them many times, both in 3-D and flat). This isn’t about contrasting the two, and I’m confident that I did go in with an open mind. I’m fine with many versions of the same story and characters.

My concerns here were primarily two.

The moral of the story seems to primarily be about acceptance of different intelligences…from the differently abled to different sexual preferences to Soviet Russians.

We are also supposed to accept the Gill-Man.

We can…he’s a sympathetic character. I also felt sympathy for the original Gill-Man, but I’m probably a bit unusual on that…for that matter, I felt sad for the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. 😉

My concern here is that the Gill-Man is given magical healing powers (they aren’t supposed to be magical, I presume, but they function that way). That changes the message from “Be tolerant of those who are different from you…respect their differences” to “Be tolerant of those who are different from you…because they might be able to heal your baldness.” It’s not just about intrinsic value…it’s about practical value.

The other thing was that killing a thinking being (even one who might be a “monster”) is shown in the movie as a casual, appropriate thing. I understood why something different from that was shown earlier, but I didn’t think the sentient’s death was necessary or that it enhanced the message.

By the way, I’m also seeing this described as “What if the Gill-Man had a willing partner, rather than an unrequited love?” In the 1954 movie, I don’t think most people would describe the Gill-Man’s intent as love. In this movie, it’s Sally Hawkin’s Elisa who is the initiator, not the Gill-Man.

Finally, and you can tell that I’m dancing around some plot points, even with the alert, there was a foreshadowing element where I guessed what would happen later. My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and I just wasn’t on that one.

I also want to mention: the R-rating is for sexual content primarily. There is violence, and some minor language, but I’m sure that was it. A sexualized Gill-Man did appear, sort of, in the “Carl Dreadstone” (house name) 1977 novelization of the 1954 movie, but not like this.


I’ll be clear: I agree with many of the Oscar nominations. I thought it was well-directed, well designed, and there was strong acting. There was a sub-plot I thought was particularly well-drawn. I think GDT realized his vision…I just wish he had seen some things a bit differently; but then that wouldn’t have been his vision.

My last thought: Michael Shannon should be in a biopic about Boris Karloff. 🙂 I got some similar vibes…that world weary sense of some (especially later) roles of Karloff, and I would say there is some facial similarity. Just an idea… 🙂

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


My take on…Emerald City

January 23, 2017

My take on…Emerald City

“Your past does not define you. Your mother does not define you. All that matters is who you wish to be…and how hard you’re willing to fight for it.”
The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) played by Vincent D’Onofrio
Mistress – New Mistress episode of Emerald City
teleplay by Justin Doble and David Schulner
based on the books by L. Frank Baum

L. Frank Baum would have turned the Wizard of Oz books into a television series.

He was personally involved in taking them onto the silent silver screen, the stage, and in tie-in books.

It’s reasonable to assume that in today’s market, it would have been cutting edge. Baum had “dancing girls”, and ethnic humor.

The books brought in contemporary events, and commented on them (even if one ignores a theory that the first book had to do with the gold standard).

As a big Oz fan, I can take that into account in watching the new adaptation on NBC:

Emerald City

If the series feels a bit “Game of Thrones”…well, it would have. Baum would have looked at what was successful (and loved and critically lauded)…although he would also have walked his own path.

Given all that, how faithful is Emerald City? How do I like it?

I am always careful about spoilers, so I will warn you ahead of time that I will reveal some small details in this post, while avoiding major plot points. If you’d like to be surprised by every allusion, I’d watch the first four episodes before reading this (you may find the first two episodes bundled together). Outside of that, you should be good.


I’m quite pleased to see that the people writing Emerald City are clearly very familiar with the “Famous 14”, the first main 14 books written by L. Frank Baum. There are many familiar names and locations, even if the characters (both of people and places) aren’t the same.

It’s important to be clear that it is the books, and not the 1939 movie with Judy Garland, that form the basis. It’s also not just the first book, the one most people know (and which is one of my least favorite of the series).

That said, there is one startling reference to the 1939 movie which I think is a mistake (and for the reason that it is too meta, too much of a distraction for me). The Wizard (Vincent D’Onofrio, adding another geek-friendly credit to the resume, following playing Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk on Daredevil…and of course, Edgar in the original Men in Black) reveals his true name to be “Frank Morgan”. That’s the name of the actor who played the Wizard in the MGM musical…it’s not from the books (where the Wizard’s name was Oscar Diggs…with a lot more in-between).

The names in Emerald City otherwise mostly come from the books: Ojo, Mombi, Ev (another “land” in the Oz books), Tip, and so on. I don’t think we needed that fourth-wall break here.

The universe rules in Emerald City are more akin to rules in the first book than in the latter ones…which does make sense, based on the chronology. People (and animals) in Oz can die, and do…frequently and sometimes violently, in the TV series. In the first book, there are over 100 deaths delineated.

Later in the book series, the rules change and no one dies (although it’s never quite clear if visitors to Oz, such as Dorothy, can die in Oz…not just the readers, but the characters don’t know, and the latter speculate about it). People can be destroyed and feel pain, but can’t be killed. There is a reason for that…

Will that happen in the TV series?

