A few thoughts about ‘Noah’

I was sad that I didn’t like “Noah” more than I did.

It was so dark, so humorless, and so void of hope that it was almost impossible to enjoy. But I don’t think it was supposed to be the type of movie that you enjoy.

Despite how much I didn’t

enjoy watching it, it has definitely stuck around in my thoughts much longer than I anticipated. It’s the kind of movie that is probably more enjoyable to discuss or theorize about than to actually watch. Which makes perfect sense, since the only other movie I can think of that fits that description as well as “Noah” is Aronofsky’s “The Fountain,” which felt like it took place in the same spiritual universe as “Noah.”

A lot has been said about Aronofsky’s atheism. In fact, way too much has been said about Aronofsky’s atheism. Ben-Hur was written in large part by Gore Vidal, who was also an outspoken atheist, but that didn’t seem to get in the way of him adapting a compelling story that explored faith.

The focus on Aronofsky’s religious beliefs seems to stem more from people who are giddy at the idea of transforming the film into part of the Culture Wars  than how he actually depicts the events of the Old Testament. The fine young lads over at Breitbart, for example believe the film to be “a brilliant, compelling, beautifully-mounted, beautifully-acted piece of storytelling conceived for the sinister purpose of leading people to believe that Christianity and Judaism [they seem to have forgotten Islam, which also accepts Noah as a prophet] are something they are not.”

The folks at Breitbart are concerned that atheist Aronofsky has made a film worshipping “the pagan God Gaia,” who was basically a personification of Mother Earth. So what worries them is that the God Aronofsky is exploring is inconsistent with their personal conception of who the God of Noah was. Even worse, this God is worried about the environment.

Aronofsky’s blasphemous claim that God is some kind of tree-hugger who wiped out humanity in the Flood to save the planet and punish Man for hunting animals is a bald-faced lie.

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It’s strange to me that the folks at Breitbart interpreted the film that way. There are strong environmentalist themes in the film, there is no doubt about that. But the director also shows some pretty horrific scenes of the depravity of mankind. Man is not treating man kindly, and that comes up more than once in Noah’s explanation of why the people must perish.

To his credit, Glenn Beck seems to have taken the film for what it was. He didn’t like it, but his reasoning actually makes sense, though I still disagree with him. “I believe that it is not a godless climate change movie” he said. “It’s more take ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ meets ‘The Shining’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ with a sprinkle of ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.’”

And that is how I hope most people will engage with “Noah,” observing it for what it is without attempting to find some sinister subversive message behind it. There are worse messages than “lets stop hurting the environment and  killing each other,” anyway.

But as I said, I don’t completely agree with Beck’s whole “Thunderdome” meets “Sinbad the Sailor” thing. “Noah” says a lot of interesting things about man’s relationship with God that I think are at least worth considering:

First, Aronofsky shows two interesting approaches to believing in God. One, represented mostly by Noah (but also some in his family) is that God in relation to man is a teacher. This is pretty consistent with probably what most religious people think. Noah is a descendent of Adam who has had religious teachings of the “The Creator” passed down from each generation to the next. Noah, like most religious people, is primarily concerned with the meaning and purpose of his life, cultivating a relationship with the divine (in this case respect for nature does play a big part. But suggesting that isn’t consistent with the Bible is absurd ) and avoiding sin. To him the ultimate sin is to abuse the gifts that The Creator has bestowed on mankind.

The second approach to belief, as represented by the villain Tubal-cain, is to believe that the Earth is indeed yours and not God’s. Tubal-cain repeatedly expresses his frustration that God will not talk with him, and constantly justifies his bad behavior by repeating “I was created in His image,” therefore he can do whatever he pleases. God gave us what we need, so we are not at fault for using it to our advantage, the thinking goes.

So as an atheist, it looks like Aronofsky is showing what he admires about religious conviction (humility, belief in a power that advocates for harmony) and what makes him uneasy (prideful “dominion” because we are God’s chosen creation). Both characters speak in quotes from the Old Testament, so Aronofsky seems to believe that both styles of believers had a hand in writing the Old Testament.

