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Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Magic in the Moonlight

magic-in-the-moonlight-woody-allen

Saw this the other day. I did not have high expectations, in view of its mediocre score on Metacritic.com—I didn’t read the reviews themselves, as I never read reviews of Woody Allen films, before or after seeing them (French reviews of it are better, though, when it comes to Woody Allen films, I pay no attention to them either)—and the less-than-compelling trailer (which I saw at least four times). But as I see everything by Woody Allen—it’s a yearly ritual, now four-plus decades old—I was obviously not going to miss this one. The verdict: It’s good! I enjoyed it. It’s a good romantic comedy, which holds together, has something larger to say, i.e. a message, and keeps one engaged from beginning to end. It’s an enjoyable film. I left the theater feeling good and satisfied. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

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Gone Girl

gone-girl-poster-france

Saw this last weekend. It’s a hit here, with long lines at the cinemas and stellar reviews by critics and Allociné spectateurs alike. With US reviews mostly very good as well and having liked other films I’d seen by the director, David Fincher (e.g. ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Zodiac’, though not ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’), I figured this one would be a safe bet. The verdict: It’s certainly entertaining and holds one’s attention for the entire 2 hours 20 minutes but is overrated. It does not merit the praise that has been bestowed on it. The pic is, as NY Post critic Lou Lumenick aptly put it in his mixed review (one of the handful), “empty and ultimately unsatisfying.” First—spoilers to come!—, the marriage of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) was not credible. They may have been physically attracted to one another and had mind-blowing sex but, apart from that, their relationship was a big nothing (and his initial pick up banter when they first met at the cocktail reception was 100% Hollywood cliché). They were an uninteresting, one-dimensional couple, despite both being professional writers at prestigious New York magazines. Secondly, on Amy willingly leaving her life in NYC to accompany Nick back to his bumfuck Missouri hometown where she would then be bored out of her mind, and despite her being the one in the couple who had the money and fame—who wore the pants, as it were: I’m sorry but this was simply not believable. Thirdly, Amy’s diabolical caper—which is what the movie is all about—was preposterous. One would think she’d have found it so much easier to simply divorce the wanker, take her money (she did have a prenup, as one learns), and move back to New York, rather than concoct a crazy Rube Goldberg scheme in which something could obviously go wrong (though had she taken the simpler way out, there would have been no movie). Okay, so she was a psycho, but still… And the bedroom scene at the luxurious hideaway villa, where she dispatches her creepy high school ex à la Norman Bates, drenches herself with blood, and which is not washed off at the hospital… Ouf! Fourthly, on Nick’s affair with his ditzy student—Nick teaching a writing course on the side at the local community college—, i.e. the college prof bonking a hottie half his age from one of his classes: As I’ve written elsewhere (here, third paragraph), this only happens in movies. Fifthly, the ending is both unsatisfying and puzzling, raising the question as to what it’s supposed to mean and how to interpret (possible answer: wait for the sequel, ‘Gone Girl 2′).

Now there were a few good things about the pic. E.g. the supporting cast was first-rate, particularly Nick’s sister (Carrie Coon) and the detective (Kim Dickens) (though I thought Affleck and Pike were merely okay). The media circus around Amy’s disappearance was also great satire of the us et coutumes of American cable TV news. And, as I’ve already said, the pic held one’s attention malgré tout. But that’s as much as I’ll say in its favor. It is a film that may be seen, but that may also be skipped.

Here’s brief mention of other American films seen over the past few months.

A Most Wanted Man: I’ll see any geopolitical thriller about radical Islamists and Western intelligence agencies that gets halfway decent reviews—as this one did—, and particularly if it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman (his very last film). And if it has a Chechen-Russian angle to boot, that makes it that much more interesting. This one—directed by the Dutchman Anton Corbijn, entirely set in Hamburg, and which is actually a US-German-British production—was entertaining enough but I gave it no thought after leaving the theater. A week later I had to go on to the Internet to recall its name and what it was about (and I do not have premature Alzheimer’s). In other words, the pic was, for me at least, not memorable. In an exchange on social media, a friend who saw it remarked on how cinematic adaptations of John Le Carré’s novels tend not to work too well. I agreed. And this one is a case in point.

most-wanted-man-poster

Night Moves: This indy pic, by Kelly Reichardt—who directed the fine ‘Meek’s Cutoff‘—, opened in France a full month before it did in the US, which sometimes happens. It’s about a community of baba cool, ecologically militant, urban transplanted organic farmers in Oregon, a few of whom become radicalized in their opposition to the construction of a dam in their area, decide to carry out an act of eco-terrorism, and how it all goes very wrong. Which all goes to show that baba cool écolos are not cut out to be terrorists, as they absolutely do not want to physically harm anybody. It’s a well-done, meticulously paced thriller and with solid performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard. Recommended. Trailer is here.

