The Likeability of Companies: The Big Four

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a blog post for a while now, but it was brought to the front of my mind today when I saw the updated WordPress homepage. It’s new, blue, and all up in your face. Personally, I don’t like it. Even if I get used to it eventually, right now I’m not too keen on the massive pictures in the reader, long-winded route taken to find my dashboard, and inescapable bright blue colouring that follows you around the site. I loved WordPress before, but it’s moments like this that make you go, “What the heck, WordPress?”.

In this case, my overall opinion of WordPress isn’t really diminished. They’re still reliable and make good choices most of the time. But not all companies are created equal. Some start out great, only to betray your trust years later by steering the corporation’s goals away from customer happiness and towards making money. Others were never especially likeable, but you stick with them anyway because you feel like you’ve no other option. Some are just friendly, nice, reasonable companies that never change. Likeability is a huge factor on which companies we are loyal to and which ones we avoid at all costs – we’re only human, after all, and logic can’t rule our judgement all the time (unless you’re half Vulcan).

In this post, I’m going to take a look at several different companies (specifically the big companies that I have the strongest opinions on) and evaluate how likeable each of them are. Warning: here be links. Also, bear in mind that while I might use some real-life incidents as examples, this evaluation is – by nature – incredibly subjective. You can comment or write your own post about the likeability of companies after reading this, but for now, here are my views:

  • Apple. Oh, Apple, where did it all go wrong? You used to be the underdog, the everyman to Microsoft’s business guy. That’s the angle you used in your adverts, anyway. You made good products and we all sort of believed you – then it all went downhill. Like a revolution leader becoming a country’s new dictator, Apple attempted forming a forced monopoly by making iTunes only accept certain types of files and causing some iPhones and iPods to reject the use of certain non-Apple software, such as Adobe’s. On top of that, Apple began suing anyone and everyone for creating products even remotely similar to their own. Then there’s the issue with people working in Apple factories. From being the creative brainchild of the great Steve Jobs, Apple has quickly turned into a stroppy, controlling bully of a company, albeit the developer of smart products.
  • Facebook. Is it just me, or was Facebook never actually a likeable company? If The Social Network movie is to be even halfway believed, the online giant was practically founded in bitchiness. Now, if there’s one company that knows how to abuse its army of followers, it’s Facebook. From questionable privacy policies to bizarre rules as to what should be taken down from the site (e.g. breastfeeding photos, taken down; pro-violence/rape groups, kept up), the company doesn’t seem too bothered about keeping its customers happy. They seem to be paying the price, though, seeing as they’ve recently been rated lowest out of social media sites in terms of customer satisfaction.

 

  • Google. If Apple’s the whiny former small-fry that won’t share their toys and Facebook’s the sneaky child that blackmails everyone into being their friend, Google is the kind-but-cool older kid at school. They’re the one who doesn’t seem to do anything that’s not for your benefit: from regularly updating their homepage with fantastic graphics to having an unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil”, Google have made a name for themselves as the nice guy of the internet. While branching out into multiple fields of technology and obtaining name-as-a-verb status (Google it), Google have maintained the trust of thousands of users. High five, guys.

 

  • Microsoft. Like the great-grandfather of the computer world, Microsoft seems to have been around for ages. They haven’t really, but the fact that the company’s existence isn’t currently marred with privacy controversy or dramatic lawsuits makes it come across as having much more staying power than the likes of some other companies. Some people dislike Microsoft for its so-called monopoly on the computer market, and while they do seem to hold a lot of influence over that field, how often do they actually abuse their power? Unlike Apple, Microsoft’s products tend to accommodate software from other companies, and they’re regarded as a well-known, trustworthy company. The philanthropic activities of Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, haven’t done the company’s image any harm either. Microsoft’s likeability doesn’t stem so much from its fun, friendly and informal attitude, like Google – instead, it comes from reliability.

 

I hope you guys enjoyed that list. Remember, like I said earlier, these are just my opinions, backed up with some stuff I’ve heard on the internet. If you love Apple and Facebook but hate Google and Microsoft, that’s fine. Disagreement is healthy – it’s why democracy works. Anyway, I’m not really up to completely demonising Apple; I own and adore an iPod, so it would be kind of hypocritical. Feel free to voice your opinions in the comments (I’d love to hear them) or even take this idea and blog about it yourself. Until then, my fellows.

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The 2012 Blog of the Year Award (PS: Happy New Year!)

I got another blog award! Hurray! This one is from Nevillegirl at Musing’s From Neville’s Navel (as was the previous and only other award I got, but we won’t dwell on that). I did say thank you to her in a comment already, but I’ll say it again: thanks, Nevillegirl!

Anyway, this blog award has a very specific set of instructions, instructions it has acquired over a very long – just kidding. 50 points if you get the reference. It does actually have instructions you have to follow in order to get the award, though. Here they are:

Rules

1. Display the award logo on your blog.
2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
3. Link back to the Blog of the Year 2012 Rules page so people can read the real, complete, and fully accurate rules of this slightly-different blogger award.
4. State 5 things about yourself.
5. Pass the award on to 6 other bloggers and link to one of their specific posts so that they get notified by pingback.

Okay, 2 is done already (see above). Now for 1:

Blog of the Year Award 1 star thumbnail

On to instruction number 3. I don’t really get why I have to link people back to the “real” rules when I’ve just put them here; it’s not like I’m going to abridge them or anything – ah, I just realised! They must not expect people to put them up themselves! Oh yes, 10 points for epiphany. (That’s probably not the real reason, but I like to think the people who made this award don’t think I’m some sort of rule-editing, inaccuracy-making freak). Here’s the link. Moving on.

