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A Bridge Too Far falls under its own weight in many ways with a lot of
distracting cameos and an overly bombastic score. Also, it stumbles
right out of the gate with a completely historically inaccurate and
oversimplified narration that certainly angered any veterans of the
Eastern, Italian, or African Fronts by erroneously claiming that up
until D-Day the Germans were winning the war. Much of the rest of the
writing falters under banalities and clichés, with some real life
historical figures such as British General Browning and German Field
Marshall Model portrayed as utterly incompetent (winning The Battle of
Arhhem only because of luck and British hubris rather than due to his
own ability). As usual for most old-fashioned war movies, the Germans
are portrayed as largely heartless and often doltish with the Americans
heroic, the British pompous, and the Poles and Dutch as noble victims
of their circumstances.
However, the film has a lot going for it that World War II films up to that point hadn't done. The battle scenes manage to attain a level of chaos, brutality, and realism unmatched for another 20 years. In addition to showcasing a lot of fairly accurate equipment, the action is edited well with great sound design (aside from those squeaky "beep" ricochets) and pyrotechnics. The the where XXX Corp. first encounters the German lines with its devastating artillery barrage and then stumbling into an ambush ranks among my favorite war scenes, accurately portraying the sheer wide-scale savagery and how quickly great plans can fall apart.
As usual for "big" movies of the time, there really isn't a plot or character arcs because of just how many overlapping stories and vignettes there are. A few bigger stars like James Caan, Robert Redford, and Elliot Gould get only 2 scenes - one small one to introduce their character and one larger one in which they do something memorable to service the action, usually calling back to something their character said in their introduction as though each one had some vaguely ironic prescient ability. Some of the stunt-casting actually makes the film worse, such as Gene Hackman doing his best but completely failing to fool anyone into believing he's Polish.
History buffs, such as myself, will get a big kick though out of the straightforwardness of the presentation of Operation Market Garden. It's interesting even to see the generals posit over maps and see their plans come to fruition inter-cut with the small stories of the regular people on the ground. The operation certainly deserved a big picture to tell its story and with impressively mounted spectacle in the age before CGI and visual effects. The larger screen you watch it on and the more interested in WW2 history you are, the more impressed you'll be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm actually quite shocked that this film didn't make more of a splash.
It's been a year since it ran a limited theatrical run and didn't even
get reviewed that much outside of a fairly positive mention on NPR,
which I can say I'm glad I heard.
I don't usually waste time going over synopses in reviews, but as of today there's so little said about the film that I will. The premise I found to be absolutely delightful in a dark and morbid way similar to NIGHTCRAWLER in which unscrupulous characters in the TV industry go about ruining the lives of regular people in order to make money. Here, we see director Adam Rifkin (who is easily the best thing about the movie) as a sleazy reality show producer who successfully pitches a show about a family chosen completely at random, with hidden cameras installed in the family's house while they are on a surprise vacation. The problem is there's just not enough family drama to make for good TV and time is running out. Things become much more fun (and twisted) when several actors are hired to enter the family's life, which shows how delicate Normalcy can be and how easily it can be completely ripped apart.
Mainly I'd call myself a fan of this film's potential. It could have gone from good to great, had it improved on three major areas. These are:
1) Acting. A few of the performances feel quite amateurish and inconsistent though they do certainly improve as the film goes along. Remember you're seeing the actors' season's worth of professional growth in 90 minutes. While things come together eventually, the acting certainly cuts down on the film's edge by detracting from the "reality" it's making a commentary on. Watch for some really awkward dialog with the actors playing the unsuspecting family saying things like "what a great vacation that was!" right after returning to their home after a vacation.
2) Realism. Similarly, the film fails to stay true to its own logic and just provides too many head-scratching moments to take seriously. The whole premise of the film is based on how a reality show can overlook lawsuits by getting ratings and endorsements, but no show can air on TV depicting its own violation of several laws, especially actors knowingly contributing to the delinquency of a minor and minor consumption of alcohol. Also, how did the show's crew "hack" into all those phones, into the father's workplace computer, and place cameras in not just his workplace but the local high school and police station? Was EVERYBODY in on it?
3) Visual Effects. There's a lot of great effects (such as a hilariously over-the-top scene later in the film in which an animal is killed) here and there, but most of the more violent action in the film's final act relies on post-production CGI blood which just doesn't carry the weight it needs to (especially when added to "found" footage) and distracts from the shocks.
However, by no means would I call this an ineffective film. It's quite engrossing and was difficult to step away from. It even left me pretty rattled after completing it and I found myself talking a thinking about the movie a lot over the following weeks. SHOOTING THE WARWICKS comes off as exactly the low budget film that it is, yes, but certainly overcomes its limits by providing some solid shocks and thrills aided immensely by its intriguing premise. It's the R-Rated, morally bankrupt cousin of THE TRUMAN SHOW.