night-moves-movie-poster

Short Term 12: This indy pic, set in an L.A. group home for troubled teenagers, is based on the personal experiences of director Destin Daniel Cretton, who worked in such a home himself. The protag, named Grace (Brie Larson), is in her mid 20s, works full-time with the kids, has an outwardly strong personality and imposes her authority, but meets her match with a troubled, turbulent 16-year-old, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), who joins the home. As it turns out, Grace had traumatic family experiences similar to those of Jayden’s and which, behind her facade of solidity, rendered her as psychologically fragile as the teenagers in her charge and complicated her romantic relationship with colleague Mason (John Gallagher Jr). It’s a pretty good movie and which received top reviews in both the US and France. It may be seen. Trailer is here.

short-term-12-poster

Only Lovers Left Alive: Jim Jarmusch’s latest. I was a fan of his in his early years (‘Stranger than Paradise’, ‘Down by Law’) but have found him increasingly uneven with time (though I did like ‘Dead Man’ and ‘Broken Flowers’). I would have normally avoided this one, as it’s a vampire film, a genre that I have absolutely zero interest in—if not a downright anti-interest. But I decided I really should see it and for a reason that may strike others as being silly, which is that much of it was shot in Tangier, a city in which I spent two weeks last year and greatly like. I wanted the thrill of seeing on the big screen streets in Tangier I’ve walked on. And as it’s Jarmusch, I figured that it would be offbeat in an interesting way and contain some kind of message or meditation on something. So with some trepidation, I expended two hours of my time and checked it out. The verdict: As of this date it is the worst, most insufferable film I’ve seen this year. Now I won’t say that it’s bad in an objective sense; it was, in view of my tastes and sensibilities, simply bad for me. And also for my wife, who whispered to me after an hour that she had had quite enough and was leaving. I should have accompanied her but decided to sit through it to the end, to subject myself to another hour of cinematic torture—and which was absolutely not compensated for by the few scenes of the Tangier medina, and which were all at night to boot (as were those of Detroit—its bombed out sections—, where it was also set; the entire film was at night; as for its message or meditation, bof; if one is interested in that, see here). But my and wife’s sentiments were clearly not shared by too many others in the packed salle at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles multiplex, as there were no other walkouts. And the film did decently at the box office and to top reviews by critics and Allociné spectateurs alike. Chacun son goût. Really.

only_lovers_left_alive

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Winter Sleep

Kış Uykusu

Saw this masterpiece of a film yesterday, directed by the great Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the well-deserved winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes this year. A 3¼ hour Turkish film d’auteur with not a dull moment. At no point did it drag or tax my patience. Variety critic Justin Chang got it exactly right

Don’t be daunted by the running time: This character study from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a richly engrossing experience.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is at the peak of his powers with “Winter Sleep,” a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made. Following Ceylan’s sublime 2011 drama “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” this equally assured but considerably more accessible character study tunnels into the everyday existence of a middle-aged former actor turned comfortably situated hotel owner — and emerges with a multifaceted study of human frailty whose moral implications resonate far beyond its remote Turkish setting. Simultaneously vast and intimate, sprawling and incisive, and talky in the best possible sense, the film will be confined to the ultra-discerning end of the arthouse market thanks to its daunting running time and deceptively snoozy title, but abundant rewards lie in wait for those who seek it out at festivals and beyond.

For the rest of Chang’s review, go here (also see the reviews in Screen Daily and Indiewire; French reviews are naturally tops). As one learns in the closing credits, the film is inspired by “several short stories” by Chekhov (and there’s also some Shakespeare in there). The acting is excellent all around—particularly the protags Haluk Bilginer (Aydın) and the beautiful Melisa Sözen (Nihal)—, the dialogue is intense, and the cinematography spectacular (the film is entirely set in Cappadocia, which is one of the most breathtaking corners of the world I’ve seen). No release date yet for the US but it will make it there. Those who live in France and have the slightest interest in cinema (or Turkey) should see it ASAP. Trailer is here.

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Islam for Dummies

Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak in 'Four Lions' (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak in ‘Four Lions’ (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

[update below]

Huffington Post UK political director Medhi Hasan has a delicious piece (August 21st) on two 22-year-old British jihadists, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, who were convicted on terrorism charges in Birmingham last month—after Yusuf’s mum alerted the police about her son’s activities. As was revealed during the trial, they had purchased copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies (en français: L’Islam et le Coran pour les nuls) on Amazon before setting off to Syria to wage jihad. Sans blague.

