Cinema Dispatch: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros

Directed by Simon McQuoid

Honestly, I was never much of a Mortal Kombat fan.  More of Tekken guy when it came to fighting games, but there’s no denying the cultural impact that the franchise has had and it’s impressive just how long they’ve been going with the series for it to only get better and better as time goes on.  I remember Mortal Kombat 9 being an excellent reboot that got me into the series for a bit, but even at the games’ peak it still can’t touch that AWESOME 1995 movie directed by Paul WS Anderson!  I just rewatched that movie like a year ago and it still holds up as a fantastic martial arts movie that finds the right balance between what fans want from the games and making into a coherent movie.  There have been other attempts since then to get the series off the ground in non-video game forms, but this is the first big step WB has taken with it since acquiring the franchise in 2009.  Does this bring Mortal Kombat to the big screen for a whole new generation of fans in a bold and exciting way, or will we all still be clutching our VHS tapes of the original film by the end of this movie?  Let’s find out!!

As you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat movie, the story is set right before the start of the tenth Mortal Kombat tournament where Earth Realm’s greatest fighters try to overcome the unstoppable warriors of Outworld, and after nine consecutive losses in a row it’s Earth’s last chance to avoid complete and utter devastation as Outworld will finally be able to invade Earth if they win this time!  So who exactly will be participating in this generation’s tournament?  Well we’ve got some of the classic standbys from the franchise like Liu Kang, Jax, and a begrudging Kano (Ludi Lin, Mehcad Brooks, and Josh Lawson), but the real hope for humanity comes in the form of Cole Young (Lewis Tan); a new character for the series and someone with an unexpected history to this tournament that slowly reveals itself as he is recruited by Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) to seek out Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) and his crew so he can learn the techniques and Mortal Kombat Magic necessary to win this tournament!  All is not as cut and dry however as Outworld’s leader in the tournament Shang Tsung (Chin Han) has his own crew of Mortal Kombat characters and is not waiting for the tournament to begin before sending them out to destroy the fledgling Earth team.  With opponents such as Sub-Zero, Mileena, and Goro (Joe Taslim, Sisi Stringer, and Angus Sampson) hunting them down, do these heroes of Earth even stand a chance of MAKING it to the tournament; let alone becoming strong enough to win it?  What is Cole’s history with this tournament, and will it be the key to Earth finally getting one over on Outworld?  You know, most Fight Camps are AT LEAST eight weeks, so shouldn’t Raiden have gotten these guys together BEFORE the tournament was like a week away?  And we all wonder why Earth Realm lost nine times in a row!

“Look, I’m sorry! I set some time aside to watch The Flash, and then I had to watch Legends of Tomorrow, and it just turned into a big thing! Nobody’s perfect!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Godzilla vs. Kong

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Godzilla vs. Kong and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Adam Wingard

It’s no secret that I was not a fan of King of the Monsters which was particularly surprising to me as I always get a kick out of seeing giant monster movies!  There was just too much pretention and import without enough depth or butt kicking fight scenes to justify how lethargic much of it was, but if there was anything about the movie that caught my interest (aside from them using the Blue Oyster Cult song for the credits), it was the promise of seeing Godzilla and the King Kong from Kong: Skull Island lace up the gloves and duke it out in a battle to end all battles!  Well the one thing that giant monsters were not able to overcome was the Pandemic as this got pushed back for several months, but the day has finally arrived and they even put it on HBO Max to boot!  Is this the titanic clash between two legendary movie monsters we’ve all been waiting for, or is this a bigger letdown than Batman v Superman?  Let’s find out!!

