Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: The Avengers [2012]


Background:
Release Date: 27 April 2012 (Malaysia), 4 May 2012 (USA)
Directed By: Joss Whedon
Written By: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders
Duration: 142 minutes
In A Nutshell:
When Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) threatens to bring an alien army and rule the entire human race, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and his assistant, Agent Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders) assembles a group of superheroes to protect the earth. The team named "The Avengers" consists of Iron Man/Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth), Captain America/Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), and The Hulk/Bruce Banner (played by Mark Ruffalo). Rounding up the team are existing S.H.E.I.L.D members, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye/Clint Barton (played by Jeremy Renner).



Thumbs Up:
+ Good character depth and story development
+ Witty dialogue and hilarious banter between the characters
+ Great fight scenes and jaw dropping action sequences
+ Absolutely the best enactment of The Hulk on screen so far, please give Mark Ruffalo his own movie
+ The usual after credits bonus scene that we've come to expect from Marvel, signalling an inevitable sequel. Comic book fans will know exactly who the character is.
Thumbs Down:
- Although Black Widow and Hawkeye are extremely deadly, don't really think they would survive a full-blown war. This is of course is purely nitpicking as it wouldn't be a stretch to suspend belief for this type of movie.
- How Hulk is able to control himself in the final battle is left unexplained
- Once again 3D adds almost nothing to the overall experience



The Verdict Is In:
If you watched any of the multiple trailers or TV spots, and there are many of them, you would be led to believe that this film is nothing but a CGI-loaded action feast. But while there really is an epic battle scene at the end, The Avengers actually succeeds in creating a good story-line with rich characters. Every superhero here is flawed and conflicted that it wouldn't be out of place to say that this film is actually character-driven. All of them are also given ample time to shine in the spotlight to the extent that even Agent Maria Hill surprisingly has plenty of screen-time (not complaining here because I love Robin Scherbatsky Cobie Smulders). And all this is done without losing focus on the story.

Followers of director Joss Whedon's previous works would know by now about his ability to create some really witty dialogues and interesting scenarios. That is apparent by some hilarious scenes especially whenever there is banter involving Tony Stark and any other person. Robert Downing Jr. is well known for his improvisational skills so his natural charm combined with Whedon's writing is a delight to experience. There is also a truly memorable scene involving The Hulk and Loki, who it has to be said, excels at making a great villain.

The individual fights our heroes engage in are as good as in any film but the final epic battle is just jaw dropping awesome. Not only is it a visual spectacle but it also packs a lot of suspense and most vitally is it has a human element to it. We get to see how all the chaos actually effects the average citizens. The action is well structured and actually tells a story. This is what elevates it far apart from the mind-numbing set-pieces conjured up by the likes of Michael Bay or by the recently released Battleship [2012].




Its been 4 years of anticipation since Nick Fury made a cameo in the after-credits of Iron Man [2008] and announcing "The Avengers Initiative". Since then there's been 4 more movies (all with their own after-credits scenes). 4 trailers (including a Japanese edition) and countless TV spot/commercials have emerged after that. Add to the mix a childhood of watching TV series, playing with dolls action-figures, and reading comics (best summed-up in a previous post Me And My Superhero Childhood) and you can imagine the ridiculously enormous expectations I had for this movie. The only previous time it was this huge was when George Lucas released Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace [1999]. That of course was a huge disappointment (truth be told even without expectations, that movie was a downer).

So overall The Avengers is a very solid movie, but there's a catch. I raised my bar so high I can't help but feel my excitement a little unfulfilled. I somehow wanted more. Greedy me. It was like watching 100 meter sprinter, Usain Bolt. There was a time when he broke the World Record with what seemed relative ease every time he competed. So you watch a tournament expecting another World Record only to be disappointed when he didn't and that he only managed to break a tournament record. We fail to realise that was still a big achievement. That's probably how I feel with this movie. Maybe I'll have a better feel of it after another viewing (and let's be honest, the decision to do exactly that was made a long time ago). Still, lesson learned. I'm trying to contain my excitement for The Dark Knight Rises [2012].