In his post Hasan mentions the 2010 comedy satire ‘Four Lions‘, which spoofs a gang of low IQ jihadist wannabes from the English Midlands. The film, which I saw when it came out, is very funny and also spot on. There are certainly many dangerous, violent jihadists from immigrant communities in the West—recent ones including Mohamed Merah, Mehdi Nemmouche, and the psychopath who murdered James Foley—who are out there, but for all of these there are no doubt as many, if not more, of the whack job losers depicted in ‘Four Lions’—and the two just convicted in Birmingham. If one is interested in the jihadist phenomenon and has not seen the movie, one should do so. Take it from one of France’s leading scholars on radicalism, as quoted by the NYT’s Robert Worth

When I asked Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar and one of the most respected analysts of jihadi groups, whether anyone had really succeeded in capturing the everyday truth of their world in fiction or film, he ran through a number of novels on the subject and dismissed them all: too many were unconvincing or tied up in political agendas. Then, after a long pause, he said: “Seriously, the way most of them operate? I think ‘Four Lions’ said it best.”

Trailer with French subtitles (though English ones would also help) is here, NYT review is here, NPR interview with director Chris Morris is here.

UPDATE: Sophie Gilbert, senior editor of The Atlantic, has a piece (October 18th) entitled “The best film about Islamic terrorists is a comedy.” The lede: Chris Morris’ Four Lions, released four years ago, skewers the pointlessness and confusion of wannabe jihadists.

4lions_poster

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Boyhood

Boyhood

I assume that anyone who checks out AWAV even occasionally and is cinematically inclined has seen this movie by now, or at least heard about it. If one has not, it is the cinematic event of the summer (I am not including here ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, that I have not seen and have absolutely no plans to). Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is an absolute must. The reviews have been stellar on both sides of the Atlantic: a perfect 100 score on Metacritic—c’est du jamais vu—and a 4.0 on Allociné (and with the spectateurs ranking average a 4.3, which corresponds to very good to excellent). This bit from Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper’s review sums up the pic

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a film that captures the arc of a young life perhaps better than any previous American movie. Ever. Once in a great while I see a movie I know I’ll be listing as one of my all-time favorites for the rest of my days. So it is with this remarkable, unforgettable, elegant epic that is about one family — and millions of families. It’s a pinpoint-specific and yet universal story.

You may have heard about Linklater’s audacious tightrope walk of an experiment. “Boyhood” was filmed in 39 days over the course of 12 years [2001-2013] with the same core cast. The actors playing the young children at the beginning of the film are the same actors playing those characters as adolescents and young adults. The result is a living time capsule so pitch-perfect, the experience of watching it is almost unsettling.

No movie like this has ever been made, needless to say. It was a totally original idea on Linklater’s part and a risky one, as, entre autres, no contracts could be signed with the cast for such an open-ended commitment and one could not be sure what kind of older child, and then teenager, the central character, Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane)—who began the film at age six—, would turn out to be (and if he would want to continue with the project). But Linklater and the cast pulled it off. There were no dull moments or scenes that dragged on too long, which is saying something for a 2 hour 45 minute film with no plot to speak of. The acting is first-rate—the casting is impeccable—and one cares about the characters and relates to their conversations and interactions (I did, at least). E.g. the father-son dynamics—between Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) and Jr—were on the money, as was the discussion in the restaurant Mason Sr initiated with the kids, now in their early teens, about the facts of life (Mason Jr’s older sister, Samantha, was played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei). A lot of this rang true. And I loved the scenes about politics, e.g. the one during the 2008 presidential campaign (the lawn signs), plus the one where Mason Sr takes the kids to meet the parents of his second-wife-to-be somewhere in rural Texas. Linklater, who hails from Austin, did something quite singular in the film—for me, at least—, which was to present Texas in a positive light, as a fine place to be a kid and grow up in (I have a lifelong prejudice against Texas—a state in which I have admittedly spent practically no time at all—but, being an open-minded person, am striving to overcome). And it’s as good a film as one will see about the resilience of kids growing up with divorced parents who love them but have their dysfunctionalities—here, a working mother trying to get ahead but who serially falls for men who are jerks—and whose jerkiness directly affects the kids—, a father who’s cool but irresponsible. When I left the theater I called the film a chef d’œuvre, definitely one of the best of the year, and announced it on social media.