Following the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Monarch has decided that instead of leaving Kong alone on his mysterious island that is probably not even on Godzilla’s radar, they’ll capture him, chain him up, and put him in a fake jungle so that… I guess he and Godzilla don’t have a punch up.  It seems that Kong himself wasn’t consulted on this as he’s constantly wrecking up his cage and has to be restrained whenever he’s out of it, but in any case, along with that there’s a new Super Science company in town named Apex run by some dude named Walter (Demián Bichir) who believes that there’s some sort of Unobtanium-like SUPER OIL that requires drilling even deeper into the Earth to get.  How deep?  Well so deep that apparently you empty out into a whole new world which is where the monsters they’ve been dealing with are actually from.  A rag tag team of scientists are assembled to try and prove this Hollow Earth theory and since they’ve already got a giant monster under lock and key, they can use his… something something science babble to help them find the entrance to the Hollow Earth and make perhaps the greatest discovery in all of human history!  Said team is made up of some geologist dude (Alexander Skarsgård), Kong’s caretaker (Rebecca Hall), her adopted daughter (Kaylee Hottle), and Walter’s very annoyed daughter (Eiza González) along with like five or six nameless army dudes. Now all this however assumes that Godzilla, the supposed protector of Earth, doesn’t come in and wreck Apex/Monarch’s plans, but hey I guess if they’ve got Kong on hand anyway, why not let him punch the giant lizard a few times along the way?  Oh, and Millie Bobby Brown is back on a Goonies adventure to discover the secrets of Apex along with a nerd (Julian Dennison) and a conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry) who has no problem dragged teenagers along on a life threatening adventure.  Then again, Rebecca Hall has someone even younger tagging along with her, so either way there seems to be way too many irresponsible grown-ups running around here.  Will Apex and Monarch be able to find the hidden entrance to the Hollow Earth and perhaps find some answers about Kong as well?  What does Apex want with this new energy source, and could Godzilla’s recent aggression towards them be somehow connected?  Am I the only one picturing a better movie where the giant ape and the giant lizard just say SCREW this and work together to destroy everyone involved with this ridiculous venture!?

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“Join me, brother! These humans care NOTHING for our kind!” “I would, but… your face… is so… PUNCHABLE!!”
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Cinema Dispatch: Justice League v Justice League – Dawn of Judgement

Justice League 2017 & Justice League 2021 as well as all the images you see are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Both films directed by Zack Snyder

I can’t say I was ever looking forward to this day as I was one of the people who actually LIKED the original cut of Justice League and then spent the last four years seeing people opine (and worse) for a movie that they already got; not to mention the awful news that broke about how the reshoots went for Ray Fisher.  Still, Warner Bros is looking for ANY sort of cash cow to make their HBO Max service a success, so they threw a bunch of money at Zack Snyder and company to make an extended version of the movie they already made and feed into the LOST SNYDER CUT narrative that has been stuck with us for so long.  Now that the movie is finally out, was it worth all the hype and can it possibly justify the ridiculous over the top actions its most ardent supporters took?  Well obviously not, but instead of just doing a straight up review as the films are very similar in a lot of ways, I think it’d be much more interesting to take a look at what this new version gets right as well as where it falls short of the original cut.  Let’s get started, and beware of Spoilers ahead!!

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Something Good: The colors make more sense

The drastic change in pallets between the early trailers and the later ones was a definite sign that things were changing significantly and a lot of scenes in the movie ended up suffering for it.  Batman in particular always looked like an overstuffed sausage in bat-pants stuffed with pudding (which isn’t COMPLETELY gone but is much less prominent now), and there was a garishness to certain scenes where they pushed the colors up just a little bit too high.  The corrections here definitely fit more with what was being filmed and the pallet fits well with the new tone of the movie.

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Something Bad: The colors are more boring

And yet I just couldn’t get behind it.  Sure the colors didn’t always WORK, but for the most part they were bright and colorful which added a much needed cheeriness to a franchise that until then was stuck in its own morose grander.  Thankfully later movies like Shazam, Aquaman, and arguably even Wonder Woman 1984 built a brighter look from the ground up and the aesthetic fits better with those movies, but going back to this kind of look after those films is just deflating; even if it’s more competently done.  And I’m also going to throw this in here, I just don’t get why they insisted on using an IMAX aspect ratio for a moving going to a streaming service.  It’s distracting the whole way through and I never felt like it added anything.

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Cinema Dispatch: Tom & Jerry

Tom & Jerry and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Tim Story

The pandemic has been awful for everyone, but I have no doubt that a few movies were relieved to avoid having to release in theaters and have dismal box office returns; particularly the movies that were already being pushed further and further back looking for the least competitive window possible to MAYBE scrape by at number three on slow weekend.  My Spy certainly springs to mind, as does this movie which didn’t exactly light the world on fire with its trailer and frankly I was not looking forward to sitting through it when Warner Bros put it on their HBO Max slate.  Still, even if it looks a bit cheap and cheesy for the big screen, perhaps it plays a bit better on the smaller one and will find its niche in the streaming market.  Is this a fun little romp for the kids that captures the spirit of these classic characters, or is it yet another lousy cash-in that’ll come and go faster than the LAST time they tried to bring these characters to the big screen all the way back in 1992?  Let’s find out!!

