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On My Favorite Romance Movie: “Crazy/Beautiful”

When it comes to romance movies, most men will never admit they have a favorite. They usually won’t admit to ever having sat through a movie, unless they were with a woman they were desperately trying to bang. It’s just not a very macho thing to do, admitting you actually enjoy romance movies.

However, if you hook those same macho men up to a polygraph, strap a jumper cable to their balls, and threaten to shave their head with a brick, though, most will concede that they have watched a romance movie. They’ll even admit they have a favorite. Up the voltage on the jumper cables, they’ll even admit to getting choked up while watching it.

There’s no need to subject me to such torture. I freely admit that I’ve watched romance movies from beginning to end. I’ve even seen them in theaters by myself and without a date. I’m a romance-loving guy. I admit that with no shame. If anyone wants to give me crap about it, then they can kiss my romance-loving ass.

I even have a favorite romance movie, one that I think has inspired me in my efforts to become an erotica/romance writer. It wasn’t some big blockbuster. It wasn’t some shameless Oscar push either. It didn’t even have killer robots, explosions, or comic book characters. I’ll give everyone who has noted my love of comics a moment to stop gasping.

It wasn’t a box office smash. It wasn’t a critical darling either. I don’t care. It’s still the premier romance movie by which I measure all others. It came out in 2001 and it’s called “Crazy/Beautiful.” I’ll give everyone another moment to stop rolling their eyes.

This isn’t one of those romance movies that’s too cheesy or too dramatic. It’s also not overly serious or overly cynical, either. It’s just a sweet, sexy story about two young people falling in love, going through some upheavals, and coming together in the end. Again, it’s one of those concepts that gets the jaded cynics of the world to roll their eyes, but still feels undeniably real at the end of the day.

The story is somewhat basic, but mature in a sense. The characters involved are Nicole Oakley, played by Kirsten Dunst just before her fame peaked with “Spider-Man,” and Carlos Nuñez, played by Jay Hernandez, who is best known for his work on TV shows like “Nashville” and “Gang Related.” From the very beginning, there’s some very heated chemistry between both characters.

Like many other love stories, both characters are from different worlds. Nicole is the rebellious child of a wealthy, but broken family. Her mother is gone, but her father remarries a woman who she does not get along with. Being young, beautiful, and hormonal, she ditches the comfortable settings of her home and looks for adventure on the rougher parts of town.

That’s where she finds Carlos, a young Latino man with dreams of rising above his rough upbringing. He’s on the football team. He has dreams of becoming a pilot. He’s not some stereotypical bad boy that women get with for all the wrong reasons. He’s the kind of guy you actually root for to succeed. That’s what draws Nicole to him and the chemistry they create is pretty damn hot.

It doesn’t take some horrible tragedy or elaborate circumstance for these two to come together. Nicole and her friend are just out partying on the rough side of town when their paths cross. They flirt, they tease, and they fool around like actual, normal teenagers do in real life. It’s sweet, it’s sexy, and it feels so genuine and real.

That’s a big part of what appeals to me and what sets movies like “Crazy/Beautiful” apart from typical romance, many of which follow the same bland formula. Many romance movies feel as though the love between the two characters needs to be epic, intense, or tragic. Sure, that has created some pretty iconic romances, but those romances are iconic for a reason.

Not every couple needs to be Romeo and Juliet or Princess Leia and Han Solo from “Star Wars.” In fact, trying to recreate those romances can underscore the actual chemistry between them. It happens all the time in comics, especially with couples like Batman and Catwoman. It happens even more in movies, especially when tragedy is a big factor, like “Titanic.”

Granted, these kinds of romances have their unique appeal, but they’re often lacking in depth and development. That’s where “Crazy/Beautiful” really shines. It gives amazing depth to Nicole and Carlos’ relationship. It actually goes through a process, not unlike the one actual people use when they fall in love.

First, they meet and feel an attraction. Then, they start exploring that attraction. They start learning about each other, from their hopes and dreams to their past and failures. They actually learn about each other and even help each other, something failed romances in the real and fictional world often fail to do.

Then, there are the sexy moments. Yes, there are many sexy moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” that men and women alike can appreciate. There are scenes where both characters get naked. It’s a time when Kirsten Dunst’s sex appeal was at its peak. There are scenes where she’s walking around in her underwear and it’s a true sight to behold.

It helps add to another important element in “Crazy/Beautiful” that stands out. It’s very sex positive. Throughout the movie, the sexy moments Carlos and Nicole share aren’t full of complications or reservations. They’re just sweet, intimate moments. Some are loving. Some are just two horny teenagers wanting to get laid. It’s never shown in a negative light. They might be the most sex positive themes outside of the “Deadpool” movie.

Beyond the sex and the chemistry, the biggest and arguably most important element that makes “Crazy/Beautiful” my favorite romance movie is how strong the romance becomes. It’s not enough that Carlos and Nicole share attraction and sexual chemistry. It’s how they actually complement each other, making one another stronger in the end.

What really makes that connection stand out shows towards the end when they each show that they’re willing to sacrifice for each other. They’re willing to step off the path they’ve laid for themselves, find each other, and forge a new path together. That’s the kind of sacrifice real couples learn to make, but are rarely shown in movies that don’t rip-off “Titanic.” I’ll give a moment for “Avatar” fans to stop gritting their teeth.

When all is said and done, Nicole and Carlos are both better because of their love for each other. It’s not just because they’re have someone to have sex with that they love. Their lives objectively improve. Carlos realizes his dream of being a pilot. Nicole develops a better relationship with her family. Their love, and all its sexy chemistry, is a net gain for everybody.

It may not appeal to those who think every love story needs to have an element of tragedy. There are moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” where the story could’ve taken a tragic turn. That doesn’t happen and that’s a good thing. It makes for a satisfying, genuine, heart-felt ending.