But upon reflection the following day, I began to see a few small flaws… E.g.—spoiler alert! if you haven’t seen the pic, skip to the next paragraph—, there is a problem with the parcours of the mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who goes back to school to finish her B.A.—when Mason Jr is six or seven—and then gets a Master’s degree (there is no mention of a Ph.D.), all in six or seven years, which would have been tough to do full-time while raising two kids and having to work (she was only married to the jerk alcoholic prof—who would have supported her financially—for two or three years), and then landing a job at Texas State University in San Marcos (not specifically named but that’s what it is), which, one supposes, would have required a Ph.D. in hand or nearly one. But if she were an adjunct with merely an M.A., she wouldn’t have made nearly enough to provide even for herself, let alone her kids. And at one point she mentioned a sabbatical year, which, in fact, wouldn’t have made sense even if she were a full-time assistant professor, not at that early stage in her career. This all seemed implausible and I ran it by some academics—who all loved the film—on a social media comments thread, and the consensus was that I was right, that Linklater got the higher education part of the story wrong (I also thought—and this is admittedly a minor detail—that a bright, free spirit high school senior like Mason Jr would have aimed higher for college than UT-El Paso…). Another point, this one mentioned by a family member who saw the film with me: There was no indication that Mason Sr was paying alimony to support his kids while they were growing up. He had no legal obligation to provide for them—and didn’t for much of their childhood. But at the parents’ divorce hearing—prior to the film—the judge would have presumably imposed alimony on the father. A couple of friends also had a problem with the Latino-waiter-in-restaurant scene, which struck them as false (it didn’t bother me), plus Olivia’s relationship with the Iraqi war vet (which I didn’t think was a problem, though one did wonder what she saw in the douchebag…).

But none of these quibbles detracts from the film’s overall quality. All that my next day reflections caused me to do was downgrade the pic from a masterpiece to merely excellent. I simply loved this movie. It is one of the best coming of age films ever made, and certainly about coming of age in America. And the soundtrack is great (this song—from my late teen years—played over and over in my head over the subsequent days). So thumbs way up! If you haven’t seen it, do so. Trailer is here.

As it happens, this was the first film I’d ever seen by Richard Linklater. I like to think of myself as knowledgeable about cinema but there are gaps—some yawning—in this knowledge. In the case of Linklater, not only had I seen nothing of his before ‘Boyhood’ but knew practically nothing about him. And, as I learned over the past couple of weeks, various stateside friends and family members were not only familiar with Linklater’s œuvre but fans of it. I had no idea. In my defense, I have the excuse of having lived in France for the past two decades, where, as Le Monde film critic Thomas Sotinel informed the reader in the July 26th issue, Linklater’s films have been underexposed and (unjustifiably) underappreciated. So being in the US at the present time—and thanks to Netflix—I decided to fill my Linklater gap, starting with his “Before” trilogy—’Before Sunrise’ (1995), ‘Before Sunset’ (2004), and ‘Before Midnight’ (2013)—, which follows the love affair of the French Céline (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who—in ‘Sunrise’—meet in their early 20s on the Budapest-Vienna train, are immediately attracted to one another—particularly he to her (and she is indeed quite attractive)—, spend some 18 hours together wandering the streets of Vienna and talking—and talking and talking—, during which time they develop sentiments, but their paths have to part; jump to nine years later—and ‘Sunset’—, they fortuitously reconnect in Paris—he’s an up-and-coming novelist, she an aspiring NGO écolo activist—, the spark is still there, they walk the streets, parks, and riverbanks of the 5th arrondissement and talk—and talk and talk and talk—for a couple of hours before a fateful decision is made (implied at the end of the film); jump nine years—and ‘Midnight’—, they’re now in their early 40s and cohabiting (in Paris) with twin daughters—he has a 12-year-old son from divorced American wife—, and are on a marvelous-looking vacation in Greece (southern Peloponnese), where, over the course of a day, they talk and talk and talk, take stock of their relationship and where it goes from here, and have a scène de ménage. Three short days of an eighteen year romance compressed into three films of less than five hours total. An interesting idea and very Linklater.