Five Things About Me

  1. Yesterday, I suffered a string of clumsiness-related incidents, including: leaning my elbows on a table and causing the whole thing to flip up; bumping my head on the same lamp twice; walking backwards into a settee I thought was further away; swinging my hand into a door frame; hitting my head on the ground when I tried to lie down; knocking a stack of sheet music over onto my head; and shining a booklight into my eyes.
  2. I was given a label maker for Christmas and have since labelled most of the light switches in the house with things like “Let there be light!”, “You light up my life”, and “My eyes!!!”.
  3. I was also given two cuddly toy owls for Christmas, which I have named Hibou (French word for owl; I name my cuddly toys like a French 3-year-old) and Bowie (because he has a serious David Bowie vibe going on).
  4. Whenever I see a significant number on a digital clock, I feel the need to shout it out. E.g. 11:11 (Eleven eleven!), 12:34 (One two three four!), and even 12:21 (Palindrome!).
  5. While doing my work today, I listened pretty much exclusively to Colours of the Wind from Pocahontas, I’ll Make a Man Out of You from Mulan, and Something That I Want from Tangled.

Lastly, it’s time for the nominations. Drumroll, please!

The Nominees and Their Blogs (in alphabetical order)

There we are! I don’t know if all of these bloggers will accept the award (I know some people don’t seem to like to accept these awards, and that’s cool) but I think all the nominees are completely awesome either way. It’s the thought that counts, anyway. Sending you all awesome thoughts and wishing you a (belated) Happy New Year!

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Day 12: Love Actually (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the twelfth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one reviewed/talked about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spanned 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

As most of you who have either been following my blog or have read the above italicised paragraph will know, I have been spending the last 11 days (plus today) writing pseudo-reviews for a series of Christmas movies. Today, we reach our finale with the British romantic comedy classic: Love Actually. Love Actually DVD

This is probably the most famous romantic comedy in Britain, the one that has spawned dozens of imitation films like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, all following equally interconnected couples in the build-up to a specific holiday. If you ask me, neither of those latter films will ever come close to being as good as Love Actually. Okay, so I haven’t seen New Year’s Eve, but you’d be pretty hard put to beat the original interlinked, ensemble cast, festive rom-com. That said, if you think Valentine’s Day is better than Love Actually, that’s your choice – you just can’t be my friend.

Despite all its critical and commercial acclaim, I think that Love Actually is quite an underrated film. Give me a second to explain. It’s always coming up in conversation or writing about romantic comedies, and yes, it is often considered one of the best of its genre. But that’s about it. The fact that it is just a really, really good film is often overshadowed by  its status as a rom-com. It’s a bit like how Nicholas Sparks refuses to call his novels romances, because he comes across as basically thinking his writing is above that (it’s not). Love Actually is branded as a romantic comedy, and I think that has put some people off seeing it. However, it is a truly good film with a great heart and some wonderful (at times distinctly British) humour. Unless you’re a Dementor, I am fairly certain that Love Actually will manage to get at least one laugh or “aww” out of you. So yes, it is a rom-com, but it’s an excellent film at the same time.

But I could spend hours and hours going on about how fantastic Love Actually is. For me, it’s one of those films that I forget how much I love until I see it again. Then I spend the whole time going on about how I forgot how much I loved it. Everything about it is amazing: it includes loads of my favourite (and very talented) actors, who play their parts perfectly; the music is either beautifully composed or expertly chosen; the plot is woven brilliantly and you notice new parts of it every time you watch it; there are cute bits, funny bits, dramatic bits, sad bits, exciting bits, heart-warming bits…………the list goes on. So rather than spend this entire 1000-or-so words of a blog post rambling on about how amazing it is, I’ll leave you to watch and judge it for yourself.

In the meantime, I hereby present you with my list of my top twelve (because it’s the Twelve Days of Christmas) favourite moments in Love Actually. Just for fun.

WARNING: Here be spoilers. If you’ve never seen the film or are the sort of person that goes “But I didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father, you’ll probably want to look away now. The minor spoilers below don’t completely spoil the very end, though, so you won’t lose your entire enjoyment of the film by reading them. Besides, I’ve watched the film hundreds of times whilst knowing the ending and I just love it more every time, so I don’t think it would ruin Love Actually for you.

