AI And The Writer’s Strike

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about AI, the writer’s strike and a few other issues effecting Hollywood right now. I will preface this by saying that I accept that a lot of the arguments out there on AI are quite alarmist and likely mine will have elements of that as well. However, I intend for this piece to talk about the possible real world implications when it comes to entertainment and as such will try and keep hyperbole, such as how AI will wipe out the human race, out of what I am about to say.

Now when it comes to the idea of AI written films a lot of people are worried, there are striking writers worried about losing their jobs, there are other people in other areas of production who are starting to worry that they may be replaced by AI as well, and then there are cinephiles and lovers of going to the cinema that are worried AI written films will make them already more generic then they already are.

In all of these areas I would argue that the worry is earned. One must believe that Hollywood executives probably can’t wait to start using AI and announce cost saving measures, IE firing all the writers or firing most and keeping a ghost crew around to punch up AI written scripts and to qualify for awards. People are greedy and always want to extend their profits, as such I think it is right that writers are striking and the topic of AI is becoming incredibly relevant to their demands.

Likewise, I find something incredibly depressing and dystopian about the idea of customised films. In this frame I am talking about one of the possible uses of AI in films, which would see studio approved AI design films directly for consumers and meet their specifications may even featuring them in the lead. That sounds incredibly off putting to me and like the death of the film industry because at that point where is the talent, where is the heart, where is the craft it is all gone in place of gluttony infused consumerism that would remove the human component entirely. One would have to imagine that a lot of these AI made film experiences would be the same and would be misused, such as someone inserting themselves into a cinematic sex scene with a certain star they like, and whilst this basically boils down to elaborate VR softcore porn, it still feels creepy. Moreover, in that example the star would likely have signed away their rights to whichever studio was putting out the film experience which is then customised by the user to have a sex scene and in that do whatever they want, which would be incredibly short sighted on the part of the star.

There is a lot of ground for things to go wrong, and for the sake of bias it is worth saying that maybe AI could improve cinema in some way, especially within animation making the overworked animators jobs a little easier, but at the same time there is more than enough reason to be concerned.

To break from my hyperbole rule for just a minute I would frame the AI debate within filmmaking as a battle for the soul of the industry and the human heart that beats within it, because you best believe if it is widely adopted their will be mass layoffs.

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Marvel’s Week From Hell

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about Marvel’s week from hell, with Victoria Alonso being fired and Jonathan Majors being accused of domestic violence.

An argument could be made that Marvel has been circling the drain for some time now, things have been getting worse and worse over the last phase as we know because Marvel Studios has been favouring quantity over quality, supposedly on the orders of the former Disney CEO. However, this week the drama has seemingly really intensified and I want to give my take on it, what it means for Marvel and what I think they should do going forward.

Regarding the situation with Alonso, I would argue they made the right call, she is threatening to take Disney to court now so it may continue to be a headache but no doubt it will be easily snuffed out. However, I think removing Alonso was a good call as she has said some culture war type tripe before, see her comments about the X-Men, and could be seen to be one of the main voices, allegedly, pushing for wider social commentary and identity politics in the films. More of that is not what the MCU needs right now, it needs to bring back audiences from both sides of the political divide. In addition there is the talk of Alonso, again allegedly, being a highly toxic force when it came to the VFX departments as she seemed to be a cruel boss who would favour those loyal to her and punish the rest, now this is unsubstantiated beyond a few people’s alleged first person accounts but if true its probably why the VFX work of late has been so bad within the MCU.

Regarding the Majors situation, everything is still quite up in the air but things don’t look good and it looks like Majors may have done some bad stuff, again all alleged at this moment. They are trying to paint it as the accuser was having some sort of break and that’s what happened and Majors is innocent, but I smell trash and think far more likely Majors and his team are trying to destroy the credibility of the witness in order to get him off and that the alleged retraction she has written is most likely being done after she has received a pay out or possibly something stronger, a court battle she probably can’t afford. Again all alleged and my opinion. I think this proves that movie studios need to better vet their actors, especially as a history of violence is starting to emerge online with regard to Majors’ past. I think regardless of where the arrest goes Marvel Studios and or Disney should conduct their own investigation and if this story is even slightly true, then Majors should be fired and the role of Kang recast.