Oh, by the way, I've read early reviews saying this is the best superhero movie ever. Nope, The Dark Knight [2008] isn't threatened. It isn't even the best Marvel movie. That still belongs to Iron Man [2008]. But The Avengers [2012] is only a photo-finish away.

UPDATE: After seeing this for a second time in less than a week, I totally take back my statement about my excitement being a little unfulfilled. This really could be Marvel's best movie!
Rating:
9 out of 10

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Anatomy Of Film: Opening Title Sequence



As most movie lovers know right now, the horror flick The Cabin In The Woods [2012] is getting plenty of rave reviews, and deservedly so too. Most people will tell you that's its best to go watch it knowing as little as possible. So trust me when I say what I'm going to write after this contains NO SPOILERS at all. I just wanted to mention its opening title sequence. But if you consider even that a spoiler (trust me it isn't), skip this paragraph and proceed to the next. The movie starts with us seeing etchings in CG blood of some sort of a ritual. Then we cut to a couple of middle-aged office workers discussing something about their work. Then suddenly, wham! We see the title "THE CABIN IN THE WOODS" splashed on our screen in blood red and block caps.

That title display was extremely simple but effective. Quite frankly I love good opening credits whether in film or TV. It has to be said though, TV series nowadays have made it even simpler and having less impact, a recent example being the show LOST [2004-2010]. It just had a floating title. A good opening credits/title sequence on the other hand can be seen in Zombieland [2009] or TV series Mad Men [2007- ] which are shown in the photos at the top. A good title sequence helps builds the anticipation for the audience at the beginning of the film, before they've even seen anything about the movie. The most iconic, perhaps, is for Star Wars [1977].



This following video is titled "The Art Of Film & TV Title Design" and I find it very interesting indeed. It was created by the show Offbook by PBS. I don't get the show nor the PBS channel in my country but I have been following their Youtube channel for quite some time now and must say that they have some very seductive programs. I haven't seen the film Blue Valentine [2010] yet, but just by seeing its title sequence which is featured in the video have made me very interested to give it a go now. The video also pays homage to a legend in this particular field, Saul Bass who've worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese amongst others.

So, what is your favourite opening title sequence? Just at the top my head for movies would be Zombieland [2009], but for TV series it just has to be The Simpsons [1989- ]. Its amazing to think that they come up with a different one for every episode. And they're currently in their 25th season!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: The Cabin In The Woods [2012]


Background:
Release Date: 13 April 2012 (USA), 19 April 2012 (Malaysia)
Directed By: Drew Goddard
Written By: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams
Duration: 95 minutes
In A Nutshell:
A group of five friends which include Dana (played by Kristen Connolly), Kurt (played by Chris Hemsworth), Jules (played by Anna Hutchison), Marty (played by Fran Kranz), and Holden (played by Jesse Williams) go for a vacation in a remote cabin in the woods. Terrifying things start to happen and they must uncover the mystery behind the cabin.
Thumbs Up:
+ What initially seems like a cliché horror flick is exactly the opposite, it is one of the most inventive and refreshing to emerge from the genre
+ Surprisingly a hilarious movie without having to turn into a full-on spoof/wink-at-camera type of film
+ Clever and witty dialogues as one would expect from Joss Whedon
+ Nice homage to other horror films
+ The final part of the movie is one of the most fun cinematic experiences you can expect to gain from going to the movies
Thumbs Down:
- There are plenty of surprises, but if you're looking for genuine scares, there aren't many
- The nature of the film and its humour kinda prevents us from being totally invested in the characters (minor complaint only because the film is absolute fun)


The Verdict Is In:
A few reviews have told me to stay away from the trailer for this movie and I'm glad I did so because the less you know about this film's story, the better. And that's what I intend to do with this review. Keep it short, simple, and reveal very little away about the plot.