Top Twelve Moments in Love Actually (in no particular order)*

  1. David’s dance to Jump (for my Love) by The Pointer Sisters. This scene is just incredibly funny. Hugh Grant, who plays Prime Minister David, really goes all out in this part and dances ridiculously around 10 Downing Street. One of the funniest bits of this scene is the look on his assistant’s face when she sees him dancing – she is trying so hard not to laugh.
  2. Daniel and Sam watching Titanic and talking. This is one of the cuter scenes in the film – although any scene that Sam is in is liable to be unbearably adorable. It’s really nice seeing the pair’s relationship as father and son develop over the course of the film, and this part in particular is very sweet. The conversation they have about “the one” after watching part of the film shows how genuine Sam’s love for Joanna is, and is subtly referenced in later parts of the film.
  3. Billy Mack’s interview with Ant & Dec. I can imagine this one might go a bit over the head of non-British audiences if they don’t know who Ant & Dec are, but it’s another very funny scene nonetheless. The looks of Ant or Dec’s faces when Billy makes inappropriate comments is especially hilarious.
  4. David’s Great Britain speech. This is the second scene I’ve picked starring David’s character, but rather than being predominantly funny, this is more of a “Yeah, you go man!” moment. It’s basically a short speech about how awesome Britain is, which comes after David is bullied by the American President. It’s so legendary, even our real-life (former) Prime Minister mentioned it in a speech. If you’re ever feeling kind of let-down about being British, watch a clip of this scene.
  5. Harry trying to buy a necklace. When Harry (Alan Rickman) tries to buy a necklace for a woman he doesn’t want his wife to know about, the jewellery salesman (Rowan Atkinson) spends ages obsessively and theatrically gift-wrapping it. It’s a joy to watch Harry get increasingly frustrated with Rowan Atkinson’s character, whilst the latter just carries on with what he’s doing. One especially threatening glare from Alan Rickman makes you feel like saying to the jewellery salesman “If you had seen him in Die Hard, you’d be careful about annoying him this much”.
  6. The All You Need is Love band at the wedding. There’s not much to this scene, apart from a bunch of random musicians and a singer popping up out of crowds of wedding guests and playing the aforementioned famous Beatles song. It’s brilliant. If I ever have a wedding, I want this to happen at it.
  7. Jamie’s papers flying into the lake. Jamie (Colin Firth) is writing his novel on a typewriter by a small lake when his maid, Aurelia, comes out and lifts a mug off a stack of papers, causing them to blow away into the water. She runs off and jumps in the water to get them, which makes Jamie feel that he has to follow her in. This scene is both romantic and funny. Probably mostly the latter, as Jamie has a go at himself about getting in the water and ends up falling in sideways. Then there’s also the ever-present conversation between him and Aurelia, with the former speaking English whilst the latter talks in Portuguese. The subtitles make their communication issues very apparent and equally funny.
  8. Mark’s word card message to Juliet. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with Juliet (Keira Knightley), despite her being married to Mark’s best friend. He expresses his love for her one night by standing on her doorstep and showing her a series of cards with messages on them. This scene is romantic, but it’s also nice in the way that Mark is gaining closure on his relationship with Juliet without jeopardising her existing marriage.
  9. The Christmas concert. This is one of the most famous scenes in Love Actually, and for good reason. It stars Joanna singing All I Want for Christmas is You fantastically well – as in, everyone-stops-and-just-stares kind of well. The way everyone is in total shock at a young girl being able to sing so well, Sam’s overjoyed look when Joanna points at him, and the overall wonderful music – it’s just a great scene.
  10. David’s introduction to 10 Downing Street. Two main points that make this scene: David’s wave before entering the building (which he comments on inside) and his conversation with Natalie, a member of the staff. The first is a little silly and funny, but the second involves Natalie accidentally swearing repeatedly and basically just messing up her meeting with David. It’s all okay, though.
  11. Billy Mack and Joe’s reunion on Christmas. The relationship between these two men stands out as the only prominent platonic one in the film. But with a has-been, aging pop star and his “fat” manager, this is one of the less glamorous examples of bromance. I think its lack of romanticism is part of what makes this scene so sweet, because it seems quite genuine.
  12. Sam’s run through the airport. After the concert, Sam runs through an airport to find Joanna before she boards a plane. I love how his step-father fully encourages him to just run past security, plus the way the airport security chase after him but end up crashing into everyone. It’s the typical chasing-love-interest-down-at-airport/plane scene, but it’s sort of making fun of it and 100% brilliant, so we’ll forgive it.

Overall rating: 10/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 7/10

Mary’s parental guidance rating: 15 (it’s only language that you really need to be concerned about, and that doesn’t concern me much)

And that’s all for now! Well, I’ve had a great time watching these twelve films and reviewing them for this series, and I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. That said, I will be happy to take a break from writing for a bit – a post a day for 12 days without breaks is tough! But I loved doing this challenge anyway; maybe I’ll even do it again next year.

I hope everyone has a great Christmas and New Year!

*According to Mary

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Day 11: The Snowman (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the eleventh in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

It’s Day 11 already and we’re very rapidly approaching both Christmas day and the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Seriously, as one of my sisters would say, it’s Christmas Eve Eve (not a typo – there are meant to be two eves). Technically, given that this post is supposed to go up on December 22nd, this post is late. However, I like to think that because I have not actually been to bed and woken up yet, it is effectively still the same day. Yeah, that’s right. The world revolves around me. Point being, it’s only late if I say it is. And I say it’s only a little bit late.The Snowman DVD

As usual, we’re going to get back to the real point in the second paragraph of the post. Today (yesterday?), that means talking about The Snowman, the Day 11 film. This is an old-ish animated film from the  80’s, based on the beloved children’s picture book by Raymond Briggs. It’s unique in multiple ways, one of these being the fact that it’s a short film, at just under half an hour. It’s also drawn in a very beautiful crayon style and plays in a sort of picture-book-flipping way – basically, there’s a little jump between each shot, but it creates a nice effect. The third thing that makes it unique is that it’s wordless, apart from the famous song Walking in the Air, sung by Aled Jones.

At this point you might be wondering: “But what about David Bowie/Raymond Briggs?”. If you are like me, you’ll be contemplating why I have not mentioned David Bowie’s presence in the film (if he was there) because clearly that would add a great deal of awesomeness to it. So here’s why I haven’t mentioned it yet: because he wasn’t in it. That’s right; as with several other films on my original list, I have been misled. I heard that there was a narrator in the film, which would be either Raymond Briggs in the first version or David Bowie in the re-release. Well, I watched it. Guess what? No narrator. Still, this might be to do with the version I had or didn’t have. If you have seen this film with a narrator – apparently it’s the voice of Older James – please let me know in the comments, as I’m quite confused.

The Snowman 2

Moving on to the plot. Without any dialogue, the film’s plot is not elaborated on much. It primarily features a young boy named James (we learn this from the name tag on a present given to him), who builds a snowman outside his house during Christmas time. Naturally, this snowman comes to life. Together, James and the Snowman play games and go on little adventures, including one that involves flying through the sky. The last activity is the one during which Walking in the Air plays.

The Snowman KitchenI don’t want to give away the ending or spoil too much of the plot, so I’ll stop there. I will, however, say that I really liked The Snowman. It’s just a nice thing to watch, as in one of those films that you genuinely just enjoy watching for the sake of watching. There’s a certain spectacle to it – not like the kind in The Avengers, but the kind that you simply find entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Part of this probably comes from the gorgeous way everything is drawn, another part from the wonderfully symbolic music played throughout (mostly instrumental), and yet another part from the childlike magic of the whole thing.

