I am Ren [2020, SciFi London 2020]

“They want you to think you did it…”


Directed by Piotr Ryczko, this film follows Ren (Renata), mother to Kam and wife to Jan. As a family, they seem like the image of contentedness and perfection until one day Jan comes home to a house in complete disarray and Kam and Ren in a state of despair and shock. Ren is bruised all over her body as is Kam, and she has intrusive memories of two men she doesn’t know observing her. Whilst recovering, she overhears her husband talking to two men that she has malfunctioned and that she should be packed up and thrown away. Ren is taken to a psychiatrist who asks her what has happened and she tells him that she is REN, an android and that it is an error. Her memory is fractured and she is unable to remember what went on that day. A woman called Ela tells her “humans might have some memory loss, but not you” and asks her if she can run a diagnostic and access her memories with a special key to find out what has happened, further insinuating that Ren’s husband cannot be trusted. Ren goes to her son Kam to find answers saying she believes she has been with him for only three years, but he shows her pictures which contradicts this belief.

Later, Ela accesses her memories and Ren sees the father Jan beating the child and talks Kam into running away with her. To prevent capture, she jumps into a frozen lake but is caught and has to remain for further psychiatric care. Whilst in care, she sees an advert for REN androids that ends up being about a toy and her belief structure begins to fall apart. The film ends on her seeing her family but there is someone with them. DUN DUN DAHHHHHH!!!

Wow what can I say. I thought this was a well made film, and what a great film to close the festival with. I know I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come, because the ending was really ambiguous. I’m not sure which parts of what I saw was actually real. You could view it as a film about mental health and the ending is about a broken women seeing what her mind is projecting or she really was a REN android, and the unit she was taken to was for broken androids or they’d be turned into parts eventually. I like that ambiguity of the whole film. Particularly because the person REN befriends (Ela) feeds into her and my own (as the viewer) paranoia.

I don’t remember much of a soundtrack so I think it was pretty low key, and the visuals were kept pretty normal with quite monochrome and dull colours in the cinematography and costuming. So it’s really all about the story. The lake scene where you see her in the water after she has jumped in looks pretty rad. It’s quite an iconic looking scene. They hold her there for a while to savour the moment of her sinking.

So all in all, top film. Really enjoyed it. Nice concept and twists. I don’t know what to believe happened, even now. Nothing super flashy about the cinematography, but it was a well written story I thought. Go watch it.

Thanks SciFi London 2020 for putting these feature and short films up. I’ve got a few more short film reviews to share, but I’ve had such a ball watching all of these stories. The bar has been very high this year and I cannot wait for 2021. I liked having a virtual viewing just because I’m quite a home-body and I like writing/typing my thoughts as I go, which you can’t do in a real cinema, so I hope you have a virtual offering for future fests (thank you plz plz plz)! See you next year!

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Into the Forest [2015]

“We have each other”


‘Into the Forest’ is a Canadian film, somewhere between science fiction and horror-drama. It stars Elliot Page, Evan Rachel Wood and Callum Keith Rennie who are a family who find themselves in the middle of a continent-wide power outage which turns society on its head. There’s only really one sci fi element to the film in that it’s kind of a dystopian future type dealio, but the scenario is something that could very well happen and explores everything that can go wrong.

Society starts to lose its damn mind, like it is wont to do in the midst of a crisis, and the family are forced to retreat to their cabin in the woods hoping to wait the outage out. However, the situation turns from bad to worse to even worse(r?) and it’s almost like this little family are super cursed.

Page and Wood are very believable siblings; their love for each other is quite palpable on screen as they try to comfort one another while their world is falling apart through food scarcity and tragedy.

This is quite a heavy, dark film. There’s one particular moment where something happens and the camera focuses on Wood’s face. She acted it so well, and as a viewer watching her act it was like I was kicked in the chest. That scene is really powerful.

