Unlocked: Mini-Movie Review

So its been a while since I’ve written a blog, but I’ve still been progressing on many fronts. A couple of weeks of go I was in the mood for a spy action film. I’d seen this trailer, but I didn’t actually go to see Unlocked. When I saw that it was on streaming, I immediately put it on my list to see. I watched it a couple of weekends ago and thought that it was good. Not horrible and not great, but good.

The Action is What Makes This Movie

So, it is the action and action sequences that really make this movie. I really like the action sequences (reminiscent of the Bodyguard BBC TV show that I didn’t really care for except for the action sequences). There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and spycraft that makes up this movie. Even in the action sequences, one can still see the characters and the interplay between the characters and that is also very good.

The Script Really Lets the Movie Down

So, it is the script that really hampers the movie, particularly the plot. Good characters and good action, weighed down by seeming reversals that can be seen a mile away. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the events play out EXACTLY as one expects they will. This is one of those times where film critics (which I have a love/hate relationship with) are right: being derivative really hurt this film. The film makes (or wants to make) a statement about terrorism and peace and warmonger/warprofiteering, but wants to have everything fall into place in such a way as to “hide” the identity of the ultimate bad guy, but (slight spoiler here, so skip two paragraphs if you don’t want ANY spoilers):

. . . if you’ve seen The Fugitive, then you know exactly what’s going to happen. Same essential structure. And that’s just for starters. I can’t recall their names, but I can think of two more movies (oh, just remembered one: Broken Arrow) that do much the same as this one does.

Overall Rating: B

So this is probably overly generous (it should probably be a B-/C+), but I found the lead character played by Noomi Rapace and the male character played by Orlando Bloom to be a strong presence. I also liked many of the other actors (& their characters) in the movie and thought that the set-up to the movie was the strongest I’d seen in a while and with the action it seemed poised to be a good one, but ultimately, the derivative script let it down and I didn’t like the last 2/3rds of the movie nearly as much as I did the first 1/3rd.

Anyway, I hope that everyone’s week is an awesome one!

Sidney


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Hunter-Killer: Mini Movie Review

Submarine broaching the ice with Captain and Defense Secretary (US) in the background with (movie) explosions all around.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1846589/mediaindex

In my quest to see a movie every weekend of the year, I watched a movie that got a really poor Rotten Tomato score, but it was an action movie that Apple was renting for .99 and it was one that I had a moderate amount of interest about seeing, so I went ahead and took a chance on it. The movie was called Hunter-Killer and is about a “rookie” US submarine captain who is ordered to investigate the disappearance of another US sub. From there, political and military intrigue ensues — making it necessary to use a combination of stealth and force to save the day. I put “rookie” submarine captain in quotes becaude even though this is technically the captain’s first command, he is a career Navy-man and his knowledge of sea-craft and war-craft is preternaturally good, so much so that it almost strains credibility at times.

36%? It’s Better Than That!

So, understanding that reviews are subjective, this movie is better than its 36% (at time of writing this blog post) on Rotten Tomatoes suggests. The (current) Audience score of 71% would bear out my argument. Is this a phenomenal movie? No, it isn’t. There are places in the movie that strain credibility. The captain of the US boat is prescient to a fault. The performances of some of the “Russian” characters veer into caricatures (and we won’t even talk about their accents), and there aren’t enough female characters–maybe this reflects real life American subs, but the movie ignores reality when it wants to, so why not here as well. However, even with these faults, the movie does action pretty well and submarine-based tension very well. It gives us a fair amount of action the entire way through. Without spoilers, the screenwriter gives us both submarine action and ground-based combat (in about a 50/50 ratio), so it isn’t the true submarine drama that the title makes it out to be, but that is okay. It tries (but doesn’t always succeed) to be a “love letter” to the crews on submarines while still retaining its Action Movie heritage. However, there are TV shows with submarines (I’m thinking of Sub-Rosa–I think?–from NCIS–the one with Kate and Gibbs on the submarine) that do it better–even with a lesser budget.

The Not-So-Perfect Movie with the Perfect Title

I think that the movie’s title does a lot to hurt it. Hunter-Killer implies a sub-hunt movie with sub’s hunting subs and a game of underwater, tactical chess, and that’s just not what this movie is at its heart. It wants to do submarine combat, but it also wants to be a tactical squad based action drama like Special Forces & Lone Survivor. I feel that if you like those movies along with The Hunt for Red October (which I did), then your enjoyment of the movie will be much higher.