You can easily see Nicole and Carlos getting married, having kids, and still having hot sex. It’s a romance that feels truly complete. It has that Hollywood sex appeal, but it’s genuine enough that you can easily see it happening in the real world.

That’s a big part of why this movie appealed to me so much when I first saw it. It gave the impression that love could exist in the real and fictional world. It could be sexy, intimate, and powerful without aliens, robots, or super powers. To someone who had grown up on comic books and cartoons, that was a revolutionary idea for me.

While “Crazy/Beautiful” will never go down in history as an epic love story, its ability to be romantic, sexy, and real helps set it apart. It presents a romance that feels achievable in the real world. I believe that we all need that sort of thing every now and then. As fun as epic love stories can be, sometimes it’s refreshing to know that two ordinary people from different walks of life can fall in love and have hot sex.

Maybe there will come a day when I see another romance movie that tops “Crazy/Beautiful” in all the relevant ways. While “Deadpool” came close, “Crazy/Beautiful” still holds a special place in my heart and my pants. It helped influence me in my passion for writing erotica/romance. I sincerely hope its impact helps me craft something as romantic and sexy.

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Quality Marriage Advice (From Bill Murray)

In general, you should never take advice from celebrities. That’s not to say that all celebrities are stupid, although some are way dumber than anyone famous should ever be. The problem is that most celebrities are so detached from reality that their ability to understand and relate to 98 percent of the human population is hopelessly destroyed.

Then, there’s Bill Murray, also known to the internet as Bill fucking Murray. To say he’s a unique character would be like saying porn stars are somewhat lacking in modesty. He’s a Hollywood legend and for good reason.

He’s been making movies and starring in TV shows for 40 years. He famously doesn’t have an agent. He doesn’t demand the celebrity treatment wherever he goes. He’s also been known to wander into random places, including karaoke bars and the goddamn White House.

There’s no question. Bill Murray is a character unto himself. So when he gives advice, it’s worth listening to. While there are all sorts of crazy stories about his antics, one in particular stands out, especially for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

It’s a somewhat famous story involving a bachelor party that he randomly wandered into. It happened back in 2014 in Charleston, South Carolina. The circumstances are somewhat unclear, as is often the case whenever Bill Murray wanders into a scene. However, at some point in the process, he gives the groom, his friends, and everyone everywhere who thinks about getting married some timeless advice.

“If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t do… don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, ‘Okay, let’s make a date. Let’s plan this and make a party and get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.”

Excuse me while I wipe away some tears of joy, astonishment, and wisdom from my eyes. Take a moment to think about what this former Ghostbuster and weatherman is saying. It’s not just revealing. It’s downright profound.

When most people fall in love, the natural inclination is to try and make everything easier. When we’re in love, we tend to do anything and everything to facilitate that love so it can blossom. I’ve certainly done that in my own relationships. I’ve seen friends and close family do the same. It makes sense. You find someone to love and you try to make it easy for both of you.

Bill Murray, on the other hand, is saying to do the opposite and weirdly enough, it makes even more sense. He’s telling us to not make things easier. He encourages us to make things harder and to put ourselves and our lovers in new, stressful situations. By traveling beyond the places we can control, you and your lover are going to see each other at their worst and least pleasant.

fucking bill murray 11 Bill F$%^ing Murray (24 Photos)

Therein lies the key, though. It’s something only a man of Bill Murray’s experience, persona, and wisdom could possibly uncover. When you’re in love with someone, it’s easy to make it work when you go out of your way to avoid new, stressful situations. The real challenge comes when things are difficult. That’s when you find out who you and your lover truly are.

By putting yourself in those stressful situations, be it travel or new experiences, you find out just how well you work together. If you only work when things are good, then that’s a problem because things aren’t always going to be good. That’s just not the nature of life in general.

If, however, you and your lover can make it through all those difficulties and still want to marry each other, then that’s as clear a sign as you’ll ever get. You and that person love each other. Your love is the strong, special kind that I seek to capture in my novels. You don’t need a fancy wedding or an elaborate honeymoon to vindicate your love. Just get married at the airport. Your love has already proven itself.

fucking bill murray 5 Bill F$%^ing Murray (24 Photos)

Say what you want about celebrities and the terrible influence they have on our culture. There are still a select few that make our world and our love lives inherently richer. Bill Murray is definitely among those select few.

So to all those in love, or just those who enjoy writing about it, please heed the advice of Hollywood’s most unusual characters. Being in love and knowing whether that love is real can be hard. However, when you’re have the wisdom of Bill Murray guiding you, our hearts and our funny bones are inherently stronger.

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Apes, CGI, And The (Potentially Sexy) Future Of Hollywood

Trends in Hollywood are like fad diets. There’s always one emerging or fading at any given time. In the same way low-fat diets fade while low-carb diets emerge, the glut of “Die Hard” rip-offs fade while superhero movies emerge.

However, every now and then, a trend comes along that really shakes up the industry in ways that don’t fade. Some are more obvious than others. Movies with color, sound, and better picture quality are here to stay. Even the most douche-bag hipster in he world probably won’t claim that old crappy black-and-white movies are somehow superior to the style that lets us see the sweat on Megan Fox’s face.

Chief among those trends is the use of CGI, which is effectively Hollywood’s ultimate cheat code when facing a scene considered unfilmable. Sometimes, that’s necessary. How else are you going to film Dr. Manhattan’s junk in a movie like “Watchmen?”

There are countless movies that never would’ve been made if it weren’t for CGI. There’s no amount of costume design or camera tricks that could’ve brought “Transformers,” “Iron Man,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to life. Say what you will about movies that involve transforming trucks and talking raccoons. They still thrilled audiences and made Hollywood boatloads of money.