I vaguely remember, as I do with so many of these films, watching The Snowman as a child. I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think my siblings or myself were overly keen on it. I can see why. It’s not exactly a fast-paced film, kids could get confused by the lack of dialogue, and a certain part is not very happy. Maybe some kids were more mature than me and liked it, but I don’t think this was ever a family classic in my parents’ house. Nonetheless, I loved The Snowman this time around. It’s like a piece of art, in a way. Pretty and nice to look at but meaningful at the same time. This is another film I would recommend watching at Christmas time, especially if you’re looking for a sense of pure, childlike adventure. It also includes a Scottish country dancing scene, which earns any film extra bonus points.

The Snowman Flying

Overall rating: 9/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 6/10 (mostly wintery, but there is a particular rather Christmassy scene)

Mary’s parental guidance rating: U (or G in the land of sidewalks and crispy chips)

Tomorrow’s film (and the final film in the series – DUN DUN DUN): Love Actually

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Day 10: The Santa Clause (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the tenth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

Well, here it is: the Day 10 movie post. I said I would write it today, and I have. Thankfully, the world chose not to end today. That might have stopped me if it had, but luckily it didn’t. Congratulations to everyone for surviving the Mayan world-ending! I knew you could do it! We survived the rapture and now we’ve survived this! Looks like we’re sticking around for the long run.Santa Clause Poster

Still, it’s great being alive and everything, but we have some movie business to get back to. Today’s film was The Santa Clause, starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin (initials, initials), a man who is forced to take on the role of Santa after he accidentally “kills” its previous incumbent. When this happens, he visits the North Pole, meets the elves, and gets fatter and grows a beard. The biggest issue, however, is the fact that his son, Charlie, knows that he is Santa. Problems arise when Charlie tries to tell his mother and her psychiatrist husband (Charlie’s parents are divorced), along with other adults, about Scott turning into Santa and their trip to the North Pole.

This sounds like quite a drama, which it is somewhat, but the film is very much a comedy. As with Home Alone, I was reluctant to watch The Santa Clause because I had last seen one of its sequels. In this case, it was The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. The Santa Clause 3 is, just as side note, an awful film and one that I highly suggest you do not watch. The original The Santa Clause is an entirely different matter, though. It’s a very funny film, with a mix of different humour types. There are some more obvious physical jokes in it, along with some sarcastic remarks that I hadn’t noticed when I was younger. In that respect, you can appreciate this film more when you are a bit older – although that’s often the case with kids’ films. Some of the comments Scott makes about his wife’s new husband, Neil, are especially funny. As an example, when Charlie is talking about all the things Neil can do, Scott replies “Yeah, and you should see him walk on water”.

Santa Clause 2

The one part of the film that I didn’t really like was the fact that there was some crude humour. This came, in part, from the presence of Comet the reindeer. Comet doesn’t talk (thank goodness), but the way he is presented is just one step above talking. I didn’t really think he (she?) was a necessary edition to the movie, just like reindeer Ted in Jingle All the Way. Comet’s not in it much, though, so it’s easy to ignore that aspect of the film.

Santa Clause Charlie and NeilI enjoyed the portrayal of the North Pole in this film. It was one of the more fantastical versions and really quite an indulgent one for children to believe in, being run by child-like elves and full of cool gadgets. The later, updated version of Santa’s sleigh in this movie features tools like a hot chocolate and cookie dispenser – it’s called a CD (cocoa/cookie dispenser) in the film, but this doesn’t really translate if you call it hot chocolate. The practicality and logic of belief in Santa is also addressed in an interesting way during The Santa Clause. On one hand, we have people (such as the elves) advocating belief in Santa based on trust. As said in-film: “Seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing”. It’s basically said that you don’t need to have witnessed something – a million dollars, for example – to know that it exists. However, as Charlie’s mother and step-dad try to convince him that it’s illogical to believe in Santa, they question the plausibility of certain aspects of Santa’s job. For instance, Neil asks how it is possible for Santa to travel around the world in time for Christmas. Charlie responds by talking about time continuums that Santa could be disrupting. This exchange mirrors one that happens earlier in the film between Scott and Charlie, in which it is the latter wanting explanations for Santa’s magical abilities, like how he fits down chimneys and how the reindeer can fly. Although a lot of these answers are attributed to magic, I like how the characters question these issues and we are able to see them try to figure it out.

Santa Clause 4

In the end, this isn’t really a ground-breaking film. Most parts of it have been done before, possibly better. But this has been a classic in my family for some time, so I have a particular fondness for it. I genuinely also think that it is a good film. The technical points – acting, casting, plot, and so on – are all sufficiently adequate for the rest of the film to be enjoyable, and there are plenty of jokes for people of all humour types. The Santa Clause is one of those films that, while nothing really special in terms of production, has a certain magic about. Like when you take all the pieces of Christmas apart and they don’t mean anything, whilst you can put them together and create something amazing, The Santa Clause is great in a way you can’t put your finger on. This film is warm and light-hearted, as well as being funny, so it’s a perfectly pleasant, likeable movie to watch at Christmas. While I don’t believe in Santa Claus any more, I haven’t yet lost my faith in The Santa Clause.

Overall rating: 7/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 8/10

Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG (the issues with people not believing Charlie and Scott might upset some children, but other than that it’s a very family-friendly film)

Tomorrow’s film: The Snowman

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Day 9: Joyeux Noel (Twelve Days of Christmas)

This is the ninth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

So……this post is going up a bit later than it was meant to. I could reel off a list of either elaborate and reasonable or true excuses as to why this is, but for now I’ll just stick with saying that I was busy and didn’t have time to write this review/talk-about. I did get to watch the Day 9 film – which was Joyeux Noel – yesterday, though, so I’m just having to write about it a day after having watched it. I will still try valiantly to watch and upload a review for the Day 10 film – the Santa Clause – today as well, mainly just because I don’t want to feel obliged to keep writing on Christmas Eve. Not that I don’t like writing or anything, because I love it, but I don’t want to feel like I have to write, you know?Joyeux Noel poster

I should probably get to the point now. Because you’ve probably noticed that I’m rambling, haven’t you? Well yes, I am. But in my defence, I am padding my blog post with rambles for very good reason: because I don’t know what else to say.

