Avengers Assemble: Molecule Kid — review

The Avengers has one of the largest followings in the world. And just like everything else with an Internet following, at some point it gets a television show. The good thing about the Avengers is that the core of it is the comic book series, from which the features are adapted. Marvel Entertainment can handle their properties, and Avengers Assemble resembles their cinematic universe without being a part of it. Another advantage of the series having half-hour episodes is that, unlike team-ups as we’re used to, standalone episodes can focus on specific characters each week if the writers wish.

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The Avengers has one of the largest followings in the world. And just like everything else with an Internet following, at some point it gets a television show. The good thing about the Avengers is that the core of it is the comic book series, from which the features are adapted. Marvel Entertainment can handle their properties, and Avengers Assemble resembles their cinematic universe without being a part of it. Another advantage of the series having half-hour episodes is that, unlike team-ups as we’re used to, standalone episodes can focus on specific characters each week if the writers wish.

This week’s episode, Molecule Kid, centres on S.H.I.E.L.D. assassins Clinton Barton and Natalia Romanova, and the most enjoyable aspect of the episode is the comparisons it draws between their relationship and how they resemble parents together. As someone who considers the Internet his real home, I can tell you how accurate this is. I don’t really consider myself a Marvel fan, but as someone engaged in social media, I may as well be. I know exactly what kind of relationship fans would like them to have, and that made Molecule Kid seem almost like a fanfiction. But what a lot of people don’t understand about fanfiction is that it can be good. It’s such an accessible medium that there’s too much of it to really notice the good ones, but that doesn’t make them any less present or worth reading. In such a way, this episode is like a really well-written fanfiction, with the writers knowing precisely what kind of relationship he wants to give these characters. In fact, I’d say this release represents the natural progression of a fanbase, in-which the reaction something receives feeds back into the thing in itself. That’s what this is.

Molecule Kid as a villain is slightly cliched, being the son of a previously-seen villain, but he’s not written in such a way that we’re supposed to care. All the villain’s here to be is a child that brings Barton and Romanova together in such a way that the comparison can be drawn and we can get a kick out of it actually being done. So there’s no real reason to have a problem with whom Molecule Kid is.

What this episode left me wanting – and this is through no fault of the episode in itself – is for a Marvel fan I know to see it. She loves Romanova and “ships” her with Barton. In this episode, that’s actually happening. Luckily, it’s just one release from that franchise so it doesn’t have to ruin anything.

Avengers Assemble: Molecule Kid — fanfiction character pairing done well 7/10.

Count Arthur Strong: Stuck in the Middle With You — review

Screenplay by Steve Delaney and Graham Linehan.

I’d seen Count Arthur Strong a few times before this episode, but on the night I saw Stuck in the Middle With You, I was lying on the sofa with a warm drink and a blanket and a blocked-up head. The episode in question was a cruel irony, as it involved an exaggerated version of that that gradually turned into black humour with Strong nearly torturing a person in an attempt to heal them.

Linehan’s always been good at writing farce comedy, and Delaney knows the character better than anyone, so combining the two of them lead to what could be considered a form of theatre. Because, with the plumber trapped in Strong’s bedroom, unable to leave due to the wooden planks holding his broken legs together, I myself began to feel as if I was in that situation. Stuck in the circumstances I’d been dealt, and unable to really do anything about it. Strong in this case was the form fate had chosen to take, and being the bitch that it is, wanted to annoy me as much as possible. The fact that I was laughing is something I can only put down to it resembling the kind of hallucinations that you’d expect from a head cold, and the episode almost sent me into a state of comedic hysteria since I’d have laughed at anything in my unfit state.

But that aside – this episode was still a surreal entry into the show regardless. Outside of Strong’s own paranoia about new guest, Michael Baker’s own fear about Strong’s psychopathic abilities and Bulent’s rising suspicion about his unsafe mental condition become not only a horror in itself, but also a fitting homage to 1950s motion pictures of spies and espionage. There’s also the disturbing way these things fit perfectly into place, with the heavy implication of the episode being that Strong actually is dangerous that those suspicions about him are right. His actions happen out of an unawareness of what he’s doing, and that’s the scary thing – even his assessment confirms it.