Thomas D Cat and Jerome A Mouse are two critters roaming the streets of New York City; one looking for a place to stay that has lots of cheese and the other hoping to be the world’s most famous keyboard playing feline right after Keyboard Cat.  Their paths cross when Jerry interrupts his concert in the park and after a series of convoluted antics; one ends up in a fancy hotel chomping holes into walls and stealing food while the other is left homeless and with a broken keyboard.  Try to guess which one is which!  Said hotel by the way has a new employee named Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) who faked her way into the position and is trying to prove herself by fixing the hotel’s mouse problem in preparation for an upcoming celebrity wedding that will take place in the hotel’s banquet hall.  The current supervisor (Michael Peña) is skeptical of Kayla and is looking for any excuse to get rid of her, so she has to bring in a mouse catching ringer and decides to hire this cartoon cat that clearly has it out for the little mouse.  Will Tom be able to stop Jerry’s antics and earn a decent salary to fund his hopes and dreams?  Will the wedding go off without a hitch, or is there more going on with the celebrity couple that can only come to light via cartoon animal violence?  I know the movie is out and I’ve sat through it already… but are we sure this is even a real movie? 

Did they actually get her to be in this, or is that just a cardboard cutout!?
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Cinema Dispatch: The Little Things

The Little Things and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Say what you will about HBO Max’s plan on releasing movies on their service the same day as theaters, it’s done a heck of a lot more to get me excited about watching movies again than anything else has in the past year.  Sure the movies never STOPPED coming out whether it was on other streaming services or on VOD, but HBO giving us a list of first run movies that we can expect to see this year gives me something to build a schedule around which very few things have been able to do since this whole pandemic started.  Heck, it’s half the reason I started my Halo Retrospective so that I’d have something to work towards every single week!  So with all that being said, is this movie the start of a renewed sense of vigor for my aspirations of becoming a film critic, or has Warner Bros gotten me all hyped up for even more drivel that wasn’t going to hack it at the theater anyway?  Let’s find out!!

Joe Deacon (Denzel Washington) is your typical washed up patrol man.  He works in a dead end nowhere town and is happy to write parking tickets and scarf down doughnuts until his retirement, but he is forced to go to Los Angeles to pick up some evidence in a relevant case, and as soon as he gets there it’s clear that he has a bad history with this particular precinct.  There’s at least one detective however who doesn’t seem to care that he’s back in town, and he’s the new hot shot Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) who’s working on a solving a series of murders that definitely look to be connected but he’s unable to finger a suspect on them.  With Joe being back in his old town and Jim having to deal with the disappearance of Rhonda Rathburn (Maya Kazan) who could very well be the serial killer’s next victim, they begrudging start working together as Joe seems to be trying to redeem himself for something bad in his past and Jim is starting to wonder if he’s good enough to find this killer in the first place.  Through some sly investigation they manage to find some dude with the unfortunate name of Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) who seems to be their guy, but they are just having a heck of a time trying to find conclusive evidence that’ll put this guy away for good.  Will Joe and Jim learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and faults to become best buddies as they spend all their time following this weirdo around?  What exactly is Sparma up to, and is he playing games with everyone without them realizing it?  Is there any way we could just cut to the chase on this or will we spend half this movie sitting in a car as bored out of our minds as these two?

“I walk a higher path, son.”     “Yeah, haven’t heard that one before…”
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Cinema Dispatch: Trailer Talk (Godzilla vs Kong)

Godzilla vs Kong and all the images you see in this trailer talk are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Adam Wingard

Warner Bros’ bold move to release their movies on streaming the same day as theaters is going to be one of the more interesting stories of 2021, and this film is probably going to be the one indicate its direction.  Sure they gave us Wonder Woman 1984, but that had been delayed so long and theaters were still staying closed for the foreseeable future that it almost felt like WB throwing the world a bone or perhaps even a Christmas present.  A present that was pretty wonky and not nearly as its predecessor, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.  This one is a bit different because the vaccine means that people are going to try and get back to a normal life; some faster than others while the responsibility of such actions remains… dubious at best.  I’m HOPING things get fixed before the Summer, but I’m guessing there’s going to be more than enough people out there saying it’s already fixed today.  So with that said, this movie is one that COULD conceivably be delayed for a full theater release without waiting too long, but WB is committed to this strategy and we’ll have to see how it pays off for them; if releasing these big blockbusters on streaming will build up HBO Max enough to offset the costs, or if they are just throwing money down the drain because they couldn’t wait for a safer time to release.  As interesting as all that is though, we’re here to talk about the trailer that they released so let’s take a look at it!