Overall Rating: C+

I would have given this, in grading terms, a 78 or 79. It tries earnestly and (in terms of enjoyment) it mostly succeeds. If not for some troublesome elements all the way through: prescient captain, annoying first officer, caricature of the Russians, too few (& underdeveloped) female roles, and a title that implies the movie would be different from what it actually turned out to be, I thought that the movie still delivered enough action, thrills, and tension to be an enjoyable experience.

Bumblebee Mini-Review

Movie Poster with BumbleBee and two lead characters beside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Over the Memorial Day Weekend, I saw the Transformers Prequel movie, Bumblebee, and thought I’d take a moment to write up my thoughts about it. I thought that it was a pretty fun movie, although I thought that it was a little small in its scope. I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free (although I might need to discuss certain elements to talk about in regards to other Transformers movies) so I can’t promise that this will be completely spoiler-free (I’ll try my best).

Not Sprawling, But Still Good

One of the things that I liked about the movie was that it was a more contained movie. While I liked the Transformers movies, the first one specifically, I found that the later movies were just a little too long and didn’t have the same narrative coherence as the earlier movies (especially the first one). In other words, the other movies had become bloated and a bit of a mess, while Bumblebee was much more of a conventional movie with a 3 Act structure. I think that this added in my enjoyment of the movie immensely as I felt that it allowed the characters to shine, especially in regards to their motivations–something that I think was lacking in other Transformers movies.

Not Quite Enough Action

So, if there’s one thing that I could fault the movie for, then it would be the fact that while there’s action in the movie, it doesn’t really have the level of action that I would like. While an action movie, some of the elements are very much cut down or minimized. The writers, while looking for characterization and humor, downplay the action of the piece and (for me) that really made it not as fun as it could have been.

For instance, the scene in which she is goaded into diving, but ultimate decides to not do it, while revealing character, is something that doesn’t really work for me–I think it could have been revealed in a different way.

Overall Grade: B-/C+

I liked the increased focus on characterization, but not at the expense of the action of the Transformers’ movies. While more intimate and character-focused, it also lost a lot of the grandeur of the original film. This is why I think I was always so resistant to focusing on character–too much on character and not enough on the plot can leave a movie (or story) that should feel “epic” as feeling underwhelming rather than truly epic.

Sidney

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HawkeMoon Acceptance!

Falconry--falcon landing man's gloved hand.
Image Source: https://www.usatoday.com/videos/travel/2018/11/12/celebrate-world-falconry-day-historic-hotel/1977581002/

So, sometime ago, I wrote an Author’s Note that covered the genesis of my short story, HawkeMoon. While I thought it was an awesome story, I despaired of every getting published as it is an action story. And it features an ending that is not the typical “GrimDark” fare that you see these days in Fantasy based on the successful of Game of Thrones (and its many imitators). Well, after 21 tries, #22 turned out to be the right market! HawkeMoon was accepted for publication by StoryHack Action and Adventure! While I’m not sure what issue it will be in yet, you can be sure that I’ll be keeping readers know when it is available.

Action and Adventure

So, this market is exactly the type of market that I wish there were more of in the Fantasy and Science Fiction field. Most of the markets are more for “social” sci-fi where they look at a trend and extrapolate on that trend for near future/far future and then that becomes the author’s world. Fantasy is a lot more fluid, but thanks to George R. R. Martin’s success with his “GrimDark” Game of Thrones series, it is very hard to interest editors of markets to get behind anything that is not “GrimDark,” or has elements of that sub-genre in work. I make no bones about despising the “GrimDark” sub-genre, hence my despair at finding a publisher for HawkeMoon.

One of the things that I like about this market–in addition to the awesome system of keep authors in the loop about the submission process–is that the editor understands that “action” and “adventure” are not dirty words, but are elements that are integral to the story. Yes, characterization is the most important (see, I’m learning), but just because characters don’t have “bad things” happen to them and then they turn around and do “bad things” to others (take a guess to which Fantasy series I’m referring to), doesn’t make the story nonpunishable. Action/Adventure, when used appropriately, can heighten the suspense for the reader and make the character “change” by putting him or her under extraordinary circumstances from which they must escape. So, they don’t “change” via a soliloquy or deep intense reflection–that’s okay. They still change–whether its deciding to kill (or not kill) that Troll guarding the bridge, or whether or not to pull the trigger on those starfighter controls that will, in effect, kill his mother and yet, all the girls go gushy over because of his long black and emo personality (guess which popular space opera movie I’m referring to here), still these are choices that the character makes and these choices define the character (for good or ill) and are just as appropriate as deep navel gazing (reflection) or long dramatic speeches (soliloquy) in defining the character.