It’s as if this is Count Arthur Strong‘s Dead Bart episode, in-which the show takes a much darker turn to the point of being psychological while still remaining a comedy, but revealing the truth within. As far as this episode’s contribution to the characters go, this is comedy wrapping fear. And it’s even funnier for it.

Count Arthur Strong: Stuck in the Middle With You – scary revelations make comedy stronger 6/10.

Ultimate Spider-Man: the Parent Trap — review

Screenplay by Man of Action and Kaita Mpambara.

Of course, the word “parent” regarding Spider-Man immediately conjures the image of dead ones. Peter Parker maybe the second most famous superhero orphan, after Bruce Wayne, though there are others. In fact, dead parents are so common amongst superheroes that it was even included in The Hero Movie.

Which is a big problem with superheroes today. There’s often the one bad thing that happens to push them into heroism, but they remain there in order to compensate for that loss. Even Parker didn’t care about others until his uncle died, and it took having his parents shot in front of him to make Wayne want to be a crimefighter. All of them are living up to a sense of guilt, disappointment or failure that would otherwise make them not the heroes they are. It’s almost as if they’re fundamentally apathetic people but are trying to give something back after society made its own point on them.

Parker’s parents are dead. But that’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. When Luke Cage discovers his apparently dead parents in Zodiac Volcanic Base, Parker asks him if they’re his actual parents, leading to a very deep moment as he explains, in more of a nutshell than this analysis, that Uncle Ben and Aunt may are his ipso facto parents. Basically, blood doesn’t matter that much. Which is true. The same can be said for Alfred Pennyworth being Wayne’s true Father in practice. But that’s just an idea expressed on the way to something much more important – that they actually are his parents. We then get a recap of Cage’s origin story, and the gaps in it can be filled to draw the conclusion that these people really are his parents. As a hero, he’s come full circle. Which is important because he was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. after their “death”, having been given the super soldier serum as a means to preserve it from enemy acquisition. This is another case of powers being linked to the death of one’s parents, as the The Amazing Spider-Man series has not-so-subtly exaggerated. Only this time, his powers are what lead to the rescue of his parents years later, putting all the aspects of his character into a coherent narrative that’s filled its own gaps by means of progression.

But – and this is really the thing to take away from this – he doesn’t just surrender his powers. Because the events of the episode aren’t just him getting closure as a person, but is also an important development for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the super soldier serum. They’ve prevented that from falling into enemy hands. On the way to recovering his parents, Cage has learned, through his adventures, that they’re not the only reason to be a hero. The world’s still more dangerous outside of their safety, and the fight must go on – it’s one they merely started. And he carries on.

Perhaps heroes should be heroic less so for personal closure, but for heroic’s sake.

Ultimate Spider-Man: the Parent Trap — superhero genre commentary, important statement 8/10.


And now, a new format on Thursdays, showcasing the releases

Opening this weekend

at the United States domestic box office:

Kelly Marcel‘s Fifty Shades of Grey

Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman: the Secret Service:

David Cross‘ Hits

Richard LaGravenese‘s The Last Five Years

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement‘s What we do in the Shadows

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Fear Itself — review

When a fantasy show has an ensemble of characters, one of the filler episodes can be to have those characters encounter an embodiment of fear, which manifests as what each character’s afraid of the most. It’s an old formula, but it’s used so commonly because its effectiveness is determined by how well-written your characters already are. There are many animated shows that have employed the device, and it’s finally time for Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. to do the same.

Screenplay by Brandon Auman.

When a fantasy show has an ensemble of characters, one of the filler episodes can be to have those characters encounter an embodiment of fear, which manifests as what each character’s afraid of the most. It’s an old formula, but it’s used so commonly because its effectiveness is determined by how well-written your characters already are. There are many animated shows that have employed the device, and it’s finally time for Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. to do the same.

