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A few reviews

TM2YC

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The BFI 65th best British film ever made...

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
John Schlesinger's film examines a three way open affair between a bisexual artist, a divorced female professional and an older gay Doctor. I wasn't all that interested in the lives of the first two characters but Peter Finch's quietly understated performance as the Doctor, modestly hiding his sexuality from his family and the people in the London Jewish community. Apparently the portrayal of this character as middle class, emotionally stable, respectable, cultured, financially successful and reasonably contented was quite a milestone for Gay characters in mainstream 1970s cinema. I need to see more Peter Finch films because he is fantastic in everything I've seen so far. The pervasive shots of telephone wiring, assorted communications equipment and answering services artfully illustrate the inter-connected lives of these characters but also their remoteness from each other.


A Bay of Blood (1971)
The influence of Mario Bava's 'A Bay of Blood' on later Horror films like the 'Friday the 13th' series is obvious.  The location is very "Camp Crystal Lake" and although there is a Jason-type slasher dispatching horny teenagers, there is more going on in the plot. It's one of those Agatha Christie style implausible setups where everybody in a given locale just happens to be a murderer with a motive. I sort of gave up trying to follow the convoluted reasons why everybody wanted to kill each other. The surprise ironic ending to the killing spree is incredible.

 

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Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
There seems to be some debate as to whether 'Freddy Got Fingered' is accidentally terrible and one of the worst films ever made, or a deliberately terrible surrealist satire and therefore genius... after watching I'm firmly in the latter camp. Tom Green satirizes gross-out 90s comedies by making the most out there, grossest 90s comedy possible, featuring him wearing the carcass of a deer and licking a guys open wound. He satirizes sentimental Hollywood "finding yourself" type writing by filming the most ridiculously sentimental and reductive scenes that satisfy all those cliched story beats, having a father and son saying the word "proud" over and over again to each other. He's satirizing the trope of the female love interest being just a goal and reward for the male hero by having her instantly fall in love with our psychotically awful main character and say things like "All I want to do in life is suck your c**k". The soundtrack is all "on the nose" jukebox choices, so songs like 'I've Gotta Be Me', 'Personality Crisis' and 'When A Man Loves A Woman' accompany montages of literally those things, before quickly descending into insanity. Green screaming in a high pitched whine, raving incessantly and babbling gibberish will probably annoy a lot of people but I laughed myself silly. I'm almost certain the subplot about Green's character being given a million dollars by a Hollywood executive, which he wastes on nonsense is a big joke on the real Fox executives that gave him millions to make this nonsense.



Jobriath A.D. (2012)
Considering how brief and unsuccessful (critically and financially) Jobriath's glam rock career was, this documentary does a surprisingly good job of assembling many scraps of video, film and photos (including spotting Richard Gere doing backing vocals). Even so they have to round things out with animation and lots of to-camera interviews. His friends, family, band members and fellow performers are effusive in their praise for Jobriath (aka Jobriath Boone/Bruce Campbell/Bryce Campbell/Cole Berlin/Joby), describing him as a gentle, kind, genius. A lot of the interview time is given over to Jobriath's manager/Svengali Jerry Brandt, leaving him plenty of rope to make himself look vain, self-serving and deluded, inter-cut with everyone else agreeing with that assessment. You kinda feel bad for Brandt because he was obviously very happy co-operating with a documentary that turned out to be a character assassination on him, although one that is probably justified. I don't think the film makes the case for Jobriath being some sort of undeniable mega star that was unfairly passed over (like say Sixto Rodriguez in the 'Searching for Sugar Man' film) but he certainly had enough talent to deserve better than the sad end he came to.  Audiences and the 1973 rock press weren't ready for an openly and unashamedly gay rock star and Brandt's insane over-hyping (taking out a huge billboard in Times Square and posters on 250 buses before a note had been heard) didn't endear anybody to Jobriath, especially when the product inevitably fell short of the inflated advertising.



^ The whole documentary is youtube.
 

TM2YC

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The Day of the Locust (1975)
John Schlesinger's adaptation of Nathanael West's 1939 novel about an aspiring painter and the various grotesque acquaintances he makes on the periphery of the movie business. As one character says, it's a depiction of Hollywoodland as "A Mecca of broken dreams" where characters hurl abuse at each other, drink themselves to death and watch silent porno reels. At first it plays like a nostalgic (thanks to John Barry's lush score and Conrad L. Hall's sepia magic-hour cinematography), wistful, lightly comedic Robert Altman style multi-character portrait of the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. However, it slowly becomes more nightmarish, violent, offensive and terrifying as it goes on. All the people depicted are increasingly portrayed as loathsome, prejudiced and self-obsessed, with the exception of Donald Sutherland's 'Homer Simpson' (yep that's where the name came from). A sad, repressed man, too timed to object to the monstrous treatment he receives from the others. Sutherland contorts his body into awkward shapes and movements, his face vacillating between childish delight and painful anguish.

