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I’m still sorting out my complete feelings for the movie but hopefully I can find something eloquent to say about this film. Needless to say,  Yasujirō Ozu’s story of mistakes, regret, jealousy and love is visually poetic and lovely to watch unfold.

My being more impressed of the film on a technical level isn’t an indictment to the story (because it’s great) but, as someone fascinated by the techniques, it was more exciting to watch the choices being made. The shot selection, scenery, color palette, set design; everything fit perfectly. 

This is my first Ozu film. With the emotionally resonant theme of family dysfunction, failure and young infatuation, it’s hard not to get sucked in. How Ozu is somehow still foreign, even to some film nerds, is peculiar. I look forward to digesting this movie some more and checking out the rest of Ozu’s filmography.

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A lot of things have been written about the message being sent by Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf Of Wall Street –mostly centering on its moral responsibility. The idea is that Scorsese seems to be almost promoting the reprehensible things in the movie by his decision to make a comical and exhilarating and entertaining film. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a film about terrible, narcissistic people in love with money, sex and drugs; Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, ruined many people’s lives and was just egregiously villainous. To present his life this way can seem to some like a stamp of approval.

These are fair feelings to have even if I don’t believe this film is endorsing anything. I don’t dispute someone making these claims but what I do disagree with is this idea that art should only push an agenda that matches that of what an audience deems morally upright. The job of art is to let the artist make their statement regardless of feelings. I don’t know why Scorsese or the film’s screenwriter Terrance Winter made this film but, if I had to guess, I would say that they found this story fascinating and wanted to make a movie just as fascinating.

I’m against this idea of hand holding that seems to be popular amongst the thinkpiece writers and morally upright that says that entertainment about bad people needs to succinctly tell you why these people are bad and why they need to be punished. Once again, I understand it, but I’m against it. Critical thinking tells you why Jordan Belfort is an egomaniacal monster–in addition to the grisly and dark last hour of the film–and I don’t need my intelligence insulted in order for me to get why all of this is wrong.

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What I found compelling about this film is how it deals with addiction. The addiction to vice, to greed, to masculinity, to alpha dog statuses; it’s a movie that indulges and gets hooked to the idea of indulgence and getting hooked. You feel the highs and the lows because you need to feel it. You need to witness the adrenaline rush that comes with making millions and getting high, you need the dizzying peaks and the sordid valleys that this film takes you through. Everything about this film is visceral and intense. You’re taken for a ride in order to understand why the ride is so addictive. The drugs in the film feel like a director waxing nostalgic about his own coke addiction and, most of the time, it’s effective. And every excess is a drug here: the money, the dirty sex and the animalistic nature of testosterone-heavy males getting off on making money– it’s all a drug and it’s all addictive.

Speaking of which, I’m of the opinion that Wolf Of Wall Street is one of the more scathing indictments of greed and American capitalism that we’ve seen in a long time. It may not come off as the most responsible but it gets to the dark, inhuman underbelly inherent in these types of people. Rather than telling you why they’re bad, you see why they do it. I wouldn’t call it an endorsement but I get it. The adrenaline rush and excess that comes with this business is tempting, outrageous and enviable; you know it’s wrong and why but you’re sucked in anyway. It gets into a primordial state of your being: that’s why the chest thumping, beastly, frat-boy ra-ra-ra-ing is important. It’s in our nature to conquer, destroy and con and Jordan Belfort’s preacher-like sermonizing is the perfect cheerleading for this behavior. All that being said, all of this is ugly even when it’s flashy and enticing. The greed is so poisonous it infects the minds of everyone involved. This is capitalism’s faultiness laid out: an easily manipulated system that can equal insane levels of excess due to greed and oneupmanship.

This is probably the most ‘Merica movie arguably ever. It’s Goodfellas for yuppie White guys and it’s a perfect portrait of who these Wall Street brokers are and the country that they live in. It’s all fascinating and uncomfortable and sickening. You’ll want to look away but you won’t be able to. There is a lesson in all of this but it’s not given to you by the movie but instead by your own knowledge of Wall Street and your own knowledge of how these people destroy lives to live the way they do and how they get away. It’s a mirror to a society that is real and a tamer, more indicting movie wouldn’t do much but try and make ourselves feel better about it. But with a movie that has such a black hole of a heart it’s tempting that people would rather have that instead.

