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Archive for the ‘Films rated -1 (Disliked it)’ Category

Quite a few Bollywood films are “heavily inspired” by Hollywood ones, though the original Hollywood films rarely get any credit for this (Brothers which came out last year was the first time I’ve seen an Indian movie actually marketed as a remake of an American one).
Nonetheless “Aap Ki Khatir” very clearly takes its plot from “The Wedding Date” and I figured it would be interesting to review these in tandem.

The Wedding Date (USA, 2005)

My rating: -1 (Disliked it)
Bechdel Test:
2 out of 3
Director: Clare Kilner
Cast
: Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney, Amy Adams
Plot: A girl has to face her ex at her sister’s wedding. She hires a male escort to pretend to be her boyfriend to feel more confident at the event.

Aap Ki Khatir (India, 2006)

My rating: +1 (Enjoyed it)
Bechdel Test:
2 out of 3
Director: Dharmesh Darshan
Cast
: Akshaye Khanna, Priyanka Chopra, Ameesha Patel, Dino Morea, Sunil Shetty, Anupam Kher, Lillete Dubey
Plot: A girl who is still infatuated with her ex, has to face him at her sister’s wedding. She pays a man to pretend to be her boyfriend in the hope of making her ex jealous.

Introduction

Neither of these films is particularly groundbreaking or high quality. But Aap Ki Khatir is the one I enjoyed far more and it got me thinking about why I watch romantic comedies and what I want to get out of them.
Aap Ki Khatir lifts pretty much the whole storyline from The Wedding Date, changing only a few details here and there. It lifts a few scenes as well, but where the films are very different are in the character dynamics. And I think that’s the crux of the matter here – who actually watches a romantic comedy for the plot? Surely, it’s the interaction between the characters that truly matters in romance? And why did I enjoy the character dynamics in Aap Ki Khatir so much more?

The major difference between Kat and Anu

Kat and Anu have both been dumped by their exes in very unpleasant fashion and neither of them have got over this. But the big difference is that no matter how stuck she is in her love live, Anu is a successful career woman. As for Kat, we have no idea what her professional life is like, but it doesn’t seem she has much to boast about.
Kat and Anu both have a lot of insecurities and easily get agitated, but Anu nonetheless comes across as a much more confident and independent woman. In one scene in which she has a very bad argument with Aman, she tells him to stop pitying her and says bluntly “I don’t need anyone, Mr Aman Mehra” and I think that’s sort of true. Anu may be confused and stressed about a lot of things, but she definitely doesn’t need a man to take care of her.

Nick and Aman – completely different types of romantic heroes

Nick and Aman have very little in common. Both of them are quite cocky and that’s about it for similarities.
Nick is a professional escort. He is like a model from a catalogue, very suave, a high earner, confident and everything else you might expect. Or to put it a different way – he is sickeningly perfect. He’s also rather arrogant.
Aman is a very different kettle of fish. In his own words, he is an average-looking guy with an average wage. It’s unclear whether he’s ever done an escort job before, but probably not. This one is just side income for him. He works in Mumbai, in the same office building as Anu, but 11 floors below (and is clearly on a much lower wage than Anu). Although Anu and Aman work for the same company (in different departments) they have not interacted much previously.

The dynamics of the romance

As you might expect, these character backgrounds create vastly different dynamics. Nick has the upper hand over Kat almost all the time. Kat is constantly apologetic and never really takes control of the situation even though she’s paying him to take care of her needs.
Anu, on the other hand, is a rather bossy lady and has no problem with telling Aman what to do. Aman dutifully does what she’s actually paying him for (pretending to be her boyfriend and doing whatever he can to make Danny, her ex, jealous), but doesn’t necessarily do everything else she wants. Who has the upper hand changes from scene to scene, but Anu can certainly be rather forceful.
Case in point, lets compare the two sport playing scenes from the two films. Here is the baseball scene from The Wedding Date:

And this is the cricket scene from Aap Ki Khatir:

It’s a rather striking difference in the power dynamics, isn’t it?

To be honest, I really don’t understand why The Wedding Date chose to have these sorts of dynamics. To me the “spicy” and unusual part of the premise is that a woman is paying a man to service her the way she wants. Why did The Wedding Date choose not to play into the most original part of the premise?