There are many shots of newspaper headlines showing the rise of Nazism and the march of war in Europe but the characters do not notice them, like they're stuck in a trance, unable to wake up. A sound-stage construction for a recreation of the Battle of Waterloo collapses, the wreckage mixing the extras with fake war injuries, with those with real movie injuries. The last 10-minutes is some of the most harrowing, chaotic, insane sh*t I've ever seen in a movie. A violent riot breaks out during a premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater, as a radio commentator continues his excited monologue, unable to tell where the manic crowd of movie fans ends and the blood thirsty mob begins. Steven Spielberg's mega-blockbuster 'Jaws' came out 6-weeks after 'The Day of the Locust' (which made little profit), so it's easy to see why Hollywood stopped letting directors like Schlesinger make huge, mad, abrasive films like this but god I wished they still did! I think it's out-of-print on DVD and has never been released on blu-ray, or been restored but if you can find it, it's well worth discovering.


This scene is a good sample of the low-level weirdness before it gets really disturbing...

 

Masirimso17

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I didn't like the book or movie of The Day of the Locust, but I had to read and watch it for class. Maybe that's why I had a negative reaction to it and should probably revisit it.
 

TM2YC

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Masirimso17 said:
I didn't like the book or movie of The Day of the Locust, but I had to read and watch it for class. Maybe that's why I had a negative reaction to it and should probably revisit it.

I expect the roster of completely horrible characters would be a turn off for many, so instead, here's something joyous, without an once of cynicism... :)

True Stories (1986)
Talking Heads' David Byrne co-writes and directs a fantasy, documentary-style, musical exploration of the fictional town of 'Vergil Texas' (although it's often filmed with real Texas locations and people).  Byrne himself plays the narrator and interviewer, questioning people about their "Sesquicentennial celebration of special...ness". That's what his film is all about too, celebrating the uniqueness of everyday people and the eccentric lives they live, which seem perfectly normal to them. It's like a more down-to-earth Wes Anderson, or like the more joyful, frivolous parts of 'Twin Peaks'. There's a married couple who don't speak directly with each other, a woman who never leaves her bed and a lady who spins the most elaborate, hilarious and inventive lies to anybody who will listen. If there's a main character, it's John Goodman's 'Louis Fyne', an irrepressibly good natured single guy looking for the right girl to marry. 'True Stories' is a vision only Byrne could've brought to life, touching on themes of consumerism, technology and small-town life with such an inquisitive and embracing attitude. The onscreen titles by frequent collaborator Tibor Kalman and his design firm M & Co. are noticeably beautiful and having the end titles scroll at different speeds was a unique touch. The 4K scan on the Criterion blu-ray looks pin-sharp but I don't care for the new colour timing and I wished they'd included the old 4:3 version too, it often looked great in that ratio. Still, it looks fine with the some adjustments to the brightness/contrast/saturation and it's great to have the soundtrack on CD too.

I took some screenshots:

50188745543_236a924f11_o.jpg



 

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Water Lilies aka Birth of the Octopuses (2007)
I wasn't as bolled over by Céline Sciamma's debut film as much I was with her later ones but I did like it. It's another coming-of-age story about three 15-year-old girls set within the world of synchronized swimming. It's mostly told from the perspective of Marie (Pauline Acquart) who develops feelings for Floriane (Adèle Haenel), which leads her to neglect her friendship with Anne (Louise Blachère). The complicated feelings and self-doubts of the three young women are beautifully explored.


Pauline (2010)
'Pauline' is a short film by Céline Sciamma in which Anaïs Demoustier's title character delivers a monologue towards the camera while lying on her bed. I believe it was commissioned as part of a government initiative to counter homophobia. Pauline intimately talks about her being outed by a boy and ridiculed by the people from her small town. It's intimate and sad but Sciamma's muse Adèle Haenel brings a ray of sunshine in a brief cameo. It's only 8-minutes and the format works strongly but even so, surely there are more interesting ways to do this than in one shot.