Seems unlikely. Emerald City is what I call “a real Bleak Show” (as opposed to a “Freak Show”). That is certainly a popular tone now: “the world is bad and people are worse” (see, for example, Zack Snyder’s version of DC). It’s not at all new: stories like that go back a very long time. It’s just not my preference, and not my world view, but clearly, it can be resonant. Just about everybody in Emerald City does…at least questionable things, including Dorothy. In the original books, they weren’t all sweetness and light: characters often argued with each other, although after the significant shift happens, most people have the goal of getting along (they just aren’t always perfect at it). That’s one of the things that sets the original Oz books apart from many other putative children’s books.

This series is likely to revel in violence and sex (although not shown explicitly…while sex is certainly implied and discussed, this is still a network show. Violence is shown), so I think deathlessness is an unlikely choice.

Overall, the acting is good, the writing is good, and the direction seems good. I like the art direction and some of the Easter Eggs (with the exception of the reference to the 1939 movie). In particular, I thought having “Cassidy” show up on a poster for a lottery (which, interestingly, uses dollar signs for amounts…but that could be the Wizard’s doing) was a cute reference to Executive Producer Shaun Cassidy.

One change I might have made is that I find the score a bit intrusive…it’s almost always there telling us how to feel, like a laugh track in a 1960s sitcom. That’s not to say that the music is bad or jarring, it’s not (I like the themes)…it’s just that I don’t need it there as much.

So, Oz with reference to drones, crop circles, opium, physical therapy, transgender bathroom use, and a cellphone (although the last one isn’t new: The Wizard of Oz invented the cellphone)? For me, that works. Would I still like to see a series that was tonally more like the later Oz books? Sure, and I think we will. For me, one of the signifiers of great art is that it can be adapted in many different ways and still survive…they become more than plots, and characters, and settings. As with Shakespeare and West Side Story and Forbidden Planet, Oz is greater than any given adaptation, and enhanced by divergent visions.

That’s what I think…feel free to tell me and my readers what you think (or to ask questions about how Emerald City relates to the Famous 14…I’ll mask spoilers if necessary) by commenting on this post.

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* When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

My take on…Star Trek Beyond (and the three-screen Barco Escape system)

July 25, 2016

My take on…Star Trek Beyond (and the three-screen Barco Escape system)

This is the fiftieth anniversary year of Star Trek. It has been a big part of my life: Spock is one of my fictional heroes (along with Doc Savage and Kwai Chang Caine). There are several Star Trek related events in The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project.

So, naturally, my Significant Other and I watched Star Trek Beyond this weekend. 🙂

Before I talk about the movie, I want to talk about the way we saw it.

We saw it in “Barco Escape”.

What’s that?

It was one of the choices at our local movie theatre. We could have seen it in 3D, or in another digital format…but we chose to pay $3 extra per ticket to try out a new option.

In the theatre, there was the regular screen (a bit smaller than the largest screen, I think…and two more screens, angled at something like 30 to 45 degrees. You had the screen in front of you, and then two “wings”…sort of like giant goggles.

You can see it here:

The idea reminded me a great deal of the old Cinema 150 concept. I saw a movie in a Cinema 150 once (The Rocky Horror Picture Show): they took a 70 mm print and magnified it to make it cover the 150 degree curved screen…and it was a tad fuzzy at the edges.

Why 150 degrees?

I remember that it was supposed to cover all of your peripheral vision.

For the Cinema 150, it was effective, even though I still ended up turning my head from side to side some times, and seeing the edges. It was pretty immersive, though…sort of like primitive and “practical effect” VR (Virtual Reality). 😉

Barco Escape?

Not as good.

The first issue is that the screens had very distinct edges where they met…there was no seam, like standing three decks of cards in their cases up on their long edges next to each other. That meant you were constantly aware of it…and that it interfered with the suspension of disbelief.

This may be a temporary installation, but it wouldn’t have been hard to have cloth cover those seams, so you didn’t see the shadows.

The other thing was that the additional screens were used intermittently, not all the time. It might be in a scene where a lot was happening…imagine a meteor storm. The two screens would have additional meteors…and then they would go dark again.

That was very distracting…and the people next to us felt the same way (we talked about it a bit afterwards). My SO, when I asked, also used the word “distracting”…and pointed out that there was no added value. You didn’t see something creep along the extra screen…you kind of can’t do that, since most people who watch the movie don’t have those screens…you can’t have that different an experience.

Bottom line: we wouldn’t pay extra for Escape again.

Now, the movie itself:

While I’m not going to spoil specific plot turns, I am going to say some things which you might prefer to wait to read until after you’ve seen the movie, so


Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty in the new continuity) co-wrote this movie (along with Doug Jung). Pegg has done brilliant work in the past (I’m especially fond of Shaun of the Dead and Spaced), and clearly knows Star Trek inside out (it’s worth noting, Pegg also appeared in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie…and was given special thanks).

That had given me hope for a strong entry, and I had been hearing it was like the original series (still my favorite).

While there aren’t false notes, it didn’t feel much like TOS at all.

The key thing is that this is pretty much non-stop action…we are in crisis mode virtually the entire movie.

That means that there is really very little strategic thinking, or philosophizing…yes, there are tactical decisions, but what might have been ten minutes of a TOS episode was basically the entire movie.

Also, people are clearly good or bad. No one seems at all unsure about their motivations…there is some mulling about future actions, but no consideration about what current actions might mean.

I miss that.

I also miss them having conversations…or  there being a real mystery.