Also, the plot actually makes a lot more sense with the Aap Ki Khatir character backgrounds.
Nick is an escort, he’s done this so many times before without falling love, so why Kat all of a sudden? I’d maybe buy into the whole escort falls in love with his client thing if the film gave me a clear reason for why Kat was particularly attractive to Nick, but it didn’t. Not only that, but the love happens so suddenly. Until Kat drunkedly gets Nick to have sex with her there’s no indication that he loves her (I think the fact that he didn’t ask her for money before getting into bed with her was supposed to mean he loved her).
Aman falling for Anu makes a lot of sense on the other hand. Aman is not a professional escort, so he would not have been in this sort of situation before. He also openly flirts with Anu pretty much from when they board the flight to London, which indicates that he probably noticed Anu at work and found her attractive even before taking the escort job.

The ex-boyfriend dynamic

Aap Ki Khatir again chooses a much better approach IMO. Anu really pines for Danny. This makes it more uncomfortable for Aman as he starts falling for her, more painful for Anu when things don’t go according to plan, adds comedy to the situation and gives Anu very strong motivation to go the whole male escort route.

In The Wedding Date, I never got the impression that Kat was hoping to get back with Jeffrey. The motivation for going the male escort route seems to be insecurity and the whole set up is much less interesting.

Why Nick is a bigger jerk than Aman

Aman has some slightly jerkish moments. Mostly, there are a few moments when he’s a bit mean with his jokes and a bit too pushy in how he flirts with Anu (though in Bollywood romantic hero terms he’s actually unusually unstalkerish and unpossessive). Other than that, he’s quite nice and fairly polite (it helps that he’s played by Akshaye Khanna obviously, but even so I think he’s quite likeable).
Nick is not pushy, but he’s rather rude and insensitive on quite a few occasions and other than being handsome and suave doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities.
There are two instances in which the difference between the two characters shows up particularly well. Firstly, the sex scene (or in the case of Aap Ki Khatir – the almost sex scene). The plot is that the heroine gets really drunk and in her drunkedness, decides that having sex with the hero is a great idea. Nick takes advantage of this – he sleeps with her even though she’s so drunk she doesn’t remember anything in the morning (to be fair, at least he doesn’t charge her for this). Aman teases her about this a lot the next morning (including about how much he would have charged her if he had slept with her), but he doesn’t take advantage (I suppose her being so drunk that she calls him Danny could have had something to do with it, but he didn’t seem that bothered about it when she was trying to take his shirt off).
The second instance in which Nick’s jerkishness shows up very obviously is in how insensitively he goes about Kat’s preoccupation with her ex. Other than at the twist at the end (he hugs her when she finds out something she really didn’t want to know), he gives her very little emotional support in that regard. He also really ruffles her feathers when he lectures her about how she’s single and can’t get over her ex because that’s exactly what she wants to be at this time (this may or may not be true, but it’s certainly not a sensitive thing to say).
Aman, in contrast, is actually relatively sensitive about Anu’s infatuation with Danny. There’s a real sort of warmth about how he listens to Anu’s story of their breakup. He does lecture her on how men get over their heartbreaks much quicker and how she should be stronger, but the way he does it is a bit of a tease and it actually seems to put her in a better mood.

The family

Perhaps one of the most striking differences between The Wedding Date and Aap Ki Khatir are the dynamics in the heroine’s family. Kat’s only decent family member is her stepfather really. Other than him, her family is very insensitive about her heartbreak (to the point of ridiculousness actually – I can’t quite imagine a real family behaving like that). In some ways having a good-looking man as her date brings her more relief with her family than it does with her ex-boyfriend.
Anu’s family, on the other hand, is genuinely worried for her and how she’s coping with her heartbreak. Her stepsister apologizes profusely for inviting Danny (the ex-boyfriend). Unfortunately, he’s her husband-to-be’s best friend, so they can’t easily uninvite him.

Aap Ki Khatir also has a lot more detail in all the family relationships. In particular they really flesh out the relationship between Anu’s mother and her stepfather. It’s very clear the two of them love each other very much and are still very sexually attracted to each other, which is extremely cute. You don’t often get relationships between two middle-aged characters portrayed like that. Very unusually, they even have a sort of kissing scene, which is kind of ironic in that Anu and Aman do not have one.