It was Hulk himself who said that, with the potential for discord and disagreement and lack of resolve, a team was a time bomb. In that case, it was he who was being deployed as the trigger, as his greatest weakness, anger, is also the most harmful to others. He is, essentially, a grenade. What he fears the most as a character is losing control and destroying those around him. That’s why his fear manifests as Dark Hulk, a personification so real it desires its own introduction card.

It’s not so much a sophisticated narrative as an original retelling of something already seen. Yes, the premise is formulaic, and often does end in the same way of the fear being used against the parasite, but it doesn’t matter. Because that canvas is so widely spread that it’s what’s projected onto it that really matters. It allows character study, and everything about Banner’s there from the moment this particular version of that same parasite attacks him, because his fear is revealed as a darker version of himself. Really, the battle was lost from the moment it began, because Hulk’s fear is so powerful that he’s inspired to not be what he knows he could turn into. And it’s that simplicity that puts everything in perspective – the concept of fear really is that uncomplicated. Banner’s a realistic character, but it’s Hulk, the fantasy element, that’s unremarkable. And so it makes perfect sense for an unremarkable character to have unremarkable fears. And that makes fighting so much better. Fear Itself really is the only thing we have to fear.

And cue The Daniel Caine Orchestra – Lonely Man.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: Fear Itself — unremarkable plot is remarkably important 8/10.

(500) Days of Summer — review

Neustadter and Weber are the same screenwriters who brought you The Fault in Our Stars, the love story (in)famously ending – spoiler alert – in tragedy when Augustus Waters died. It was an unconventional love story, and (500) Days of Summer begins with the acknowledgement that it is not a love story. It’s a story of boy meets girl, but that doesn’t make it a love story. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s a social experiment…

Screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

Neustadter and Weber are the same screenwriters who brought you The Fault in Our Stars, the love story (in)famously ending – spoiler alert – in tragedy when Augustus Waters died. It was an unconventional love story, and (500) Days of Summer begins with the acknowledgement that it is not a love story. It’s a story of boy meets girl, but that doesn’t make it a love story. Quite the opposite in fact, it’s a social experiment…

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tom Hansen, who doesn’t believe he’ll have a happy life until he meets the one. Zooey Deschanel is Summer Finn, who doesn’t believe she’ll be happy without rejecting the idea of love. By putting them together, Neustadter and Weber are telling the story of two people – one who relies on being in love, the other relying on being out of love. And both are trapped by their beliefs. For that whole 500 days, none are actually happy with their situation, and there’s always the present possibility that both are pretending to be the way they are to make themselves believe they’re right. Hansen will pretend he loves Finn to make himself think he’s happy, and Finn pretends to not need love to make herself think she’s happy. But pretending to be happy never ends well, and the story’s almost like a realistic Shakespearean comedy, but without the happy ending. Even Finn’s name Summer is like a bad joke on Hansen as the person who’ll bring-out his darkest period of life across those 500 days. Those 500 days are themselves like a microcosm of life, with the events triggered by the results of the experiment being a simulated world attempting to answer the question: can we ever be happy?

So from the beginning, (500) Days of Summer establishes itself as a time bomb. It has 500 days to calculate an answer to the question, with the current state of these two characters’ emotions being the measuring stick, with-which the narrative determines what that answer is. So rather than take us through those 500 days, in an annoyingly inconsistently-lengthed and rushed montage, we’re instead given the relevant moments with a day counter giving us context. The ordering of the extracts is unobvious textually, but important subtextually, and is something you really have to think about to understand, but that’s not a bad thing, because it still mostly works on a storytelling level, even if some people will see it as a gimmick. It’s not inaccurate to consider it a gimmick, but that doesn’t make it superfluous. The story is still interesting on a surface level at least, and the structure shows that Neustadter and Weber understand basic storytelling, and once that pulls you in, they show you the rest, less simple side, of what they know, such as the use of editing to create entirely different meaning for the same shot just by placing it at a different part of the story, which is both prepped and foreshadowed in the middle act when a previous montage sequence of Finn’s replayed to opposing narration as the first time.