That’s why we thought of TOS as being like literary science fiction…it wasn’t just visual with snappy repartee, it got you thinking.

There was one bizarre scene…I’m still not sure what they were trying to do. Early in the movie, there is a scene between McCoy and Kirk. It clearly appeared to me that this was after the death of Chekov. I appreciated that…a way to pay respects to the current actor who played Chekov, Anton Yelchin, who recently died tragically.

Dr. McCoy has a bottle of alcohol, which he says he “found” in Chekov’s locker. If a crewmember had died, naturally, the locker  would be cleaned out…and items would be found. Otherwise, why would McCoy be in Chekov’s locker…and take something?

When they drink they pour into an “absent friend’s” glass…another way to pay respect to a colleague who has died.

However, Chekov is in the rest of the movie.

Ambassador Spock (not Mr. Spock), played by Leonard Nimoy in this continuity, has died (reflecting the heart-rending loss of Leonard Nimoy recently)…but that doesn’t appear to be known to them at this point in the story, from what I recall.

Why the absent friends toast? Why steal from Chekov? I don’t know.

In terms of the acting and the characterizations generally…Karl Urban nails McCoy again, and that’s not an easy character. I like Zachary Quinto, I like his performance as Spock…but I’m not crazy about this version of Spock, who is a lot more emotional and isn’t struggling with two halves. It makes him as confident as the rest of the world (with the possible exception of some of the Bridge crew) thought the TOS Spock was…but we knew better.

Chris Pine, who I also like, is having a lot of fun as Kirk…Shatner would, I think, have loved playing an early scene. That does work, even if it isn’t quite like what we saw on TOS most of the time (it’s like every episode was A Piece of the Action). That’s fine, though…it is an alternative timeline.

I like Uhura in TOS a lot better…in this series, she seems to be largely defined by her relationship with Spock, where in the original series she was a powerful, independent person.

Sofia Boutella, as new character Jaylah, is charismatic. However, the character will seem quite a bit like Rey in The Force Awakens to many…she’s been on her own, scavenging from a crashed ship, and is a powerful warrior. Obviously, that’s not enough to say it is a derivative character, and I could certainly believe that it was conceived before the release of The Force Awakens…but some people will see similarities.

Idris Elba is already at the top of our

2016 The Measured Circle’s Box Office MVPs

list (with roles in Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Finding Dory, to mention three), and this will only cement that position.

I wouldn’t say that there was much that especially stood out about Elba’s big bad role of Krall, though. It was also quite jarring to hear him refer to Kirk as “my old friend”…when it appears they have just met. I’m guessing that’s an homage to Khan in the Wrath of Khan, who says the same thing, but it made sense there: they had a history.



I enjoyed seeing the movie, but it was really one long CGI fest, where combat scenes vastly dominate over character scenes. For that reason, it didn’t feel much like a 1960s Star Trek episode, but it wasn’t an affront to that legacy, either.

Generally, I think most people will enjoy it…I just suspect we haven’t seen the best of this new crew yet, and I hope people also watch TOS (although, you know, don’t start with the third season…that’s another whole story). 😉

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

The Martian…and ten other Martians

October 5, 2015

The Martian…and ten other Martians

We saw The Martian on Saturday…and both my Significant Other and I thought it was the best movie we’ve seen this year. That doesn’t always happen. 🙂

I’m a geek through and through.

My SO is only a geek by association. 😉

I like to say that one of the hallmarks of a geek is a low threshold of entertainment. I always enjoy seeing a movie (even if it’s “bad”), and I’ve never regretted reading a book. My SO? Not so much, which I think is more normal.

In the case of Ridley Scott’s The Martian (screenplay by Drew Goddard, based on the book by Andy Weir), that wasn’t an issue.

If you want space stuff and special effects, you’ve got it.

If you want human drama and humor, you have that, too.

This is a good example of where you can see what a director does for a movie. I get that question sometimes…how can you tell when a movie is well directed?


If none of the actors’ performances stand out, that’s good directing.

You might think it’s great if one person is the star, and undoubtedly, Matt Damon is the star of this movie.

However, you don’t want it to be great because the other performances aren’t.

In The Martian, the performances are all good…from Matt Damon to Benedict Wong to Kate Mara to Donald Glover, they are solid.

The technical elements will likely get some Oscar nominations…in particular, the cinematography by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Dariusz Wolski.

As to the script by Drew Goddard…I read the book

The Martian (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Naturally, many readers are trepidatious about seeing a movie based on a book they enjoyed.

This is a case where they both understand their media.

There are long sections in the book of math and detail…it works there, but it wouldn’t work well in a movie.

The movie, on the other hand, has moments of visual scope and action which wouldn’t work as well in a book.

I think some people will reasonably argue that the movie is better than the book for most people…more people will like the movie than the book.

Well, more people almost always like a movie better than like the book. 😉 The worst performing (but still liked) top ten movie in the USA will have many more attendees than copies of the book will be sold, typically.

The Martian passed two tests for me: I would have seen it again right away, and it spontaneously came into my consciousness again over the next couple of days (the “flashback test”).

It’s not a perfect movie, of course. One thing missing for me was any kind of conversational software on Mars. I speak to my

 Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your by shopping*)

and will soon be doing that with the Alexa Voice Service on my Fire TV devices (settings just appeared in my Alexa app for my current generation Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, as well as for my soon to arrive Amazon Fire TV ((at AmazonSmile*)) gen 2).

