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Have a haiku

October 1st, 2016 (04:31 am)
Tags: ,

current location: Beneath a sea of brown leaves
current mood: Autumnal

Prompted by a friend posting an autumnal one on FB:

Lawn disappearing
beneath a sea of brown leaves,
Solstice vanishes.

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It itches....

September 25th, 2016 (05:59 pm)
current location: I'll be in the bath
current mood: Distracted

I feel like I want to write something longer, possibly thoughts on the Paralympics, but I'm currently being driven to distraction by itching, mostly on the palms of my hands. This is the third day, and last night I ended up wearing wheelchair gloves to stop myself tearing my palms to ribbons. There's no rash or anything, so my guess would be opioid related, possibly compounded by general tiredness, but that's not a side-effect I get very often - and it's not one I'd like to see any more of, thank you!

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More Kynren Pics

September 8th, 2016 (05:15 pm)
Tags: ,

current location: Arched
current mood: Gothic

[personal profile] sovay was asking if there were any shots of Durham cathedral being created from fountains dueing the Kynren performance, I knew I'd seen a pic last night, but couldn't find it again, which turns out to be because it's on a youtube clip - not great quality (people had been told not to use cameras and phones), but it'll give you an idea. The arches are about the 30 second mark, and if you watch through to the jousting, I was sitting directly in front of the target they're tilting at:

(Clip of a Kynren performance, showing various scenes from among the crowd).

The gothic arches are a repeating theme, the fireworks are set up to create similar shapes (the fireworks were superb, being integrated into the imagery rather than just the usual big bang)and the volunteers are known as Archers. And they repeat in the landscape.

Shot of the 11 gothic arches of Bishop Auckland Viiaduct towering over the valley of the Wear

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Kynren - The Story of Us

September 7th, 2016 (06:40 pm)
Tags: ,

current location: The Heart of England
current mood: Wowed

The advert, not actual Kynren footage

Footage and interviews from the press preview night, which is when the rest of my family saw it. That first interview is a proper Bishop accent!

I'm just back from three weeks in Bishop Auckland, my home town, but before I left I saw Kynren at the weekend, as an early birthday present from my sister. It's based on the Puy de Fou shows in France, which have developed into a theme park, and is being funded by my home town's local city fund manager turned philanphropist, who bought Auckland Castle (until then the seat of the Bishop of Durham) a few years ago. Reportedly there's been £35m invested to get it up and running, and that's well believable, because it knocks any son et lumiere I've seen before into a cocked hat. They've head-hunted the directorial staff from both Puy de Fou and the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, but the cast themselves are local volunteers, including my sister, who is variously playing Roman slaves, medieval peasants, miner's widows and Canadian Mounties, all in the same performance.

The showground lies in a loop of the Wear below Auckland Castle, in the shadows of the viaduct (from which the production company, Eleven Arches, takes its name) and is centred on an artificial lake, with significant parts of the show actually taking place on the lake. In front of that is the field where most of the action takes place, and rising from the back of the lake is a stone terrace, which becomes the backdrop when 'Auckland Castle' rises from it. From the back the seating looks like a wooden fortress, but from the front it's 8,000 steeply ranked seats which give a good view over the staging. As a wheelchair user I was in row A, actually in front of row A, which was great for seeing everything on the field, but one or two things on the lake were slightly obscured by the low angle. To be honest I'd still take the proximity and the slightly blocked vision if given the choice of a higher seat.

The show started at 8:30PM, which was full dark at the start of September, and that's apparently better for the spectacle. My brother in law was with me as my wheelchair user +1 and he said it was definitely better in full darkness than the dusk he'd first seen it in.

Anyway, Kynren. There's a linking narrative involving a young boy named Arthur, who boots his football through the pre-war Bishop's window and is rewarded with a lesson in British history, which in 90 minutes covered:

Joseph of Arimethea and the Holy Grail - complete with tree emerging from the lake

Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

The Roman Withdrawal from England - with four horse chariot, Roman cavalry, legionaries, slave wagon.

St Cuthbert and the coming of Christianity to the North. The Lindisfarne Gospel.