I thought generally it was a little slow, but I get the sense that this is necessary given the topic. The passage of time while you wait for normality to happen would probably feel like things are plodding on. I like that – SPOILERS – you never really know why it all happened in the first place, and you don’t really get a sense of closure with the film. You watch it just waiting for things to go back to normal but the family have to instead adapt to their ‘new normal’. It makes it seem more real somehow. Some similar films might end with “OH BTW IT WAS ALIENS” or “AND OMG IT TURNS OUT EVERYTHING WAS OKAY IN THE END” so this was a refreshing take at a different perspective.

So all in all, this film is really all about family, and how important your family are for your survival whatever shape that takes. The lush woodland was obviously totally stunning. I thought it was really well acted. The concept is a simple one but was explored thoroughly like the Director rinsed the shit out of it. I thought it was a decent film if maybe a bit slow, though I wasn’t ‘blown away’ by it. Worth a watch.

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Sci-Fi London 2020

SOPHFIFEST’s December 2020 WATCHERS club has been pushed back one week, but for a very good reason!


SCI-FI-LONDON 2020 is happening 8-13 December and due to COVID it’s going to be virtual this year. Cannot wait. Also, tickets are super cheap at £20.20 for the whole festival, or £5 per film if you only want to watch the odd film.

I’m particularly excited about the feature films (synopses below):

  • Live (08/12) – a dystopian story where humans aren’t allowed to be in contact with one another, which given our current COVID/lockdown situation seems very on the nose.
  • Mirror Human (09/12) – this film follows the lives of three characters and explores androids. The synopsis is quite elusive so I guess I will watch and find out!
  • Cosmic Candy (09/12) – a film about a hallucinogenic candy which looks really vibrant and trippy and full of action.
  • Minor Premise (10/12) – this film is about scientific experimentation gone wrong. Ethan finds himself fragmented into different timelines after trying to finish his father’s invention and has to rely on partner/colleague Dr Alli Fisher to find the answers. I’m excited to see how this thriller unfolds.
  • A report on the party and the guests (11/12) – this is a film about a creature on a secret mission but is also about a pandemic and humanity destroying itself.
  • I am human (11/12) – this film is about cyborgs living as part of humanity and explores the human brain and what makes us human.
  • The American Astronaut (11/12) – on my current watchlist. This is one of the top 100 science fiction films of all time, so I’m excited to finally see this.
  • Truth or Consequences (12/12) – the film is set in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (yes, this is a real place!!) and explores the concept of humans colonising new planets but what if you were left behind. I’m really interested in this idea, the further we advance into space exploration and I’m looking forward to this offering.
  • Skyman (12/12) – this film follows Carl who believes he will be the victim of repeat alien abduction. Is he right? Let’s find out! It’s also co-directed by Daniel Myrick of The Blair Witch Project! Woah!
  • I am Ren (13/13) – this film is a thriller about Artificial Intelligence and follows Renata trying to find answers to a mysterious event.

There are also 30+ short films this year to explore. Check them out here.

I’m really excited to see so much diversity in this year’s offering. This is the direction that science fiction film needs to be moving into. More women, more BIPOC/POC, more LGBTQ, more disabled, more neuro-diverse creators and actors. Representation FTW!

Get your pass soon: https://sci-fi-london.com/ SOPHFIFEST will be chatting about films seen on this site and normal social networks so check those out coming soon 🙂 ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK! ONE MORE WEEK!

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Annihilation [film, 2018]

“It’s destroying everything.”

“It’s not destroying everything. It’s making something new.”


Thanks to those who came to the SOPHFIFEST watchparty in November! This is the film we watched 🙂 Massive spoilers below, but I promise you that you will thank me…

It’s quite hard to describe this film but if I had to, I would probably say it started like a phenomenon-adventure film and ended like a beautiful, strange Lady Gaga music video.

The first thing that struck me, having read the book, was how unlike the book the film was. Having read into some of the background, I can now see why. The film was the lovechild of Alex Garland, writer and director of such films as Ex Machina. Apparently his vision for the film was to make a loose adaptation of the book. The main characters and themes and some of the ideas that came out of the book are there in the film, but much like the prism landscape in Area X they went into Garland’s mind, were changed irrevocably, and came out different… and I can’t say it was for the better…

There were some things which really bothered me (we won’t even go into detail about the noiseless love-making scene which creeped me out)…

With the exception of one scene at the top of the movie, it felt like Lena’s driving force only related to her husband and finding out the truth for him. The book, however, reveals that her and her husband are quite estranged and that her reasoning for wanting to go into The Shimmer was much more complicated than that, so the film missed the mark on that.