Not the mention the IKEA scene, which – and believe me, this is genuine – features the actual best acting I’ve ever seen. The way Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel meta-physically brought it to life made the whole thing. That supporting structure in their performance became the standardised moment by which every other scene worked, topped only by the semi-literal dance number in the park which should be used to finish off every great JGL tribute video.

(500) Days of Summer offers you a lot to like, and a lot more on-which to dwell. It manages to be both an engaging story of two people, while also being philosophical. Yes, the ending’s unlikely, but it isn’t unrealistic. The whole point of it is that it can happen in that story, because that’s the kind of world these characters inhabit.

It certainly put a smile on my face, anyway.

(500) Days of Summer – intelligent character narrative, deeply thoughtful. 9/10

The Italian Job — review

The Italian Job is considered to be a classic example of quintessentially British comedy. When I first saw this as a child, it definitely was. This is the first feature I can remember seeing, as is the one I’d cite as being responsible for my love of cinema all these years later.

Screenplay by Troy Kennedy Martin.

The Italian Job is considered to be a classic example of quintessentially British comedy. When I first saw this as a child, it definitely was. This is the first feature I can remember seeing, and is the one I’d cite as being responsible for my love of cinema all these years later.

But is it a classic?

Now I don’t know what determines a classic myself, but honestly, watching The Italian Job back now makes me reconsider its classic status. Because a lot of it is dated. Many of the attitudes have now changed, and its treatment of some groups would be condemned if released contemporaneously. The misogyny, homophobia, racism and sense of national superiority would trouble someone watching it for the first time today, even if it’s an archetypal example of 1960s Britain.

To say The Italian Job is an “us-against-them” tale, a lot of it makes the United Kingdom look really divided. For a start, there’s the way everyone cheers for England rather than the United Kingdom (or will I have to explain the difference to idiots?), as well as portraying specific demographics within England as being the people actually made to look clever, rather than England on a whole.

But it’s the mentality of that patriotism that matters. At one point, Fred Emney’s character says the line “bloody foreigners”, which The Making of the Italian Job author Matthew Field expressed in the commentary as representing everything The Italian Job‘s about. But I had to check the end credits to actually know the name of Emney’s character, which they tell me is Birkinshaw. And that’s the main problem with The Italian Job – there are only a few distinct characters. The main group who actually perform the job are named, but we never see any character from them. I can remember the names, but can’t place any to their faces. In the midst of the action, and at the cliffhanger ending, I don’t know who’s who and what makes them different from anyone else. Mainly because they all wear blue overalls. And Prof. Peach is nowhere – the last we see of him is as he follows what they’d call a “fat bird”, never to be involved in the story again. It’s as if he, having fulfilled his role, was then immediately ejected from the story. Surely, the responsibilities of each character could have been shared a bit more, making there less people, but more character. The plot’s been written in such a way that characters become facilitators rather than people, and there’s the overwhelming sense through all of this that none of the characters feel real – they just do what they do because that’s what the plot requires of them. Nothing that happens feels important to them, and that makes it look almost like a montage of fly-on-the-wall scenes. And a lot of these are totally irrelevant. Croker at the tailor, for example. And then the shirtmaker. Yes, this is what he did upon leaving prison, but is there not some way that could have been established without being shown? Plot structure is a real issue with it, and it’s the lack of attachment between each scene that makes the first half hour much slower than it is. Rather than it being a consistently-paced story, it looks more like a series of non-sequiturs that only follow the previous scene because they do. There’s so much wrong with the build-up to the main event in the sense of basic filmmaking principles, because it doesn’t flow together. There isn’t a through-line. It’s almost as if director Peter Collinson didn’t really know how to either fit it all together, or add or remove scenes.

Which is a shame because the chase sequence is the best of any motion picture. Three minis, already iconic looking, in three bright colours, with amazing engine sounds, going over and under the city, culminating in a getaway scene taking them through the sewers. That’s the best bit. The red mini at the front, trying to loop the loop, with the music hitting the highest note yet, and in that moment, I swear, in that moment, I orgasm a little inside. It’s just that exciting to me. And everything that follows, right to the end, is the best. Just the best. I love it. The problem is that the build-up to it was so strenuous that the getaway sequence is the only real highlight to The Italian Job. Had it not been executed in the way it was, and had certain things been done differently, it might not have been very memorable. The Italian Job would be easily forgettable were it not for that element to it. Yes, there’s the quintessential sixties patriotism, and it’s very archetypal of the period, but a part of me knows that the only real thing to like about it is that last third.