I'm not really a horror fan but even I can recognise and acknowledge the nods towards multiple other horror films and its sub-genres here. And I have to say I've never laughed-out this loud at a horror movie before. It was hilarious and the dialogues were very clever. There's still the many horror cliches here but you'll soon find out why their there, to be poked fun off. For example, when a cellar door suddenly flings open, a character calmly says: "The wind must have blown it open", while three others nod agreeingly before one other character proclaims: "Err, that makes what kind off sense?"


I guess the star attraction here is provided by Chris Hemsworth and he does give a good enough performance but the scene stealer in this movie just has to be Fran Kranz who plays the character Marty. Kristen Connolly who plays the character Dana and whom I knew nothing about before also impressed me. Also prepare for the final 20 minutes or so of the movie. If you aren't able to enjoy that segment, then no horror movie will ever manage to satisfy you.
Rating:
8 out of 10

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Retro Superhero Movies


I can't believe it. Only one week left before the opening of The Avengers which will officially launch the summer movie season. I've been waiting for this way too long. As I wrote in a previous post, Me And My Superhero Childhood,  even from a very early age I have been such a massive fan of comic book superheroes, so with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises also to follow, I am simply geeking-out right now.

These past few years have seen an abundance of superhero movies being released. But what was the state of these type of movies before the era of CGI? That's what I'll be featuring today. Of course a lot of people are all ready familiar with the 1960s Adam West version of Batman and also the big-budgeted versions by Tim Burton. They were then followed by the horrible versions by Joel Schumacher (nipple suit and all). Most people also know the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve too. Some are also familiar with the Wonder Woman [1975-1979] TV show starring Lynda Carter as well. The same goes to Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno's Incredible Hulk. I won't be featuring any of those today, but instead these less established ones below. I actually was excited by some of these movies when I was very young. How terrible they look now! Comic book fans who complain that today's movies doesn't stay true to the comics, they should take a look at how different these movies were back then...

# Captain America [1979]

A TV movie starring Reb Brown as Captain America / Steve Rogers. What's up with the motorcycle? And LOL at the bike-helmet and sunglasses.


Captain America [1990]

Now this version was released in some international cinemas back in 1990 before finally coming to the USA via direct-to-video and cable TV in 1992.



SuperGirl [1984]

The original choices to play SuperGirl were Melanie Griffith and Brooke Shields. The role eventually went to Helen Slater.



The Fantasic Four [1994]

Not only was this film never officially released, but the studios initially denied that the film ever existed! This footage however was leaked...



The Amazing Spider-Man [1977]

Made for TV movie in 1977 and had its own series running after that until 1979. This is the opening of the TV series from 1978.



Judge Dredd [1995]

Big-budgeted movie starring Sylvester Stallone. I can't believe I actually bought a ticket back then to see this. It truly sucked! I wonder how the reboot Dredd starring Karl Urban later this year will fare.



Spawn [1997]

My roommate in high school had a few of the Spawn comics and I though it was kind off a cool character. We intended to go see it upon its release but I believe to this very day, none of of us has actually managed to do so.



Thor (from the TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns [1988] )

This is a fight scene between Thor and The Hulk. The scene is quite long so I'll feature this shorter clip instead where the video has been speeded-up although the audio hasn't.



Daredevil (from the movie The Trial Of The Incredible Hulk [1989] )

I didn't manage to find any original clip, so I've settled on this compilation video from the TV movie. Oh yes, the film had a stupid premise in case you were wondering.



Nick Fury: Agent Of Sheild [1998]

Oh, yes. Before Samuel L. Jackson, David Hasselhoff had actually played the Director of SHEILD.



Swamp Thing [1982]

This flick was directed by Wes Craven and was rather decent. It even had a sequel released in 1989.



Justice League Of America [1997]

Produced by CBS as a TV pilot. The show never got picked-up.



The Punisher [1989]


I believe there have been three Punisher movies, none of them being anything even resembling good. That includes this one starring Dolph Lundgren.