General comments

Aap Ki Khatir has become one of my go-to feel-good movies. Even though the quality of it is poor on a few levels, there’s something about it that brings me a lot of amusement and happiness.
I wish the dance numbers weren’t edited in such a jumpy style cause the actual choreo and dancing is rather good.
I love the chemistry between Akshaye Khanna and Priyanka Chopra – they really work well together. And I really enjoy Akshaye Khanna in this sort of romantic hero role.

Wedding Date is a film I will probably never see again. Even Amy Adams, who I usually really like, is kind of blah in this IMO.
It has better production quality and the script is much more tightly structured, but the film just doesn’t have any charm.

Finally, on a completely random note, Aap Ki Khatir seems to have some sort of weird censorship going on (or was this cut made for other reasons?). There’s a very short shot in one of the songs where Aman’s face is against Anu’s uncovered back. It’s rather sexy and a little bit more racy than standard, but not really that adventurous (especially considering it’s so so short). You can see it here as it was released in the music video, but oddly it is missing from the actual film.
For some reason he’s also wearing leather gloves in that song. I’m not really sure why since he has cotton/woollen ones for the outdoor scenes in the rest of the film. Fetish? 😛

 

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Fifty Shades of Grey (USA, 2015)

My rating: -1 (Disliked it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3 amazingly enough
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Cast
: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Callum Keith Rennie
Plot: The story of a relationship between a young woman and a wealthy young man who is into BDSM

About the film

Urgh…. like really… urgh… That’s how I feel about this movie. I did a lot of cringing and sniggering during this film. To be fair, not everything about it is terrible, but urgh accurately describes what I feel anyway.

So, one aspect of the film I did like was Dakota Johnson. She’s actually pretty good, especially considering Anastasia Steele is not a particularly well-rounded character. There’s something about her on screen that makes her very interesting to watch and she’s well cast for this too. There’s a certain kind of vulnerability and hesitation about her that’s really attractive.
She has good chemistry with Jamie Dornan – they look pretty natural together on screen. But I’m afraid I didn’t like Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey at all. To me it feels like they cast him for his looks and for the chemistry he has with Dakota Johnson, but forgot the third part of the equasion – Christian Grey is a very domineering man. For a part like this you need a guy who can do that dominant sort of vibe well and Jamie Dornan just isn’t that guy.
The other problem with a role like Christian Grey is that he’s a very boring character if you portray him exactly as he’s written. IMO to actually make a character like him interesting, you need to find a different angle on him.
So, for example, Edward Cullen from Twilight is a very similar character (hardly surprising considering Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a Twilight fan fiction). But the reason Robert Pattinson worked for me in Twilight was that he put a lot of focus on Edward being a creepy stalker who has killed a lot of people and really wants to drink Bella’s blood. Edward is still sickeningly perfect, handsome and all that obviously, but when the focus of the performance is so clearly on him being a creep it makes things so much more interesting (and IMO also very amusing).
Jamie Dornan just didn’t find a good angle on Christian Grey from what I could tell. The one moment in his performance that I remember as being a bit different and interesting was in the climax of the film. *SPOILER WARNING* (select the white text that follows to read the spoiler) The movie culminates in a scene in which Anastasia and Christian have an argument in which she expresses her frustration at all kinds of things, but in particular about him holding back so much from her. He keeps saying she wouldn’t understand, so she asks him to make her understand – to show her exactly how bad the full extent of what he wants to do to her can get. So he spanks her really hard with a belt. For me, that was the only moment where Jamie Dornan did something that felt emotionally bold and interesting. Even though they’re not doing anything that sexual in the scene (it’s a beating, not sex), Jamie Dornan really makes it look like Christian is getting off on it in a way that’s rather disturbing. Until then everything about Christian was rather soppy and boring, so for me that was the only moment when things actually started feeling kind of dark.