But that last third more than makes up for it. It defines it. My love of cars, and action sequences, and my enthusiasm for filmmaking is all an attempt to recreate the way I was made to feel by it. I’m not a professional critic, I’m just a blogger. But in an every-more subjective world, where the Internet lets people voice the opinions that have simply always been here, if not heard, I do determine that The Italian Job is a classic. Because it inspired what I do right now.

The Italian Job — exemplary chase excuses poor build-up 7/10.

Written by Troy Kennedy Martin

What the Marvel/Sony deal could, does and should mean…

Marvel Entertainment released a press statement today, confirming that, after a long series of negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment, who own Spider-Man’s live-action rights, the character was finally to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside characters such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Marvel Entertainment released a press statement today, confirming that, after a long series of negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment, who own Spider-Man’s live-action rights, the character was finally to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside characters such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

First, it’s been confirmed that this Spider-Man will be a new incarnation, which will likely require a recasting. The top names reported are Logan Lerman – Sony’s second choice after incumbent Andrew Garfield – and Zac Efron, though America’s Matt Smith, Donald Glover, is a popular choice as well. If Glover were cast, it’s possible Sony would have chosen to start a new Spider-Man series with the Miles Morales identity rather than Parker. Personally, I find that unlikely, since it’s probably a soft reboot with little continuity than the basics, and that would mean the new Spider-Man will still be Parker. Which isn’t to say the series won’t develop into Morales being involved, but that’s only likely to happen once the new Parker’s already established. If Morales were to be featured eventually, I wouldn’t say no to Glover being cast. But I would protest to him being cast as Parker, because he’s much more suited as an actor to Morales. He’s a much more interesting character, and Glover’s probably a decent actor, so it would be a shame to miss that opportunity for combination by wasting the potential just to cast Glover as the de facto Spider-Man, rather than a character far more suited to him. Regardless of who’s cast as Spider-Man, there are a lot of actors capable of doing it. Someone we’ve seen before isn’t necessarily a stunt cast, but could help ease the transition to a new version. And a name we haven’t heard before could work, but Sony might not expect the audience to accept a completely new face. SPE Motion Picture Group President Doug Belgrad said,

“This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future”,

implying Parker will still be the cinema version of the character.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll have to experience his origin story for a third time. The press release states the new Spider-Man will first be seen in a Marvel Studios production as part of the Cinematic Universe. The implication seems to be that he’ll debut in the solo release of another character. The next MCU release, Joss Whedon‘s Avengers: Age of Ultron, has finished principal photography, so it’s likely this appearance will be in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely‘s Captain America: Civil War. Leaked Sony emails reveal negotiations were already in place for Spider-Man to appear at that point, given his significant role in the comic book storyline Civil War. As these negotiations have finalised, it’s likely to still be the case, especially as it isn’t too late to rewrite the screenplay. Black Panther’s already been confirmed to debut there as well, as it was speculated that the character’s presence was a Spider-Man substitute. Would there be space to add Spider-Man as well? Maybe not and maybe so, but if it turns out to be true, it would be interesting to see how accurately it follows the source material. From what I hear, Civil War‘s major event is Spider-Man revealing his secret identity to the press, which would be a difficult event to reverse if Sony change their mind. What is confirmed about this release is that it’s going to happen before the 28th July 2017, which means, if not Captain America: Civil War, it would be either Jon Spaihts‘ Doctor Strange or James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Making his debut Doctor Strange would be a good idea, as Benedict Cumberbatch would already have attracted audiences, and that would provide maximum exposure. I honestly can’t see it being Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which takes place throughout the Milky Way and far from Earth. I like to think they won’t come to Earth because we already lots of other characters for that. Doctor Strange would be the most effective, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 would be the most unlikely, Captain America: Civil War would be the most likely, but there’s still the possibility of a post-credits cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If the MCU Spider-Man’s pre-established, he’ll have already experienced his origin story. But there should still be one for clarity’s sake, and a post-credits sequence would be the best opportunity for that. We’d be able to see it, it would officially introduce the character, but it wouldn’t take up any unnecessary time in his solo release.