The Phantom [1996]

Other than Billy Zane as The Phantom, this also starred Catherine Zeta-Jones.



Barb Wire [1996]

Nominated for several Razzie Awards. But we were teenagers back then, and this starred Pamela Anderson. How were we ever to resist?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Battleship [2012]


Background:
Release Date: 12 April 2012 (Malaysia), 18 May 2012 (USA)
Directed By: Peter Berg
Written By: Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Gregory D. Gadson, Hamish Linklater
Duration: 131 minutes
In A Nutshell:
Inspired by the classic Hasbro board game, Battleship starts-off with Alex Hopper (played by Taylor Kitsch) trying to impress a girl at a bar, Samantha (played by Brooklyn Decker). One thing leads to another and ends-up with his brother, Stone (played by Alexander Skarsgard) enlisting him in the US Navy. Fast forward a few years and we find that Alex is now a lieutenant while Samantha's father (played by Liam Neeson) is the Admiral. Meanwhile alien crafts land in the pacific ocean and it is up to Alex and his crew to save the planet.
Thumbs Up:
+ A somewhat interesting action set-piece where they basically mimic playing the actual "Battleship board game
+ Cute involvement of war veterans and the use of "old-school" technology near the end
Thumbs Down:
- The attempt at humour doesn't work and feels forced
- Silly storyline with plot-holes and clichés galore
- Overall, the action sequences doesn't excites, feels like WATCHING someone playing an action video game with cool graphics
- Corny and awful dialogue
- Some unconvincing acting (Rihanna shouldn't quit her singing career anytime soon)
The Verdict Is In:
I wouldn't bother delving into the story or about character development too much here because quite frankly there isn't much of it going on. But then again I don't think many people were expecting any in the first place. Other than the foregone conclusion of CGI overload, get ready for bucket loads of clichés and bad dialogue. After a while you just knew a character would shout out: "I didn't sign-up for this". I also didn't know either to cringe or laugh after seeing Alex Hopper battle aliens and their massive destruction for half and hour or so, only then hearing him saying: "I've got a bad feeling about this". And they claim throughout the movie that he was one of the brightest and full of potential Navy there was. I fear for the planet.


Despite what some of my friends tell me, I actually can very well enjoy these "turn-off-your-brain-and-just-enjoy-the-action" type of movies. The most recent example was last year's Fast Five [2011]. The story and characters there didn't matter but I still thought the film was a lot of fun. The action sequences for that film had structure and actually told a story. Not just an explosion here, there, and everywhere like in this one. Except for a piece were they mimicked the board game, the action in Battleship just failed to excite me. It provided little adrenalin rush, suspense, or emotional connection. Despite impressive CGI, it was messy and felt flat. It was like watching someone playing an action video game with cool graphics. Playing might be fun, but definitely not watching someone else play.

If people want proof that a great action-packed and big-budget blockbuster about aliens can actually be made, I suggest they go watch James Cameron's Aliens [1986]. That movie was totally different than its predecessor, the slow-building and visceral thriller by Ridley Scott, Alien [1979], but still managed to hit all the right notes. The last two alien movies that I watched, this one and The Darkest Hour [2011] left me disappointed. So it makes me even more anticipated to see what Ridley Scott has in store for us with his next alien flick, Prometheus [2012]. Bring it on!
Rating:
5.5 out of 10

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Babe-O-Licious: Saoirse Ronan


Today, the 12th of April 2012 marks the 18th birthday for one Saoirse Ronan. By now reaching the landmark age of 18, I can officially call her a "babe" without sounding excessively creepy. Moderately creepy maybe, but not excessively. So happy birthday Saoirse and I welcome you in becoming the 5th member of my self-indulgent and pathetic segment known as Babe-O-Licious. But first off all, lets address the giant elephant in the room. How on God's polluted planet do we even pronounce your name? "People crucify my name," this Irish lass has said somewhere in an interview. "I've had 'Sor-shur', 'Surika', 'Say-or-eys', 'Sureese'... completely wrong." So what's the right way? "There's a few different ways. 'Seer-sha' is how I would say it. As in 'Inertia' (you know, physics)."