It bothered me that it felt like I didn’t know any of the supporting cast members that well, i.e. Lena’s colleagues who also went into Area X except what I was told… that they were women with little to no ties to the earth outside of Area X (due to cancer/loss of children) and one of them was probably gay. I felt like the director interpreted the book to suggest that the peripheral characters did not deserve to be afforded any nuance and at times the agency to tell their own story themselves, which was offputting to say the least. In the book, they were travelling for days, and whilst the spotlight was on Lena it didn’t mean I didn’t get to know the other scientists. I wondered how different the film would have been if the script had been written by a woman. It felt like a lot of time was spent trying to convince me this was a Feminist film (with a big F) but then fell totally short.

There was also a bit where Lena shoots something and a colleague asks her where she learned to shoot like that, to which she explained she had been in the military. It made me wonder, would we the audience ever question a hypermasculine man’s ability to shoot a gun if we saw him save lives? In doing so, it felt like the audience was seeking Natalie Portman’s authority to be able to shoot a gun successfully, instead of just accepting she could do it. Imagine one of the characters in Aliens asking Vasquez where she learned to shoot in the same way, or The Terminator or any other character really. We know Lena is qualified and capable and powerful already because she shot the thing to death…

And then there’s a part where the medical character sees a man with a thing squirming inside him and she denies its existence. It just undermines women because she’s meant to be a qualified, educated person and is painted in this truly ignorant way… I read around to see if anyone else experienced this film in a similar way, and I think this blog really sums it up. I have to agree, I found the film pretty insulting.

The cinematography/CGI was strikingly beautiful. Not just the shimmer itself but the flower-people were really well done.

I also really enjoyed Jennifer Jason Leigh’s depiction of the Psychologist. The ethereal way she talked in the movie made me question whether she was real, whether any of it was real.

The pinnacle of the whole film ended up what seemed like a dance battle with someone in a metallic full bodysuit which seemed quite pointless…

In conclusion, I think this film was a beautiful waste of time, but I really didn’t like how the characters were portrayed in such a flat way. I think it had great potential. The book itself was so compelling and I really wanted to know more… but it felt like the director missed the point both in the Feminist message he tried to put out and also in the plot. I would say don’t waste your time. Read the book instead.

UPDATE 20/11/2020 – That said I know lots of people really LOVE LOVE LOVED this film. Far be it from me to write off an entire film. I would say take this film with a big old pinch of salt. It’s well casted, looks amazing but it is pretty flawed. You have been warned.

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Interstellar [2014]

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”


This film (written and directed by Christopher Nolan) follows engineer and pilot, Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey who I thought was an excellent choice… the lofty way he moves and talks makes it seem like he has no gravity in his body so was totally believable as a spaceman) in a time not too far in the future. Humans have ravaged the earth and along with food shortages, all their fun times are being broken up by damn dust storms. DAMN YOU DUST STORMS! These shortages have necessitated people to concentrate on survival which seems to impact all areas in life, including what pathway kids take in school. NASA has all been shut down but are operating in secret to think of ways to save humanity. Inexplicably, Cooper’s path crosses with NASA and they send him on a journey to save everyone.

The rest, as they say, is history. OR IS IT?

Okay, so I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was really engaging, the CGI and acting was excellent. It was beautiful and had me on the edge of my seat, and I’m guaranteed to enjoy ANY film that has a robot in it… Apart from Prometheus which I thought was a bag of dicks…

Anywho… the problem I had with it is that I had trouble suspending my disbelief throughout because of certain parts of the storyline. SPOILERSSSS!

***

Why would NASA be shut down as being too frivolous and expensive if their aim was to save humanity? Why would educators change the history books and teach children that space exploration was faked and didn’t happen? Wouldn’t they want, if anything, to get the best scientific minds on the planet working out how to save everyone which if anything would mean putting MORE resources into science? It seemed like the problem fell solely on Michael Caine’s character’s shoulders…

The blight has destroyed all but corn, apparently, but they still have beer. Is it corn beer? Is everything they’re eating just corn? Is the only reason it is surviving because it’s Monsanto GMO corn?