Which is what the 28th July 2017 date’s now reserved for, shunting future MCU releases along futher into the future. There was a five year wait between Sam RaimiIvan Raimi and Alvin Sargent‘s Spider-Man 3 and Steve VanderbiltAlvin Sargent and Steve Kloves‘ The Amazing Spider-Man. Following Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner‘s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there’s now a five year wait again. As it happens, we’ve only discovered this with two of those remaining, so that’s something. Plus, Marvel Studios are very efficient at manufacturing an assembly line of releases, and two years seems like a good length of time before releasing it, because that’s the average between announcement and release.

What’s pleasing is that Spider-Man‘s being produced by Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal. They tend to be the equivalents of each other in their respective companies, and actually having a face to the discussions is comforting. I already know them, and respect them, and the fact that this blog post is even being written is testament to their ability to work together.

That being said, Sony still own the character’s cinema rights, and will be financing and majorly controlling future cinema releases for Spider-Man, which is slightly worrying. Sony aren’t as big a company as Disney, and from the way the agreement’s worded, it sounds as if Disney legally can’t fund any Spider-Mans because of Sony’s ownership. If Disney fund it, that gives them a right to grossing shares, and that changes their agreement. The last thing that needs to happen at this stage is for Marvel to violate that agreement, even in a small way, because that would give Sony the power to revoke their agreement. And the fact that Sony still own the character is quite disappointing, but then that’s how it would inevitably turn-out. Spider-Man’s the highest-grossing fictional character, and the MCU’s the highest-grossing cinematic series. It makes sense to unite them. But it’s for that same reason that Sony wouldn’t want to just give up the character, so them coming out of negotiations still owning him makes sense, even if I wish they’d just leave it alone and let Marvel use him how they want without having to stick to any guidelines. It’s this same agreement that says Marvel can’t fund it. And even worse, there’s Sony’s ability to overrule Marvel on any decisions made regarding the character. How Marvel expect to ingratiate the character into their own continuity while also letting Sony have the final say on that character’s releases’ creative decisions is worrying. Can this really work? I don’t know. But I’m just hoping it does. Generally, I think, since Sony need this investment, but Marvel are better at handling their properties, Sony’s only interest will be in making money. So that should mean that the only decisions they’ll be overriding are ones they think will compromise a Spider-Man‘s grossing. But given Marvel’s also a part of it, I can’t see them making the kind of decision that would do that. Hopefully, this will be a case of Sony letting Marvel do their own thing, but overruling them whenever they consider it necessary. And that kind of relationship works for me. If Sony are wise, they’ll use their major creative control to let Marvel do what they know they should.

Interestingly, the agreement specifies that Sony will only have that control over the new Spider-Man series. What that sounds like to me is that whenever Spider-Man appears in a non-Spider-Man, Marvel can use him how they like. So when Spider-Man appears in his debut, which will be part of another series, Marvel have full control. The solo release will then be controlled by Sony, but if Spider-Man then goes on to feature in Avengers: Infinity War — Part I, Sony won’t be involved in that. Which also works for me. A character in the MCU is two things – their own character, and crossover potential. Marvel are likely to care about the crossover potential more than that character’s own solo outings, which makes their compromise more satisfying than it could have been, and also more realistic.

The release also states other MCU characters will appear in the Spider-Man series. How this works between Sony and Marvel is anyone’s guess, but it could be the reverse of what we already have here. Meaning that if Sony wanted to include Antony Stark in Spider-Man 2 (which would be a good move, he’s the MCU’s highest-grossing individual character), he’d only appear on Marvel’s terms. I don’t really see that being a problem, since this agreement has already happened, and I believe in the combined power of Feige and Pascal. They’re like the Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet – put them together, and you unlock literally endless possibilities.