Okay, I am meant to be talking about Joyeux Noel right now, but I don’t really know where to start, much less where to go with my “review” of it. It’s not that it wasn’t a good and interesting film, but it was different to the others I’ve reviewed so far. For one thing, it was a very moving film.

See? This is what I mean. Saying it was “moving” really doesn’t do the film justice. If anything, it makes the film sound less moving than it really was. It’s weird that, as a writer, I can’t think of anything to write about Joyeux Noel, but that’s the way it is. Of course, I do have to say something about it. I’m sort of saying about it now, albeit in an awfully-written and disjointed way. But I suppose you really need to know the plot before I can say anything else. Here is the plot summary, shamelessly copied from IMDB (because I don’t feel able to summarise it well enough):

“In 1914, World War I, the bloodiest war ever at that time in human history, was well under way. However on Christmas Eve, numerous sections of the Western Front called an informal, and unauthorized, truce where the various front-line soldiers of the conflict peacefully met each other in No Man’s Land to share a precious pause in the carnage with a fleeting brotherhood. This film dramatizes one such section as the French, Scottish and German sides partake in the unique event, even though they are aware that their superiors will not tolerate its occurrence.Written by Kenneth Chisholm (kchishol@rogers.com)

Joyeux Noel 2

Apparently the story of the film is based on numerous similar events that occurred around Christmas during World War I, including a particularly famous one in which German and British soldiers laid down their arms and played football together in no man’s land. This is both a happy and sad concept. Happy because it reaffirms the idea that shared humanity among men can prevail over orders to kill one another, but sad because we know that the war continued regardless of these events. Joyeux Noel is similarly happy and sad, but it had more impact than just reading about such events in textbooks.

Joyeux Noel BagpipesFirst of all, people appear more human when portrayed by actors in movies than they do as statistics on paper. You might see the number of, say, French people killed in WWI, but it won’t affect you as much as if you see a portrayal of just one of those people’s lives shown in a film. In Joyeux Noel, we’re told the stories of people from three sides of the war, including their lives before being called to fight. This includes, unfortunately, some characters that die, which leads me to the other reason this film was so powerful: because it wasn’t all about the inspiration and beautiful moment that happened between those people.

Before seeing Joyeux Noel, I thought that it was mainly going to have a message consisting of “war is bad, but humans are great so ultimately everything’s okay”. Not the case. Joyeux Noel does show very inspiring and touching scenes showing the fraternisation between the troops, but it shows the darker sides of the events as well. We’re shown battle scenes that rapidly earn the film its PG-13 rating within the first 30 minutes, schoolchildren reciting hateful war propaganda, soldiers having their minds twisted until they become emotionless killing machines, and the harsh reaction of the war commanders when they hear about the Christmas truce. Although it does make the film harder to watch, I liked the fact that they showed that not everyone automatically sides with peace. It might not be the happiest message, but it is the more genuine one.

Joyeux Noel Mass

That’s partially why I think war movies are good things to exist, in a way. This might come across as strange, given that I generally don’t like violence in films and am easily upset by war, but I think it’s much better for us to see these things in film than in real life. Of course,  it’s not the case that the higher number of war films are created the lower number of actual wars there are. Still, I think that war films can help remind us how horrible wars are, which is important. We can learn from our mistakes of starting wars in the past, but only if we remember what they were like. Nobody wants to be reminded through having more wars, so war films give us a chance to remember without actually hurting anyone. So whilst war books and films, Joyeux Noel included, might seem to do little more than make us unhappy, I believe they have a greater purpose than that.

All in all, Joyeux Noel was a great film. I really can’t fault it, which is why I’m giving it a 10/10 overall rating. It is definitely worth a watch, especially around Christmas. It might not seem as though it has a lot to do with this holiday, but out of all the films watched so far, Joyeux Noel comes the closest to portraying what I believe to be the “true” meaning of Christmas.

Overall rating: 10/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 6/10

Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG-13 (if the rest of the film had been like the first 30 minutes, I would put it as a 15 – however, it wasn’t, so I’ll keep it like this)

Tomorrow’s (or technically today’s) film: The Santa Clause

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Day 8: The Nightmare Before Christmas (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the eighth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

It’s less than a week until Christmas! I can’t believe it’s so close. In all honesty, I don’t really feel ready for it to be the 25th of December yet. I mean, we only just started this month. How did it get to the 19th already? But anyway, getting closer and closer to Christmas day also means getting closer and closer to the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas Movies, as shown here on Ocean Owl. Today we hit the 2/3 milestone on the 8th day, with Tim Burton’s film The Nightmare Before Christmas.Nightmare Before Christmas Poster

I’m aware that there are quite a few people in the world who would cry out at this statement. After all, why should we call it Tim Burton’s movie? What about Henry Selick, the director? Why does Burton get so much credit for this film if he only took part in the writing of it? Well, I’m not really here to argue about this, and to be honest I don’t have a strong point of view as to why Burton gets so much credit – it seems kind of fair, especially given the fact that he did write the original story for it. For another point, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a distinctly Tim Burton film. It has all the signs: dark, macabre humour; music by Danny Elfman; German expressionism; stripes; Gothic-ness…….the list goes on. The point is that whether or not you believe Burton deserves as much credit as he is given for this film, there’s no denying his influence on it.