I was actually shocked that such a great film had gone under my radar
for so long. What gives? Most likely, it was just criminally under-
distributed and marketed, causing it to almost fade into utter oblivion
had it not been for the internet and plenty of fan word-of-mouth
spreading news of this one around the war movie boards.
This Australian / Filipino war movie set during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam stands as a bit of an anomaly. They were working with a quite low budget and cast mostly unknowns and locals aside from the two leads Hauser and Ermey, but the budget cuts in no way affect the quality and quantity of sheer action to be viewed.
As a total bonus to the action, we're treated to an honest-to-god great script as well, with plenty of very memorable quotes and one-liners. I haven't seen a Vietnam War movie that was this delightfully cruel, mean- spirited, and possibly even darkly satirical since PLATOON, which may be a little artier and have a better cast, but otherwise is matched by this hard-hitting war outing.
More on the action - there's at least 3 major battle scenes and as many minor ones spread all throughout the film. It definitely doesn't leave the war junky viewer feeling cheated in the slightest bit. There's plenty of explosions, decapitations, evisceration, waves of humans being mowed down by 50 caliber machine guns, ZULU style, and Huey's firing rockets into palm trees galore! Excitement and tension holds throughout with dramatic panache at every turn. Even the sound design is top- notch, quite realistic, and services the action nicely.
My only complaints are with a few iffy performances and dated death scenes later in the film along with places where the musical score sounds a little like it came out of a Nintendo game, but comparing this to any of the other Filipino war movies made during the same period, it's GONE WITH THE WIND.
Fans of Filipino C-movies will have a field day spotting the likes of Don Wilson, Nick Nicholson, and Kristine Erlandson in possibly their classiest supporting roles which really stretched their acting chops as never before. Unfortunately for them, very few people saw this film and it didn't lead to bigger and better things for most aside from director Trenchard-Smith (who broke into Hollywood soon after) and editor Andrew Prowse (who rightfully became a B-action filmmaker not too long afterward).
It's a bit awkward to see Irishman Richard Harris spitting venom and
turning against his king at the idea England hiring on Irish
mercenaries and bowing to a Catholic Queen, but he puts in a very fun
performance in this little-represented section of history.
The film plays its cards too soon with the pacing though, bringing us the most exciting action, scenery, battle scenes and dramatic panache early on and then ending on more of a somber courtroom whimper. Nicely, the film stays apolitical and presents both sides with some sympathy. Alec Guiness really shines as King Charles I, managing to play the role as bumbling and arrogant yet sympathetic as extremely courageous to the end and as an unfortunate product of his time. It's really interesting to see Michael Jayston playing one of the more vehement revolutionaries in this film, especially considering the next year he'd get his big starring role as the very pro-establishment titular character NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA, a very similar film about the end of a European Monarchy.
CROMWELL is unfairly forgotten these days, especially considering it is quite lavish, somewhat realistic in terms of production design and battle tactics, and features excellent performances by a whole host of familiar British performers like Timothy Dalton, Jack Gwillim, Douglas Wilmer, Charles Gray, Frank Finlay, and a lot of other actors I recognized from "Doctor Who". B-movie stalwart Ian McCulloch is credited though I failed to identify him, maybe as he was so young at the time and, like everyone else in the film, difficult to recognize under wigs and heavy makeup.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Working class steel mill workers, friendship, emotionally complex
relationships, Vietnam, and Russian Roulette. This film tackles all
these subjects with a pretty broad brush and makes no judgment. It's a
groundbreaking film though certainly a letdown especially for those
going in with the wrong expectations.
I've seen this film twice; once at age 15-16 and again at at 35. The first time I saw it, I was immensely disappointed, expecting some kind of PLATOON-style action war movie. After so much time being spent on the wedding, there's really only one action scene presented and it frustratingly cuts away just when the Viet Cong close in. What a missed opportunity it was to show some more De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage desperately gunning down hoards of enemies.
No, you're going to have to watch THE DOGS OF WAR or MCBAIN to see anything like that. It's disappointing that is is about as close as De Niro ever got to being an action hero, but this is just not that kind of film. I had heard it's a Vietnam War movie, but it's not. It's really a movie about Russian immigrant steel workers living a bleak existence drinking their lives away in some Podunk Pennsylvania town. It seems that the only meaning they have in their lives is deer hunting and their camaraderie, but even after coming back to this film I didn't catch much character development, especially around De Niro and Walken's characters. The war gives them something to look forward to and ends up shattering their lives.
Two decades later I see that this film (especially during the first hour) is more like one of those popular at the time 70's "slice of life" movies like FIVE EASY PIECES or the more recent GARDEN STATE, where we just watch people do things and randomly interact in a very mundane way. The only semblance of a plot comes with the war, the Russian Roulette, and the search for Walken's character. However all that maybe takes up 45 minutes of plot in a 3 hour movie. Peter Zinner may have been a legendary editor (though hacking up the U.S. release of KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and making an abortive attempt as a director with the horrible THE SALAMANDER) but here just lets scenes float way longer than they need to. The film would have worked just as well if that endless wedding scene was only 5 minutes long.