Lots of people speak to their phones…and their phones speak back. Having gotten used to the Echo, I was happy to be able to say, “Hey, Siri” on my work iPhone (I use a Fire Phone for personal use) when it is plugged in (and after upgrading to the latest OS ((Operating System)) version) enabling the option) to do hands free things, like setting alarms.

Of course Mark Watney would know it wasn’t a “real person”, but it’s a bit hard for me to imagine that a space mission far enough in the future to get humans to Mars wouldn’t have some voice recognition and response.

That’s nitpicking, though. 🙂

I like to have movies I can recommend to just about anyone, and The Martian is one of those. My two warnings are that there is quite a bit of language in it some would find objectionable, and there is brief non-sexual nudity.

Other Martians

In 1877, astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported “canali” on Mars. In Italian, that meant “channels”, but it was essentially mistranslated in English as “canals”…implying that they were artificial structures.

While Mars had been in fiction before that, Schiaparelli’s statement, as well as Asaph Hall’s discovery of the moons of Mars that same year, led to science fictional (and fantasy) visits to and from Mars.

In Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg, just three years later, an Earthling actually flies to Mars in a spacecraft and meets Martians.

From there, we are off to the races. 🙂

Especially notable  is 1898’s The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, which is clearly science fiction.

1905’s Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Arnold may have inspired other popular science fiction…but, well, the main character gets to Mars on a flying carpet (not a flying saucer…literally, a carpet), so…

1912’s A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs is often cited as science fiction, and certainly anticipated other science fictions works (and technology,  including GPS…see Based on Barsoom?)…but there are very clearly fantasy elements, including how John Carter gets to Mars.

The fiction changed considerably after the 1964 Mariner missions which did a flyby of Mars, and again with the Viking landings in 1976.

Thousands of pages can be (and have been) written about Mars in fiction. I thought I’d just list a few notable Martians…

  1. “Uncle Martin” on My Favorite Martian, played by Ray Walston, in a popular 1960s “mermaid out of water” (as I like to call them) sitcom. Smart-alecky, able to pass as a human (since Martin’s head antennae were retractable), and capable of becoming invisible at will (although it was an effort)
  2. Allan Sherman’s “Martian gal”…in a parody called Eight Foot Two, All Over Blue, a Martian describes an alien love interest with transistors and stereo ears
  3. Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz) is a DC comics superhero first introduced in 1955
  4. Marvin the Martian is a Looney Tunes evil alien, dating from 1948.  With a quiet voice and a dog sidekick, Marvin (the name came later) was still a serious threat to Earth’s existence
  5. Michael Dunn (Miguelito Loveless on The Wild Wild West) played a Martian on Norman Corwin Presents, a now largely lost TV series from a major player in radio
  6. Tars Tarkas from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series is one of a few leading character Martians in science fiction novels. Truly an alien, the Thark is green-skinned, with more than four limbs and tusks…and is more empathetic than most of the species
  7. Dejah Thoris, also from Barsoom, is very different…attractive to an Earth human and appearing humanoid, the princess is, however, born from an external egg (as Mork from Ork would be in the 1970s). How exactly she is able to have hybrid children with Earthling John Carter isn’t clear
  8. Flat cats are a non-speaking form of Martian life in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Rolling Stones. They are kept as pets and are sort of featureless. Heinlein reportedly waived any complaints when David Gerrold created the similar tribbles for the original Star Trek
  9. The Butt-Ugly Martians were featured in an animated TV series on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s. While short-lived, it was adapted into videogames
  10. Christopher “Kit” Draper is an astronaut marooned on Mars alone (except for a monkey) in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a 1964 low budget movie with a screenplay by Ib Melchior and John Higgins. The first part of the movie is surprisingly similar to Weir’s The Martian, and a fan familiar with the first movie who saw the new adaptation with no other knowledge could be forgiven for thinking that the 2015 movie is a considerably reimagined reboot of the 1964 movie. Of course, that only holds for the 1964 version until the aliens show up… 😉 There is also liquid water on Mars, which only the recent discoveries allow to be in the 2015 vers—oh, wait. There’s liquid water in the 1964 movie and not in the 2015 one? Interesting… 😉 See Robinson Crusoe on Mars here:RCoM on YouTube

Who are your favorite Martians? Feel free to share with me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

December 3, 2014

My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

In a bit of a departure, I’m going to give you both my take (my opinion of it with no spoilers), and then, in a separate section afterwards, do a bit of analysis (which will contain spoilers).

Here is a look a three movies I’ve seen recently, in the order in which I saw them.

Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

No question, this is an ambitious movie. It’s not the same old same old: for those of you who complain about “cookie cutter blockbusters”, and argue that there is no originality in Hollywood, well, here’s your answer.

Everything is part of the effort: the jazz soundtrack; the innovative cinematography; and the actors, going full tilt with no breaks.

It’s also all a bit unreal and theatrical, and that won’t appeal to everyone. This is the kind of movie where audiences say, “If I don’t act like I like it, people will know I’m not cool enough to get it.”

That’s not to say you won’t legitimately like it: many of you will. Others may find it pretentious.