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The second thing I found interesting about “Noah” is how Aronofsky depicts communication with God. The Bible simply states “And God said unto Noah,” but they never state how God said it. In “Noah,” God speaks to the patriarch in dreams that “Noah” himself interprets. Those dream sequences are some of the best parts of the film.

Because Noah’s communion with God is cryptic, it also leaves room for him to misinterpret what God is trying to tell him, which is the case toward the end of the film. The most controversial part of the film — the part that made Glenn Beck compare it to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” — occurs because when Noah seeks guidance from “The Maker” over something he believes has altered the divine plan, he receives virtually no answer. He interprets the lack of an answer to mean that he must do what he initially thought was necessary. At the end of the film, his wife gives a different explanation. She believes that God left it up to Noah to decide, so he could make the right choice on his own. In this case, so he could feel love for humanity again.

This whole concept is a perfect example of something that was utterly disturbing to watch, but powerful to think about after. He filmed “Noah” in such an abrasive way that it was hard to ever stop and wonder at some of the profound implications of the story.

So, to Aronofsky, if God does communicate with man, it is in man’s best interest to always search for the right lesson. Our own thoughts and biases can influence us for the worst, especially since God seldom speaks to man in a clear, easily understood way.

The third thing I found really interesting is that probably for the first time ever (at least that I’m aware of) a film has displayed — and taken seriously, I might add — the possibility of theistic evolution. As Noah recounts the story of Adam and the fall of man, he begins with “In the beginning, there was nothing” and works his way through the familiar creation story in Genesis. As Noah speaks, he uses the word “day” to describe the periods of creation. But what’s being displayed onscreen clearly interprets “day” to be thousands if not millions of years. Noah says that God created sea creatures “many of which still likely lure beneath this ark” and that after he created the sea creatures (we watch the sea creatures evolve as he speaks) God created the birds of the air. As he speaks about the birds of the air, we see some sea creatures evolve into birds. Then he says God created the beasts of the field. We see one of the fish climb out of the water with primitive but functioning legs. As the creature walks we watch it evolve. The evolution process follows a pattern I remember from science class: from fish, to lizard, to a four legged dog-like mammal, to a relative of the chimpanzee.

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The depiction of Cain slaying Able evoked the imagery of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001:A Space Odyssey.” Both films seem to have a lot in common. That might be a good blog post for another day.

 

Then, he says, God created man. However when man (Adam and Eve) is revealed, they appear celestialized. There is a golden glow around them. Aronofsky then walks us through the fall of man. It all reminded me of how B.H. Roberts understood the idea of pre-Adamites and dispensationalism:

That there were pre-Adamite races in the earth, and that man’s habitancy of it is of greater antiquity than the period which begins with Adam, is quite generally accepted by the scientific world, and for them, admits of no doubt; but if the account of things through the Bible revelations begins with Adam, and merely the opening of a dispensation of God’s providences with the human race on the earth since that time, then matters take on a form much more understandable, and makes possible the solving of many problems.

As a Mormon, the concept of evolution is a profound one to me. Mormon theology claims that man is destined to progress through the eternities, ever learning and growing in grace and understanding.  Joseph Smith, in the King Follet discourse explained a vision of the afterlife that included the continued growth of the spirit:

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.

Growth, then, is a vital element of the gospel. There is something profound about understanding celestial growth as having begun in the simplest form possible to our understanding. That mankind began and ascended from prokaryotes isn’t profound to everyone though, and unfortunately a lot of people feel very threatened by it. I’m sure that’s one reason so many believe Aronofsky’s film to be atheisitic; any Bible film that suggests evolution could have played a part in creation must be Godless. But luckily, I don’t have to believe that. Brittany bought me Faith of a Scientist, Henry Eyring’s book on how he balanced belief and the scientific method, for Christmas.  In it, he pushes aside any notion that science’s modern understanding of how the world works organically isn’t consistent with faith:

The scriptures record God’s dealing with His prophets and they are as accurate as He, in his wisdom, requires. They are spiritual guides to religious questions and treat only incidentally scientific and other non-religious questions. In these areas, they should be be supplemented by all relevant information. Viewed in this light, most problems disappear.