However, CGI is still treated like dings on a fancy car. It doesn’t prevent the car from being fancy, but it is seen as a taint of sorts. Look at any poorly-reviewed movie these days and chances are, critics and fans will bitch about the overuse of CGI. It doesn’t matter that it’s the kind of visual spectacle that was impossible before 1990. People still roll their eyes whenever they see it used too often.

There’s a valid reason for that, though. While it may make some of us feel old, the CGI we see in movies today has been around for decades. Going all the way back to the groundbreaking effects we saw in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” there has been an entire generation born into a world that has become numb to CGI.

It used to be that these kinds of special effects inspired the kind of awe and wonder usually reserved for fireworks, the Grand Canyon, and Pamela Anderson’s tits. That’s because they were so new and had to be used sparingly, due to the cost. Now, it’s such a common practice that many movies contain scenes that audiences don’t realize are CGI.

Common or not, CGI still has the capacity to evoke that same awe and wonder. “Titanic” and “Avatar” are the top-grossing movies of all time and for good reason. They are enchanting, visually stunning spectacles, complete with a compelling story that often involves some sexy moments. Yes, I’m counting the kinky, ponytail stuff of the Na’vi as one such moment.

Despite these massive successes, CGI still has a trashy reputation. Movies that use too much of it and aren’t directed by James Cameron are seen as cop-outs, of sorts. They couldn’t tell a great story that would get enough asses in movie theaters, so they resort to fancy visuals. It’s like trying to put chocolate sauce on chopped liver. There’s only so much anyone can do to hide the truth.

Then, the new round of “Planet of the Apes” movies came along. Even though they’re entering a world crowded by superhero movies and Pixar films, they found a way to leave a mark and it’s one that might have much larger implications.

Earlier this year, I listed all the reasons why quality erotica/romance movies are next to impossible. I also cited animation as a possible solution to these issues. While nobody in Hollywood seems eager to explore those sexy possibilities, the success of “Planet of the Apes” may be the precursor of sorts to a new era of CGI.

Before anyone starts thinking too much about kinky monkey sex, take a step back and look at what “Planet of the Apes” accomplished. It’s main character, Caesar, is entirely CGI. Actor, Andy Serkis, provided motion capture, but the character itself is a product of CGI and not the clunky ape costumes that made the old movies so cheesy.

This was a huge risk on the part of the studio, creating a character entirely through CGI. With the exception of Pixar, Hollywood has a poor track-record of making quality characters with nothing but CGI. Just go to any executive and say the name Jar Jar Binks. Then, watch their eyes glaze over in horror and shame.

In a sense, Caesar is the anti-Jar Jar. He’s entirely CGI, but he’s also a complex, multi-dimensional character over the course of multiple films. He has personality, depth, and heart. On top of that, he doesn’t look like a compilation of poorly-rendered clip art from a late 90s PC game. The studio actually made a concerted effort to make these CGI characters feel real, detailed, and human.

That effort has paid off with both audiences and critics alike. The latest entry in the franchise, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” has been a critical and commercial success by most measures. It further proved that the approach its predecessor made was not a fluke.

That’s all the excuse Hollywood ever needs to invest lavishly in a new trend. It did so with superhero movies, which led to the rise of the multi-billion dollar behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As successful as that has been, the trends in CGI may have even greater potential.

In a sense, you can look at the advances in CGI in the same way you look at the difference between the first PlayStation gaming system and the latest model of the PlayStation 4. It effectively documents just how far we’ve come, in terms of raw processing power.

That power is only going to keep increasing, thanks to exceedingly fast growth rate of computer technology. We’re not that far off from technology that can render characters so well that it’s impossible to tell whether they’re real or not.

Even before “War for the Planet of the Apes” came out, it took another major step, albeit an ominous one. In 2016’s “Star Wars: Rogue One,” the story required that Grand Moff Tarkin make an appearance. The problem was that the actor who originally played him, Peter Cushing, passed away two decades ago.

That didn’t turn out to be much of a problem. Thanks to CGI and a stand-in actor, the movie was able to bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to life. That would’ve been next to impossible to pull off six years ago. With modern CGI, it’s not just possible. It’s setting a precedent.

A composite of Peter Cushing playing Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars and a CGI imitation of his character.

It’s a precedent that already has some people worried. It’s one thing to get emotionally invested in an adorable character from a Pixar movie, as there are many. What happens, though, when CGI can create a human actor so realistic, so advanced, and so believable that most audiences can’t tell the difference?

The success of “Planet of the Apes” and “Star Wars: Rogue One” may be a tipping point, of sorts. It shows that audiences can accept CGI characters and will fork over obscene amounts of money to see them. That has huge implications for Hollywood, but even bigger implications for actors and actresses.

A CGI character that’s sufficiently realistic doesn’t need the same treatment as a skilled actor. A CGI character doesn’t age, get fat, or get caught sleeping with the babysitter while their wife is out of town. Given how some actors command salaries in the tens of millions, Hollywood has a lot of incentive to develop CGI characters.

For the time being, flesh and blood actors will still make up most Hollywood’s manpower. However, the next generation of audiences may not care much for that distinction. “Planet of the Apes” may have already laid the foundation. Once CGI characters become more functional and efficient, then all bets are off.

Suddenly, concepts and stories considered unfilmable are now viable. That includes movies that feature erotica/romance. Animation may act as a stop-gap, of sorts. At some point, though, someone is going to use advances in CGI to make erotica. It’s an unwritten law. If it can be used for sex, then it will be used for sex.

This may mean that both porn stars and actors won’t get as much work in the future. It also means that the many barriers for erotica/romance no longer apply. We could see a scenario where one of my overtly sexy novels, such as “The Final Communion” or “Skin Deep,” can be made into movies cheaply, efficiently, and with plenty of sex appeal.

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While I doubt I’ll live long enough to ever see one of my novels turn into a movie, I take comfort in the knowledge that the technology to make them possible is coming. The demand for media, as well as the cost of making it, is rising fast. CGI may very well be the only way to meet that demand.