 

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Under Siege (1992)
'Under Siege' is probably the best of the 'Die Hard' wannabes and I watched this a ton of times back in the 90s. It does have it's own elements that make it feel different enough from 'Die Hard'. Unlike the struggling every-man 'John McClane', Steven Seagal's Casey Ryback' is an unstoppable, limitlessly proficient superman. His self-deprecating modesty keeps you on his side but the inevitability of his victory does make him feel almost like the antagonist. The group of terrorists seem to be having so much fun doing their evil deeds and get so upset when Ryback keeps screwing up all their careful plans, that you kinda want them to beat him, like they were the protagonists. Top terrorist Tommy Lee Jones is half the movie, almost every line is never knowingly under delivered, quotable gold. Gary Busey's performance is crazy genius too. This is definitely Seagal's best attempt at acting (which isn't saying much), managing to have quite a bit of chemistry and banter with improbable playboy bunny sidekick Erika Eleniak.


Who even needs Seagal and explosions when you've got these two characters together in a scene...?


Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
I loved 1992's 'Die Hard' knockoff 'Under Siege' but this sequel got so panned that I never bothered to see it until now. It's no masterpiece but I'd much rather re-watch this again than either of the last two genuine 'Die Hard' sequels. Steven Seagal is a pudgy, wooden, charisma vacuum but luckily the rest of the cast is stocked with scenery chewing character actors like Eric Bogosian, Everett McGill, Jonathan Banks and Kurtwood Smith giving it their all. It's all pretty cliched stuff but the action is pretty entertaining. The heart pumping score by the late great Basil Poledouris helps to elevate the whole experience. There is a lot of ropy early CGI unfortunately but lots of real stunts and blood squibs too.  If you just want some preposterous popcorn entertainment then 'Under Siege 2: Dark Territory' fits the bill.

 

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TM2YC said:
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
It's no masterpiece but I'd much rather re-watch this again than either of the last two genuine 'Die Hard' sequels. 

I saw this in the theater fully expecting it to be horrible, but just hoping for one or two good action scenes.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Sure, it's basically a rinse and repeat, and doesn't quite have the story complications or acting chops of the previous film, much less Die Hard With A Vengeance, but I'll be damned if it wasn't pretty compelling, and the action was great.  I need to revisit this...if I can mind wipe my knowledge of what a taint stain Seagal has become.
 

TM2YC

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Malthus said:
TM2YC said:
Under Siege

I love both of these films. If you've not seen it already I think you'd enjoy Broken Arrow.

I watched it once when it first came out and thought it was pretty good. One of John Woo's less disappointing Hollywood movies IIRC. I must give it a re-watch sometime.

mnkykungfu said:
TM2YC said:
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)
It's no masterpiece but I'd much rather re-watch this again than either of the last two genuine 'Die Hard' sequels.

I need to revisit this...if I can mind wipe my knowledge of what a taint stain Seagal has become.

Nobody had any respect for him to begin with, so it's not too difficult :D .
 

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Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake of 1981's 'Escape from New York' that it's not one I've rushed to re-watch from John Carpenter's filmography. The early CGI ranges from iffy, to outright terrible, which is extra frustrating due to how great the practical FX and matte paintings look. Carpenter's score is fine but unmemorable, another one of his later efforts favouring twangy Western guitars, rather than synths. Unfortunately the script doesn't give Snake enough opportunity to be a badass, instead providing plenty of opportunities for him to look incompetent. The satirical elements have remained pretty strong and enduring, like the ultra right-wing nutjob President (with a bad bouffant comb-over) and the twisting of Los Angeles tropes, especially Bruce Campbell's demented plastic surgeon character.  Guest stars Pam Grier and Steve Buscemi are great but Peter Fonda is really terrible. The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it. Released a month after Sci-Fi blockbuster 'Independence Day' with it's huge scale and cutting edge FX (for not a huge amount more money), this felt so dated and still does.

The new Shout! Factory blu-ray comes with a pin sharp 1080p transfer of the 35mm theatrical trailer. It's frustrating to see how  much better the film looks in the grainy high-contrast way it was meant to be seen and the CGI looks better integrated too. They've put it up on youtube too:

 

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Sahara (2005)     (US Amazon Prime)

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As a fan of adventure flicks and lighthearted romps, it was inevitable that I should see Saraha at some point. Well, now I have. And, first, credit where credit is due: the movie looks fantastic. First-time director Breck Eisner, son of then-Disney boss Michael, mounts a very handsome production stuffed with top-notch desert cinematography, cleanly staged action sequences with no obvious CG work, and all-around excellent location shooting. It's practically worth a watch for visuals alone, though the disc commentary, which reportedly features tons of over-confident bluster about the many sequels to come, might be more entertaining than the movie itself.