I love Tim Burton’s work, and today was hardly my first time watching The Nightmare Before Christmas – on the contrary, it has been one of my favourite films for some time. So maybe that is partially what made me add this film to the list of Twelve Christmas Movies, despite it having an unusual connection with this holiday season. The film is actually about Jack Skellington, the skeleton king of Halloween Town, who decides to steal Christmas from the people of Christmas Town  and, er, make it his own. It’s a bit of a reverse Grinch story in a way, which is why I placed it immediately behind that film in the order of the list. If that didn’t make it unique enough, The Nightmare Before Christmas also combines elements of both Halloween and Christmas – there’s even a bit of Easter thrown in as well. Still, it is a rather Christmassy movie, and fits in this list just fine. Anyway, we included Die Hard, didn’t we?

Nightmare Before Christmas Halloween Town 2

Like a good deal of Tim Burton’s films, you don’t necessarily love The Nightmare Before Christmas just for the whole effect of it. The finer details are just as – if not more – important. The soundtrack, for example, is one of the best parts of the film, having been written by Danny Elfman and containing fantastically atmospheric and catchy music for practically every scene in the movie. This being Tim Burton, after all, the visual style is also great, provided you like that sort of thing. Personally, I love the dark colours and German expressionism-ism look the film has (except in the Christmas Town scenes, when it’s hello bright colours and merriness) , but I appreciate this might not be to everyone’s taste. Burton’s, along with Selick’s, work tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair. On a whole, if you generally like Tim Burton’s style, you will probably like the way The Nightmare Before Christmas is stylised. If you can’t stand it, then……….well, the film has a good plot too.Nightmare Before Christmas Jack as Santa

Speaking of that, I should probably elaborate on my earlier description of the plot. I said it is like a reversed Grinch story, in that it’s shown from the perspective of the creatures that steal Christmas. That is true, but it leaves out a few important points. First of all, the Halloween Town citizens don’t try and take away Christmas because they hate it; they do it because they love it. Or they think they love it, anyway. It turns out that their idea of a “jolly” Christmas doesn’t really match up with the original concept. It’s a very sympathetic film, though. The residents of Halloween Town might scare people for a living, but as they say: “That’s our job/ but we’re not mean”. They don’t hurt people, which is a crucial point as to why they’re not malevolent. Jack Skellington’s back-firing attempts at making Christmas are more misled than malicious, and there are very few actual bad guys in the movie.

Nightmare Before Christmas Oogie Boogie

The only truly evil character is Oogie Boogie, who strongly resembles an animated sack. Don’t laugh – his appearance comes across as a lot more menacing in-film. In fact, he’s a pretty effective character as a whole. He’s rather sadistic for a villain in a children’s film, so it’s easy not to feel much sympathy for him. His lair also comes with neon, voodoo-esque decorations and jazzy theme music, which both contribute to making him a memorable antagonist. Unlike other bad guys in films, though, Oogie is quite repulsive. So a good balance of traits, in total.Nightmare Before Christmas Sally

But I don’t want to send a weird message by focusing solely on the bad guy of the movie. The rest of the cast of characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas are equally good. Jack is a charismatic, theatrical protagonist on the surface, but he also has another side that is unhappy with his current life and wants something more. It’s always great to have a multi-dimensional hero who isn’t just the “brave-but-conflicted” type. Sally, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster/rag doll creature, makes for a good love interest, as well. She serves as a confidante and advisor to Jack (even though he never listens to her), but she also has her own dreams of escaping the clutches of her presumed-father Dr Finklestein. She can be a little self-pitying about how Jack doesn’t know she loves him and all that, though somehow it doesn’t annoy me. Seriously, I always feel that Sally should be an irritating character, but for whatever reason, she isn’t. On top of the main cast, there’s a huge host of other Halloween Town residents, all complete with their own looks and personalities: there’s the vampires, with their high voices and ever-present umbrellas; the cackling, tiny witches; the blubbery-voiced, slimy sea monster; the panicky mayor whose face spins around from happy to sad when his mood changes; and the devious trio of Oogie’s child assistants Lock, Shock, and Barrel. And that’s not even half of it. If you want to read about all of them, have a look here. Just how well-documented this article is shows what a devoted fanbase this film has.

Nightmare Before Christmas Vampires

In conclusion, I love this film. I also think it’s a very good, well-made one, but I can’t say for certain that a lot of people will enjoy watching it. Most of the people I have spoken to about this film in the past have said something along the lines of “I just didn’t get it.” Really, what is there to get? It’s a creative, slightly eerie kids’ film made by Tim Burton. If you can imagine what that would be like, then you have a pretty good sense of what The Nightmare Before Christmas is like to watch. So it’s more of a love-it-or-didn’t-get-it film, I suppose. I’d say it’s really the sort of film you have to form your own opinion of. My point of view will remain firmly on the side of liking the film, though.

Overall rating: 10/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 7/10 (lots of Christmas, but also lots of Halloween)

Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG (some kids might find the way characters take off limbs and talk flippantly about death a little……unnerving)

Tomorrow’s film: Joyeux Noel

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Day 7: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the seventh in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

Today we come to the seventh day in our twelve-day Christmas movie extravaganza! Why is this special? Because 7 is the most magical number, of course! At least in my opinion, although J. K. Rowling and plenty of numerologists are on the same side. Anyway, as a celebration of the unique-ness (it is a word, I swear) of the number seven, I’m going to do something new and try to keep this post shorter and more concise. If you’ve read more than one of my blog posts, you’ll know this isn’t something I attempt very often. Then again, it should be easier today, given that How the Grinch Stole Christmas is only half an hour long. But if I want to succeed here, I should probably start on with the body of the review now. Ah – nearly 200 words already!How the Grinch Stole Christmas DVD

How the Grinch Stole Christmas isn’t exactly a new film. Well, the 1966 version, which is the one I watched today, isn’t. A remake, starring Jim Carrey as the green humbug, was created in 2000, but I think I’m not alone in saying that it wasn’t nearly as good as the original. Both feature the plot of a grumpy, miserable creature called the Grinch – who ranks highly on the list of Christmas-haters, along with Ebenezer Scrooge – trying to “steal” Christmas from the festivity-loving, joyful town of Whoville. This being a Doctor Seuss story, Whoville is naturally inhabited by humanoid life forms known as Whos.