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My biggest fear going into this is that I was NOT a fan of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and that this would be a continuation of that.  I found the whole thing rather insufferable with just how much the overwrought drama weighed down the monster fighting action of which there was already a dearth of.  Oh sure, you can go back to the Japanese Godzilla films and point out how much human drama was in THOSE, but first I wouldn’t say they were SPECTACULAR either, and second they didn’t have a bloated runtime dragging things down even more.  Twenty minutes of Kaiju action in a ninety minute movie is better than twenty-five minutes of Kaiju action in a hundred and thirty minute movie; especially when the action itself is obscured by so much bad weather.  Frankly the giant dudes in costumes brawling in full day light may not have looked the best but had a lot more charm than King of the Monsters. 

TEAM KONG, ALL THE WAY!!
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Cinema Dispatch: Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman 1984 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Patty Jenkins

It’s been a WILD year that is thankfully coming to a close, but one of the big stories that will be with us throughout all of 2021 is going to be the distribution of films and what industries are going to survive this extended break from theaters.  Everyone’s made concessions here and there, but Warner Bros recently took charge of the conversation (wisely or not) by announcing that all of their delayed 2020 films will be available on HBO Max at no additional charge.  This has certainly angered a lot of filmmakers and production companies who were banking on the eventual box office offset costs so we’ll see if Warner Bros relents at some point in the future, but for now their first offering to the service is this movie; the sequel to Wonder Woman that was one of the most anticipated films of the year that time forgot!  Was it worth waiting for it to finally come to the small screen, or is this something they should have delayed indefinitely?  Let’s find out!!

It’s the mid-eighties and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) has a new life in Washington DC as an Anthropologist at the Smithsonian.  A bit unfair to crowd out the competition by LITERALLY BEING FROM ANCIENT TIMES, but she does her best to keep a low profile and does the occasional super hero save as her alter ego Wonder Woman wherever evil doers rear their ugly head.  As charmed as this life seems however, she still carries the weight of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) around her like an albatross around her neck.  One day at work, the nerdy girl at the office Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is sent a bunch of reclaimed artifacts and one of them catches both her and Diana’s eye; some sort of wishing stone that looks like something you’d buy at Spencer’s Gifts.  They disregard it at first, but Barbara starts to get super strength and super charisma while Diana somehow runs into none other than Steve Trevor; risen from the dead but not in a creepy zombie way!  Seems a bit odd but she’s willing to roll with it!  However, a local businessman named Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) seems to know just what this stone is and needs it to save his failing business, but what no one seems to realize (or care about) is what the stone may be taking away from them as well.  Will Diana discover the hidden dangers of the stone and stop Maxwell before he does something TRULY evil with it?  What will Barbara learn about herself as she becomes more powerful and no longer has to be disrespected by others?  I wonder what would happen if Batman wished his parents back.  Is there any way we can add this thing to the Robert Pattinson film?

“‘When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.’  Oh my god.  IT’S A TRAP FROM DISNEY!!”
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Jumping the Soapbox: Snow Miser & Heat Miser Face the Music!

The Rankin/Bass Specials as well as all the images you see in this editorial are owned by Warner Bros

Christmas Music is one of those things that we just learn to live with.  It’s always the same twenty or so songs, it always starts playing the grocery stores way too early, and we hate to admit it be we all have a soft spot for some of them.  Not just the COOL songs like Whatever You Celebrate by Reel Big Fish or the fun indie songs like A Willie Nice Christmas by Kacey Musgraves; not even the GENUINE modern day classics that should go in your rotation RIGHT NOW like Tell Your Mama by Aloe Blacc (listen to it RIGHT NOW if you haven’t!).  No, we’ve all got soft spots for some of the ones that they keep playing OVER and OVER again each year that everyone else in the world is sick of except for you.  Now for me, I’m a sucker for Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney, Feliz Navidad by José Feliciano, and of course the immortal Heat Miser/Snow Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus.  Not only has the song become a radio fixture for decades now, those characters have taken on a life of their own; more or less overshadowing the special they came and inspiring plenty of fan art and YouTube covers!  Still, there’s got to be a story behind these two, right?  Not only that, but did you know they made a SEQUEL to the special in 2008 all about these two?  Since it’s the Holiday season and I’m all about finding random obscure stuff to shine a light on, let’s see what we can learn about Snow Miser and Heat Miser! 

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Who The Heck Are These Two Anyway!?

Sadly there’s not a lot of information out there on the production of The Year Without A Santa Claus; at least not any I could find.  We know the writer was William Keenan who mostly wrote episodes of TV shows back in the seventies, and the composer was Rankin/Bass’s in house guy Maury Laws who wrote songs for all of those classic specials, but as to the origin of Heat Miser and Snow Miser there’s no real thread out there to pull.  It certainly didn’t come from the book that the special was based on which was written by Phyllis McGinley in 1956, but then Rankin/Bass was always a LITTLE bit weird with stuff like wizards and abominable snow monsters; not to mention The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus which was based on an L Frank Baum story and looks like Santa got plopped in a Tolkien style fantasy.