Because, good grief, is this a stupid, stupid flick. Matthew McConaughey plays an good ol' Southern boy treasure seeker looking for a Confederate ironclad in Africa. (What? Don't ask.) Penélope Cruz plays a WHO doctor investigating a mysterious disease outbreak. So, in a metaphor for the Confederacy itself, the vessel will prove to be the source of the disease, right? Nope! These two plot threads, which end up quite literally neighboring each other in the Sahara Desert, turn out to be completely and utterly unrelated. And then our white heroes use Confederate weaponry to kill the Black African villain. But it's okay, see, because they made other Black African friends along the way. (Why the vessel's hold is full of skeletons, and how the crew perished, is not even addressed.) It'd all be howlingly offensive if it weren't so mindlessly, childishly dumb. This is, after all, a family-aimed nonstop cavalcade of violence (seriously, the whole second half is just one battle after another) and pulp serial throwback that doesn't even bother to ogle one of the world's all-time beauties, which I'm not sure whether to praise or knock it for. And don't even get me started on the notion of the doofus protagonists as former Navy SEALs.

In short, my opinion that the modern age and throwback serial adventure yarns just don't mix endures. Although loud and interminable, it's more enjoyable than the odious Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, for one, and there's something vaguely likable, at times, in its relentlessly upbeat and dopey tone. Hey, it's The Merovingian playing the villain again... that's kinda neat, I guess? And, again, it does look amazing throughout.

Grade: C
 

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TM2YC said:
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake... The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it.

So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)
 

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Fleabag (2016-9)    (US Amazon Prime)

fleabag-2.jpg


Fleabag is a two-season show of six episodes each about an unnamed London woman with a penchant for drinking and casual flings. It's written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who I didn't realize was the voice/performer of the female droid in Solo until I was nearly done with the show. The first season is solid but unremarkable indie sitcom entertainment in the mold of Louie and Master of None. The second season, however, benefits tremendously from a flirtation arc between the protagonist and Andrew Scott's foul-mouthed, hard-drinking Catholic priest; their interplay is really quite electric. Also, Olivia Colman is splendid throughout as the protagonist's step-mother-to-be, who takes the concept "killing with kindness" to terrifying extremes.

A lot of critical commentary has gushed over the series, the second season especially, but to my male eyes, it wasn't as daring or searing as Louie, a show I'm not going to pretend no longer exists despite CK himself having suffered a well-earned career implosion. That said, the Fleabag/Priest romance is certainly as entertaining as anything in Louie or Master of None.

S1 Grade: B
S2 Grade: B+

Why the priest couldn't have quit the Catholic Church for the Church of England, thereby preserving his relationship with Fleabag, I don't know...

-----------------------
mnkykungfu said:
So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)

Escape from L.A., for better or worse, is what it is. If one wants to watch Escape from New York, watch that. But whereas New York plays everything completely straight, L.A. practically winks at the camera throughout, except maybe in that final scene. Accept that, and you may enjoy it. I remember it as being pretty okay for what it was the one time I gave it a spin...
 

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mnkykungfu said:
TM2YC said:
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Although it's by no means bad, 'Escape from L.A.' is such a lackluster semi-remake... The ending moment is so cool, that it doesn't deserve the slightly embarrassing film that precedes it.

So, the inevitable question... any thoughts on if/how this could be redeemed through an edit?  (Bear in mind that I've never actually sat through the film, as I didn't want my heart broken.)

I got part way through a fanedit ages ago. It's got a clear center channel, so the score can be replaced but a lot of the problems are baked in. It could be improved but not completely fixed.

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Bande à part aka Band of Outsiders aka The Outsiders (1964)
It feels like Jean-Luc Godard probably had a lot of fun writing, shooting and editing 'Bande à part'. There some really memorable moments like the hyper-fast edited intro titles timed to music, a minute's silence being an actual total silence on the film's soundtrack, the characters running through The Louvre in record time, doing a spontaneous synchronized dance routine in a cafe and passing notes to each other in class like they were kids, while a teacher reads from 'Romeo & Juliet'.  It centers entirely on three young Parisians (Odile, Franz and Arthur) in a love triangle who hatch a plan to steal a stash of money.  The way Godard narrates the three character's internal, unexpressed thoughts became an iconic motif of the French New Wave (much imitated and parodied).  Quentin Tarantino's production company was called 'A Band Apart' in reference to the film and the "Jack Rabbit Slim's" dance scene in his 'Pulp Fiction' has a very similar vibe.