At Gold Derby Michael Keaton currently is the odds on favorite (at 23 to 10…2.3 to 1) to go home with the Best Actor Oscar. I don’t see that happening…I don’t think it’s a role that the still relatively conservative Academy is going to embrace (not that he won’t get a nomination), especially when you have Eddie Redmayne in a role that seems tailor made for Oscar, and several others in historical figure parts.

Edward Norton and Emma Stone are amazing in Birdman…but they are amazing actors. What they do is wonderful, every single time, but it isn’t something that makes this particular movie special.

I think there may be several Oscar nominations, and we could see wins in some technical categories in particular. I think it has a good shot at Special Effects: while the Academy has that category, they prefer to give it to more of a mainstream movie when they can.

For more commentary on this movie, see The Spoiler Zone below.

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

I’m surprised at the positive response this is getting: people are saying how scientific it is, how much heart it has, what a surprising plot it is.

I suspect Christopher Nolan may be serving here as somewhat of an ambassador of geekiness to the general population. I think it’s sort of like if you go to the Swedish Embassy, they may serve you Swedish meatballs. That doesn’t necessarily mean Swedish meatballs that natives would love, but they want to introduce you to them in a safe way.

In other words, I think the enthusiasm may be coming from people less familiar with science fiction.

For me, several things which I think were supposed to be big surprises just weren’t. My feeling is that the Nolans were aiming for the transcendent screenwriting of The Twilight Zone, and ended solidly in Outer Limits territory. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Outer Limits, but that show wasn’t usually about taking you places you never expected.

Similarly, the actors, while competent, just weren’t being challenged that much. It largely seemed like the performances each stuck to a pretty limited range.

I said to my Significant Other, “Well, it was pretty,” and it is that. There are some great shots, and a couple of robots I really liked and who join the pantheon of great movie robots (including Robby from Forbidden Planet, and Huey, Louie, and Dewey from Silent Running).

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes

Perhaps surprisingly, this was my favorite of the three movies in this post. I did like the third Hunger Games book the best (which isn’t the case with all fans of the series), but I don’t think it had to with that.

This is clearly now the Katniss show, but that’s appropriate. Jennifer Lawrence brings us a range of emotions, and is really effective in some difficult scenes.

Most other people aren’t given that much to do…or at least, they aren’t given that many different things to do.

I’d say that they’ve improved how integrated Panem looks: it is becoming more believable as the movie series progresses. I think they want us to feel that this could be real, and I believe they succeed.

There may be some criticism that it isn’t as action packed as the previous two movies, and that there aren’t as many scenes about the relationships.

I don’t see those as negatives. This movie, like the book, is in part about coping with what has happened. The sorts of things that Katniss experienced can shake your foundations, and your focus may be on making sense of it all, rather than what happens next.


Note: this part is going to reveal things about these movies that will include plot details. If you have not yet seen them and prefer to have that pure feeling of discovery that comes from approaching a work of entertainment with no foreknowledge (which I understand), I’d skip this part until you have seen them.

The Spoiler Zone: Birdman

We see some things here that definitely push the movie into the land of geekiness, and I don’t mean the Birdman character. If all we were dealing with was an actor who had played a superhero (without a suggestion that the superhero had been real), one could argue this was a mainstream drama.

However, Keaton’s character, Riggan Thomson, exhibits supernatural powers.

We can’t be clear if what we are seeing is real, or if it is a fantasy of Thomson’s. Certainly, his abilities to levitate and to use telekinesis are presented to us a real, but no one else sees them or reacts to them. They do see the aftermath, but if it’s a delusion of Thomson’s that would fit as well.

There is also a short, amusing fantasy sequence of a “new movie” in the Birdman franchise. The monster in it may remind some geeks of The Giant Claw, a 1957 monster movie with a goofy-looking marionette bird monster.

The Spoiler Zone: Interstellar

I’m sorry, but as soon as the “ghost” thing came up, I had a good idea what would happen. Any geek knows that when an intelligent child (played by Mackenzie Foy, who has become quite the box office player in the past five years) says that they are experiencing ghosts, you listen…not that you expect it to actually be a ghost, necessarily.

I certainly wanted a whole more mystery out of what! I had heard people allude slyly to a surprising appearance at one point in the movie…and the only surprise was the actor. I wanted them to do  a whole more with the time paradox angle, and they could have done it within the movie’s reality. McConaughey’s character could have met up with adult versions of his daughter in other places, without at first realizing it. We’ve seen that in science fiction: the pioneers in interstellar travel are met with their descendants when they arrive, because the later generations have figured out how to get there faster.

Again, I did think the robots were great! The personalities were believable (Bill Irwin was particularly good), and the physical design was unlike what we’ve seen in the past, but appeared to be practical.

The Spoiler Zone: Mockingjay Part 1

In some ways, I think that Suzanne Collins’ adaptation (Peter Craig and Danny Strong are credited for the screenplay) improves upon her own book.

I liked it a lot better having Effie be a somewhat reluctant part of the rebellion. She, at least, brought a little humor to it, but not as a false note.

I thought President Snow was even more evil and better defined. I had some discussion with my adult kid about Snow’s thinking. I believe that Snow had excellent strategy in allowing a brainwashed Peeta to get to Katniss in the “rebel base”…not because he expected Peeta to kill Katniss (a martyred Mockingjay is worse than a live one), but because he expected it to break Katniss (which is how to break the rebellion). Imagine if Katniss had been forced to kill Peeta, or even if a rebel had killed him protecting her. Would she go forward in her role as Mockingjay with that guilt on her?