 

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I wrote a review for Spike Jonze latest Her already so I won’t reiterate too much. One thing I do wanna say is that no movie brought out so many emotions in me than this film. I’ve always looked at Spike Jonze as a hipster eccentric–it’s what I love about him–so I wasn’t prepared for film that was so adult. Its approach to love, life and relationships felt personal, thought-out and erased of fluff. Even the tweeness in the film didn’t feel forced or nauseating. Her is a movie based in a world that we live in now (at the least, one we’re very close to) and rather than take a cynical approach, it took a caring one. I honestly believe that 12 Years A Slave was the best film released this year: it was the most important, brutal and honest portrayal of a dark history that I’ve seen this year. But Her was my favorite because it got to my own insecurities and made me feel ok. No movie that I’ve seen in a long time has made love and heartache seem so worth it more than Her.

Other great movies:

12 Years A Slave

Before Midnight

Francis Ha

Gimmie The Loot

Upstream Color

Fruitvale Station

Inside Llewyn Davis

The World’s End

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It dawns on me that I haven’t really spent much time talking about Fruitvale Station, the tragic story of Oscar Grant‘s last day before getting killed by the BART officers in Oakland, CA. It’s a hard movie to watch; it’s eerie, grim and will bring anyone with a conscience close to tears. It’s not exactly perfect: there are scenes that feel shoveled in that may not be accurate and a lot of the emotions it elicits have more to the with the actual story (and its relation to the similar death of Trayvon Martin) but it is important, and sometimes an important movie is enough to overcome any shortcomings. Fruitvale Station opened on the weekend George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon. It’s a eerily familiar reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problem isn’t with the verdict really–based on the mess that is Florida law, there wasn’t really enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime–the problem was the case itself. Rather than address the killing of Trayvon Martin, the case became the story of the scary black teenager who threatened the nice neighborhood watchmen and how, despite being an unarmed kid who weighed less than the MMA-trained watchmen, you would be just as scared too.

What makes Fruitvale important are all the things that shouldn’t make it important. It’s a story that happens too often and will continue to happen. It’s the story of kids who are born suspects and aren’t allowed to make mistakes or grow up to be better men because of the world they live in. A world where a jury declares a man innocent not because of evidence but because they understand his fear.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is interpreted as the story of delving into sin and suffering the repercussions of it. Fair enough; to me though, it’s the story of knowledge. The story of sinking your teeth into what’s really happening in the world around you and finally seeing it for what it is: a complicated, hypocritical mess steeped in violence and power. In Florida right now, you have the Dream Defenders making their voices heard at the governor’s office. You have a post-internet world that deals with racism in the most confrontational, ugly way and you have opinion writers and news personalities engaging and attacking each other in order to prove that their worldview is right. People often say we need to have a discussion on race, but we’ve always been having a discussion on race–and it’s getting louder and louder. It’s rough and hard to swallow at times, yes; but it’s the convo we need. There are people who will justify what’s wrong as there always tends to be but the good will always outweigh them. We are no longer pretending the apple isn’t there hanging from the tree, we’re grabbing it and finally deciding whether to eat it or not (and this is with everything, not just race). There is no place anymore for people like Don Lemon to pretend that being “good negroes” will save us from death. There is no more tolerance for people like Richard Cohen to talk about the justified fear of young black men. Your Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys are nothing more  than passe’ racists yelling at clouds. It’s no longer ok for successful black men like Jay Z to embrace their privilege with arrogance and call their time “charity”. We see the world around us and we can no longer pretend that we don’t.

That’s the world we live in at the time of Fruitvale Station. While this film, by the young, first-time director Ryan Coogler, is a lot of things–warm, lovely, disturbing and actually pretty funny–it’s first and foremost important. It’s the film we need right now to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Who’s bad enough to take a bite.