I really think and have said many times before on social media that I think the best thing for the MCU right now would be for them to step back, delay all their productions, except maybe Guardians,into next year and rework things. Go back to the basis and quality check every project, cancel somethings that don’t need to be there and course correct as currently the MCU seems to be in freefall. I would still imagine that Guardians will do well in the coming months, but I think the Marvels much like the recent Ant-Man will do terribly for Marvel Studios and push the need for change.

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The Oscars 2023: The Good, The Bad And The Misguided

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about this year’s Oscars and the winners and losers from it, as well as some of the online responses to the results and how the latter reflects the messy and unpleasant current state of film discourse in the current year.

Straight off the bat I want to say Angela Bassett wasn’t robbed, her performance in Wakanda Forever was fine and the film itself was aggressively mediocre. With the current declining quality of MCU films they really shouldn’t be nominated for Oscars as they simply aren’t worthy of it, and probably only get the nominations because Disney get all the voters some really nice gifts and own the telecast. The response to Jaime Lee Curtis winning over Bassett was equally toxic. Many people only took to verbally abusing the actor and calling her and the Oscars racist because there preferred winner didn’t win, not only does that dilute the term incredibly, it also highlights where the discourse is at these days when it comes to cinema, it something happens that you don’t like then the people have to be ists and phobes because God forbid you can’t have your way. I don’t want to be the person ranting about kids today, but people need to realise that they can’t tantrum something into being and abusing a good actor because you don’t like that she won over someone else just makes you look bad. For what it is worth I didn’t think she should have won for the film she did and would have probably given it to Kerry Condon myself, but it was clearly a lifetime achievement award for Curtis and that is okay, the Oscars does that kind of thing.

Outside of the Best Supporting Actress drama I quite liked the results, I am glad Everything Everywhere All At Once got a lot of love, though I do think that maybe it is becoming a little overhyped and I thought it was nothing short of amazing that Brendan Fraser could comeback after all the horrible things that have happened to him over the years and win Best Actor, it truly was an inspiring moment and one that I doubt anyone could not find moving.

My one complaint on the way out would be that The Banshees Of Inisherin didn’t win at all, as I thought it deserved at least some Oscars love, but ah well. 

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The Studio Vs Fan War

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about the idea of studios and franchise masters being at war with the fans, and the relationship between fans, properties and those that run them.

Both sides are quick to draw first blood, fans will say that they have been harassed and called names by studios for not liking changes to IP, and studios will say that there shows/films have been the subject of trolls and abuse with the cast and crew suffering as a result. Both insist that the other can’t be right and that they are totally in the right. However, this simply isn’t possible.

Like with many things in life a compromise solution seems to be the most likely outcome, and by that I mean both sides have points that are true about the other and both have hurt and continue to hurt the other in a lasting war of attrition that only serves to ruin once beloved franchises. Can fans be toxic? Oh boy yes. I have seen first hand the way some people get bent out of shape over changes to IP, sometimes this comes from a purist argument other times from a more prejudiced place, however fans seem to believe that they have a right to be able to control what happens in IP’s they like and to be able to have their way. Whilst this is true to an extent in that people can vote with their wallets and have films flop if no one turns up, this is all the power fans have and sometimes they have to accept that these mega franchises are going to go in ways they don’t like and that they can’t stop it. That doesn’t give them the right to then harass, bully and intimidate people as that is surely the wrong way to go about it. If you don’t like the look of a film don’t watch it.