“GIVE ME THE ONE RING!!”     “Nah, if you’re looking for that guy he left about three days ago.”     “DARN IT!  All seeing eye of Sauron, my BUTT!”
Continue reading “Jumping the Soapbox: Snow Miser & Heat Miser Face the Music!”

Super Recaps: Lovecraft Country – Episode 1 (Sundown)

Lovecraft Country is owned by HBO

Directed by Yann Demange

HBO Max is proving to be a darn good service and I’m finding a lot of great series to enjoy, particularly Perry Mason and Harley Quinn, so in the spirit of celebrating the arrival of another good streaming service (and looking for something I can review on a regular schedule), I’ll be watching their latest series which I can only assume is a Once Upon a Time knock off but about scarier monsters, right?  Okay, probably not.  Does this series have what it takes to grip you right away and leave you itching for more episodes, or does the novelty of the show wear off once you get past the title?  Let’s find out!!

The show begins with what I’m sure most of us were expecting when we heard it was called Lovecraft Country; a Syfy channel series with HBO money and gratuitous violence as we see a bizarre WW I trench battle involving flying saucers, alien bikini babes, and Cthulhu themselves being utterly wrecked by Jackie Robinson!  Seems like the kind of show that’s right up my very silly alley, but this is not to be as the show has much more on its mind as it all turns out to be a dream; escaping from a reality that may be more mundane but is certainly one our main character wants to get away from.  Our hero is Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors); a nerdy black kid from Chicago who joined the army, got super buff, and has been moving around the country since the end of his service.  He’s finally returning home because his father, the man he was trying to get away from by joining the service, has gone missing and the last thing he did was send a mysterious note to Atticus requesting his presence in Ardham Massachusetts which doesn’t seem to exist.  Seems like a straightforward enough task, except that this show takes place in the fifties and therefore he can’t just do a Google search and more importantly he has to deal with the terrifying barriers of systemic racism wherever he goes; where even riding a bus is rife with danger and indignities as we learn as soon as he wakes up from his exciting dream. The bus has broken down in the middle of nowhere and the only transportation that’s come to help is a pickup truck sending a very clear message of exactly WHO they’re willing to take.

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Cinema Dispatch: An American Pickle

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An American Pickle and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Brandon Trost

For weeks I’ve been grumbling about the slow drip of releases the last few months, but now I find myself spoiled for choice as I’ve not only got Black is King to still watch on Disney+, I find out there’s a Seth Rogen movie on HBO Max as well!  Even with his performance in Long Shot coming off as obnoxious and juvenile, I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy ever since I saw Knocked Up which is a movie I love and have seen so many times that I’d probably put in my top ten comedies ever made.  He’s never really reached THAT level of brilliance since then (especially working without Judd Apatow), but I’m always interested to see what he does and he’ll surprise you every once in a while something great like The Night Before and Sausage Party.  Does this latest outing from the guy end up being one of his best performances yet, or is there a reason they’re not saving this one until theaters open back up?  Let’s find out!!

Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) is a simple man from the Eastern European village of Schlupsk who moves to America with his loving wife Sarah (Sarah Snook) to start a new life and establish himself and his family as part of the American Dream.  He gets a job bashing rats with a stick at a Pickle Factory which certainly pays more than his ditch-digging job back in Schlupsk, and despite the massive xenophobia against Jewish people in this country, things couldn’t be looking any brighter!  That is until Herschel falls into a pickle vat mere moments before the factory is closed down and his body is left forgotten for a hundred years until some kids stumble into the factory and open the vat; freeing Herschel who was perfectly preserved in the pickle brine and therefore hasn’t aged a day because of SCIENCE!  On the plus side, he now lives in a world with better food, less Polio, and better sticks to bash rats with.  On the other hand, everyone he knows and loves is dead.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other I suppose, but what might just tip the scales into this being a net positive is that he has one living relative that has agreed to take him in; his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogen).  With his great-grandson being the last connection he has to the life he had before, will Herschel be able to move forward with his life and find fulfillment in this strange new world?  Can Ben help his great grandfather through this challenging time, and are there perhaps challenges of his own that he will now be forced to confront?  Does this movie get utterly derailed for no good reason after a while!?  You tell me; does a pickle taste good on a hamburger!?

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“I know I should be acclimating myself to the modern world and all the complicated nuances involved, but what about… pickles?”

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