The Viking raids, the wandering of St Cuthbert’s remains and the founding of Durham Cathedral - they built a cathedral from fountains, I was awestruck, so was everyone else.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge - Arthur gets the crucial role in the story the Viking on the Bridge

The Battle of Hastings, Harold and William - which features a crewed Norman ship emerging from the lake

Medieval Life and Tourney - complete with sheep, goats and geese, and with knights tilting at targets no more than 15 feet in front of you if you're in the wheelchair row

Battles against the Scots - flaming drumsticks!

Henry VIII and the Field of the Cloth of Gold

Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare meet at Auckland Castle - this is apparently historically attested, blew my mind!

The Civil War and the execution of Charles I

The coming of the railways - from Bishop Auckland to the world! (The Stockton and Darlington railway was built to service the Bishop Auckland coalfields). Complete with working Locomotion.

Mining disasters - very poignant, especially as many of the cast and audience will be descendants of miners, our family certainly is.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

WWI and the Christmas Truce - I may have had a tear in my eye here

The Durham Miner's Gala - first time I've seen the Charleston done in wellies

WWII, Arthur goes to war.

And all wrapped up with a curtain call and Land of Hope and Glory, during which my sister cunningly positioned herself in exactly the right spot for us to spot her.

It is non-stop, often with four or more layers of activities happening at once - track, field, lake, terrace. My brother-in-law kept prompting me which way to look.

It absolutely peed down all day, including during the performance, but it was so good it really didn't matter. Though I did have to practically hose down my chair the next day to get rid of the yellow dust that it had picked up from the chippings used on the paths. Car parking would have been good, properly laid out disabled spaces in a dedicated car park, but the car park volunteers were telling people to ignore the markings and park closer to the next car (someone said something about part of another car park being flooded). Advantage of knowing someone in the cast was the feedback that this is a problem for disabled people, especially wheelchair users, and the gaps between cars are there for a reason, was on the official system by Sunday lunchtime.

There've been some stories about the car parks being jammed until midnight, but we managed to get back to the car, out of the site and be in the pub by 10:20, complete with my sister, who'd had to do a quick change and find us.

There's a handful of almost sold-out performances left this year, Fridays and Saturdays 'til September 17th, but they're already planning for next summer. It's pricey, but if you get the chance, go, you won't regret it.

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Passenger Assistance Merry-go-round

September 6th, 2016 (12:20 pm)

current location: Coming and going
current mood: confused

 On the 12:01 Darlington to Kings Cross, passenger assistance at Darlington were killing themselves laughing, apparently their roster says that not only am I on the 12:01, I'm also on the 12:00 from Kings Cross to Darlington, and they've been betting which way I'm actually going all morning. That's taking multitasking to extremes!

Just hope assistance is there to get me off at KX!

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Lazing on a summer's afternoon

August 23rd, 2016 (03:57 pm)

current location: An English Country Garden
current mood: content

Sitting in my sister's garden in the sun, just lazing and catching up.

Life is hard ;)

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More Trouble With Trains

August 20th, 2016 (04:14 pm)
current location: God's Own Country
current mood: Northerly

My trip North was decidedly mixed. I got over to Rochester station okay, in fact the taxi was at my front door before I got it closed - he said he was passing my road as the call went out - and had time to do a couple of things I wanted and still catch the train before the one I had planned on. First negative hit 5 minutes outside of Rochester, I was reading my Kindle and suddenly felt travel-sick. A quick bit of experimentation confirmed head-down=travel-sick and escalating neck pain, head-up=fine. Fortunately I'd packed a collar (in one of the underseat bags[personal profile] kaberett

  recommends, though I was too cheap to buy an actual Black Box), first chance I've had to use it and definitely worthwhile. Thankfully the collar mostly solved the travel-sickness and neckache+headache (and a couple of ibuprofen fixed the rest), though not being able to bend my head forward made reading slightly more of an issue. I suspected it was an issue last time I caught a train, though I was hoping that was purely down to it being a Pendolino on the West Coast Main Line, which is a tilting design, but this time it was the Kent Coast Line and the East Coast Main Line and non-tilting Javelins and 225s. So looks like that may now be a thing - the wheelchair tech pooh-poohed the idea I needed a headrest, not happy to be proved right! (Though fortunately it's limited circumstances where it applies).