Celebration

So, I haven’t decided what to do quite yet to celebrate HawkeMoon’s acceptance. My birthday’s coming up soon, so I may just roll the celebration into my birthday and call it a day. At the very least, getting an Acceptance for HawkeMoon is an awesome birthday present!

Sidney




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Thor Ragnarok: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

Thor_Ragnarok_openaircinemas
Picture of the Thor Ragnarok movie poster featuring Thor, Hulk, Loki and other Marvel Universe Characters.  Image Source: Open Air Cinemas (Click for more info).

Nope, no writing done over the 3 day weekend.  Tragic.  This is what I’ve got to get better at as a writer who wants to be “professional.”  Yes, I had another real-world “project” that I was working on (changing rooms in my house), but it doesn’t take that long to do 250 words.  I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of setting up the computer for just 20-30 mins of writing–but the cost to that was, no writing done at all.  250 * 6 days = 1,500 words.  I one week, I could, if I could get my act together, essentially finish a “section” of a short story, or the basic “outline” of a chapter.  So the word I used above is actually something I need to tell myself when I don’t get my 250 words in–tragic.

Finally Saw Thor Ragnarok

Okay, so over the Memorial Day Weekend here in the U.S., my family and I gathered together after the holiday dinner to watch Thor Ragnarok.  I have to say upfront that it was a fun experience–it isn’t the best Marvel movie that I ever seen, but it also isn’t the worst.  I guess that’s what, after having a night to sleep on it, I would say–it was a solidly fun experience.  Unlike Star Wars, which at the moment that I write this, is having a “moment” (and not in a good way as Kathleen Kennedy seems determined to remake the brand into something that she wants and not something that the fans want), Marvel movies know what they’re audiences want: quite a bit of action, some humor (quips and some physical comedy), characters having to some (light) soul-searching, an inventive and eventful ending, and (a bit) of moral relevance (theme) and they’re golden.  This is what Thor Ragnarok delivers to its audience.  Is it flashy, like say Civil War or Winter Soldier? No.  But is it good?  Yes, yes it is.

God of Humor

So, the comedic elements in this one are super strong.  Whether they be visual gags, banter and quips, or downright physical humors, a lot (but not all) of Thor Ragnarok is played for laughs.  I happened to have liked that, but if you’re looking for (or liked) the grim seriousness of Thor The Dark World, then you’ll need to look elsewhere because they play this strictly as an action-comedy.  When there’s action, there’s a lot of it, but when there’s no action on the screen, they’re either setting up a joke or actually paying off a joke.  There’s very little else here, although to be fair, there is quite a bit of light character development of ThorLokiHulk/Banner, and the new character, the Valkyrie, whose name wasn’t really used all that often in the movie, but who both Thor & Loki recognized as a Valkyrie, so that’s (at the moment) how I remembered her character.

Not the Worst, but Not the Best

Again, I have to say that I really liked this movie quite a bit, but based on the high praise that it was given by some of the reviews when it released, I’m a little surprised that it wasn’t a stronger movie.  I suppose when you get right down to it, this may have to do more with me and my expectations than the movie itself.  While I like comedies and like to laugh (who doesn’t), my favorite genre is action.  While there’s no denying that Thor Ragnarok does have action set-pieces, for the most part, this one lent itself to comedy (think the comedy sketch of Thor sitting out Civil War that made the rounds on YouTube last summer, and you’ll have an idea of what the creators of Thor Ragnarok were going for).

Having just re-watched this vignette, I just realized that they referenced the “email” joke in this vignette in Thor Ragnarok, so this is very much a “tone-piece” for the movie.  If you like this vignette, then you’ll probably like Thor Ragnarok very much.  I was mildly amused by this, so while I really liked the movie, it probably won’t make it into my Top 5 Marvel movies.  Not to say it isn’t good, but I feel there are other Marvel movies that are stronger.