 

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Bone Tomahawk (2015)
At over 2-hours, this Western/Horror hybrid twist on John Ford's 'The Searchers' has some pacing problems. It needed a classic three-act, 90-minute structure, 30-mins to introduce the characters and get the posse rolling, 30-mins on the road, 30-mins at the destination. Instead there is a prologue that deflates the impact of the end (and overshadows everything leading up to it), about 75-minutes of character setup/development and then a wam-bam last act. Fortunately the character stuff is so good it nearly overcomes these problems. Lots of grizzled, grouchy cowboys mumbling wonderfully fruity dialogue of the "reconnoiter that inhospitable locale over yonder, if it please you kindly" sort, instead of just "look over there". The performances are also fantastic, lead by perfectly cast Kurt Russell. Director S. Craig Zahler fills up the rest of the cast with well known character actor faces from 80s/90s genre/horror/sci-fi like Sid Haig, David Arquette, Richard Jenkins, Fred Melamed and James Tolkan in small impactful roles. I bet they thought "who can we get that won't cost too much but who people will recognize and who will fill up the screen with their personalities?". It only cost $1.8m which sometimes shows in the overall look and limited locations. It's unbelievably violent at points and isn't your typical Western, blending genres together, so it might not be for everybody.


 

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Yeah, nearly overcomes those problems.  I was unsure how to read some of the potentially problematic thematic elements in this film.  However, since he's gotten more films produced, his viewpoints have become more clearly defined, and he's become a bit of an icon in the incel/proudboy community.  I won't get political here, but he doesn't make films so good that I need to see them no matter what messaging they're advocating.
 

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
I knew I was going to love Celine Sciamma's latest film as soon as she choose to open with a closeup showing the scratch of charcoal on paper... I could almost smell it. The story follows Marianne, an 18th century French female portrait artist who arrives on an island to paint the likeness of noble woman Heloise, so it can be sent to her prospective husband. She's refused to sit for other male painters, so her mother engages Marianne on the pretext of being a hired companion for Heloise. While the mother is away the two begin to fall in love and share a brief oasis with Sophie, the maid of the household, where the rules of 18th century society and morality don't exist. There's a shot that begins on hands doing embroidery but it's revealed that it's Sophie doing the sewing and Heloise doing the cooking. We know and they know it can't last.

It's one of the best looking digital films I've seen, I thought it was shot on film from the warmth of the images. A lot of it is about looking, really looking, artistically, thematically, emotionally and romantically and the viewer is invited to join in via the long searching reciprocal POV shots. Sciamma's script is perfect, every moment is there for a reason and resonates with later scenes. It was such a joy to behold a total modern masterpiece like this. During the final beautiful and moving scene I had to stop myself physically applauding my TV. Oh I wish I had been able to see this at the cinema but my local multiplex sucks, so I couldn't. 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' sometimes reminded me of other 17th-18th century period films like Milos Forman's 'Amadeus' in it's retrospective structure and Peter Greenaway's 'The Draughtsman's Contract' in it's contractual artistic premise... two worthy comparisons. I reckon every Sciamma film has been twice as brilliant as the one preceding it, so judging by 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' and her past form, her next project should be the greatest film ever made.


 

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Battle of the Sexes (2017)
An enjoyable, very watchable but formulaic sports biopic about Billie Jean King's 1973 "battle of the sexes" tennis match against Bobby Riggs. I like watching Wimbledon and I knew the broad strokes of this story but the stuff about the homophobic Margaret Court playing Riggs beforehand and the larger context of King (and some of her fellow players) founding the 'Women's Tennis Association' a few years before, was all new to me. Emma Stone is perfectly serviceable as King but it's Steve Carell who steals the limelight as the eccentric Riggs. The film has a couple of interesting elements like the way in which King's supportive husband is portrayed, even as their marriage becomes strained and the hairdressing scene is powerfully sensual in a unique way. For a tennis film it doesn't feature much actual play though.


Maybe I'd have enjoyed the 2013 documentary it's based on more:


Everything: The Real Thing Story (2020)
A feature-length BBC musical documentary about trailblazing Liverpool Soul/Funk/Disco band 'The Real Thing'. It's unremarkable technically but the story is fascinating: Being a black UK Soul band in the 60s/70s, getting their start with The Beatles acting as their impromptu backing band, touring with David Essex, working with Jeff Wayne... and I must check out their cool sounding Liverpool concept-album.


 
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