The transfer from St Pancras to Kings Cross was fine and I was chatting away for a while with the guy doing passenger assistance, which may have been responsible for him announcing, when he'd been off and found the guard, "Change of plans, we're putting you in First Class" - fine by me, I'll force myself to suffer people trying to ply me with free food and drink. The chicken caesar wrap was tasty, but more wrap than anything, the white wine was very nice and I'd have had a second glass if they'd offered it before York rather than after, given I was getting off at Darlington in 20 minutes.

And it was Darlington where things went very wrong, They got me off the train fine and I was sitting waiting for the 15:54 Bishop Auckland train when I overheard the platform staff taking a message that there were major signal problems at Middlesbrough, which is where the Bishop train comes from. The woman who was doing the passenger assistance came straight over and repeated the bits I'd heard, plus that it might be 18:30 before they got anything moving. They waited 30 minutes, then made the decision to put everyone in taxis, which was about 25 of us. If they'd asked I'd have pointed out I can transfer and that the chair dismantles, but they didn't and a wheelchair taxi quickly turned up. Assuming they'd want to squeeze the maximum number of people aboard I stayed in the chair (plus I'd not travelled in the chair by road before and there was a novelty value). I wish I hadn't, it was worse even than the Pendolino, not helped by there only being one front clamp for the chair, which the driver didn't bother with. I spent the journey with my foot tucked under the seat in front to stop the chair tipping backwards every time he accelerated. I'll pass in future.

But for all that I was only about 45 minutes late, and that included pushing from the station to home as there was no point trying to ring for a taxi when they were likely all half-way to Darlington with the people who'd been waiting at Bishop!

Hopefully the return trip will be smoother!

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Heading North and Trouble with Trains

August 15th, 2016 (10:23 pm)

current location: Pre-launch
current mood: grumpy

Heading North for three weeks in the morning. I deliberately haven't ordered a MIFI SIM, so expect updates to be intermittent as my folks don't have net access and I'll need to wander over to my sister's if I want to get online. I decided against MIFI in the hope of encouraging myself to make some serious progress on the WIP.

Actually booking the train ticket to get there was an exercise in frustration. I've had enough of trying to book through SouthEastern (my local train company), who always seem to have an issue with me booking the wheelchair space, so I thought I'd try with Virgin instead as it's the Virgin East Coast Main Line segment I need the wheelchair space booking for. I'm also switching to travelling from Rochester rather than Chatham due to better access - the new Rochester station has level access between taxi-ramp and platform, Chatham is more 'Oh my god, oh my god, can I stop in time?!). On checking Virgin's online booking I found that it would actually let me book wheelchair assistance as part of the process. Score - no need to phone them! So last Monday I tried to book, got all the way to it contacting my bank for payment, and my anti-virus decided to throw a spanner in the works. So of course I needed to wait to check it had definitely failed and I hadn't been charged. And similarly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as I tried different options to persuade the AV software to behave, including changing browsers. Eventually I disabled the AV software for the transaction, only to find 1) I could now only pick up the ticket from the station (which I was expecting) and 2) it was telling me I couldn't do that. That seems to have been purely an issue with overnight maintenance, so Friday I went to finish the process.

Enter all the assistance data yet again (it wanted home number, mobile number, email, and wheelchair dimensions(?!?)), all ready to book and I thought I'd better check the seat reservations, which turned out to be the middle of the wrong carriage, both ways. and you can change to any seat but the wheelchair space), so now I have to contact Virgin online, who tell me it's because of people trying to book it for luggage and prams (except you can't book it for luggage or prams) and that I need to phone passenger assistance to book the wheelchair space. So that means I can use the online system to book all the assistance I need to get on and off the train in the chair and save having to phone assistance, but not  the wheelchair space itself. (What happens if I then find all the wheelchair spaces are already booked I have no idea). {Roll Eyes} {Headdesk} {Roll Eyes}

So eventually I got the ticket booked and picked it up from the station, but I started the process Monday evening, and finished Saturday afternoon. I knew travel would be more complicated when I switched to the chair, I had no idea it would be this unnecessarily complicated and just plain irritating!