 

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At its core, Room 237–the recent documentary that aims to present the different hypothesis of what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was all about–is a film about the mind and how it works. It’s about how people take in information and interpret it to fit their worldview. It’s not just about conspiracy theories for a 30 year old movie but about why conspiracy theories are so attractive in the first place. Directed by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 takes on a number of The Shining’s perceived meanings as presented by different Kubrick enthusiasts, meanings that connect the film to things like: The Native American genocide, The Holocaust and “faking” the moon landing to name a few. A lot of it is contrived and flawed but all of it is interesting which, again, speaks to the power of a conspiracy. There’s a need for things to be more that a shallow surface. I love The Shining but I didn’t need to read into it too much to do so, for others (such as those in the movie) there had to be more to it than what was on screen for them to find it worthwhile. By 1980, Stanley Kubrick was already a revered figure in cinema; an almost movie-diety, who lurked in the shadows writing, researching and obsessing over each project he worked on. Even before his death he was more myth than man–a legend whose work begged to be dissected and deconstructed. That’s exactly what the talking heads of Room 237 do: break the movie apart and look at all the pieces. Even if you think (or just KNOW) that all of these theories are silly or coincidental, you can’t help but get sucked into it. The great thing about conspiracies is there’s always just enough given to you to make your argument sound right in your head. In other words: you can always find what you’re looking for–especially if you look hard enough. The magic of the conspiracy is it gives your inner paranoia traction, it feeds your personal sense of superiority for being ahead of the foolish “sheep” and, most important of all, it feeds into your own outlook of the world. There are a lot of things in The Shining that I think are deliberate and there are other things that are just there. I don’t think I’m right and they’re wrong, if anything I think we’re both in the general area. Room 237 refers to the room where Charles Grady, in the midst of severe cabin fever, had his wife corrected, it’s the room that Dick Halloran warns Danny not to go into and, as one Kubrick enthusiast proclaims, it’s the number of the lot where Kubrick filmed the space landing (allegedly). That’s part of the fun really, rewatching scenes in the movie while each theorist narrates what it all means; seeing people point out the inconsistencies of different scenes and different aspects of the movie and trying to argue why they’re there on purpose. It’s all great to sit through and, in a lot of ways, makes the documentary more sinister than the movie itself for the simple fact that it all makes sense to some level. My favorite theory is the Native American genocide on: it holds the most weight and is the most interesting. But the eeriest one had to be the idea that the film was meant to be seen forwards and backwards, not because the idea was eerie but because, one commenter super-imposed the films together and watched it and began pointing out moments thast seemed to match up perfectly. It’s equal parts chilling and awesome. If you watch it enough, all the conspiracy theories attached to The Shining make some sort of logical sense–hell, when I rewatched it I came up with my own conspiracies just to do it and found that it made sense–and that’s what beautiful about a conspiracy, no matter how batshit it may be, if you commit your mind to it enough they puzzle pieces will fall to place. The idea that nothing’s going on is a boring one; there’s always something going on. All you have to do is think outside the box; or in this case, the mythical window to nowhere.

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I’ve been  in love with movies since I was a kid. I loved every aspect of it: storyline, characters, art direction, cinematography, score… all of it. When I started getting into message boards and reading more books about the process, an influx of films I never would’ve known about came into my life at the right time and my appreciation for the film process grew tenfold. The first time I watched Dr. Strangelove I was astonished  by how well the silliness of it could be balanced with the seriousness of the subject; when I watched 8 1/2, that was the first time I truly felt hypnotized by a movie. The Royal Tenenbaums made me truly revere the detail and nuances that should go into filmmaking and the first time I watched The Seventh Seal, I questioned everything I thought I knew about in life. Over the years I’ve continued to appreciate the filmmaking process–especially as it’s started to make a huge impact on television–but my interest in actually watching movies have waned. It happens I suppose, when you go hard at something eventually you tire yourself out. When Roger Ebert died this past week, I started to think about the impact he made to industry and how much of a standard he set for writing about film. When I was a kid, I watched him and Siskel on At The Movies, It’s the first time I can remember truly caring about film and wanting to talk about it in a similar manner. At some point I lost that spark in me and it’s truly a shame that a man’s death had to bring me to the point where I get serious about it again. Nevertheless, that’s where I’m at; ready to bask in the escapism of cinema and connect to the first thing I ever loved again. RIP Roger Ebert: you truly set a standard that other critics and writers can only hope to achieve.