On the otherside of this divide, studios should be careful to change things that so many people love and only do so when it is in service of telling a good story that can stand on its own, it just makes sense from a business standpoint to keep giving the fans what they want. Moreover, demonising groups of people because they don’t like the direction your franchise is going is never the way, yes sometimes they are trolls, but more often then not they are just fans that are complaining that doesn’t make them a bigot or an ist, labelling people as such just comes across as antagonist and only serves to push people further and further away from your brand and divides the fanbase further, and you need all the viewers you can get. As is often the case it is the best practice to ignore the trolls and not give them the attention they want from you, if the companies didn’t respond to the review bombing then likely they would stop as people get bored and accept that these studios aren’t going to change. Another aspect to consider on this front is that often when studios seem to know that they have screwed up with a project rather than eat crow they instead prepare a narrative of trolls and abuse around their show to try and justify and hide the bad review score and viewing ratings. Fairly often these trolls happen to vote down badly produce/written series that would have failed on their own right, and I find that very convenient. I think the narrative that your show or film is getting bad reviews because of trolls and racists is a much more favourable narrative to you made a bad film/ show and that is why it is so often trotted out.

Ultimately, neither side will back down, the divides in a lot of these communities are too deeply entrenched. However, one thing I will say is that if these studios were smart they would back off and try and mend fences, not just because by not responding to the trolls they will likely go away but also because all that happens when you attack the fans is that you push even more people away from your property which then eats into profits. It is worth remembering that no show/film has an unlimited audience and you can put most if not all of your potential audience off. Sadly the main takeaway from this piece is that film discourse, especially around franchise films is really at an all time low.

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The Prospect Of New Lord Of The Rings Films

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about the new Lord Of The Rings Movies that Warner Brothers Discovery are making and how this is good, bad and messy for the franchise as a whole as well as for the state of contemporary Hollywood.

So my immediate thought is why? Then I think well they are probably making them to keep hold of the rights, in some rights agreements films or shows based on the property have to be made every so often for the holder to keep them, put very simplistically, so it could of course be that. On the other hand modern Hollywood is going through something of a bad time recently as films which in the pre-pandemic times would be sure fire billion dollar grossers aren’t anymore and the box office as a whole is struggling to recover to its pre-pandemic strength. All of this is because of the cocktail of people not wanting to spend the money going to a cinema, the rise and common use of streaming platforms, and finally the fact that a lot of the films put out these days just aren’t very good, and whilst all of these factors have been around in one form or another in the past the combination of them all happening at the same time is why a lot of cinema chains are facing bankruptcy. Due to these issues Hollywood in recent years has been to become reliant on everything with even a scrap of brand recognition to try and milk it to prop itself up, more often than not this hasn’t worked.

So to get to the subject of new Lord Of The Rings films I think there many ways that this could go wrong and a lot of room for scepticism.  One first has to ask what are they going to adapt, will they be a sequel to the original trilogy? Based on the writings of Tolkien himself and how those films end with most of the magic leaving the world that would seem to be a no. Will it be a reboot? This seems like a more likely idea but also one that would be met with anger and derision from the off, and with the Lord of the Rings fandom very split over The Rings Of Power this would seem to be probably one of the worst ideas they could do, likely it would see a similar effect to the sequel trilogy with Star Wars. Finally there is the idea of a prequel of some form, which to me seems the most logical and wise idea they could do. However, the big issue here would be how does this tie into the Amazon deal and the areas of Tolkien’s work they have access to. Which of course would be a very messy area rights wise and all of this.

To write somewhat as an optimist for a moment if you would indulge me, I think this new LOTR news isn’t inherently bad, as like I said before if they went into the area of the Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales and took their ques from that and adapted something more line with those stories or perhaps a fall of Númenor there could be fertile ground for some new content.

However, I think the very worst thing they could do which would almost guarantee these films to be high profile flops for WBD is to remake the original trilogy or I guess even the Hobbit and gender swap/race swap all of the characters in an idea to update these beloved films from not all that long ago. I think to do this, and putting politics to one side for the moment, would be stupid because though WBD could have the momentary bonus of saying ‘look at how progressive we are’ they would also alienate a huge number of fans and people who would show up for the film, and it wouldn’t actually of course be progressive because they would only be doing it as a shallow marketing move rather than as to actually help or champion representation in cinema.

I think right now it is very easy to be negative towards this news and to look at it through mistrusting eyes, modern Hollywood after all hasn’t given much reason for faith, however, the size and potential scope of the loss for WBD that this could represent will mean that their plans will change constantly and be updated so we really don’t know what form this will take.