There will still be a place for flesh and blood actors. Let’s face it, though. CGI characters will always have more potential sex appeal. It doesn’t matter how skilled an actress is. A CGI character can make her breasts bigger with the click of a mouse. There’s just no way they can compete.

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Five Female Superheros That Deserve Their Own Movie

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It’s been a damn good week for female superheroes. Whether you’re a man, woman, or something in between, it’s hard to deny the historic significance of this past weekend. “Wonder Woman” is officially a hit. The glass ceiling for superhero movies is shattered. We can all finally lay the failures of “Catwoman” and “Elektra” to rest.

It’s sad that it took over a decade to make another female superhero movie that succeeded, but good things are worth waiting for. Anyone still waiting for a decent Fantastic Four movie should take comfort in that.

For Wonder Woman, at least, the wait is over. She has proven that female superheroes can succeed. They can carry their own movie. The fact that Wonder Woman had to prove this in the first place is kind of asinine, but that’s a trivial detail at this point. “Wonder Woman” succeeded and that doesn’t just break the myth that female superheros can’t succeed on their own. It opens the door for other female superheroes to shine.

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As I write this, there is only one other female superhero besides Wonder Woman who is set to star in her own movie. That character is Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers, whose movie is set for release in 2019. With Brie Larson having been cast, the movie is already in the works. Wonder Woman’s success can only help.

Unlike Wonder Woman, though, Captain Marvel does not have the kind of iconic status as Wonder Woman. In fact, she only recently gained a surge in popularity when writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick, launched “Captain Marvel: In Pursuit Of Flight.” This series, which any Wonder Woman fan would love, effectively revamped a character who had only ever been a secondary character in the Avengers.

Since that run, Captain Marvel has become the closest character Marvel has to Wonder Woman. As such, it makes perfect sense for her to get a solo movie, if only to keep up with DC.

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However, as excited as I am to see more female superheroes get their own movie, there aren’t many others to look forward to. Earlier this year, Avengers director, Joss Whedon, announced that he was pursuing a “Batgirl” movie. As exciting as it sounds, though, this movie is tentative at best. With no release date or cast, this movie could languish in development hell, as Whedon’s own Wonder Woman movie did in 2007.

With “Wonder Woman,” the floodgates have been opened. There’s a new avenue for pursuing big bucks with superhero movies and, seeing as how Hollywood values money over all else, we’re likely to see plenty more female superhero movies in the future.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer my own wishlist of sorts. Wonder Woman is a great female hero and a pop culture icon in the highest degree, but she is far from alone. There’s a wealth of great female heroes in the world of comics who would thrive in their own movie. Below is my personal list of female superheroes who I feel should get their own movie.


#1: Laura “X-23” Kinny

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This one is, by far, the most obvious and logical. After the success of “Logan,” in which X-23 was the breakout star, there’s already a lot of buzz around this possibility. Both Dafne Keen, the actress who played her, and director James Mangold have expressed interest in pursuing an X-23 solo movie.

Given the performance we saw in “Logan,” it would be foolish not to capitalize on X-23’s breakout success. Hugh Jackman gave X-men fans 17 wonderful years as Wolverine. X-23 is in a perfect position to carry on the mantel. She already did so in the comics, adopting both the title and the costume of Wolverine. Why not do the same in the movies?


#2: Thor (Jane Foster)

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This one might be the most controversial. Back in 2014, Marvel made a decision that still has some comic fans whining to this day. They made Thor unworthy of wielding his hammer, Mjolnir. Since the world still needed a Thor, Jane Foster stepped in and took up the mantle, which she’s wielded effectively ever since.

Controversial or not, there’s no denying the strength of the story that followed. Jane Foster had always been a supporting character for Thor. Putting her as the main lead was a bold, but powerful move. Jane isn’t just some glorified arm-candy for any Chris Hemsworth look-alike, though. She’s very much her own character.

In the comics, Jane was dying of cancer before she picked up the hammer. By becoming Thor, she’s trying to make the most of whatever time she has left. That’s a powerful struggle and a meaningful story, especially to anyone who has lost someone to cancer. Plus, being played by Natalie Portman can only help her cause.


#3: Black Canary

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When most people think of DC’s most iconic female heroes, they almost immediately think of Wonder Woman and rightfully so. She is, and likely always will be, the standard by which all female superheroes are measured.

That said, some female heroes make it a point to set themselves apart. That’s what Black Canary does. Dinah Lance is not a demigod warrior like Wonder Woman. She’s not a brooding vigilante like Batman either. She has her own set of superhuman abilities. She’s a tough fighter who’s gone toe-to-toe with some of the most capable fighters in the DC universe. She also looks damn sexy in fishnets.

In addition, Black Canary has a track record of sorts as a supporting character in “Arrow.” Being a successful character in TV doesn’t always translate well into movies, as Baywatch recently learned, but someone with Black Canary’s skill and sex appeal can certainly make that transition.


#4: Starfire

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Admit it. You knew I was going to put her on this list. It was just a matter of how I’d be able to justify giving a solo movie to a female hero that is so comfortable with nudity. I went out of my way to praise Starfire as a sex-positive superhero, one whose open sexuality is both fun and heroic in its own unique way.

Now, I know this one would be a real stretch. However, the success of the “Deadpool” movie has given me hope that there is a future for R-rated, sex-positive superhero movies. It may take a while, given the recent trend in outrage over any female character that dares to be sexy. Remember, people made a big deal about Wonder Woman’s armpits for crying out loud.

At some point, though, there will be a market for a female hero that just doesn’t give a flying fuck about nudity. At some point, fans are going to get sick of being shamed for wanting to see a sexy female hero in a bikini. When that day comes, Starfire will be the perfect female superhero for a generation in need of a sex-positive icon.