For the most part, I was really disappointed with the sex scenes in the film. There was one sex scene I thought was really well done and the rest were kind of blah.
I’m also really annoyed with Hollywood for its prudishness about oral sex. Apparently, it’s fine to show a man being violent with a woman for sexual reasons, but oral sex is just too kinky to make an appearance. Even more annoyingly, whilst the word fellatio is visible on a page of the BDSM contract they are talking over, cunnilingus is not (and if you’re wondering – the book was not squeamish about either fellatio or cunnilingus). There is a scene in which for a moment it looks like Christian is about to go down on her, but they make sure to show she is still in her underwear and he very quickly gets back up.
Another thing that really annoyed me was the double standard on pubic hair. Christian’s almost full frontal  is annoying in and of itself because it looks like somebody said “hmmmm… I suppose we should show his genitals at least once or the audience will be disappointed… but we can’t be too graphic or they’ll give us an NC-17. We better only show only a little bit for a second or two”. But the really annoying bit is that he has plenty of pubic hair whilst Anastasia is hairless. I wouldn’t have really minded whether they had gone with hairy or hairless for this movie as long as it had been consistent for both genders. I hate that double standard *sigh*

Overall, I felt this was a movie that failed because Hollywood doesn’t yet have the guts to do something like this properly. Obviously, the source material isn’t that great (disclaimer: I’ve only read the first book), but I actually thought there was a good chance they could make an enjoyable movie out of it if they cut and softened some of the most cringeworthy bits (they did cut and soften some but I was still cringing and sniggering loads).
The truth is that if you’re going to make a mainstream BDSM erotic movie, it has to be really bold and daring to work. In this film they chickened out on way too many things.
It’s a shame as I really wanted to like this. So much sexual content in the media (and in the porn industry) is created by men and this film is a bit of a rarity. It has an unusually large number of women behind it – the writers, the director and the editors of Fifty Shades of Grey are all women which almost never happens in Hollywood (the last time I was aware of all those positions being taken by women was on the first Twilight film).
I can’t really argue with the sentiment that both the book and the film are rather bad pieces of fiction, but I don’t like the patronizing tone most people seem to use when discussing the franchise. Labels such as “mummy porn” and suggestions that only really desperate women can enjoy the franchise really annoy me. It’s as if pornography made by men for men is somehow considered superior, simply because it caters to a more male point of view on sex. Characters like Christian Grey get very sharp criticism for being so bland and underdeveloped, but people are so used to the objectified (and very underdeveloped) female characters in action films and other genres with large male audiences that those cases don’t get anywhere near as much criticism.
Anyway, double standards suck – that’s really the point of my rant!

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Firefly /TV series/ (USA, 2002)

My rating: -1 (Disliked it)
Bechdel Test: 
2 out of 3 for some episodes, 3 of 3 (but barely) for others. Detailed Bechdel test breakdown for Firefly
Creator: Joss Whedon
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Plot: Hundreds of years in the future, a crew of a small spaceship earns their living doing all kinds of (usually illegal) ventures.

About the series

Disclaimer: I’ve watched 5 episodes out of 14 (first 4 + “War Stories”). So my criticisms may or may not apply to the rest of the series.

I watched a few episodes of Firefly because my colleagues highly recommended it and it was a mistake! I suspected my film tastes were quite different to those of the majority of people at work and now I am sure 😉

The idea of Firefly in and of itself, as far as I’m concerned, is revolting. It’s basically a western, but set in space. With a premise like that, it is of course horribly macho, in a way I find difficult to stomach. I’m not sure why certain types of machoismo turn me off quite so strongly, but they just do :]
That said, what probably affects my enjoyment of this series the most is how underdeveloped the characters are. I need characters that draw me in to be able to enjoy any sort of fiction and Firefly is an epic fail in this. I just couldn’t get into any of them.
Part of my issues with the characters might just be that there’s a very macho feel to most of them (even some of the ladies), which is not normally my thing. But I also think there’s some bad writing going on here. There’s a basic rule in storytelling and that’s to give all of the characters their own story goals, which Firefly just doesn’t follow.
Here’s a breakdown:

  • Mal: The captain of Serenity (the ship). Being the central character, he’s actually got a bit more depth than most other characters in the series – he has a story goal and even a proper dramatic arch. As a soldier he fought a war against the Alliance which was eventually lost and he wants to get back at them – that’s his story goal. This sometimes motivates him to make very risky decisions.
    There are other things about Mal’s characterization that annoy me. It feels like they try to make him out to be all mysterious and deep, when I find him rather simple-minded actually. He’s the honest crook type of character who is out for personal revenge on the baddies. A pretty common type of character IMO, especially in American action moves.
    And also he makes sexist jabs at the girls sometimes, which annoys me… Don’t get me wrong – it’s perfectly ok to have sexist characters in a story, but I rarely find them likeable, which I think the creators want him to be.
  • Zoe: Zoe served with Mal in the army and fought with him against the Alliance. She’s his most loyal and reliable crew member.
    Zoe is the character that annoys me the most. She has no real story arch or goal of her own. So far, in the episodes I’ve seen, her motivation seems to be loyalty to Mal and love for her husband.
    Her lack of any story goals of her own is particularly frustrating because she’s portrayed as such a strong woman. She is brave, smart and strong. She also constantly goes around wearing tight clothes that show off the shape of her perfect body and heavy, sexy make up to complement that. And if perfect soldier and super attractive lady wasn’t enough, she’s also the perfect, domestic wife – the “War Stories” episode even shows her serving breakfast to her husband in almost 1950s style.
    All that and yet her whole being in the series is just to support the male characters’ storylines. Even when she’s in situations when she must take matters into her own hands, she seems to do it because that’s what Mal or her husband would have wanted. What’s even more frustrating – she’s the first character every one mentions to “prove” the series is feminist. Well, to me feminism isn’t about showing that women are smart and strong, it’s about showing women who are complete human beings with their own goals and even *gasp* flaws. Whether they are super strong or very vulnerable is beside the point.
  • Hoban: Zoe’s husband. Any series as macho as this has to have a counterbalance. That’s what Hoban is. He’s a guy who would like to be macho, but it’s not within his nature. His insecurities are often the but of the jokes in Firefly.
    His story goal? I’m afraid I can’t identify one.
  • Inara: The premise behind Inara’s character is actually quite interesting. She is a “companion”. In the reality of the series, “companions” are essentially high-class prostitutes. They are highly educated, cultured, officially registered and very well-respected in society. They choose their clients and therefore (at least in theory) never have sex with somebody they don’t want to.
    Does Inara have her own story arch? You guessed it, nope. To be fair, she might do in episodes I haven’t seen. There’s definitely some kind of unrevealed back story between Mal and Inara that has been implied. This might be what’s motivating her. But then this would be another case where a female character’s motivation lies solely with a male character.
    As you might expect, she’s also sexualized a lot. Understandable, considering her profession, but the way it’s done still annoys me (I’ll get back to that later).
  • Jayne: Jayne is as stereotypical as you can get. He’s the macho macho guy, the kind who is unreliable and only thinks of himself, but is still useful on the ship because he’s good at beating people up.
    His own story arch? Nope.
  • Kaylee: Kaylee is actually the only character in Firefly that I found endearing. I’ve since seen Jewel Staite (the actress) in Stargate Atlantis and I adore her as Dr Keller. So perhaps it is down to Jewel? That said Dr Keller is a hell of a lot more developed as a character than Kaylee is (we actually have Dr Keller’s story arch/goals spelt out fairly clearly in the first episode of Stargate Atlantis that she appears in).
    The premise behind Kaylee isn’t that bad. Kaylee is the ship’s mechanic. So on the one hand she’s in charge of stuff that’s usually a man’s job and is somewhat tomboyish, but she’s also very girlish in some of how she behaves and what she likes. Naturally, the girlish part of her (her crushes, her admiration of dresses with ruffles and probably other things in later episodes) gets ridicule from Mal and Jayne. And this annoys me too! I don’t like when “girlishness” gets ridiculed. I see it too much in day to day life. And it’s damn annoying that the only of the main female characters that doesn’t get ridiculed for anything is Zoe, who is the perfect sexy woman who serves two men without a word of protest or defiance ever.
    Kaylee naturally does not have a story arch or story goals of her own either.
  • Simon: Simon is a doctor. He has rescued his sister from the Alliance and is in hiding. He’s not a very developed character, but he’s the only character other than Mal who has a strong story goal (to keep his sister safe from the Alliance at all costs), which counts for something.
  • River: River is Simon’s sister. Whatever experiments the Alliance did on her have made her crazy. She does not have a strong story arch/story goal, although I’m inclined to forgive that as it’s harder to give someone who is not of sane mind a good motivation for what they’re doing. What I’m less inclined to forgive is that River is more of a condition than a character. Better films than Firefly have done this – made a character to be about the mental condition they’re suffering rather than about personality (for example – just because somebody is autistic doesn’t mean autism is their whole personality), so perhaps I’m expecting too much, but it’s a pet peeve of mine.
    What was more shocking to me about River is that she gets sexualized! In episode 1 she appears naked for a relatively silly reason. I get that Inara will get skin show, I can even get that Zoe needs to have sex scenes with her husband to show how good they are with each other, but why on Earth does River need to be naked because freezing her is supposedly the best way to transport her and apparently she needs to be naked for it?
  • Shepherd: A preacher. Little is known about his personality and his motivation is very, very general (spreading religion, doing good?). He seems to be the token man of colour, just so there is one on the show. And the snarky part of me wonders if it’s an accident that the one non-white male character happens to be old and completely asexual. In reality I doubt that was done on purpose, but it’s not nice.