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The Current State Of The MCU: The Wheels Are Coming Off

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about the current state of the MCU in the post-Endgame landscape. Right from the off I will say that I have seen everything the MCU has ever put out, I am due to see Ant-Man and The Wasp Quantomania in the coming days and it is because of that that I am writing this piece. As it stands the third Ant-Man film has some of the worst reviews of any MCU Marvel film, at least from critics and is being torn apart for its terrible VFX work, as such the point of this piece is how did we get here from the heights of Endgame? Is it a one off or part of a larger pattern? I have broken down what I think are the current issues killing the MCU into 5 key areas, that are all fairly minor on their own but that when combined create a lethal cocktail for the future success of the MCU as a franchise.

Firstly, and most obviously there is the glaring issues with VFX. VFX artists have been coming out and talking about how bad they have it over at Disney/Marvel studios and how they are been rushed and forced into crunch time hours in order to get films ready in time for release. This is bad both as a means of how to treat your employees but also as it effects the final quality of the project, who remembers Heimdall’s son from Love and Thunder or the recent stills of Modok from Quantomania. Forcing out unfished and poor VFX work makes both your film look bad and also taints your brands reputation for quality.

However, quality leads into the second issue with the current MCU the idea of quantity becoming more important than quality. This can be seen with the amount of MCU content that is released and the time frame in which it comes out, we are getting north of 5 MCU projects a year and that is a lot to turn around in such a short space of time so it is no wonder they are clearly cutting corners. This is likely done on a mandate from Disney to prop up Disney + with content but make no mistake it is killing Marvel in the long run.   

This constant need for more content is also leading to more and more people starting to be put off by the Marvel formula, which is readily apparent no matter how many different genres they try and adapt their films into, because the creative confines of what one can do and still have it be a Marvel film are incredibly limited. Yes, there are some films like the coming Deadpool film that have enough of a fanbase that the higher ups at Marvel Studios and Disney can justify it breaking formula, but even then I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t get the R rating everyone thinks it is going to get.  Moreover, this is also feeding into the homework problem that has plagued the MCU for some time and is getting worse with the introduction of the Disney + shows, this is the idea that to understand what is happening in the MCU at current moment you need to have seen tons of films and TV shows to be able to get into the wider narrative, this was inevitable as an issue for the interconnected world, but it will put more casual audiences off for sure.

Another issue with the current slate of Marvel content, especially the Disney + shows is the pushing off smaller characters at the expense of killing off or retiring older characters. You can have She-Hulk and Hulk together you don’t need to retire one to have the other, the same concept applies for Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye, all of these characters have been replaced. In the comics Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson both existed at the same time, especially when the latter was Captain America, but the MCU doesn’t work like that. There is a school of thought that suggests that the MCU is getting rid of its classic heroes to make audiences care about the new ones, and this does have some merit. One has to ask why is Echo, a minor character at the best of times, getting a show before Punisher or Ghost Rider?

The answer to that question leads into my final issue with the MCU and the one that I think in the end will be the death nail for it and that is pushing a political message and focusing on being as diverse as possible rather than in telling good stories any more. I will add that many properties can do both, and that diversity and representation is important, my argument is that when you achieve this by dragging down or removing pre-established and well liked characters that this is not the way. Look at She-Hulk again, which in my mind was the lowest ebb yet of the MCU, the show as a whole went out of its way to drag down the Hulk and show how Jessica Walters was easily so much better than him. Why did you need to introduce a character in this way? Lots of fans like the Hulk as a character so to see both the character and the show completely disrespect him is a bitter pill to a lot of fans. If you want to introduce a diverse array of new characters then focus on making them likable and important in their own right, the MCU did this perfectly with Miss Marvel, rather than having them exist as a character to put the pre-established characters down. All this does is make your new heroes unlikeable.