#5: She-Hulk

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To date, there have been two lackluster Hulk movies. In both cases, the story was fairly the same. You’ve got a man dealing with serious anger issues, struggling to function in a world that just keeps finding ways to piss him off. Most people are familiar with that story. Those same people, however, are less familiar with She-Hulk’s story.

Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters is not just a female version of the Hulk. If anything, she’s a very different kind of Hulk. She’s Bruce Banner’s cousin who became the Hulk due to a blood transfusion. Unlike Bruce, she doesn’t need to get angry to become big, strong, and green. She’s pretty much stuck in her Hulk form.

That means she’s more in control of her faculties, so much so that she manages to continue her work as a lawyer. That’s right. This Hulk has a day job and it doesn’t involve smashing. Now most lawyer-driven movies since “My Cousin Vinny” have had limited entertainment value. Add a big, strong, sexy green female hero to the mix and suddenly, there’s a lot more value to go around.

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Another (Potentially Distressing) Thought Experiment

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Whenever I pose one of my thought experiments, be they the sexy or unsexy kind, I do so with the hope of inspiring novel, entertaining ideas that get people thinking for all the right reasons. Ideally, these ideas are fun and enlightening. If they make people horny in the process, then that’s just a bonus.

Every now and then, however, it’s not enough for an idea to be enlightening or sexy. Sometimes, for a thought experiment to work, it needs to make people feel uncomfortable. It needs to create some sort of mental distress.

I know that’s something most people avoid. People come to this blog to read about erotica romance novels, sexy thoughts, and sex robots. I’ve even pointed out how our brains are wired to do anything and everything to avoid mental distress, even if it leads to outright hypocrisy.

Well, as uncomfortable as it is, mental distress has a purpose. It forces us to contemplate an idea that highlights a major problem in the world. It’s often one of those problems we know is there on some level, but avoid thinking about because it’s too daunting. For this particular thought experiment, it’s not so much that the idea is overwhelming. It’s more that it reveals something about our attitudes that we don’t often scrutinize.

So with that in mind, here’s the experiment. Think back to any action scene in any major action movie of the past couple decades. Given the glut of superhero movies and “Die Hard” rip-offs out there, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Specifically, think of a scene where a female character was kicking ass. Given the rise of strong female characters, that shouldn’t be too difficult either.

A good example comes from the memorable Black Widow fight scene in “Iron Man 2.” By any measure, it’s a wonderfully entertaining scene. It has Scarlett Johanssen kicking ass in a skin-tight outfit. What’s not to love about it? Most people who watch this scene, especially comic book fans and people who find Scarlett Johanssen sexy, would be rightly entertained.

Here’s where the thought experiment comes in. This is where it gets really uncomfortable and not in the awkward boner sort of way. Watch the scene above once as you usually would. You don’t need to know the context too much. This is just Black Widow beating up the hired goons of Justin Hammer, the primary antagonist of the movie. Use that first reaction as a baseline of sorts.

Now, watch the scene again. This time, though, reverse all the genders of the characters involved. Make Black Widow a man. Make Justin Hammer’s goons women. Let it play out in your mind, this lone male character beating up all these women. Does the scene evoke the same reaction? For most people not named Chris Brown, it probably makes you sick to your stomach.

This goes beyond the typical double standards between men and women, which I’ve talked about before. It even goes beyond strong female characters, which I’ve also touched on in various ways. This is one of those dynamics that has always been there right in front of us. We just don’t take the time to scrutinize it.

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We can watch scenes of James Bond beating the crap out of a bunch of SPECTRE henchmen and be entertained. We can also watch scenes of Black Widow, Sarah Conner, and Furiosa do the same and be entertained. Swap the genders, though, and it becomes extremely distressing. We don’t see powerful characters kicking ass anymore. We just see a man beating up multiple women.

Find a scene like the one above from “Iron Man 2” and do the same thought experiment. Look for a scene where a woman beats up a much of male thugs. Then, swap the genders. Chances are, the feelings it evokes are just as distressing.

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For a greater sense of context, I came up with this thought experiment after reading an article on Cracked.com about the way Hollywood treats men. I’ve cited Cracked before because and while I don’t always agree with them, they’re good at tackling serious topics in a humorous way, even sexy topics. This one, however, had a hard time being funny.

6 Backwards Ideas Hollywood Still Has About Men

Some parts of the article were more inane than others, like pointing out how every leading man has to be at least a half-foot taller than the average guy or how tortured men are somehow compelling. Some of those details are just quirks, blatant examples of style over substance.

Beyond the quirks, though, there are some genuinely disturbing dynamics at work. We find such entertainment in women beating the crap out of men. We also find entertainment in men beating the crap out of men. However, when it’s men beating the crap out of women, context doesn’t matter. Substance doesn’t matter. It always makes us feel disgusted and repulsed.

The thought experiment I just posed highlights that. However, it goes beyond violence as well. Rape is one of those super-sensitive issues that’s impossible to make funny or sexy. However, if you put it in the context of prison rape where men rape men, then that somehow changes things, so much so that jokes about rape will even find their way into an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Then, there are the cases where women rape men. Yes, that does happen in real life. Women are capable of domestic violence against men. However, it’s still okay to joke about. Christopher Titus has even worked it into his standup. It even finds its way into cartoons that air on primetime.

The best example of this is the “Futurama” episode, “Death By Snu Snu.” In that episode, the cast encounters a planet populated by big, hulking, hostile Amazonian women, albeit not of the Wonder Woman variety. Through a series of hilarious antics that are entirely appropriate for a show that has a hard-drinking, sociopath robot, the male characters end up captured.

This is where the line between hilarity and distress blurs if you dare do the same thought experiment. Once captured, the Amazonian women decide to “torment” their prisoners with “snu snu,” which is their alien verbiage for sex. The reaction of Fry and Zap Branigan is a mix of horror and intrigue.