One of the big issues about HBO’s Girls was the lack of diversity on the show. Is it noticeable? Yeah, but not to the point that it actually matters to the show. It’s a reflection of the creator, i.e. a show about entitled rich kids dealing with life away from their parent’s checkbook. It doesn’t really bother me who is or isn’t on the show. What this debate did do though was remind me how we still don’t have enough black directors, writers and other behind-the-scenes workers. It’s amusing how the self-righteous on these predominantly white blogs and magazines call out shows like Girls for their exclusionary practices while ignoring the lack of diversity in their own site (no the one black guy you get to talk about hip-hop and review Tyler Perry movies doesn’t make you progressive).

Truth be told, I don’t really care how many black people you put on screen on your mostly white show, I care more about how many minorities in general are getting hired to write and direct–or even getting a shot to make their own show. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 there’s been no country for nonwhites–particularly for network television. For those not up to speed, the act basically allows corporations and ad agencies to be involved with entertainment production–basically taco bell and coca-cola can decide what you watch and SURPRISE! being white and looking like you have even moderate wealth sells products inadvertently to a lot of people. This explains why not only are there barely any shows led by all minority casts, it also explains why blue collar families (like the ones on Roseanne and Malcolm In The Middle) are rarely seen anymore. Companies are in the business of selling a lifestyle now more than ever and that means catering to the people they actually want buying their bullshit.

Knowing this and understanding the world we’ve always lived in, the only thing I truly want to see in the world are black and (other minority) creators. No more rappers, no more “vixens”, no more athletes. Tyler Perry and people who want to be like Tyler Perry aren’t going to cut it. What I’d give for the days of those early Eddie Murphy, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend days. Black directors and writers creating movies that happened to be black rather than being “black films”. Movies that respected the intelligence of the viewer instead of steeping down to the lowest common denominator in order to trick people into laughing at buffoonery.

The talent is out there, they’re just not being given their due. I understand that but frankly at this point, we all have to use whatever avenue we have. They have the internet which has always been a haven of true artistic integrity as long as it’s done with earnestness. There are still shows on the air that actually show minority faces in somewhat entertaining lights–The Mindy Project, Key & Peele, The Eric Andre Show, Totally Biased–even Community features a diverse background. It’s not all lost but it’s not exactly good or showing signs of getting better. As long as we keep looking at race from a thin microscope based on what we saw that one time from that one minority person, we aren’t really going to get anywhere… and if we don’t want to get anywhere then we have to force our way in. As a somewhat tolerable writer, I’m making my own place the best I can in this business. If I make it, I make it and if I don’t then… well, the game is the game.

My whole issue is that I want something more than faces of different colors holding hands under some misguided white liberal worldview that if we all play nice then race won’t matter. I just want to create, we all should want that and we all should get a fair shake. To quote the great Paul Mooney: “I don’t want a piece of the pie, I want the fuckin’ recipe.”

 

-I realize this mostly reflects a black view, I can only speak for my own race but there definitely need to be representation from all people.