This is another film that many people have probably seen at least once before in their lives, most likely as children. To them, I don’t really need to say that this is a good film. The whole thing is narrated by Boris Karloff, who does the voice of both the narrator and the Grinch himself. Again making it clear that Dr Seuss played an active role in the film’s creation, practically the entire script rhymes, which creates an atmospheric, fairytale or folklore-esque quality to the film. Between patches of narration and (less commonly) dialogue, songs are included. Since watching the film, I have had You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch and Welcome Christmas (Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!) taking turns playing on repeat in my head. The latter is contagiously cheerful and sweet, whilst the former contains cleverly insulting – if a little absurd – lines directed at the Grinch. “You have all the tender sweetness/ Of a seasick crocodile” has to be my favourite, though there are plenty more where that came from.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Max

Even though the majority of people reading this will probably already know how the story of the Grinch’s attempt to steal Christmas ends, I won’t risk spoiling it for you. I will, however, say that it is one of the most heart-warming stories to appear yet in this list of movies. Although I think you are mainly supposed to feel sympathy for Cindy Lou Who, the apparently-legless 2-year-old girl who catches the Grinch during his stealing spree, the character I felt sorry for the most was the Grinch’s dog, Max. He does basically everything his owner asks him to, but is never treated nicely. It all works out at the end, still, so you’re not left feeling unhappy.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas WhovilleOn a whole, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is yet another great film. It’s short, but there’s the sort of development and distinctive characters in it that could only be caused by the help of someone like Doctor Seuss. As it is, the film is clearly a Seuss one. It’s a much more enjoyable experience to watch than many of the newer adaptations of Dr Seuss stories – The Cat in the Hat, for one – and is overall a happy, childish* movie. It also ranks highly in Christmassy-ness ratings, which is just one more reason to watch it.

Overall rating: 8/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 10/10 (it’s all Christmas, all the time in this movie)

Mary’s parental guidance rating: U (or G)

Tomorrow’s film: The Nightmare Before Christmas

*That’s a positive adjective in this case

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Day 6: It’s a Wonderful Life (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the sixth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

Thanks to the portrayal of family Christmases in American films, my own family and I have been (for quite some time) under the impression that all citizens of the United States spend the whole of December sitting around and watching old black-and-white movies. This probably seems incredibly strange to real-life Americans, but when you watch lots of live-action films set in December, it comes across that people watch black-and-white films an awful lot, especially at Christmas time. It's a Wonderful Life PosterI understand this likely isn’t really true (my family have also previously thought that Americans often walk around outside in their pyjamas – something not frequently seen in Britain), but it still is a recurring theme in many Christmas movies. The reason I brought this is up is because one of the old films most often shown being watched in such movies is also the one I watched today: It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s a Wonderful Life, which stars James Stewart in the role of the protagonist, basically comes across as being the Christmas movie. It’s the one that is shown as the most famous and best-loved in popular culture, and not only in films where the characters watch it. It’s mentioned in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has been voted America’s favourite Christmas movie multiple times, and is even referenced in Olivia Newton John and John Travolta’s newest song (watch at your own risk). It’s the highest IMDB-rated film on this list and easily the most emotional. Today was the second time I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, but it was nevertheless as impressive as last time.

To give you an idea of the plot without any major spoilers, it’s mostly about the life of a man named George Bailey (James Stewart). Despite his life-long dream to travel the world, George is repeatedly forced to stay in his hometown of Bedford Falls due to his responsibilities there.  He eventually marries Mary (Donna Reed), does everything for the good of other people, and is constantly harassed by the mean, elderly slumlord Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who wants to either kill or take over the small business George inherited from his father. Many plot summaries will mostly talk about an event later in the film, in which George attempts to commit suicide, only to re-examine the impact of his life with the help of Clarence (Henry Travers), a wing-less guardian angel. However, this doesn’t happen until more than halfway into the film. Although all events prior to that critical one could be seen as little more than build-up, there is as much importance in George’s “back story” as there is in what happens during and after his attempted suicide.

It's a Wonderful Life Pub

So, as I mentioned before, It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic, popular Christmas movie that is a festive holiday staple in many parts of the world (but primarily America). I would say that it is thoroughly deserving of this recognition, especially given that it initially underperformed at the box office. It’s one of those films that, while you’re watching, you forget is a film. The acting, plot, script – it’s all so (im)perfectly natural that you forget all about technicalities like camera angles and use of lighting. For someone like me, who normally over-analyses these films to the point of annoyance, this makes it a real pleasure to watch.

The theme of the film, which is one of the most memorable aspects of it, is also a lovely one. I can’t say exactly what it is – for fear of giving away what happens – but I will say that it is a genuinely heart-warming one that doesn’t come across as at all contrived. Although there are some scenes in the film that are emotional in a less positive way, some being even painful to watch, the end makes it all worthwhile.It's a Wonderful Life Mr Potter

Not that this film is all drama and emotion, though. There is humour as well. When they are younger, George and his brother Harry joke about with their family, friends, and maid, with funny results. Throughout the film, offhand comments are made that cause questioning looks from other characters, which is entertaining to watch. The acting – which is of a very high standard – in this film really makes a difference here, as the people in it can express so much (whether happy, sad, or humorous) in a brief look or a prolonged close-up. There’s no need for a laugh track or in-your-face jokes in It’s a Wonderful Life. In fact, the subtlety of some of the dialogue’s comedy is what makes it so good. The film reminded me fondly of To Kill a Mockingbird in this respect, in that it doesn’t require over-the-top or unrealistic events and statements to be funny; in contrast, the natural humour in It’s a Wonderful Life is partially what makes it come across as a more honest movie.