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Granted, it’s presented in a funny way, but that doesn’t change the actual substance of what happens. The women rape these men. They rape them and it’s portrayed as humorous. I’m not going to lie. I did laugh somewhat at how the episode played out. Most people with a healthy sense of humor would.

However, if you do the same thought experiment with the Black Widow scene in “Iron Man 2,” it takes on a very different context. Watch the episode again, but turn the hulking Amazons into men. Then, turn Fry and Zap into women. Suddenly, that scene takes on a much darker undertone.

It would push the line even for the most hardcore porn. Think about how that would play out, a group of warrior men taking a couple of women who just stumbled upon their world and deciding to rape them to death. It wouldn’t just be rated NC-17. It would be outright banned and subject to protest from every women’s group in the world.

What does it say about our attitudes, our culture, and our attitudes when we’re okay with one gender dynamic and not the other? Now, there are inherent differences in those dynamics. Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species. That means there are inherently different traits within the genders that are impossible to overlook completely.

However, the sheer breadth of the disparity here is cause for concern. If flipping the genders of a story or scene evokes such a different reaction, then that’s a serious disconnect that’s worth scrutinizing.

That’s not to say that the scenes in “Iron Man 2” or “Futurama” are wrong or not entertaining. There’s just something inherently revealing about ourselves when we flip the gender dynamics and react to the same scene. We may not like what that reveals, but it’s not something that can or should be ignored.

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What “Guardians Of The Galaxy” Can Teach Us About Character Development

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What makes a character great, iconic, and memorable? Think of your favorite character from your favorite movie, novel, or TV show. Why do they stand out? What is it about them that just makes you want to hug them, love them, and reenact every scene from every porno ever made since 1982? Take all the time you need. I imagine it involves some fairly extensive thought, among other things.

Creating these kinds of characters is one of the greatest challenges that any director, producer, or aspiring erotica/romance writer can face. It doesn’t matter how great the story is, how awesome the action sequences are, or how gratuitous the nudity is. If there’s no iconic character, then the story just won’t have the kind of impact you’ll feel in your heart or your loins. Just ask Michael Bay. Better yet, ask Megan Fox.

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That’s why I’ve often seen characters as the bedrock on which any great story is built. In the same way you can’t build the Empire State Building on a mountain of soft, unstable shit, you can’t craft a great story without lovable, memorable, and iconic characters.

I’ve certainly tried to create those kinds of characters in my novels. Stories like the ones I craft in “Passion Relapse” or “Skin Deep” rely heavily on developing strong characters with strong motivations. I won’t say those stories succeeded. I’ll leave that up to the readers, but that process may very well determine how my career as an erotica/romance writer plays out.

That brings me to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. I know that’s not much of a segway, but cut me some slack. When you’re trying to relate the challenges of character development with a movie that has both a talking tree and a raccoon with a machine gun, there’s only so much you can do in terms of transitions.

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For those of you who have been under a rock and/or in a coma, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the biggest surprise hit in movies since some guy named George Lucas convinced movie producers that audiences wanted to see space battles, Wookies, and light sabres.

The first movie came out in 2014 and made $773 million worldwide. For a movie based on a team of obscure comic book characters that nobody outside the most hardcore of comic book fans knew existed. They are not the Avengers. They are not the X-men. They were the D-list of D-list characters.

The story of how they ended up being one of the biggest franchises that didn’t come from the mind of George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg is epic in and of itself. It might have simply been a matter of pragmatics, given how Marvel doesn’t own the movie rights to all its iconic characters.

Whatever the circumstances might have been, though, James Gunn and Marvel Studios managed to create another blockbuster franchise for Marvel and Disney. For a couple of companies that are never satisfied with just a few billion dollars here and there, that’s saying something.

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The success is undeniable. Just this past week, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” came out and generated $145 million domestically on top of the $427 million it had already generated worldwide. I saw the movie the day after it came out. It’s fun, it’s heartfelt, and it’s dramatic in the best possible way. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well-worth your time.

In watching this movie and its predecessor, though, I saw something that was actually more remarkable than a raccoon with a machine gun, if you can believe that. I saw, in my opinion, a case study on how to develop endearing, memorable characters that will both entertain audiences and make them care less about overpaying for popcorn.

The best example, in the context of the first two movies, is Peter “Starlord” Quill, who is played by Chris Pratt. That fact alone is both remarkable and telling because before “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Pratt was best known as that chubby dork from “Parks and Recreation.” In a sense, though, the journey of the Andy Dwyer and that of Starlord tell a similar story. One just has a lot more sex appeal than the other.

When both “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Parks and Recreation” start out, both Starlord and Dwyer aren’t presented as likable characters. One is an admitted thief and outlaw. The other is a selfish slacker. On the surface, they give no reason as to why we should hope they succeed at anything that doesn’t involve severe head trauma.

That changes quickly though, especially for Starlord. Shortly after the story begins in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” we start to see that he isn’t just some renegade outlaw looking to steal things, blow stuff up, and swim in a pool of orphan tears. He’s just trying to get by in a galaxy full of rough circumstances.

He and the rest of his crew, including the talking tree and raccoon, are all in a similar boat. They’re not out there looking for baby seals to beat with baseball bats. They’re just trying to get by, making as much money as they can with their limited skills and jaded reputations.

Sure, it leads to a clash that nearly destroys a planet, but that’s not their fault. Those are just more rough circumstances, coupled with an insane alien religious zealot with a big ass hammer. It’s every bit as ridiculous and entertaining as it sounds.

That situation, as well as their lot in life, is a big reason why Starlord and his ragtag team of outlaws gain so much appeal. It’s also a major factor in what made the story so great. These characters, especially Starlord, aren’t born as princes, prodigies, or heirs. They don’t just start at the bottom of the social ladder. They start in a deep hole right under it.