There’s a scene pretty early in the film Looper where a futuristic mobster, played by Jeff Daniels, has a chat with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character. In this conversation, Daniels spends the beginning of it making fun of Levitt’s fashion—his outdated tie especially; I’m paraphrasing but he essentially makes the comment, “Even in this advanced world, you’re still dressing like those old movies.” It’s an interesting moment—both in the film and for me personally—because it points to the fact that with all the advancements made in modern society, high fashion still emulates the Hollywood of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. As someone who’s obsessed over every kind of film I could get my hands on and watch, it’s not without good reason. People still wanna dress like James Dean because James Dean is still the coolest guy in any room and that suit you think you look so dapper in, I’ll bet money on the fact that you wish you could wear it like Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.
I grew up loving movies, especially ones from the 60s and 70s. Saturday mornings were spent by the TV watching weekend double features on the local channels—a time in life that introduced me to Burt Reynolds, Bill Cosby (before The Cosby Show), Robert Deniro and a cavalcade of Kung-fu and Blaxploitation films that helped to warp my young growing mind. I loved these movies and the characters in them like they were close friends and all I wanted in life was to grow up to be like them. They owned their style, 100 percent. Everyone owns a white shirt, but Dean made it his and nobody I’ve seen has worn a fedora and turtleneck sweater as good as Cosby—hell, I don’t even smoke but I still think about smoking a cigar just because of that guy. I know these guys were stars and they had stylists and make-up artists and all types of people who made them the gods they seemed to be on-screen, but that’s a moot point. At the end of the day you can where whatever you want, if you don’t have the flair to pull it off then you just don’t have it. It’s a lesson I learned early on as I started buying my own clothes trying to look like them. I may have bought the right things but I couldn’t make it work for me. (Not at that time at least.) It was especially rough considering that I was trying to dress like actors in the 70s while being a teenager during “the baggy era” in black culture.
Other than the fact that my parents found it deplorable, I never got into that phase because frankly, I just didn’t find it cool. Shirts as long as evening gowns, shorts sagged to the point where you might as well just be wearing pants; it was a dark time for everyone. Meanwhile, I’m still stuck on nostalgia for a time that I never even experienced, watching films like Lady Sings The Blues and Mean Streets, wondering why my own generation couldn’t embrace the essence of cool that Hollywood still obsesses over to this day—and also wishing that I could have just an ounce of the swagger that Deniro had in his younger days. Nonetheless, despite ridicule about the slimness of my jeans or shirts, I carried on (and thankfully enough people got out of that “all baggy everything” phase) and as I transitioned to college and adulthood, I started to discover myself more and more when it came to fashion. I became focused on finding my identity within the clothes I wore and began to deviate from wearing things just because they were popular. This was probably the moment that I realized just how influential those movies were on me; I would go shopping thinking about scenes in Easy Rider or 8 ½ or hell, even The Mack, trying my best to figure out how to take what I liked about characters there and how I could adapt it to my own sense of style—and my budget especially. I may not have it all together but it’s definitely coming together nicely, merging the past with the present and putting my own personal stamp on what I wear. Contrary to popular belief, style is not effortless—it involves trial and error but most of all maturation. Anyone can wear clothes and look good but what makes it yours. I can look at the same exact outfit on 5 different people and it will look different on each of them; clothes don’t make you stylish they only make you trendy. So at this stage of my life, I find myself trying to express who I am through what I wear; and as I still figure out who exactly I am in this post-grad life of mine, I’m also figuring out what to wear. That’s the one thing I think learned most from those movies I spent every weekend watching, you do what’s for you and make your own path.

Here’s the thing.

I’m obsessed with death almost to a fault. This is mostly due to my serious fear of it and my lack of real understanding about how you can exist and then not exist for a way longer time. With that being said, I lost a relative this week. What happened doesn’t matter and we didn’t get to be as close as I would’ve liked but that’s the tragic undertone of life I guess. As someone who obsesses over pop culture, there were two pieces of entertainment that pervaded my mind this week–as they always do when I think of death: Sufjan Stevens songs and Synecdoche, New York.

Released in 2008, Synecdoche, New York marked the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman, the absurdist manic writer behind such films as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The film follows the life of Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he spirals ever closer to depression and death while losing loved ones and trying to use a MacArthur Fellowship to fund the greatest living and breathing theatre piece ever made.