Aside from being physically attractive, I'd also have to say that she beats-off Jennifer Lawrence in a close-fight to be crowned as the best young actress in Hollywood today. In short, I really do consider her to be "the next big thing" in terms of talented women on the silver screen. In fact she is the 7th youngest person to be nominated as Best Supporting Actress at The Academy Awards. She achieved that at the age of 13 for her role in the movie Atonement [2007], which also starred Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. My favourite role of her's so far was in the movie Hanna [2011]. That movie was just OK for me, but Saoirse's portrayal of the kid-assassin, Hanna Heller was just total bad-ass. In fact that character is one of my 7 Favourite Movie Secret Agents.



She was also the lead in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones [2009], has acted alongside Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, and Colin Farrell in The Way Back [2010], and provided the voice in the English version of The Secret World Of Arietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) [2010]. She'll be seen next in an adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's (author of the Twilight series) novel, The Host [2013]. She was initially cast in The Hobbit [2012], but dropped out because the filming schedule was too long and she wanted to focus on different projects. I particularly think she would have made a perfect elf. One movie of hers that I'm interested in seeing is Violet & Daisy [2011] but there's still no news of a release date.



Finally I found this clip of her where she is being asked about the topic of Twilight [2008]. Embedding for the clip has been disabled but you can view it here. She gave a diplomatic answer, probably because she'll be in Stephenie Meyer's The Host [2013] as mentioned above, but her reaction at the end just tells you that she doesn't enjoy the movies. Attagirl, that just made you even more cooler in my book! Love Peter Jackson's response in the clip too: "Is this a soccer team?"


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Movie Vault Review: The Goonies [1985]


Background:
Year Of Release: 1985
Directed By: Richard Donner
Written By: Chris Columbus, Steven Speilberg
Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Jeff Cohen, Jonathan Ke Quan, Anne Ramsey, John Matuszak, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton
Duration: 114 minutes
In A Nutshell:
Unless the families living in Astoria, Oregon can come up with a huge amount of money, they will lose their homes to land developers who plan to build a new country club. So when Mikey Walsh (played by Sean Astin) stumbles upon what seems to be a lost pirate map, he gambles to follow the trail in hope of discovering treasure that will help everyone stay in Astoria. He convinces the rest of his friends, which includes "Mouth", a troublemaking yapper (played by Corey Feldman), "Data", an intelligent gadgets-kid (played by Jonathan Ke Quan), and "Chunk", an overweight compulsive-liar (played by Jeff Cohen). Mikey's brother Brandon (played by Josh Brolin) tries to run after them, but he along with friends Andy (played by Kerri Green) and Steph (played by Martha Plimpton) ends up following along with the adventure. On the way to the treasure, they encounter upon a group of highly-wanted criminals, Mama Fratelli (played Anne Ramsey) and her three sons who are in hiding.
Thumbs Up:
+ Quintessential 80s blockbuster movie, a mash-up between the Indiana Jones films [1981-1989] and E.T [1982]
+ Heavy doses of fun, adventure, and comedy
+ Excellent dynamic rapport between the kids which makes for great banter and dialogue
Thumbs Down:
- I'm perhaps being hugely bias here, but I can't find anything that I don't like about the movie
Selected Quote:
"Don't you realize? The next time you see sky, it'll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it'll be in another school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what's right for them. Because it's their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, its our time. Its out time down here. That's all over the second we drive up Troy's bucket."


The Verdict Is In:
First off let me confess that this is an extremely biased review. I have a massive soft-spot for 80s movies like this one here along with others such as Back To The Future [1985], Ghostbusters [1984], Raiders Of The Lost Ark [1981], and Gremlins [1984]. Even The Empire Strikes Back [1980] and Return Of The Jedi [1983] belongs in the same category. These were the movies that help define my childhood. They were probably the films that ignited this burning passion and love affair I have with cinema. It did eventually put the label "geek" on me during my school days, but I don't regret a thing. So because of that I find it hard to judge this film solely from an adult's perspective. These films never fail to bring out the kid in me. Heck, read my review for Teen Wolf [1985] and you'll know that I even enjoyed that bad and campy movie.