And of course I have to hope nothing goes wrong tomorrow (current odds based on exising data of being forgotten about , not expected. or assistance turning up at entirely the wrong station, c50%)

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DWGism [userpic]


August 2nd, 2016 (01:31 am)
current location: Over There With The Geeks
current mood: Fuming

A wee bit of a twitter firestorm broke out earlier when the World Fantasy Con panels were posted and one of them was called "Spicy Oriental Zeppelins" Apparently the title was based on a 'joke' that had only every been made by the WFC Head of Programming, Darrell Schweitzer, and he'd been repeatedly warned it wasn't funny in advance.

With just about every SFF author on twitter going WTF WTC? that was quickly changed to "Outrageous Aviation Stories, Flying Pulp Oddities."

What got a lot less attention, and has been more subtly changed was another panel:

"7. Freaks, Sideshows, and Human Oddities. From “Hopfrog” to Freaks to Geek Love. Is this the last taboo, the final frontier of bad taste, or something (perversely?) alluring even yet?"

Which became

7. Freaks, Sideshows, and Human Oddities. From “Hopfrog” to Freaks to Geek Love. Is this the last taboo, the final frontier of bad taste, or a persistent archetype in literature?

Schweitzer had been warned in advance about this one as well, and specifically that it was ableist. I'm glad to see it has been changed, but I still think it's deeply problematic and I'm horrified something so negatively objectifying about disabled people ever made it out as a formally released program item.

And it's not as if this is the first issue WFC has had with disability in the last year. WFC 2015 had major access fails, never mind they had a disabled guest who had talked to them about her access needs, and then earlier this year WFC 2016 instituted a significant price rise despite disabled people telling them they couldn't book until they had published their disability access policy. The price rise had no sooner gone into effect than they published their access policy, which looked to have been written in five minutes on the proverbial back of a fag packet. I got the distinct feeling that was sheer spite.

ETA : File 770's on the story:  Outrage Greets 2016 World Fantasy Con Program Mostly on Dreamwidth nowadays. You can reply on the DW post at http://davidgillon.dreamwidth.org/97180.html using OpenID. LJ commenting is on, but may not be checked regularly.

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Media Stuff

July 31st, 2016 (08:35 pm)
current location: I'll stick with Today, thanks
current mood: Mediated

I bought myself a Fire TV stick during Amazon's Prime Day, given it was reduced to £20. Technically it isn't letting me do anything I couldn't already do with the Kindle Fire and its TV dongle, but I rarely have the Kindle in the same room as the TV, so that hasn't been working out and I invested in Prime largely to have the extra programme choice it offers.

it's very well put together, remote about the size of an iPod, while the stick itself is about the size of a Mars Bar (note it does need a power socket). I've mostly been using it to play my Amazon-purchased music through the TV's sound system, which is the only decent one in the house, or ogling the absolutely gorgeous screensaver landscapes, but last night I finally got some time to watch stuff.

Content Warning: Here Be Spoilers

First up was the Tom Cruise vehicle Live. Die. Repeat aka Edge of Tomorrow

I did have a problem with the picture here, it was offset down and to the right, though I couldn't work out how much by, I did manage to sort it later (see below).

I wanted to see Edge of Tomorrow when it was at the cinema, but didn't get around to it. The scenario is Earth has been invaded by aliens, the mimics (thought they don't seem to actually mimic anything) who have taken control of Western and Central Europe, but have been stopped at the Channel in the west, and by Russian and Chinese forces to the east. Now equipped with powered exoskeletons, the allies need to launch a cross-Channel invasion. (A nice historical touch is that the invasion is codenamed Downfall; Downfall was the code name for the planned invasion of Japan in WWII)

Cruise is Captain Bill Cage, the proverbial REMF, an officer whose talent is for marketing, not fighting, responsible for producing recruitment ads.