Overall Grade: B (Above Average)

My take: Hey, it’s a Marvel movie.  They’d have to really misfire (Thor Dark World) to get much less (Marvel gets me as a fan in a way that Kathleen Kennedy and the “new” Star Wars doesn’t seem to anymore).  I love what they are doing right now.  Even the movies that I feel are perhaps “weaker” entries in the Universe are still above the quality of many other movies of competing franchises.  My mother said the movie was better than she expected it be based on the other Thor movies and my step-father laughed all the way through, and myself was at least amused through most of it, but sat up and took notice through the extended action sequences.  This was, while not my favorite Marvel movie, still one that I would gladly re-watch anytime.

Reclaiming Lara Croft

20_Years_of_Croft_LaraCroftWiki
20 Years of Lara Croft (Lara Croft in her various gaming incarnations from the past 20 years).  Image Source: Tombraider.wikia.com (click on image for more information)

Reclaiming Lara

Okay, so this blog post is liable to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: “old” Lara Croft (Old Lara) as a character was better in many ways than “new” Lara Croft (new Lara).  Old Lara Croft was portrayed as a “sex symbol” by the media of the late 90s & early 2000s in order to understand this new female character representation in gaming that had traditionally been infused with male characters and male sensibilities.  Old Lara was a breaking of the stereotype, but paradoxically a part of the stereotype in that it was her gender and sexuality (unrealistic proportions) that marked her as an unrealistic construct.  New Lara is meant to counter this: a realistic representation of a feminine body type and a new, more “realistic” backstory.  However, as both old and new film adaptations have shown, people (including the team at Crystal Dynamics currently tasked with developing new games) don’t really “get” Lara Croft and what makes her tick.

Mind Over Matter

Lara Croft is brilliant and I don’t mean that in the “great” sense of the word.  No, I mean it literally.  She is brilliant and much like another British-created character, Doctor Who, she is the “smartest person in the room.”  The Doctor works because he is a “madman in a box” while Lara Croft never was given that one sentence that summed up her character.  For me, Lara Croft is a “raider of Tombs.”  This is where so many representations of her go wrong–they neglect to give her a reason for her to raid tombs (a why is she doing this/why does it matter).  Tomb Raider 2 (from Core) and Tomb Raider Legend (Crystal Dynamics) are the purest expressions of why does what she does and what is at stake if she fails in her quest.

Some might argue that the new games (the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider), the subsequent sequels, and the newest movie (sans Angelina Jolie) depict a better “version” of Lara, but I argue that’s not true.  Lara, who is emotionally blasted from killing a deer in the 2013 reboot, is not much different than stereotypical representations of females of the past.

Puzzles, Traps, Solutions

Everyone keeps making the same mistake of comparing Lara Croft with Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones movies) or Nathan Drake (Uncharted video game series), when her true comparison is Doctor Who. In every room, Lara is (as is the player through the extension of agency) looking for the “exit” or the solution to the puzzle, trap, or what have you. Once located, it becomes a “game” to figure out how to get Lara from point A to that exit.  However, you (the player) and Lara (the character) go into the situation believing and expecting that there is ALWAYS an exit and always a SOLUTION to the problem, so long as you can reason it out.  This is exactly the same characterization used to describe The Doctor: “he always wins because he always assumes he’s going to win”  (paraphrased from Series 9, Episode 2, “The Witch’s Familiar”).  Lara goes into any situation knowing there’s a solution, she just has to find it. Again, she’s smartest person in the room–no matter her physique.  Now we just need for Hollywood to discover this fact and for Crystal Dynamics to rediscover Lara as an actual “Tomb Raider” instead of just relying on it as a “brand name” used to market and sell games in the “franchise.”

Sidney



Mini-Review: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

spider man homecoming movie poster_imdb
Movie Poster for Spider-man Homecoming, Image Source: IMDb

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watched Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best–but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would be the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

Sidney




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Jason Bourne (No Spoilers) Mini-Review and Writing Implications

jason_bourne_movie_poster
Source: JasonBournemovie.com

So, before I start, let me say that I’m a huge Jason Bourne fan.  That wasn’t always the case.  I’m a huge James Bond fan as well, starting with the Roger Moore Bond in the late ’70s and early 80’s.  I’ve seen every Bond movie (except 1) all the way through at least once (including the George Lazenby).  For the longest, I resisted watching the Bourne films, but there was a sale on the 3 movie Bluray boxed set that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched the first one and I’ve been hooked every since.  This one was the one I was most excited about all summer (hoping that it would top Bourne Ultimatum after the disappointing Bourne Legacy.)