It's a Wonderful Life Clarence and George

Because I have talked about the subject of religiousness in Christmas movies quite a bit in previous Twelve Days of Christmas posts, I feel I should address it in It’s a Wonderful Life. The Christian, religious element is clearly present in it, but this film is an example of the theme being used well. It contributes to the plot, is not preachy, and can be, in a way, appreciated by people regardless of faith. When you think about it, the influence of praying, angels, God, and so on in the movie could easily be substituted by another spiritual entity. For instance, karma and the inherently good nature of humankind play equally important roles in the story. Christianity’s role in the film is more of a moralistic, redeeming – rather than Biblical – one. In contrast to A Charlie Brown Christmas, this movie aims for the reasons behind the Christian aspect of Christmas, instead of just the face value of it. I don’t know what everyone else’s views are on this, but I find this sort of approach to be immensely preferable.

I can see entirely why It’s a Wonderful Life is such a Christmas classic film – it has all the elements of the perfect one. It’s not an overly complex or self-confident film; it’s just a simple, genuinely good one. You can’t really pick faults with the individual parts of the movie, but, at the same time, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful film in itself, and I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet should do so, and soon. Besides – what better time to see an old, black-and-white film than at Christmas time?

It's a Wonderful Life 2

Overall rating: 9/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 7/10 (most of the Christmassy element appears in the latter half of the film, and it’s worth noting that the emphasis here is on the spirit of the holiday, not so much the symbols)

Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG

Tomorrow’s film: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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Day 5: Jingle All the Way (Twelve Days of Christmas Movies)

This is the fifth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.

It’s the fifth day of Christmas movies; that means we’re almost half-way to the end! Today I watched the lowest IMDB-rated film on the list: Jingle All the Way. I put a great deal of trust in IMDB ratings, so I would probably have been expecting to dislike this film, or at least think it was badly made. But that would only be if I hadn’t seen it before. As things stood at the start of the film, I had watched it multiple times before, having mostly enjoyed it each time. Since my last time watching it, though, I had watched many more films and become more critical of those I saw. So this time around, I was viewing it with different eyes. Did that change my overall opinion of it? You’ll have to wait and see.Jingle All the Way DVD

Jingle All the Way stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (I’m being serious here) in the role of an unreliable father and husband, named Howard, who works all the time, never keeps his promises, and is constantly letting down his son and wife. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, but he never prioritises family-related tasks highly enough to get them done when other obstacles get in the way. When he misses his son’s karate belt-giving ceremony, his wife and son get quite annoyed with him. In order to make up with him, Howard promises to buy Jamie (his son) a Turbo Man doll for Christmas. Turbo Man is a fictional action hero that Jamie – along with every other child in the entire world – adores. When Howard tells his wife about making this promise, she asks him if he has gotten the doll already. This is when it becomes clear that Howard was meant to have already bought one, even though he hasn’t. Howard, unfortunately, pretends that he has bought one. What this means is that he then has to go on a mad-dash mission around the town, trying desperately to find a Turbo Man doll. But seeing as the doll is selling super fast and there are basically none left to buy, Howard’s task is a somewhat challenging one.

At some point in his adventure, Howard becomes involved in a contest with Myron (by the end of the film, I still wasn’t sure if his name was Byron or Marion), an in-your-face postman played by Sinbad, who also wants to get a Turbo Man for his own son. Meanwhile, Howard’s wife and son are preparing to go to the Christmas Eve parade – an event Howard has promised to be there for – whilst the family’s repulsively perfect, interfering neighbour Ted (Phil Hartman) basically tries to steal Howard’s wife. Additionally featured in the story is a run-in with a shopping centre Santa, played by James Belushi, who runs a Christmas toys black market with a bunch of other mall Santas.

Jingle All the Way 2

Jingle All the Way is not by any means an excellently made film. It has multiple issues, including questionable acting, dodgy camera shots, and an obviously contrived script. There are several cringey parts of the film, such as when Ted temporarily keeps a pet reindeer (also named Ted) as a Christmas gift for his son. He apparently intends to set it free into a group of wild reindeer once Christmas is over. Even if he seems flawless at first, at least it’s clear that the man knows nothing about animals. The recurring use of dwarf actors to portray “Santa’s little helpers” is also not overly pleasant to watch, but it’s bearable.

Jingle All the Way Ted

Hellooo? Oh, you’re looking for a creepy, intrusive, somehow-desirable-to-women man named Ted? Well, you’ve found the right guy.

But while Jingle All the Way isn’t good in terms of production, plot, script, and so on, its ultimate redeeming quality is that it isn’t under any illusions about this fact. It doesn’t present itself as being up for an Oscar or becoming the family comedy of the year. It’s a silly film and it knows it. That is the thing that stops Jingle All the Way from being a flat-out bad film, and if you stop trying to pick flaws in it and just watch, it can actually be an enjoyable movie. It’s a fairly harmless film, and there are quite a few funny parts that an average person has a good chance of laughing at – provided you’re not looking for high entertainment. Granted, it is the sort of film that can be rather frustrating for much of the time – as Howard’s plans constantly go wrong and his family never stop to listen to his explanations – but I’ll tell you now that it all ends happily. There, I spoiled the ending. Still, now that you know that, you have a better chance of not tearing your hair out every time a person misses the opportunity to punch Ted (the man, not the reindeer) in the face.

Jingle All the Way Turboman

So, all things considered, Jingle All the Way is a fine film. It’s not one of those films, like Die Hard, that I would recommend to basically anyone, but it is probably worth watching at least once. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of cast are pretty entertaining, the awkward bits are bearable, and the ending is sufficiently heart-warming for a Christmas film. My suggestion would be to not take this film too seriously. If you do, you probably won’t like it. But if you’re willing to give it a chance as some light comedy, you might genuinely enjoy it.

Overall rating: 5/10

Christmassy-ness rating: 6/10

Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG

Tomorrow’s film: It’s a Wonderful Life

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