The Goonies has Steven Spielberg's (here acting as a producer and creator of the story) signature stamp all over it. You get the feel of the Indiana Jones films [1981-1989] and E.T [1982] throughout the movie. It features everything a kid would want from their dream adventure. Pirate ships, treasures, booby-traps, wishing well, death-organ, waterfall tunnels, and plenty more. And you get to do this all in the company of your closest friends. The humour and banter is what your expect from real kids in a close group. They talk over each other instead of waiting for one person to finish like some films would try to portray.


I'd like to be able to say that an adult viewing this film for the first time would also enjoy it, but I can't really be sure. Everyone I know who has seen it, has saw it for the first time while still at a young age. And as mentioned above, my judgement as an adult is pretty much clouded. But I can tell you this. The movie has the ability, if you allow it, to evoke that joyful and fun experience that exists in your inner-child. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Rating:
[Biased rating of...9 out 10

Friday, April 6, 2012

Back To The Future Alternative Posters

I just realised that my previous post also happened to be my 100th entry. So this may be one post too late, but as a measure of commemoration, I've decided to feature something linked with my all-time favourite movie. Yup, that Michael J. Fox classic Back To The Future [1985]. This movie also happens to be the inspiration behind the name of this very blog. Here are few alternative posters for that film. 

Details of each of the artists involved in illustrating these posters can be found on its source website, shortlist.com.






As was the case in my Miyazki's Posters Re-imagined entry, I really do envy people with drawing talent. And creating these, as you can see, really does require talent. All ten featured are great in my opinion and can easily been used as an actual poster for the film.





And the final one....


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Movie Vault Review: Escape From Alcatraz [1979]


Background:
Year Of Release: 1979
Directed By: Don Siegel
Written By: Richard Tuggle, J. Campbell Bruce
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Paul Benjamin, Larry Hankin, Frank Ward, Jack Thibeau
Duration: 112 minutes
In A Nutshell:
Based on true events, Escape From Alcatraz tells the story of Frank Morris (played by Clint Eastwood) who is sent to the notorious prison, Alcatraz. It is said that no one can escape from here. Morris carefully plots his escape with the help of a few fellow inmates, Charley Butts (played by Larry Hankin) and the Anglin Brothers (played by Frank Ward and Jack Thibeau)
Thumbs Up:
+ As one would expect from a prison movie, there are plenty interesting characters and personalities
+ Nice slow-building tempo which is suitable for these types of movies
Thumbs Down:
- Lacking any real antagonist for the audience to hate (I considered using the word "Villain", but this is a prison, all these criminals are villains)
- The actual prison brake is pretty straight-forward and lacks excitement
Selected Quote:
"Ten years ago, I was in this bar in Alabama when two dudes started hassling me. That was their first mistake. They pulled knives. That was their second mistake. They didn't know how to use them. That was the last mistake they ever made. I got two 99-years sentences. Back-to-back"


The Verdict Is In:
I love prison movies. Not only does it gives us an insight on life in confinement, but you can guarantee that the characters and personalities involved are all interesting and unique. You won't find boring and two-dimensional characters in these types of films. There is very little action to be found in Escape From Alcatraz. There are no major fights for example and in fact there are very little dialogues too. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. We are able to focus on the characters' emotions and expressions  which play a large part of the storytelling. Clint Eastwood and the rest of the cast succeed very well in portraying those emotions to keep us engaged.

The downside of the movie is that despite its title, the story of the actual prison escape is rather tame especially compared to other films. But then again it is of course based on true events. It is still a pretty solid movie however. It actually gives me the idea to create a "Favourite Prison Movies" list. Expect to see it on this blog in the near future then.
Rating:
7 out of 10
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