It’s no coincidence that many episodes do not pass the Bechdel test and those that do, do it feebly – you need to have female characters with goals of their own for them to have something to talk about with each other.
What’s particularly frustrating is that this series seems to have an aim of being feminist and racially diverse. For the kind of show it is, four is a lot of major female characters. Usually we don’t get that many on shows with a lot of fighting and action. In a politically correct sort of way it also makes sure that one of the female and one of the male characters are not Caucasian.

Apart from how the characters are constructed, what bothers me about Firefly is the way it sexualizes women. It hits a particular nerve in me. Don’t get me wrong – I like films and TV series’ with a lot of sex and I don’t mind female characters getting a bit sexualized, but there needs to be some counterbalance for me to not get grumpy about it.
For one thing, when I see a sexualized female character, it’s particularly important to me that the character is well written – she needs to have a personality, a back story, an arch, story goals and all of those kinds of things they teach in writing classes. Without all those things she becomes more about being sexy and pretty than about anything else and I don’t like that.
But just as importantly, if a film or series is catering to the sexual tastes of straight men, I want them to cater to the tastes of straight women too! In Firefly, women are sexualized a lot (especially Zoe and Inara), but men are not. Even though the principal cast of men has four young and handsome guys, there is little effort to titillate the audience with them. Particularly disappointing as the premise actually gives a lot of scope for that – the show is clearly styled to be a bit like a western, so there honestly is room to dress the guys up in sexy attire and put some effort into this.
Another of my pet peeves is about how movies and TV tend to portray sex – why does it always have to be from such a strongly male viewpoint? The episode that particularly got on my nerve was “War Stories”. In that one Inara takes on a female client – she explains that she does this because sex with a woman is more satisfying for her. So what kind of scene do we get? The two women are in full and very heavy make up and it looks like a TV-censored version of fake lesbian porn for men. Honestly, does female sexuality really have to be shown like this? I get it, they want to titillate, but would it really be so bad to show something that looks a bit more like what two women might actually do when they want to have fun? That could still be titillating.

Some say that the macho thing in this series is actually made fun of, but I don’t see that. To me it seems the joke is in it being impossible to live up to the macho ideal (hence, Hoban, the least macho of the guys, is the but of the jokes). There is no effort to undermine the macho ideal itself, that is still portrayed as cool and worthy of trying to live up to.
It seems to me that this series ridicules pretty much every feminine trait (whether it’s in a male or female character) with the exception of being sexually desirable (Inara gets unpleasant comments from Mal for sleeping with many men, but her being sexually desirable is respected). On the other hand, it shows pretty much all masculine traits as either positive or neutral regardless of whether these traits appear in a man or a woman. Since Zoe has many masculine (macho) traits and is sexually desirable, she is pretty much never ridiculed for anything.

In short, I hated this series! I realize it has a bit of a cult status and clearly I’m in the minority here, but for me, I’d need a very different treatment of machoismo, vulnerability and female characters to be able to stomach it.

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