Anne Hathaway’s character tells her crew that LOVE IS THE ANSWER when asked to make a major decision which impacts literally humanity’s survival. Like, dude, you’re a scientist. But screw all your stats and figures and equations, amirightladiessss. She did end up being correct though, and this spirituality of love saving the world really echoed the film Contact, which also suggested that love was the one thing through the darkness and expanse of the universe that connected us all. This felt like an epic eye-roll moment, but maybe I’m just a cynic…

We know that time is of the essence in this film. Like Michael Caine’s character says: “I’m not afraid of death, I’m an old physicist. I’m afraid of time.” It feels like Nolan is also afraid of time, and indeed the film really wastes no time; not even to flesh out some of the major characters that appear later in the film after Cooper goes to interstellar space…

I have many more questions than answers with this film but when all is said and done, I thought it was really enjoyable.

The soundscape of the film did an excellent job of making it pretty tense and accentuating key moments, to the point where it felt like a real kick in the chest.

The science of the film was sound, i.e. how wormholes sort of work (nice paper explanation of how they work, which I remember seeing explained the same way in Event Horizon), the idea of time swelling or changing relative to black hole proximity and the multi-dimensional theory was also sound. Albert Einstein once said “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Interstellar did an excellent, creative job of showing what that might look like and how time could be manipulated. That if humans were able to perceive more than the three dimensions we currently can, that we might perceive the past, present and future all at once! Though I sincerely don’t believe he would have survived travelling through a singularity…

The presence of scifi/horror elements in the film personally made me feel uneasy and my impending doom-ometer was going wild. I really don’t know if it was intentional, but the aforementioned Event Horizon bit… the presence of cornfields… a robot in space who I suspected any minute would turn on the crew whilst they were in stasis… all of these elements added up to create a pretty tense film.

But what I loved the most was that Interstellar prompted really deep questions in my mind about the universe and reality and time.

***

So in conclusion, I think it’s an insanely epic undertaking of a film. Some say that Nolan shot for the stars and missed with this film and that it was overly ambitious. Despite its flaws, I think it was wondiferous and imperfect all at once and I would definitely recommend this thought-provoking film.

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Gemini Man [2019]

“You know when I’m happy, Pop? When I’m flat on my belly, about to squeeze a trigger. It’s the only time I’m happy.”


Gemini Man is a film about Will Smith as a hot-shot assassin who decides he wants to retire, but they JUST. WON’T. LET. HIM. GOOOOOOOO!

Without giving too much away, it’s also about science/technology and a mysterious operative who seems to know his every move. Will Smith’s character in it seems totally oblivious to the plot/what is happening though, even though he is supposed to be this hot-shot agent with an eye that could shoot a man on a moving train from like 20 miles away but he literally cannot see what is right in front of his face even when it is spelled out to him by his sidekick, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead…

So as you can tell, the film didn’t quite work for me.

I didn’t believe either of the main characters, that they were who they were portraying or that they were capable of being them. This is all down to the script because I’ve watched Will Smith in tonnes of movies and I believe him in other films where he has been some sort of agent but for some reason the dialogue in this was just real bad and had that unfortunate effect.

The flow of the film felt very top heavy. The end section should have been this epic crescendo and build up but it felt like the last fight(s) just poofed and was over.

Lastly, and major spoilers here, the CGI was just off. We’ve all seen Will Smith as a twenty something in Fresh Prince of Belair, so seeing the CGI’d clone version of him and he looked odd… too shiny, his face was out of proportion to how he actually looks.. maybe even shorter somehow… I dunno, it really threw me and took away from my enjoyment of the film. The fight scenes between Will and Will looked like someone had put two Will dolls into a washing machine and filmed the ensuing battle from behind the door. There was very little definition so it took away from the fights.