We have to believe she might…but Snow might not think she would.

I’ll grant you: it’s an incomplete story, but we knew that going into it. I think it would build anticipation for the next movie. Even though Part 1 may not have as good a Rotten Tomato average as The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, I still expect it to do very well…and for Part 2 to be a huge blockbuster.

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.


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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them


My take on…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 13, 2014

My take on…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Hail, Caesar!

I’m a big time Planet of the Apes fan, as I explained in

My take on Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I even have a Planet of the Apes category on this blog.

In general, this latest movie was not a disappointment. Andy Serkis deserved (and got) top billing for the actor’s mocap (motion capture) performance as Caesar, the leader of the apes.

The effects are good (they clearly paid attention to hair moving…that’s a little thing, but it matters), even if the faces sometimes seem too brightly lit compared to the rest of the scene.

The script moved nicely, and had some clever twists to it.

It’s a big-time spectacle with an emotional center, which is just what you want in a summer blockbuster.


It was perhaps the most sexist movie I’ve seen in years.

I’m careful not to spoil things, so I’m going to give you a mild


I’m not going to reveal any key plot points, but I am going to mention a few things.

This movie not only failed

The Bechdel Test

it’s one named (human) female character was relegated to the kind of nurturing support you might expect in a 1950s mainstream movie (1950s science fiction was more advanced than this in how women are treated).

First, a quick note on the Bechdel Test.

There are a lot of ways to say it (for more information, see the link above), but to pass the test, a movie (or TV episode, or book, or other work of fiction) has to have three elements:

  1. There must be two or more named female characters in it
  2. Two female characters must have a meaningful conversation and
  3. The conversation has to be about something other than a man

You might be surprised with how many works fail this test.

Even when people define it more loosely than I did on the second point (some people say any conversation counts, including: “Where’s the printer?” “Over there.”), it’s still a disappointingly small percentage.

In the case of DotPotA, Ellie (played by Keri Russell), seems particularly stereotyped.

What does the character do?

  • When an important male character is working hard on an issue, she observers that he needs to eat, and offers him soup…much as June Cleaver might have done with Ward
  • When there is a dangerous situation happening, she stays back…and sends a character off like a soldier going to battle
  • Yes, she is important to the plot because of her medical skills…I don’t recall it ever being said that she is a doctor. Being a nurse can be equally important, but it is a stereotypically female role (that has changed a great deal in the real world, but I would say that many people with a diminishing opinion of women would still see it as a female role)
  • Her “maternal nature” (that term isn’t used in the movie, I’m just defining the observed behavior) is important in relationships between the humans and the apes
  • Does she come up with any ideas that affect the course of things? Does she lead? I don’t really recall either of those happening

There are stronger female characters among the apes, although they still don’t lead.

The only other human females I recall seeing are in crowd scenes.

I was honestly surprised to see that one of the three credited screenwriters was apparently a woman (Amanda Silver), but that may be my own expectations getting in the way…I wouldn’t expect a woman to write a script like this, but of course, there’s no reason that couldn’t happen.

Hopefully, the already announced third movie in this series will do better in this area.


The bottom line is that Andy Serkis’ performance is great (again) and Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes was another stand-out, the effects are good, the plot moves along…but the treatment (and lack of treatment) of female characters mars what would otherwise have been a very good movie. I can still recommend it, but with that reservation.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


My take on…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

January 6, 2014

My take on…The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I wrote a piece about the many versions of Walter Mitty, and I freely admit that the knowledge of those informs my view of this version. I will do some comparison a bit later, after a spoiler alert :), but I can give you my non-spoilery impressions first.

It’s rare that I find a movie that appears to aim so squarely for middle of the road, and succeeds so well. Everything about it seemed to be simply good…not great, not bad.

The performances? Good. Shirley Maclaine rises a bit above, and Sean Penn was intriguing, but I wouldn’t say anything stood out as an extraordinary work.

The directing? Solid, but not transcendent. Ben Stiller directed it himself, and as he showed with Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, he knows how to direct a movie. Not many actor/directors know how to use themselves as actors…they often don’t understand, I think, what works about them in the movies. They may play it too safe or too daring. Stiller knows what works for him…and for the other actors.

The special effects (yes, there are significant effects), the design, the cinematography, the music…all serve the story.

What I would say at this point is don’t avoid the movie, but I do think you could wait to see it until it is convenient.

SPOILER ALERT (if you haven’t seen it yet and would like the joy of discovery, I would wait to read this until afterwards)

Now, as to the script by Steve Conrad (Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, The Pursuit of Happyness)…

The the original story is brilliant. However, it is difficult to adapt.


The Walter Mitty of the story is simply not likely to have much character development, which people want in a movie. The Original Walter Mitty (OWM) is stuck in an uneventful life, and that may continue…forever. OWM’s fantasies are a way of coping with that.

James Thurber carefully doesn’t tell us that’s a bad thing…and it isn’t particularly a good thing. It’s just a thing. 🙂 What Thurber did, amazingly, is give us an insight into the secret life of some people.