Starlord had a lot of shit luck early on. He never knew who his father was as a kid. His mom died of cancer. Then, a team of alien bounty hunters abducted him and made him their personal bitch for most of his life. He’s not just an underdog. He’s someone that even other underdogs spit on.

That makes his efforts to find a better lot in life, including those involving crime, both understandable and justified. There’s almost no other way for Starlord to pull himself up and carve out a better story for himself. He has to be an outlaw of sorts. Having Chris Pratt’s sex appeal is just a nice bonus.

However, the outlaw persona is not the core of Starlord’s character. It’s never more than a secondary trait at best. Starlord is still a hero in the sense that when the situation gets tricky, his first inclination is to do the right thing. When what he thinks is just a simple heist turns into a galaxy-threatening crisis, he doesn’t need any coaxing. He wants to do the right thing.

That doesn’t just make him heroic. That makes him endearing. That makes him someone we can root for. That makes him someone we can get behind. In terms of creating an iconic and endearing character, Starlord checks all the right boxes and so do much of his teammates, including the talking tree. Given Groot’s limited vocabulary, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” takes that effort a step further by having Starlord meet up with his long-lost father. It both expands on the origins that began in the first movie and adds greater emotional appeal.

The first movie succeeded in making Starlord a character we can root for. That meant that even before the second movie began, we as an audience were already rooting for him. We wanted him to find his father. We wanted him to have the kind of relationship that he wanted with his father.

I won’t spoil the key details of the movie, but I’ll just say that the this sentiment is what makes the story in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” especially devastating. However, it’s devastating in the best possible way because it reminds us how much we were rooting for this character.

We all wanted Starlord, a guy who lived most of his life in the armpits of society, to achieve that happiness he sought. When the devastating truth comes out, it hurts both him and the audience. We empathize with his plight and we share in the devastation.

This is the most potent manifestation of a character that any novel, movie, or TV show can achieve. When it gets to a point where the audience shares in the struggle and plight, it becomes more than just an entertaining story. It becomes personal.

Starlord’s journey might not have been the same as Superman, Captain America, or even Luke Skywalker, but it’s a journey we shared. It’s one that evoked all the right emotions within us. That’s why it was so effective. That’s why James Gunn, Chris Pratt, and Marvel are now swimming in a fresh pool of money.

There are many lessons that can be learned from movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and not just those espoused by talking trees. As an aspiring writer, I want to create characters like Starlord that readers want to root for. I want a character whose pain and pleasure will be felt by everyone who reads it.

It’s not an easy feat to accomplish. I’ve made a concerted effort in every one of my novels. I won’t say I’ve succeeded yet. I won’t say I’ve failed either. However, I do feel there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’ll just have to figure out how to do it without the aid of a talking raccoon with a machine gun.

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Animation: A Possible Solution For Erotica/Romance Movies?

This is a follow-up to a post I did a couple of days ago on the future of erotica/romance in movies. It’s an issue that I find myself contemplating more and more with the success, financially speaking, of the “50 Shades of Grey” movies. Since it’s an issue that may end up affecting the industry I work in, namely that of erotica/romance, it’s one in which I’ll keep a close eye on in the coming years.

I’ve already laid out the unique challenges facing erotica/romance in cinema. Even with the success of “50 Shades of Grey,” those challenges are pretty daunting. We’re still a long way away from a sexy erotica romance movie getting as much hype as a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Given how that movie has the sex appeal of Chris Pratt going for it, it’s not  affair fight to say the least.

Fair or not, the obstacles for erotica/romance are still pretty daunting. Between its association with the porn industry and a society that is still horrified of the idea of women being excessively sexual, it really does seem as though this genre on which I’ve chosen to build my writing career has a long way to go.

At the moment, there is a sizable, but not exceedingly large gap to overcome. On one side, you have mature stories with erotic themes like “50 Shades of Grey” and “Showgirls.” On the other, you have porn and the poorly-acted skin flicks that only air after midnight on Cinemax.

Bridging this gap, telling a serious story in a movie with a non-gratuitous amount of sex, is the key. As the success of “Die Hard” and all its assorted rip-offs can attest, it only takes one solid movie to kick-start a new trend.

In giving this issue some serious, sexy thought, which I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at on this blog, I think there might be one avenue that erotica/romance can take. It would help circumvent some of the biggest obstacles that I laid out before and complement other emerging trends as well. It could even completely reinvent the way movies, sexy or otherwise, are told.

What is this sexy solution, you ask? Well, it already exists in a major way, but it’s due for a major leap forward. It’s this:

That, my friends, is high-quality animation from the video game, “Destiny: The Taken King.” Take a moment to admire it. Then, think back to how animation used to be. If you’re with me to this point, you’ve already made the overtly-sexy connections.

This may be the key. This may be the secret weapon with which to shatter the seemingly-impenetrable walls that keep erotica/romance relegated to midnight skin-flicks on Cinemax. Animation, namely the high-quality kind that companies like Pixar and Bungie pay top notch for, could be the key to making erotica/romance work.

On paper, it makes perfect sense. With animation, you overcome one of the biggest obstacles in producing a quality movie, namely finding actors and actresses that can both emote the necessary passion and not shrivel, literally and figuratively, when they have to get naked and make love on demand.

Animated characters don’t complain about mood, chemistry, or how their trailers are painted. They don’t age. They don’t get fat. They can look as beautiful or as ugly as a director wants them to be. They are, by default, the perfect medium for bringing a character to life. A number have already become quite iconic.

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Now this isn’t a wholly radical idea. In fact, it’s already an established industry in a magical land called Japan. There’s an entire genre of animated porn called anime porn. This brand of porn utilizes themes and stories so outlandish, so extreme, and so disturbing that even the worst moments in “Game of Thrones” cannot compare. Look up something called “Futanari” for proof. Be warned though, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Radical or not, Japanese anime has the same problem that our softcore skin flicks on Cinemax have here in the United States. The stories are flat. The acting and dialog is atrocious. The main point of these movies is to titillate and not enchant.