Perhaps if it was just one thing that was off, then I would have accepted and enjoyed the movie, but because everything was not quite right, and the script was not strong enough to hold the film together, it was a no-go for me. I don’t think any other actor could have done it better justice. It really was all about the script and CGI for me.

So all in all, this isn’t a film I would recommend as a must-watch. It could have been amazing but it didn’t hit the target. PEW PEW. But as always have a watch and make your own mind up 🙂

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Anon [2018]

“We have to believe our eyes, or the system doesn’t work.”


What struck me about this film very early on was how film noir it was (or at least, neo noir). It has all the major tropes of a noir film… the stylish monochrome, oppressive city landscapes, offcentre camera placements and angles/shadows, the misanthrope detective, a murder investigation, suspense, femme fetale, smoky cigarettes, revolvers and this intentional feeling of alienation for the main character as his story unfolds.

Everything has this bleak feeling in the film, which is quite fitting given the subject matter, i.e. a question that the film poses about technology, privacy and intrusiveness. They ask this question a number of times in a number of ways: “They say it’s for our safety… Why don’t I feel safe?” This hopelessness is a reflection of today’s feelings towards our own technology. It’s making our life easier, but at what cost? Are we actually happier for it? Is it worth it? (let me work it, I put my thing down flip it and reverse it….)

I really enjoyed the subject matter. Shows like Black Mirror ask the same sorts of questions about technology so it’s on everyone’s minds at the moment.

What I feel missed the mark is that a lot of (neo) noir films have their misanthrope hint to a troubled past to literally add to the mystery. If it’s subtle it preserves the mysteriousness of the character. However, in this film all the cards were laid bare regarding his past. Perhaps this was because of the surveillance element of the film, but it needn’t have been so. I didn’t need to see through his mind’s eye to know he was troubled. Just like some interactions didn’t need to develop the way they did to create tension and drama. It felt like if a little bit had been preserved, it would have given the film a lot more.

All in all, entertaining but quite a listless film that missed the mark a little for me and was just a little too predictable but in all the wrong sort of ways.

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Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse [2018]

So good, this film gets THREE quotes:

“Wherever I go, the wind follows. And the wind smells like rain”.

“I’m taking this cube thing with me. I don’t know what it is, but I will do.”

“You got a problem with cartoons?!”


I don’t usually love a film at first sight, but within one minute I was truly in love. Into the Spider-Verse became one of my favourite films of all time in a flash! I open-mouth laughed. I cried. I was moved to heck. And I deeply loved this film and thought it was phenomenal. That’s how excellent a film it is.

So that ^ was the short version, but for the long version…

The soundscape is so excellently paired with the pacing of the action and it’s weird to say this but the levels were perfect. I watched the film with my partner and she usually reacts negatively where films get very loud for the action parts and then become quickly quiet which happens with most films, but there was no reaching for the remote. She didn’t need to because it was just really well done. I know, weird praise but it was just so good.

The film has a really great comic-style visual feel to it, with that classic comic lettering style prompting you throughout the story and showing the main character, Miles’, inner thoughts and feelings. The graphics are UN.FREAKING.BELIEVABLE. At times the colours are so vivid that it just blew my mind. Look closely and you’ll see the shading on the faces, which is a classic comic-move that make the characters come alive and feel like you’re reading a comic, except if a comic was in 5D… The fifth dimension is emotionsssss. Or it could be sleepiness. I’m not sure.

Kingpin is a mountain. He’s a goliath of a man. I felt intimidated by him just watching him and my hands got real clammy… I mean just imagine you’re a kid and you’re approached by a massive tank-man who is extremely dangerous and unhinged. That’s part of the reason why I loved Miles so much. When you first meet him, he’s much like every version of Peter Parker/Spiderman you’ve ever met in previous origin stories. He’s a kid. But he goes through this transformation while he’s trying to work out who he is in the world, he’s learning from mistakes and soon you see he is amazing, strong, fricking selfless and brave af. He does not hesitate to go toe to toe with anyone if it means securing someone’s safety. And that’s really what sets Kingpin and Miles apart. Kingpin is so selfish and is destined to repeat the same mistakes he has made in his life into perpetuity because he hasn’t accepted that he cannot control things, does not accept his part in his own downfall and will not learn. Kingpin’s vulnerability is his family, but then so is Miles’. The difference is that threats to Miles’ friends and family just make him stronger, not weaker like it does for Kingpin.