When informed by the commanding general of the allies (Brendan Gleeson, looking perfectly at home in British battledress) that he'll be playing combat cameraman in the first assault wave, Cage tries to talk his way out of it, and ultimately tries to blackmail the general, as it becomes clear he's a complete coward. The blackmail attempt ends with Cage resisting arrest and getting himself tased. He wakes up at Forward Operating Base Heathrow, rebranded as a private impersonating an officer and guilty of desertion. He's promptly assigned to the mixed British-American J Squad, who are ordered to beat him 'until he can't pee standing up' if he tries anything, and the next morning he's fitted out with an exoskeleton and dragged out to the aerial armada headed for France.

The special effects are fantastic. The main part of the invasion force is in CGI created quad tillt-rotor 'dropships', and one shot shows Heathrow covered with them, and with exoskeleton clad infantry filing aboard, but flying among them are real Chinooks and V-22s and you need to know your aircraft to tell which is which. Unfortunately for the allies, what the effects show are the invasion force getting completely hammered. The aliens were waiting for them.

Cage makes it down to the beach, only to immediately see one of his squadmates crushed by a falling dropship. He tries to save a female soldier (Emily Blunt), but fails and spends most of the battle trying to work out how to disengage the safety catch on his guns. Finally reunited with J squad, he's just in time to see them wiped out by a mimic that was buried in the sand. Our first good look at a mimic shows us they're vaguely octopus like, but in motion they're like a thrashing propeller blade. Moments before the mimic kills him too, Cage triggers the claymore mine on one of the dead trooper's armour, killing them both.

He wakes up at Forward Operating Base Heathrow, rebranded as a private impersonating an officer and guilty of desertion. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Each time through the battle, Cage gets a little more competent, and eventually manages to save the female soldier, who turns out to be Sergeant Rita Vrataski, the famous 'Angel of Verdun,' who killed hundreds of mimics in her first battle. You can tell she's hardcore because she's wearing a black exoskeleton and using a cut-down helicopter rotor blade as a sword. When he explains how he managed to save her she tells him "Find me when you wake up". Then they die.

Back at Heathrow, Cage has to escape J Squad. This takes several attempts. Eventually he does manage to find Rita, and convince her of who he is. Rita reveals that she became the Angel of Verdun because she was like him, repeating the same day time after time, learning the sequence of moves that would let her survive, until eventually she lost the ability. But she and a scientist did figure out that the ability she had was acquired from the blood of an atypical mimic she killed, and that it ultimately came from the alien's central commander, the Omega, who had the ability to reset to the previous day anytime it sensed it was losing. Only no one ever believed them. Now Cage has the ability, and Rita needs to train him so that he can get her off the beach so that she can kill the Omega.

Cue a sequence of Cage being repeatedly mangled by the mimic simulators, which are a bunch of thrashing propeller blades. Eventually he gets good enough that he and Rita can make it off the beach and head off in pursuit of the the Omega, but time and again Rita is killed. Succumbing to combat fatigue, Cage absconds into London, and learns that the beach isn't the only human defeat, the aliens counter-invade while the focus is elsewhere and London falls.

In desperation Cage tries a tactic Rita has warned him about, because it always leads to 'psych wards, or dissection', and she's right, but it does eventually give them a shot at the Omega. But there's a hitch. (Of course there's a hitch!)

I liked Edge of Tomorrow, though I'll admit a certain amount of the pleasure comes from seeing Tom Cruise die repeatedly and horribly. I'm planning to watch it again now I've sorted out the picture problems.

I followed Edge of Tomorrow with the first three episodes of Constantine, the series based on the John Constantine: Hellblazer comics, previously the vehicle for a Keanu Reaves film. The opening shot is the gates to the 'Ravenscar Home for the Mentally Deranged', which was so far off centre I went to get the Kindle Fire to check where it should be. It should actually have been dead centre, but for some reason linking in the Kindle solved the problem and the picture has stayed centred since then.

Pilot, Non Est Asylum

Constantine's business card says "Exorcist , demonologist, and master of the dark arts", though as the pilot opens he notes he's thinking of getting it changed to "dabbler in the dark arts." He screwed up an exorcism, condemning a 9yo girl to Hell, and himself along with her. He's taking refuge in an asylum in Northumberland, hoping they can persuade him demons don't exist. That they aren't succeeding is demonstrated when one of the residents becomes possessed. Exorcising her reveals a cryptic message "Liv Die" Fortunately for the story's continuity Constantine knows who Liv is.