Pretty much every male character in an anime porn acts a certain way, just like every bleach-blond, big-breasted woman in a softcore porn acts a certain way. There’s no real depth. It’s just basic, bland, and blunt.

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That may be a product of sticking to a winning formula. Japanese anime porn has been around for decades, has an established fan base, and isn’t going to risk that fan base by doing something different. That’s just how an established industry works.

That said, it does prove that there’s a market for mature, animated content. We’re already seeing major studios attempting to tap that market beyond the usual “Simpsons” and “Family Guy” demographics.

In the past few years, new cartoons with mature things like “Archer” and “Bojack Horseman” have found a major audience. Even among younger audiences, shows like “Samurai Jack” reveal that there is a market for a more mature cartoon.

The timing of this growing market couldn’t be better because as this audience is growing, technology in graphics and animation is improving. Moreover, video game companies and developers are using those improvements to tell better stories. Some of these stories are every bit as engaging, dramatic, and emotional as movies. I know this personally, as I’ve freely admitted that the end of Final Fantasy X and Mass Effect got me choked up.

Major video game makers are already exploring deeper, more mature stories that don’t just rly on killing zombies or shooting aliens. Games like “Heavy Rain” utilize mature themes, a rich story, and intimate moments. Having played the game, I can say that this definitely strikes plenty of chords, including the sexy kind.

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So there’s a growing market for mature cartoons. The technology for graphics in animation is also improving and being refined through the $5.2 billion video game industry. What’s the hold up then? Why aren’t we seeing an animated “50 Shades of Grey” movie that isn’t limited to Jamie Dornan’s acting abilities?

As is often the case in the entertainment industry, it all comes down to money. That’s the simplest and most complete explanation. It’s safe to assume that if every major movie studio could replace every actor and actress with a 3D animated model, they’d do it in a heartbeat, thereby ensuring that they never have to work with Shia LeBeouf or Lindsey Lohan again.

The reason they can’t do that is because, as much as animation has improved, it’s still expensive. Toy Story 3, the current gold standard for animated movies, cost $200 million to make. For TV, the average cost of a half-hour animated show is about half-a-million and the cost of a top-quality show like “The Simpsons” is about $2 million.

For comparison sake, entire movies like “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” cost less than $5 million. Animation is also more labor-intensive, which requires a great deal of outsourcing, something the cast of a typical sitcom doesn’t have to worry about.

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As it stands right now, animation is not a preferable option for making movies, TV shows, or erotica/romance. It’s costly, labor-intensive, and affiliated with too many talking animals. However, that may be changing in a major way very soon.

This is where I try to channel my inner psychic and see a bit into the future. Granted, I’m about as much a psychic as I am a starting point guard for the Golden State Warriors. Don’t assume I know more than someone working at Starbucks, but at least trust me when I say I do try to see the forest from the trees and make connections where I see them.

While the cost of animation is going up, advances in computing power and AI are growing as well. Most are content to let AI’s run their schedule or make annoying telemarketing calls, but they can’t make are, right? That’s intrinsically human, right?

I’m sorry to say that our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think. Back in 2014, the University of Spain created, Iamus, a program that creates its own melodies. Not to be left out, Google followed suit with a program of their own in 2016.

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That’s all well and good, even if it sucks for the future Taylor Swifts of the world. That doesn’t mean robots can draw, right? Humans still have that on the machines, don’t they?

Again, our future robot overlords are catching up faster than you think or feel comfortable accepting. In 2016, Google created another AI called “Quick Draw,” which can recognize simple doodles. A number of robots have even been able to produce their own artwork.

Granted, these works of art are a long way away from being Picasso or Elvis Presley. It’s a start though and, as our recent history with technology has shown, the pace of that technology will only accelerate. Given how slow and clumsy we humans are, it’s only a matter of time before they’re a billion times better at it than we are.

On top of that, the technology for computers to read our minds is emerging as well. This too is in the very early stages of development, but there’s a lot of money in technology, art, and doing things a billion times better. If a computer can make a movie like “Frozen” a billion times faster and a billion times cheaper, you can assume Disney will be all over it like Homer Simpson in a donut factory.

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This has huge implications for every art-based industry in the world, but what does this mean for animation and erotica/romance? Well, most importantly, it means at some point the cost of animation is going to come down.

Eventually, a future version of Google’s drawing software will be so advanced that it can do the job of 100 animators 100 times faster and a million times cheaper. That means movies like “Toy Story 3” no longer cost $200 million. They could cost only a couple million. That means episodes of shows like “The Simpsons” can cost less than a used car.

This opens up countless possibilities for new stories to be told, which don’t have to rely on the bloated budgets or corporate backings of major studios. Since AI is also developing to a level where it can mimic voices, it means that even the cost of voice actors will go down or be replaced altogether.

It won’t happen all at once. There won’t come a day when entire animation studios go out of business or new studios pop up overnight. These types of technology trends take time to develop. They never happen all at once. Cell phones took 40 years to get to where they are now. Modern TV took over a half-century. Expect this kind of technology to take a few decades at the very least.

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However, there’s a lot of money to be made. The rising cost of producing movies is creating a strong incentive to find an easier, cheaper way to create a similar product, minus all the zeroes at the end of the price tag. When there’s that much incentive, then economics usually makes it an inevitability.

That means the first real erotica/romance movie may not be the same live-action piece we saw with “50 Shades of Grey.” It may very well take the form of colorful, sexy animated feature that doesn’t require self-conscious actors or actresses to use body doubles. Maybe one of my own novels will one day take that form. I hope I live long enough to see it.

Again, that day will not be tomorrow. However, this may be the future of erotica/romance. In that sense, Jessica Rabbit may be less a cartoon sex icon and more a prophet. If so, she may go down in history as the sexiest prophet of all time.

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