I saw the three within a week and cannot imagine how one could have gone nine years between each—during which time one would have possibly forgotten details and/or lost interest—, or seen the last one but not the first two (which was apparently the case for a certain number of movie-goers). The three films really need to be seen in sequence and within a relatively short period of time, or else the trilogy doesn’t make total sense. Or, to put it another way, it all comes together in the third film. I was not immediately taken with the first two, though decided to reserve judgment until seeing the third. Céline and Jesse are interesting characters—Delpy and Hawke, who wrote the script with Linklater, are fine actors—and good looking. The kind of people one wants to be friends with. They love to talk, about the meaning of life and just about everything. They have so much to say to one another. The trilogy is one big talk fest. I was initially not convinced by some of the dialogue and situations, which I thought did not ring true, but, upon reflection, revised my view. There are countless permutations of how the partners of a couple interact with one another and what can transpire in their relationship. Every couple is unique. So, sure, the dynamics between Céline and Jesse were real for them. And for others. E.g. a friend of mine—and who is one of the most interesting conversationalists one will ever meet—told me that he strongly identified with the Céline-Jesse couple and their talking (my friend is of the same general Gen X age as Delpy and Hawke and saw each film when it came out). And then my mother told me that Céline and Jesse’s gabfest reminded her of how she and my father were when they met in their early 20s some six decades back (which I can absolutely, totally believe; and it didn’t end in their 20s, believe me). (Pour l’info, I like to talk too, though maybe not about the same things as Céline & Jesse.) So, yes, I will finally give the trilogy the thumbs up. It’s extremely well-written—the script was long and complex—and, as mentioned above, very well acted. And there are scenes in ‘Midnight’ that rang so true, e.g. the parting scene of Jesse and his son at the airport and, above all, the very last one, in the seaside restaurant, with Jesse and Céline.

On the complexity of the script and shooting the movie—where Delpy and Hawke had to get it right in the first take—, one learns in an NYT Magazine profile of Delpy last year that the nine-year lag between the films was not planned; Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy were so exhausted after making the first two that they “needed nine years to recover”…

I’ve seen a couple of other Linklater films of late, which I’ll post on separately.

richard_linklater_before_triptych

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Fruitvale Station

fruitvale station

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson MO over the past week like everyone and, like everyone with a conscience and who knows how to think—and which even includes certain conservatives—, have been appalled by its only-in-America character. In following the events—which, being in the US at present, I’ve been able to do on cable TV—I have been reminded of this pertinent film, directed by the 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, that I saw last January, when it opened in Paris. It’s about the shooting and killing by a police officer of a 22-year-old black male named Oscar Grant III—who did absolutely nothing to merit being shot and killed—in Oakland CA on New Year’s Eve 2008-09, at the Fruitvale BART station, and which led to civil disturbances over the subsequent days (for details of what happened, go here). [UPDATE: Here are mobile phone videos taken of the actual incident by passengers on the BART train (h/t Ellis Goldberg)]. The film, taking some dramatic license, reconstructs the day of Oscar’s life that preceded his killing, of his somewhat unstable life relationship and employment-wise, but depicting him as a basically good guy who strove to lead a normal life and absolutely did not deserve to suffer violent death. It all goes to show that merely being a young black male in America and going about your life can get you shot and killed by the police, and even in the deepest of blue states. So if you want to see a movie that is both good—reviews were tops—and topical, see this one (which should have, by all rights, received Oscar nominations but did not). Trailer is here.

BTW, when I wrote above that the Ferguson events presently underway were “only-in-America,” I did not mean to imply that America is exceptional when it comes to racist cops behaving badly toward members of visible minority groups. This happens in many countries, including France, of course (I’ve had so many posts on this that they need not be linked to). What is only-in-America—among advanced Western democracies, at least—is the trigger-happiness of the police, of the sheer number of unarmed visible minority young men they kill. À propos, here’s a commentary in The Economist magazine I just read on the militarized “Trigger happ[iness]” of the American police, which so contrasts from its counterparts in Great Britain. And contrasting with another major Western democracy, here’s an item from two years ago on how “German police fired just 85 bullets total in 2011,” compared with the

84 shots [that] were fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, and another 90 at an unarmed man in Los Angeles.

In France the police are thoroughly racist and odious. And their behavior regularly provokes riots by youthful members of visible minorities. So how many people do the police kill during such occurrences? In the biggest recent riots of all—over three weeks in October-November 2005—the number of persons killed was exactly two (and neither by bullets). Case closed.

theconcourse.deadspin.comamerica-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

In the interests of fairness and balance—and not to make the police look all bad—, I saw a quite good indy pic back in late ’12, ‘End of Watch’, directed by David Ayer, of a couple of buddy cops in East L.A. trying to do their job and who have to deal with, entre autres, Mexican criminal gangs whose proclivity for violence far exceeds anything any US police department would be capable of. Roger Ebert’s four-star review thus began

“End of Watch” is one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are Taylor and Zavala, two Los Angeles street cops who bend a few rules but must be acknowledged as heroes. After too many police movies about officers who essentially use their badges as licenses to run wild, it’s inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they’re willing to risk their lives.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called the pic “An all-time cop-movie classic,” also got it right. It’s a violent film, that’s for sure, be may absolutely be seen. Trailer is here.

end of watch

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Bobby Womack R.I.P.

bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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