Good, but not Excellent

This is a good, strong, solid movie, but it did not surpass Bourne Ultimatum in my opinion.    Rotten Tomatoes (as of current writing gives the score: 57% Critics & 68% Audience.  I would give it a B- (80-83) if I were grading it academically.   That would put it right on the edge of being above average.

It is an above average movie that is hampered by two significant story problems (and several other smaller problems) that I think hold it back from delivering on its promise.  The characters are well done and their lives seem to logically transition from the old Bourne trilogy to where they begin this movie.

Unlike Star Trek Beyond, I saw two glaring problems that were large enough to affect the entire movie (& that’s why I think the review scores are a little on the tepid side.)

Problem 1: Good Beginning, Weak Middle, Strong Ending

The movie starts with a strong beginning.  All the pieces “are in play” to use terminology from the movies.  And it doesn’t take long for the set-up to pay off and for the action and intrigue that are the lifeblood of the Bourne movies to start.  However, after the good beginning, the Middle of the story seems be a series of moves all designed to get all of the relevant players into one city (you know it from the trailers–but I won’t name it less it may be construed as a spoiler) for the Ending.  You can almost “see” all the pieces being moved around on the “board” to get this person to the city, that person to the city, these two people to the city, etc.  There’s also a “ripped from the headlines” subplot that wasn’t very well developed and might have made the story better had the filmmakers not included it.

Problem 2: Deja Vu’

For me, who has watched the boxed set of the Bourne Blurays multiple times, I felt like the filmmakers made Jason Bourne too similar to another movie in the trilogy.  I won’t name which one specifically as I feel that would definitely be too “spoilery.”  My contention is that many of the things that happen between that movie and this one are almost beat for beat identical (story-wise).

While there were similar elements shared by the original trilogy, each movie presented an original idea and expressed it originally.  This film presents an original idea, but presents it derivatively.  

Implications for my Writing

Without spoilers, the resolution of the story was great.  But even better was the denouement, or the wrap-up, of the movie.  That one scene seemed to turn the audience (the ones that I saw it with in my theater, at least) from neutral to somewhat positive about the movie.

What I learned from watching the audience’s reaction to the end of the movie is that a strong denouement can turn the audience to your side even if your overall structure isn’t the strongest (although it really should be).  The movie’s denouement comes directly from who Jason Bourne is as a character.  It might even be the movie’s THEME statement about what Jason stands for as character in that film world.

So, when I’m considering what my character’s inner conflict should be, I might always want to consider deciding at the same time what is my THEME and what might be a really unique and inventive way of showing that through the main character’s action in the denouement of the story.

 

 

Currently (Re) Reading: The Malloreon by David Eddings

Unknown Unknown-1

I’m currently re-reading the Malloreon by David Eddings.  I prefer the Belgariad by him, but I read that last semester.  I really enjoy this series–I think it is because of the banter between the characters.

My family had banter (although not to this degree) when I was growing up–and devices like puns, quoting from movies,  etc., was highly prized and rewarded.  Being able to be mentally adroit and using advanced wordplay to cause laughter and humor was something that our family did really well.  This is the closest book in the fantasy genre that seems to truly encapsulate the “Star Wars” (original trilogy) for me as a reader.  It seems as though I’m chuckling at a clever turn of a phrase or the many uses of sarcasm and irony (including dramatic irony) on every other page.

I reread all of my favorite novels (even more so since rise of the “Grim Dark” writers of fantasy like George RR Martin–don’t get me wrong–not hating on the author, just the whole nasty people doing nasty things to one another doesn’t appeal to me NO MATTER the genre).  This series is one that I have pulled out and reread yearly for the past 5 years straight.   I sometimes reread the TAMULI series (also by Eddings), but mostly its the BELGARIAD and MALLOREON.  I wish more authors would write in this mode, but I guess it is passe’ now.

I can’t WAIT for the whole “Grim Dark” trend to go away so that more books like this can be published.

Sigh.  I really could use some more banter (read: laughter) in my life right now.

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