I recently saw an article in which Kevin Feige said he thought the MCU could be around for many more decades yet, but I think this argument ignores the declining box office and the subscriber problem with Disney +, I think Feige response is in denial. Yes the X-Men and The Fantastic Four will bring some audiences back whenever they are introduced, but that won’t change any of these issues, and it is these issues that I believe will see the MCU either rebooted or retired within the next decade.

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Henry Cavill Leaves The Witcher: Netflix Can’t Seem To Do Anything Right

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about the recent news of Henry Cavill stepping away from playing the role of Geralt in the Witcher tv series and the fact that the series is carrying on without him. I believe it is terrible news and that Netflix should and probably will after the fourth series cancel the show.

I want to be up front with you all, I stopped watching this show after the midpoint of season two, it had no resemblance to the books and games and treated the characters with an irreverence that bordered on contempt for the source material. In many scenes I dislike this show, however, one of the few things I could give it was the fact that Henry Cavill was well suited to the role and genuinely seemed to care about the character. However with his departure, which is almost certainly due to the fact that he is back as Superman, and the fact the show is just going to recast and pretend like nothing has happened the show loses one of its key assets. Now I am not saying that Liam Hemsworth will be a bad Geralt, or that he won’t care about the character in the same way Cavill did but I will say I have seen nothing in Hemsworth’s filmography this far that suggests that this is in anyway something he would be well suited for. I don’t think he has the right physicality for it either.

I think if Netflix were smart they would shift focus now that Cavill is out to animation for the Witcher universe wherein shifting voice actors wouldn’t be so noticed and were acting in it would be a lot less of a commitment. They could even hire the voice actor who played Geralt in the games to voice the character here as well, a move that would definitely please many parts of the fandom. However, because Netflix aren’t smart, and have proven this time and again, they will carry on with the show with Hemsworth under the notion that they can just replace one handsome man with another and no one will notice, ignore the fact that the fans are annoyed and angry about it and then be surprised when the fourth series tanks ratings wise. No doubt toxic fandoms will be blamed, but really this is all on Netflix, they should have given Cavill more money or whatever he wanted to stick around at least until the end of season four where they could have rushed to wrap up

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Leakers And Scoopers: The Battle For Expectation

Written by Luke Barnes

I want to use this piece to talk about leakers and scoopers on the internet, especially when it pertains to big franchise films like with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Recently Disney had their  latest expo and I went online after the fact to check out what had been announced, whilst there I was met with a sea of disappointed videos from various pundits and scoopers saying how they were disappointed with what Marvel brought to the convention. These people expected full casting for the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and a whole lot more besides, and whilst this piece won’t be saying how bad scoopers are, it will examine their impact on expectations.

Within the modern film coverage landscape whoever has the latest scoop or reveal is king, especially when it comes to video content. This can lead to all sorts of things including people just making stuff up. A lot of the people who cover Marvel claim to have insider sources, but often never have to prove they actually do, and as such say their sources have told them x and people jump at it being true. However, the issue is that the source may not be real, or the source might have bad information, or the film and or project might have been changed since the source saw it meaning what they say is false. As such you can’t trust these insider’s sources.

Now for most people they accept that these leakers and scoopers might get the odd thing right here and there but that they make mistakes just like everyone else and as such don’t take each one of their scoops as gospel. However, there is a loud subset of people who seem to take everything at face value and believe it all, and these are the ones complaining when Marvel doesn’t reveal their X-Men cast 5 years before the actual film is likely to come out. If you think about it, it is not in Disney’s interest to release any of that information any time soon as they need something to keep people tuning in for the various conferences.

Like with other things on the internet people need to practice greater critical thinking. A lot of the time users online are not able to see through fake news or clearly misleading information because they want it to be true, the same thing is happening here and then folks are saying oh Marvel suck now or that their latest showcase was disappointing. Use your brains and think about things from Disney and Marvel’s point of view.

My takeaway point here is that leakers and scoopers are cool but they are rarely completely right on everything and people need to temper their expectations when it comes to things like this otherwise they are in for a bad time.

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When Did Cinema Get So Tame: Quantity Over Quality, A Modern Cinema Issue

Written by Luke Barnes

I write this piece as I look ahead to what is coming out over the next few months and think to myself that there are precious few films that look good on the horizon. When did cinema become so average? Or am I just jaded?