When the film was first released it was incredibly polarizing. People celebrated its embrace of the despair in life while others find it to eager to be the grimmest portrayal of reality. Truth be told, both views are right. it’s an often times overwhelming piece of art on life and death that borders on depression porn; it’s messy, exhausting and relentless in its presentation and, upon first viewing it, I really wasn’t sure how to feel about it–I was pretty sure I didn’t love it though. Then a strange thing happened: I kept thinking about it. It was on my mind heavily for a long time after viewing and I eventually bought it on dvd and watched it again. This is when I realized that I did love it–and still love it. What this says about me, I’m not sure but what I do know is that, for all it’s rough edges, Synecdoche makes for a wonderful thesis on death. It’s relentlessness is a great asset to it as well. If you can watch Cotard’s life crash in oblivion until his death and still walk away even feeling a little bit better about your own mortality then I think some real personal progress is made. Knowing what I know about my relative who passed I remember why I was so turned off by the movie in the beginning. As much as I hate the sappy redemption story, I feel that an extreme opposite story is no better–but it is more realistic. Maybe shit doesn’t get as bad as it did for Cotard but it does get bad, and no amount of happy endings can gloss over the abysmal affair that is death. I may never get over my qualms about death but I do have an almost child-like appreciation for life.

So R.I.P to my loved one, I’ll remember you for how you were and I hope that you’ve found true peace.

The Muppet Movie provides the central theme of 2013–well for myself anway. I revisited it recently this past Christmas eve and the more I think about accomplishing goals and following some sort of path to a better life, the more I think back to this movie (it totally holds up by the way).
Released in 1979–between the third and fourth seasons of The Muppet ShowThe Muppet Movie provides the backstory of what brought the gang together on a journey to Hollywood to become rich and famous. Kermit is but a frog, living in the swamp, singing and strumming a banjo, who is approached by an agent, fascinated by his talent, and motivated to pursue a career in show business. Kermit, inspired by this idea, sets off on a cross-country trip to Hollywood, and along this journey to the land of 1,000 fake body parts, he meets new friends like Fozzie Bear, Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, Gonzo, Camilla the Chicken, Swetums, Rowlf the Dog and future beau Miss Piggy.  All the while, they’re being hunted down by a Colonel Sanders-like, bumbling villain Doc Hopper and assistant Max in an attempt to convince Kermit to be the new spokesman a French-fried frog legs restaurant (which is seriously not cool dude).
The movie has everything you could want from a film meant to appeal to children and adults: Jokes galore, meta-references, winks to the audience, emotional depth and western style showdown, Steve Martin and Richard Pryor (because why the fuck not), fun and engaging music, Mel Brooks Mel Brooksing it and the appearances of muppets from other Jim Henson vehicles. Speaking of which, the ending to The Muppet Movie is great for the nods it gives to Sesame Street, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas and The Land of Gorch (and, you know, Rainbow Connection). It feels like Henson’s whole life has built up to this moment. This movie–and the success of The Muppet Show–came after years of toiling away in mostly obscurity, save for a cult following of devotees. From an early career making 5-minute puppet skits for local televison, by the name of Sam and Friends, to his work in commercials, tevelision guest appearances and children’s specials, to finally garnering real success with his work on Sesame Street–and also Saturday Night Live. By the time of The Muppet Show, it was clear that all that grudge work and time paid off and he created a force bigger than himself. This is what makes that ending in The Muppet Movie so poignant; It’s a timeline of what got Jim Henson to this place in our hearts.
The Muppet Movie, if nothing else, is a film about following a dream against all odds. Poetic? Sure. Unrealistic? Maybe. Embraceable? Most definitely. Look, nobody’s gonna believe that you can take a cross-country trip to Hollywood, barge into talent agent Orson Welles office and get a “rich and famous” contract on the spot–that’d be foolish, but foolish is what you gotta be sometimes to follow any dream you might have. I wouldn’t have this blog if I wasn’t foolish enough to believe it might go somewhere for me. Yes, the ever-pervading idea that I’m wasting my time and am destined to sit behind a cubicle, pretending to work, will always be there but fuck if I won’t try anyways. I’ve spent the past two years going through the 5 stages when it comes to a sustainable career in writing, I’m fully at acceptance of whatever happens now. Whether I make it on my own cross-country trip is left to be seen but for now… well, there’s the rainbow connection: the lovers, the dreamers and me.
But if you do happen to have a “make your dreams come true” contract, hit me on the email bro.
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