So to me, “Noah’s” ambition is the real selling point. This is a film that almost belongs in an art-house as much as it does in the block buster file. It is about family, tribal conflict, and man’s relationship with God. All of those topics are very appealing to me. It’s just too bad the package wasn’t tighter.

“The Fountain” was also one of the most ambitious films I’d ever seen, and it too just didn’t live up to it’s own ideas. I wouldn’t be surprised if Aronofsky eventually makes a third spiritual movie. It would have similar themes to both “Noah” and “The Fountain,” such as conquering death and achieving a sense of communion with  the divine (whatever divinity he chooses to tackle next time. “The Fountain” had plenty of Christian themes, but it also had pretty clear Hindu and Buddhist imagery). Then they can all be called “Aronofsky’s God Trillogy” or something like that.

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The shame of all of this — and my real beef with Glenn Beck’s new self-appointment as a culture critic —  is that people in religious communities constantly clamor about how cinema is Godless, but ignore films that attempt to explore religiosity. They want to see things like faith and spirituality have more of a presence in mainstream entertainment, but not just any faith and spirituality, a specific  brand that focuses not on man’s relationship with God, but on an us v. them mentality.

In theaters right now is a film about an evil philosophy professor who forces his students to sign something that says God doesn’t exist. It looks pretty awful. The acting, writing, everything. But the reason religious communities are so excited by it is because they see it as their contribution to an argument. Forget the fact that it’s probably a lousy film, what matters is that it’s a film that not only vindicates a certain worldview, but vilifies another. It doesn’t do it through parable or metaphor, it just comes right out and says it, lest anyone be confused.

Meanwhile, Daron Aronofsky, a self-proclaimed atheist, has successfully made his second spiritually themed movie, which despite what many critics have said, has overtly religious overtones. In recent years, Terrence Malick made two films, “The Tree of Life” and “To the Wonder” that are also explicit in their religiosity. Roger Ebert called “The Tree of Life” “a form of prayer.” The same can be said for P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia” and countless other films that go ignored by critics like Beck.

So was “Noah” perfect? No. In fact, it wasn’t even very enjoyable. There were a lot of things I didn’t mention here, like how the Rock People were an interesting idea, but really distracting and probably just should have been left out. But what I’m most interested in right now is how much “Noah” has me thinking. If nothing else, it’s got me interested in the Old Testament again, and that isn’t an easy thing to do.

We Can Thank Twilight for These 4 Awesome Songs

The truth of the matter is, great movie soundtracks are seldom accompanied by great movies. Batman Forever, Romeo + Juliet and even Garden State are all not that great. The first two are basically just long music videos. But they do have great soundtracks.

The same clearly goes for the Twilight movies, which deserve at least some credit for revitalizing the lost art of using movies to sell music. So here are 4 songs that I think are awesome and came from some of the twilight soundtracks.

Meet me on the Equinox – Death Cab for Cutie

Hearing Damage – Thom York

Heavy in Your Arms – Florence and the Machine

What Part of Forever – Cee Lo Green

The best music, the best movies.

While talking with a friend of mine, I realized that much of my musical taste is stuck in 2011. Finding new music is overwhelming and I’ve pretty much given up on looking. Over the course of 2013, there were a few albums that I managed to stumble upon that I loved, namely:

“Muchaco” by Phosphorescent

“The Civil Wars” by The Civil Wars

“Trouble Will Find Me” by The National

“Reflektor” by Arcade Fire

“Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend

And for some strange reason 2013 was the year I finally began to come to terms with Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs,” but mostly just this song:

As far as movies are concerned, I loved “The Way Way Back”

“Mud”

and “Blue Jasmine”

I also saw “Once Upon a Time in the West” for the first time. It’s streaming on Netflix right now, and it’s amazing. It’s the best western I’ve ever seen, and possibly one of the best genre movies period.

I’m more than open to suggestion for other things to consume.