Anyway, my takeaway and life hack from that would be: Be more Miles.

There are lots of references to different styles of animation later in the film (like funny little ACME bits). It’s just so endearing and those fond little touches show you how much the makers love comics and animation. I know you would expect them to, but there are loads of animations that just feel like someone has banged out another film. Into the Spider-Verse feels like it was a little sprout that was fed and grew and fortified into greatness. Also the different styles worked seamlessly together.

The final boss fight scene begins literally like a platform game fight, and it was just one of many things that made me LOSE MY GODDAMN MIND watching the film.

I could go on and on.

The only ONLY criticism I have is that I wish the film was called INTO THE SPIDEY-VERSE. I’m just gonna call it that and you can’t stop me. You’re not my real daddy.

So all in all… it was alright…. said nobody because they all said it was AMAZING. Really excellent film. If I was to give stars, I would likely give it five stars out of five. But I would say just go see it. Even my partner – who is not a science fiction or animation fan – thought it was amazing which is not common. So it gets the TOUGH CROWD thumbs up!

Easily one of my top twenty films of all time. Maybe even top ten. Go watch it now. It’s on NOW TV. Hey you. Go, stop what you’re doing. That’s unimportant. Put that down. Okay you over there, finish what you’re doing in the bathroom and then bloody go do it now. In fact, I want to go watch it again too…

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EVENTS EVENTS EVENTS!

Quick update! Today I launched two new monthly events on the site/fb/insta starting November. Check them out below:


First off is THE WATCHERS, a monthly science fiction watch party which will be hosted on TeleParty. It’ll happen on the second Wednesday of every month @ 8pm (UTC+1, aka London time) and details about the film will be shared on the post and the link sent to attendee just prior to the event. You just need TeleParty to join!


The second is THE READERS, a monthly science fiction book review club which will be hosted on Zoom. It’ll happen on the last Sunday of every month @ 13:00 (UTC+1, aka London time) and details about the first book will be shared via the post and the link to discuss sent to attendees just prior to the event. You just need Zoom to join!


Check out the EVENTS LISTINGS page on this site to be taken through to the Facebook event page. Please register your interest if you intend to attend! All links will be sent privately for your security and so we can create a safe space free from internet jocks.

See you there!

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Venom [2018]

“He has shit you have never seen…”


I have to be honest, I was a little put off of watching Venom knowing that Tom Hardy was on board, hence the two year gap. I’m a massive Marvel fan, but Tom does not have a good track record for playing characters with unusual accents, and Eddie Brock/Venom have strange accents! I think setting the bar low in my mind meant that whilst it was not an amazing film, I did really enjoy it.

Brock/Venom was actually really likeable. I’ve played Spiderman games and Spidey comics, and Venom being Spidey’s antagonist means he is painted as a monster. But in this version of the origin story, Brock starts out as a journalist and he has a lot of integrity. It just so happens that Brock merges with Venom for a good reason and they realise they are simpatico, two sides of the same coin, Brock’s Ying to Venom’s Yang!

There’s a really good scene early in the film where Brock is angry at his neighbour’s loud music playing. As we all know, Venom really dislikes it too and it rips him apart from his host. I like to think that Brock and Venom bonded over their severe dislike of rock music… Brock: Like Black Sabbath? Venom: No, hate them. Hate all rock music. It sux. Brock: Me too! We have so much in commonnnnnnn!

What I found interesting was that the original Venom story was that he was tracking a killer and Spidey thwarts his progress and that’s how Spidey becomes his enemy. But in this version, there IS no Spidey. It’s like a complete re-writing of the thing. I’m looking forward to see how Venom’s story develops with the Carnage sequel and how Spidey is introduced into that.

Overall, a lot of fun. Not Marvel’s best but definitely not their worst. Pacing of the film is good and Tom Hardy’s Venom is both likable and humorous.

P.S. No video for this post today unfortunately! But I’ll be back making my vid cliffnotes soon!

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