Conrad (as did Ken Englund and Everett Freeman for the Danny Kaye version) seems to see the daydreaming as a symptom. Once the Ben Stiller Walter Mitty starts really getting involved in things in life, he comments that he hasn’t been daydreaming as much. I think truly imaginative people aren’t doing it to replace a lacking reality but to enhance it.

Conrad’s Walter Mitty does have an interesting balance of effects. The daydreaming is often a negative, causing Mitty to miss real world happenings that are important, but do strengthen him at important times.

I thought the best things, and the ones to which the audience seemed to react the most, were the fantasies (in particular, one early on). I’d have to say, though, they aren’t so much about what Walter Mitty is doing during them…they are sometimes just odd (although informative about the character’s motivations). In other words, this Walter Mitty doesn’t always picture himself as the hero, or superior to his “normal” self.

You are likely to see some plot holes, and may be confused as to what is a fantasy and what isn’t (the latter is probably intentional, but they appear to need to reinforce when it isn’t, not for philosophical reasons, but for plot clarity).


Bottom line? I think most people will like this movie, but not love it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

My takes on…Her, Saving Mr. Banks, and American Hustle

January 2, 2014

My takes on…Her, Saving Mr. Banks, and American Hustle

Official Site
Her at
Her at
Her at

It’s rare that a science fiction movie gets critical accolades and Oscar buzz, but that’s the case with Spike Jonze’s Her.

Oh, and this isn’t a case of “…is it science fiction or is it not?” It’s one of the purer science fiction movies we’ve had in some time. It is certainly intended to look at the consequences of our science and its technological application, and what that might mean for us humans.

I enjoyed it quite a bit, and thought it was good. My non-geek (but geek tolerant) Significant Other hated it.

Part of that depends, I believe, in how you interpret the “message” of the movie. I’ll avoid spoilers on that, but I think that my SO’s reaction was partially to that, and not to the execution of the idea.

The acting was good: it was the best I’ve seen Amy Adams, in particular. Adams is often asked to portray someone who is somewhat…symbolic. While the role is crucial, I found Amy’s character…er, “Amy”, to be quite believable: not always the case for me with this particular actor.

I was very impressed with the art direction. Set somewhat in the future, the clothes didn’t seem wild and unwearable, but simply what would be unfashionable today. Could you wear what most people wear in Her and have it be unnoticed? Absolutely…that’s generally true with the tech in the movie, even though some of it is quite beyond us today. You might get a sideways look from an observer, but it isn’t like having a light saber or a phaser.

A reasonable looking and yet different future is hard to achieve: I would think we may see some technical Oscar noms for this movie.

The philosophical questions raised by the movie are important. It may engender some good adult conversation in your circle. However, it’s worth noting that this is an adult movie. Often, science fiction is assumed to be designed for kids (many 1950s science fiction novels were shelved with the kids’ books), but this one is definitely not designed for children. The issues wouldn’t be the same for them, and yes, there is sexual content.

I recommend this one, with the reservation that it isn’t for everyone (as my SO proves).

Saving Mr. Banks

Official Site
Saving Mr. Banks at
Saving Mr. Banks at
Saving Mr. Banks at

There are several reasons why, on paper, I should have loved Saving Mr. Banks:

  • I’m a big Disney fan…I was given a share of stock in the company when I was twelve years old
  • My favorite TV show is The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • I have a background in theatre, and can relate to composing the songs
  • I look forward to seeing Tom Hanks in movies


I think the movie suffered from something which happens with a lot of movies when they take on historical figures which we know (particularly, in this case, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney) or for which they have a lot of information (they had tapes of P.L. Travers, among other things). There can simply be a reluctance to stray too far from the truth.

That doesn’t mean that they are afraid of offending someone. It’s just that…the best characters have an inhumanness about them, something that significantly sets them apart from the people we know. When you adhere too closely to reality, you can end up with something that feels somewhat homogenized, even if you include the character’s flaws. There’s something to be said for when the impossible happens.

I think that’s why both my Significant Other and I thought Paul Giamatti’s was the best performance in the movie…and it was excellent. Even if the character was based on a real person, there was no need to play it like that person. Giamatti is always good, but this was stand-out work.

Colin Farrell may have been the best I’ve seen him, and I really liked Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers (music and lyrics for the Mary Poppins movie, among many others).

The art direction (you can see a video featurette about it in this SlashFilm article by Germain Lussier) is remarkable, and again, I think we could see a nomination for it and costumes.

Still, there was something a bit…stiff about it for me. I certainly didn’t see Walt Disney in Tom Hanks…although people who knew Walt seem to think the performance is accurate.

This is one that I would put into the “sure, go see it” category. It’s worth seeing, but I think it could have been better if the producers had felt freer to use dramatic license.

American Hustle

American Hustle
American Hustle at
American Hustle at
American Hustle at

I’ll say right now that Jeremy Renner deserves a Supporting Actor Oscar nom for his performance in American Hustle. There has been a tendency to cast him in roles emphasizing his physicality since his breakout Oscar nom in The Hurt Locker, and it was really nice to see him in  a nuanced role that he played to perfection.

Overall, the movie shows the strong vision of director and co-screenwriter, David O. Russell. There are a lot of things happening, and it would be easy for something to break loose…to have a 70s hairdo cross the line, or an actor who plays it too much (or too little) like a comedy. That’s not the case, which we can credit to Russell.