Ben Affleck being Batman isn’t the problem

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My qualms with the Batman Vs. Superman movie are almost entirely personal. I love Batman movies, more than most things in life, but I just want a break. I like the anticipation. I was excited by the prospect of waiting. But that’s just not how the movie business works when it comes to this kind of stuff.

I don’t actually think it’s that big of a deal that Affleck is going to be Batman. Despite some of his film choices, he’s a pretty good actor. It’s kind of an odd choice, but it’s still less outrageous than when Keaton was cast in the ’80s. Besides, I have a hard time believing Affleck didn’t have his reservations about taking the part. He’s been around a while, and has had his fair share of negative press, so I’m sure he wouldn’t take it if he thought it would be embarrassing. They must have said something that convinced him it would be worth it (“worst case scenario, everyone still forgets completely about Daredevil”)

No, the real issue is what the heck is the batsuit going to look like? They’re running out of options. They’ve already done the “practical approach” in TDK and TDKR. They’ve already done the Steam Punk industrial look (’89) statuesque (Returns) MTV Bad-A (Forever) MTV toy ready (Last 20 minutes of Forever) and whatever the heck they were going for in B&R.

Will his head turn? Will he be black? Grey? Or even blue? Are they going to do the yellow oval? Are they going with the classic batsign? A redesign? How tall are the ears going to be (someday we will all recognize the greatness of Kelley Jones)? What’s the cape going to be like? It can’t be a cool fabric that turns into a glider, because they already did that. Will it just be an unnecessarily heavy annoyance like it was in the old movies? Will they bring back the BatNike boots?

After all is said and done, these are the things that worry me the most. I’m not worried about Zach Snider, he has a great eye for stylized action. I’m worried about the script, but lets face it, there are three movies in the history of Batdom that actually have decent scripts. This may not beat The Dark Knight Trilogy, but I doubt it will make less sense than the others. Fidelity to the comic book? Meh. Batman Returns has almost nothing to do with the Batman of the comic books, but its still a cool movie.

In short, lets all just calm down about Ben, and worry about the batsuit.

—P.S.—

This is how I imagine the board meeting that decided all this went down:

[David Goyer and Zach Snyder sitting at the far end of an obscenely large boardroom style table, opposite a young perky exec at Warner Bros. with blinding cuff links and a cigar]

YPE: So, David, Zach, we really loved Man of Steel. It made a lot of money for us, which is, you know, super [zing] important.

DG: Thanks.

ZS: We’re really excited to get to work on the sequel.

YPE: About that. So here’s the thing guys. You see, Man of Steel made a lot of money, but there was one thing the studio isn’t terribly happy about.

ZS: I know, the ending was a little over the top—

YPE: No. No that’s not the problem at all. You see the Rotten Tomatoes numbers are in and they aren’t great.

ZS: What’s Rotten Tomatoes?

DG: Like, how not great?

YPE: Like, 56% not great.

DG : Only 56%?!?! [A woman in the hallway outside faints, a small child in Brundi begins to weep.]

YPE: Yeah. That just can’t happen. The Avengers took in a solid 92%.

DG: Well what do we need to change for the sequel?

YPE: I’m glad you asked. The fact of the matter is, the Batman franchise has always managed to pull in great reviews. Collectively they average out at 83.4% fresh.

DG: Really? even with the Schumacher films?

YPE: The what?

DG:  Schumacher. You know, the films he directed. Critics hated them.

YPE: Who directed what? Can someone tell me what the heck David Goyer is talking about?

ZS: Joel Schumacher. He directed Batman Forever and Batm—

YPE: Moving on. So the higher ups at the studio think the best way to handle this problem is by having Batman be in the next Superman movie.

DG: But, I mean, doesn’t that not make sense?

ZS: Yeah, it’s like, if Superman exists why would Gotham even need Batman. It works in the comics as a novelty thing but I feel like in a movie the audience just wouldn’t buy into it.

YPE: The audience isn’t important.

DG: And plus, I just wrote three Batman movies. How do you expect me to write that character again and not just have it be an imitation of what Chris Nolan and I were doing?