So the idea that there was ever a great period in cinema history where nothing but fantastic films were coming out is a fallacy, a romantic idea that never held any weight. Even in great years for cinema where we would get several films that would later be called classic there would be a titdlewave of garbage as well. However, these days it seems that the ratios are becoming ever more extreme we are getting fewer and fewer modern classics and more and more trash, and the question I am asking today is why is that.

Some say that audiences are dumber and like less the idea of being challenged at the cinema, therefore studios have pushed filmmakers to make easier films, obviously there are still changeling films coming out but these are rarely in the multiplexes. Another argument is that Hollywood has become obsessed with brands and doesn’t want to take a chance on original ideas anymore, this has more than a grain of truth to it, with studios cranking out sequels, prequels and reboots all the time. Within this school of thought there is the idea that if the audience comes out for a certain IP then it doesn’t matter if the film is good, maybe this is why there is so little quality these days. There certainly is a safety in a perceived sure thing.

A final idea to ponder is that making good films is no longer the aim for some studios and filmmakers. Through this idea the notion of making a good film that is held up on its technical merits is less important than completing another objective such as getting across an idea, political point, or an element of social commentary. Certainly a good film can include these ideas they aren’t mutually exclusive, however, if pursued ham-fistedly enough they can take over the film and make it bad. All things in moderation.

I suppose there is no clear cut answer for why there is so few truly excellent films out these days and more trash by the week, perhaps it is a little of all of the above, but one thing is for sure if cinema continues in this odious manner it will destroy itself before our very eyes.

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Time To Worry Darling: How Olivia Wilde Exposed Herself And Doomed Her Film

Written by Luke Barnes

A disclaimer before we begin, a lot of this piece will be based on leaked information, and journalistic pieces commenting on the supposed feud between Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh. I cannot say that all the information that I will be referencing and talking about will be accurate as again a lot of it is based on speculation, but I will endeavour to add to this. What follows is my opinion.

So to provide a brief history of the supposed events before we really get into things, a lot of the bad publicity for Don’t Worry Darling directed by Olivia Wilde, began when she cheated on her fiancé and hooked up with Harry Styles, a poor character move to be sure and one which if done by a man would get far more flack, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Following this there was talks of a rift between Wilde and her leading lady Florence Pugh over disagreements on set, which were no doubt made worse by the fact that Styles was being paid more for his role in the film than Pugh. This falling out can be seen by the fact that Pugh has refused to do press for the film, a red flag for sure. Additionally Wilde has proven herself a liar and a hypocrite by saying that she had a no assholes on set policy, that is paraphrased but it is something like that, yet she cast accused sexual abuser Shia LaBeouf and begged him to stay on after he quit, this can be seen in leaked video footage. In the same footage Wilde implies that by keeping him around it will give, someone implied to be Pugh, a wake up call, it has been said that LaBeouf made Pugh feel uneasy on set.

I think what makes all of this worse is the fact that not only is Wilde refusing to comment on it, but she is also playing the victim. Once upon a time she may have had credibility in this category and been believed but since all the leaked footage has come out we now all know she is a liar. In this post MeToo timeframe many people have seemed to forget that women can be just as dickish as men, and to even suggest it seems to be a capital offense. I just think that if Wilde was a man the narrative forming around her would be far more damning. Toxic femininity exists too.

Moreover, the film itself is now getting bad reviews from critics, which I am not surprised by as it looks like it has taken social horror aspects from well received films such as Get Out and forced them into their own narrative in order to try and get people to think the film is deep or even just well done. I think it was clear from the trailers that this film wasn’t going to be good.

The real losers here are Warner Brothers Discovery who needed this film and Black Adam to make tidy profits and sure things up for the studios finances, however, now it looks like through the bad word of mouth, bad reviews and the controversy that Don’t Worry Darling is doomed.

*Breaking News Update: Harry Styles just spat on Chris Pratt at the film’s first showing, showing he is just as bad as Wilde. It just keeps getting worse folks.

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