Is it a good movie? Yes, and I agree with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which put it into the comedy category for the Golden Globes. It’s not a laugh out loud, slapstick Jim Carrey/Eddie Murphy comedy, but it’s honestly absurd.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of pathos…there are. I wouldn’t say those sad moments are the main purpose, though: I suppose we could say they are more like tragic relief. 😉

What is American Hustle? Really, it’s a heist movie. It’s based on real events, but quite loosely. I think the opening credits included the line, “Some of this actually happened.” I’m sure the movie is far more entertaining because they didn’t try to stick too closely to reality…the characters sometimes do what makes them better characters, not what honors real people.

My Significant Other thought it was weird, but I said after the movie that I feel sorry for Christian Bale. He puts himself through incredible and clearly uncomfortable things to achieve superior performances. I want to say to him, “It’s okay, wear the fat suit…we know it’s only a movie. Don’t hurt yourself!” That might be just me, though… 😉

Worth seeing? Yes. Likely to get Oscar noms? Yes, many. I could see ten or eleven, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay…and some acting noms.

As to warnings, there is some violence, and…well, let’s say a lot of anatomy on display, although not a lot of nudity.

None to avoid in the three…enjoy!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

My take on…Captain Phillips

October 18, 2013

My take on…Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips, based on true events, may be the best movie I’ve seen this year.

While I remembered quite a bit about the incident, the movie isn’t so much about what is happening, but about the people involved.

Tom Hanks gives a great, understated performance as Captain Phillips.

Even more impressive is Barkhad Abdi as the leader of the Somali pirates…and this is Abdi’s first acting credit. It is the type of performance that is so good, many people won’t realize it is acting: they’ll simply think that Abdi is Muse. That’s unfortunate, because this is a performance that deserves a Supporting Actor Oscar…and I do think a nomination is an “Oscability” (Oscar Possibility…my new term).

The directing by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) is superb, and certainly may garner an Oscar nom. The movie has no loose threads: it is as perfectly put together as a Tom Ford tuxedo.

I was careful to say “based on true events”, rather than a “true story”. There are crew members who were on the ship, and dispute Phillips account…and heroism:

The Guardian article by Ben Child

However, that doesn’t impact the value of the movie for me: if it is true, in fact, it may show additional skill on the part of the filmmakers.

I recommend this one.

Big Six (Acting, Director, Picture) Oscabilities:

  • Best Actor: Tom Hanks (5 Oscar noms, two wins)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi
  • Best Director: Paul Greengrass
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Billy Ray
  • Best Picture

I could also see it nominated for a number of other Oscars, including editing.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

My takes on…Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Prisoners, Gravity

October 7, 2013

My takes on…Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Prisoners, Gravity

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a movie that shows us how history consists of the impact that it has on individuals, not just on countries.

The script by Danny Strong (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Jonathan Levinson) doesn’t make the mistake of telling us that victims of injustice are necessarily perfect people.

There are some great performances, including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and David Oleyowo, all of whom might garner Oscar nominations.

If the movie only involved the core family, it would have been a truly solid work.

Unfortunately, there are performances by famous actors as the Presidents which did feel like stunt casting. Robin Williams was the strongest as Dwight Eisenhower, but John Cusack as Richard Nixon didn’t resonate with me as having the right look, feel, or attitude. The brilliant Alan Rickman was unrecognizable as Ronald Reagan…and again, didn’t seem to capture the President. I would also say that I probably wouldn’t have known he was supposed to be Reagan from his appearance.

Again, the make-up, costuming, and hair for the core family was great: for the Presidents, I didn’t find it as compelling.

I also want to single out James Marsden as turning in a great performance in a very difficult role as JFK. He not only evoked the President, but made him human…no small task.

Overall, the movie was quite good and definitely worth seeing: it was just flawed in its periphery.

The tone in Prisoners was more consistent, and there were some impressive technical elements (it should be nominated for make-up, and there was great sound work).

However, this is a movie I’m not happy that I saw. It has such a downbeat view of the world…I didn’t like any of the characters in it. I’m just not fond of movies that tell me the world is a terrible place. Certainly, there are movies where terrible things happen (Silence of the Lambs comes to mind…or Night of the Living Dead) and there are people who do horrible things, but those people are shown as aberrations, not as the norm.

This is a movie I would actually advise people to skip, although many people will like it.

Gravity is a horse of a different color…and that color is mostly space black.

You can tell the care they put into the science which is portrayed. I would not describe this as science fiction: it’s just a drama that happens to involve an unusual occupation and setting.

We saw it in 3-D, which is unusual for us, but there was nothing that seemed to depend on the 3-D.

I would assess the characters as deliberately shallow. In the real world, many people don’t reveal much of themselves…and that may be particularly true in the space program.

The technical achievements should assure a nomination for special effects. They didn’t evoke the same emotional response in me as, say 2001, but again, I would consider that to be deliberate.

The movie is very coherently directed by Alfonso Cuarón: the strength of the vision is undeniable.

I do recommend the movie, but it appears that many people would rate it much more highly than I would. The feel for me was somewhat like a 1970s disaster movie, minus the fun and Red Buttons. 😉 That certainly would have been fine if the alternative was to care deeply for the characters, but I just didn’t quite get there. While there will be a lot of talk about Oscars for acting in this movie, I’m not convinced that will happen, although I would expect to see some other nominations.

his post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

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