YPE: I’m sorry, were you guys saying something? Anyways, we need to boost our RT score up at least 30% this next go around, so we’ve decided on two potential actors to play Iron-Man

DG: You mean Batman…

YPE: Both of them have great track records on Rotten Tomatoes recently: George Clooney and Ben Affleck.

ZS: I would stay away from Clooney.

YPE: Why?

DG: Don’t worry about it. Lets go with Affleck.

Thoughts on ‘Man of Steel’

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Disclaimer: I’m assuming the only people interested enough to read this have already seen the movie. So, spoilers. This isn’t a review as much as it is some general thoughts about the movie and it’s reactions. 

I always knew Toby Ziegler was going to save the world.

I enjoyed Man of Steel. I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed as a fan of comic books. I enjoyed it as a fan of comic book movies. I enjoyed it as someone who has never once in his life considered himself a fan of Superman. In fact, that’s probably why I liked it so much. I’m not a fan.

I will concede however, that like pretty much every critic has pointed out, the fight scene at the end is entirely too long and CGI-ish. My response to that, however, is it’s a Superman movie. What on earth were you expecting? He has every Superpower. EVERY SUPERPOWER! Of course fight scenes are going to be outrageous.

What was great about the movie, in my opinion, is it created a three-dimensional Superman. A lot of people who are fans of the Christopher Reeve movies (at least the first two, because most of them have somehow convinced themselves that Superman II isn’t as ridiculous as III and IV) probably won’t like this one because it’s about a completely different character. Superman has evolved so much since the 1970’s that the two movies really have no business being compared.

I liked that the film embraced the character’s sci-fi roots. I think a lot of people forget that Superman (at least the most modern incarnation of him) is first and foremost a story about an alien. You can always tell who a superhero is by his villains. Batman’s villains are always emotionally damaged psychopaths. Spider-man is always fighting deranged scientists. Superman is always fighting aliens (with the exception of Lex Luthor, who usually enlists aliens to fight for him anyways). The reality is, superheros are always just fighting other versions of themselves.

I can definitely see why someone would be disappointed. If they came into the movie  expecting someone doing an annoying Gene Hackman impersonation, this film is probably quite a shock. The only thing I would tell those who thought this one was a little too sci-fy-ee is, wait until they pull out Brainiac. Or pretty much any other Superman villain for that matter. It gets a lot weirder than General Zod, trust me.

I loved the music. Even though I always knew deep down that Superman can’t die, there were moments when I thought he might, just because of the intensity of the music. Hans Zimmer. My goodness.

I absolutely loved that they actually made you care about this guy. You care about his earth family. You care about his Krypton family. The best moment of the film, in my opinion, is when Zod throws Clark’s mom, and ‘ol Kal-el zips in to punch him repeatedly. There is so much pent up angst up to that point. Clark has been bullied most of his life, without allowing himself to fight back. Finally, he gets to let loose on a bully who can take it. It’s a great moment.

A lot of the critics I’ve read who didn’t like the movie seem to have  a thing against Zach Snyder. I don’t know why. It might be a legitimate thing. I’ve never seen one of his movies, so I could care less about him. I will say, however, that if this movie is any indication, critics who claim he is the Michael Bay of comic book movies are misusing the insult.

You see, Michael Bay is a terrible filmmaker. But he is terrible because he’s bland. He’s not terrible because he’s too weird, or pretentious. In fact, his movies aren’t even really embarrassing. The reason everyone hates him is because we know his name. He’s not the kind of director who deserves to have name recognition, but he does. So we hate him for it. Who’s fault is that? Ours.

Zach Snyder is not bland. It’s true he seems to have  a penchant for too much reliance on action, but he is definitely a filmmaker worth noting. Love it or hate it, the the direction of Man of Steel was interesting.

In fact, I advise everyone to read this fascinating piece about Snyder in The Atlantic. It helped me contextualize some things going into this movie.