Cut to Atlanta. Where Liv Aberdine is headed home from work, or would be, if her car's electrics weren't misbehaving, shortly followed by her car falling into a gaping pit. Enter Constantine, exit Liv, convinced he's a creep. That night Liv's next door neighbour is murdered, later the murdered corpse tries to drive the mortuary van through Liv's office. This doesn't convince Liv to listen to Constantine, but seeing the ghost of her grandmother does. Constantine explains he used to work with her father, who could see ghosts and scry for problems, and that Liv is developing the same powers. Constantine meanwhile has encountered an angel, Manny, who wants him to commit himself to the Good Fight, which he hints might save Constantine's soul.

Constantine uses Liv to lure the demon stalking her into a trap. Problem solved.

He's an exorcist, she's a seer, they hunt demons!

Sorry, no. In a blatantly added-on coda, we're informed that Liv has lit out for the West Coast, but not before bleeding all over a map of the States with scryed troublespots. Meanwhile a female figure is frantically drawing images of Constantine

2, The Darkness Beneath

Liv's map takes Constantine to Heddwich, PA, a Welsh-settled mining town, where there are knockers in the mine and one of the bosses just burned to death in his shower. Within minutes of arriving he literally walks into our mysterious artist, who turns out to be Zed Martin. Despite the name, Zed is Hispanic, and desperate to know who Constantine is. Constantine claims she's trying to scam him and slips away, but not before Zed relieves him of his wallet. Resourceful lady. Finding her in his hotel room, Constantine relents for long enough to show her that she is what he calls a clairsentient, able to scry by touch. Then he gives her the slip again. It doesn't last.

After following a series of false leads, Constantine finally tracks down the cause of the problem. Someone is driving the Coblynau, the friendly mine spirits, to murder. And this is where the narrative lost me, badly. I'd already gone 'Oh, hell, no,' when a character was introduced, and I was right. The gypsy did it, and not only did the the gypsy do it, but she came onto Constantine at her husband's funeral, compounding which we have Constantine stating "There's nothing darker than Romany magic". Talk about demonising a minority!

Nor is that the only piece of poor writing. There's a claim from Constantine (who admittedly is spinning a line at the time), that he 'grew up among the pits of Liverpool' or something like that. What pits of Liverpool? The idiocy is that Matt Ryan, who plays Constantine, is Welsh and could easily have claimed to be from the Welsh Valleys, which have a far stronger mining history, spinning a link with the town's Welsh heritage (the name, a Welsh flag in the pub and the Coblynau in the mine seem to be the extent of it). There's also a line about the mine having dug too deep, when we see it it's a drift mine, by definition shallow.

3 The Devil's Vinyl.

Zed shows up at Constantine's fortress of solitude, and as Constantine needs a lift to Chicago for a maguffin hunt, she's in. The maguffin is 'the acetate', raw recording from an old sound studio that caught the moment the Devil came to take the soul of a legendary Bluesman who had sold his soul for his voice. The maguffin turns out to be a bargaining chip in someone else's deal with the Devil, with enough extenuating circumstances for Constantine to help.The problem is an old rival of Constantine's, unscrupulous voodoo priest Papa Midnite, who also wants the acetate. And when two of Papa's minions get their hands on it, things go from bad to worse as the problem with minions is they're always succeptible to someone doing their thinking for them, even if in this case it's a 60yo record.

I did love the scene where John charges to the rescue with the Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK blazing through his earbuds, but that doesn't outweigh the problematic portrayal of voodoo.

It's annoying, I can sense there's a good series fighting to get out, but it keeps being strangled by poor writing and low production values. When Matt Ryan plays Constantine performing an exorcism, you get a sense he really is engaged in a desperate struggle against a powerful foe, and that's what Constantine should be, but it doesn't make up for cliched and borderline racist portrayals of Voodoo and the Romany.

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