It will be interesting to see how the studio reacts to some of the criticisms. I remember when Batman Begins came out, there were plenty of criticisms (people on the internet seem to forget that. They imagine everyone loved begins as much as TDK. They didn’t.) and some of them, I think, had a negative effect on the subsequent movies. Namely, people complained that the way Nolan shot Batman’s fighting style was too confusing. It was choppy and unsettling  That was the point. That was the whole point. And people complained about it, like, a lot. One of the greatest Batman moments of all time is when the bats shows up at the warehouse and takes down the whole crew of drug smugglers. It was a beautiful scene, and everything a fan of Batman could ever hope for. There were hints of that type of stuff in TDK and Rises, but nothing to scale of how Nolan shot it in Begins. What a shame.

I hope they make more Man of Steel movies, and I hope they only listen to the good criticisms and avoid the nonsensical ones that gain popularity for no understandable reason.

Like this guy at Entertainment Weekly, who didn’t like the ending. He didn’t like the fact that Superman killed the alien determined to destroy the earth. He seriously thought Superman should have let the family in the museum die instead. Die. The family. Because Superman doesn’t kill people.

I quote: “And then there’s the thing that happens at the end of Man of Steel that was so ill-conceived and poorly handled that you almost start to wonder if anyone attached to Man of Steel knows what makes Superman so special.”

This is the moment where a writer, who I’m assuming has never actually read a Superman comic (his article points out a bunch of things he thinks are interesting re-imaginings of Superman’s origins in The Man of Steel. Many of which can actually be found in the comics) begins to tell everyone why this movie gets Superman wrong.

He complains, understandably so, about how the ending drags on with its overbearing fight scene between Supes and Zod. He doesn’t like the fact that “this is the kind of movie where the climax has to feature the hero and the villain punching each other.” (I mean…wha…like….like every action movie ever? By “this kind of movie” is he implying action movie? Is he seriously complaining that this movie is an action movie? I don’t get it.)

Then he lectures the filmmakers for ruining the film by having Superman kill Zod (which Superman has actually done before. For heaven’s sake google this stuff before you complain about it.) and then finishes it all off with a terrible interpretation of the message of the The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (he also claims Nolan critiqued the “fist-fight ending” in TDK. Maybe so, but Rises and Begins both end with a fist-fight. So, whatever).

So, again, the filmmakers created a dilema for Superman. A family is about to be incinerated by an alien that has already destroyed most of Metropolis and came close to eliminating mankind. He shouldn’t have killed him though. Who knows what he should have done, but he shouldn’t have killed him, I guess.

And then there’s this Daily Beast piece that doesn’t make any sense. He says it’s a failure, but he also says it’s better than Superman Returns, but then he says maybe it isn’t. So … there’s that.

It absolutely baffles me that Superman Returns had a better response from critics. That movie was terrible. Legitimately terrible. No one actually liked it. Not even the critics who claimed to like actually liked it. It’s Kryptonite real estate plot was far crazier, and more annoying than any drawn out Zod v. Supes battle could ever aspire to. It was boring. A movie about a super hero with every imaginable super power was boring. Super boring, if you will. It was supposed to be a sequel to Superman II, which was preposterous (Lois Lane had her memory erased at the end of II, so she didn’t remember they got to “know” each other. In Returns it’s revealed to her that she had Superman’s baby. That should have blown her mind. But it didn’t. Because that movie was stupid.) and it provided the filmmakers with an excuse to be obnoxiously reverent to the Richard Donner films.

BATMAN.

(P.S. – my wife hated it.)

I know who should play Teddy Roosevelt

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So I’m reading the TR biography by Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex. It’s awesome. I have a hard time focusing though because I keep wondering who should play TR whenever that planned bio pic is made.

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Rumor has it Leo DiCaprio was attached to play him when Martin Scorsese was going to direct. I like Leo, but that would have been a huge mistake. I think I’ve figured out exactly who needs to play him though…

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I feel like Tom Hardy could do it. I’m fine with the fact that he’s not American. If only for the fact that he looks like him (at least more so than any other actor I can think of) and he’s a charismatic presence on screen. Like TR needs to be.

I’m open to other suggestions, but I feel like no other option can beat out TH for TR.

What do you think Teddy?

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