However, I must point out that the performances across the board are excellent and the emotional buildup to the climax is very tense, cathartic, and ultimately tragic. It's very hard not to get touched by the final death scene, which is among the best work of all involved. Unfortunately things unravel later on when it seems Cimino didn't know how to end the thing. Also you'll be hard pressed to find a film of that year with more captivating outdoor cinematography, which THE DEER HUNTER is worth a watch for even for just that reason.
I've seen a few of Cimino's films, trying to understand why he was seen as such a Hollywood prodigy through his career and given so many chances even after the disastrous HEAVEN'S GATE. I consider his best film to be YEAR OF THE DRAGON, a New York police movie that isn't explicitly an action movie, but is edited much tighter and with better character development than this film.
This film feels like a dark spin-off of THE BREAKFAST CLUB with Judd
Nelson's highly disturbed rebel teenager now a depressed loser haunted
by memories of his father, turning to serial killing to add meaning to
his life. He crosses over universes into DTV cop movie territory though
by running afoul of detective Leo Rossi, who himself is struggling to
cope with a transfer from NYC with his wife (an against-typecast
supportive and trustworthy Meg Foster), his partner (the always
fatherly and reliable Robert Loggia), and his textbook pre-Frank McRae
angry yelling stupid chief (played by Bleeding Gums Murphy & ICE
PIRATES pimp robot voice, Rod Taylor).
While those expecting the sleaziness of Lustig's earlier MANIAC or the nonstop gritty excitement of his MANIAC COP and VIGILANTE movies will be disappointed, he shockingly turns this cliché'd cop thriller premise into something very watchable. While 80's LA isn't quite as seedy as 80's NYC, Lustig takes the transition in stride and makes excellent use of the environment.
As someone who has lived in Los Angeles for a few years and spent a lot of time along the Sunset Strip, I was delighted to recognize just about every location in the film. Some parts of town have changed a lot in 27 years, while others have not changed at all. So this film works effectively as a time capsule for Los Angelinos.
Lustig keeps the plot zipping along at a brisk pace and gives it just enough of his warped and demented style (coupled with characteristic Jay Chattaway music) to keep even jaded modern audiences interested. However the real selling point here are the performances. Nelson's creepy portrayal of the killer may well be his career highlight and the B-movie veterans like Rossi, Foster, and Frank Pesce all get good scenes in that I hope they put on their show-reels.
The main weakness I feel is some plot confusion regarding Rossi's relationship with his old precinct. At first it feels like he's leaving a job in NYC but then we see him go back there a few times later in the movie, making me wonder if he jumped into a THE FLY-style teleportation chamber off-screen or the writer/director/editor just didn't communicate too well where his old precinct was. It feels like something was lost in the editing, perhaps owing to being cut for time, but the ending could certainly have been more satisfying too had they shown what the fallout was both in the news and at Rossi's workplace after all his loose cannonry.
Although certainly not perfect and an unfortunately forgotten film, RELENTLESS is a wonderful example of how to make a very watchable film out of unoriginal subject matter.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An otherwise quite interesting true story is unfortunately quite
muddled by sloppy and cliché-riddled writing. The best scene in the
film is of course the central whale attack on the Essex which we all
paid to see, but even this scene is ruined by a need to make everything
more by-the- numbers and "cinematic". Just like how some Tarantino
can't resist filming feet or Jess Franco can't resist wasting time with
filler footage, an apparently tired filmmaker Ron Howard can't seem to
help constantly straying from exploring an amazing story by piling on
heaps artificial drama. Let's look at some examples:
- Chris Hemsworth's character feels overly saintly - he never reveals any flaws at all throughout the movie other than being distant from his family (though by necessity as he's a sailor). He lives a cliché'd life on a bucolic farm with a pregnant wife and full CGI-enhanced view of the bay. Boring.
- The whales are accomplished 100% using CGI, which look good as still- shots but the movement fluidity gives it away that you're essentially watching a cartoon character. A tremendous opportunity is missed in showing that although only viewed as big fish at the time, cetaceans could reveal themselves to be as vindictive and vengeful as humans can be. The exploitation film ORCA: THE KILLER WHALE handled the concept much better by exploring the inherent disbelief in the human characters impacting their gradually coming to respect their aquatic opponents.
- For some reason, they introduce a class-based conflict between the captain and First Mate Hemsworth. While they needed some kind of drama prior to the whale attack, this attempt just feels contrived and lifeless, with the incompetent and entitled captain never making any good calls and never ceasing to alienate himself from his crew. He makes William Bligh look like a beloved saint in comparison and makes one wonder why there's never any serious talk of mutiny or murder right from the get-go.
- The writers also tacked on numerous other whale attacks throughout the crew's adventures, which of course didn't happen. The whale that sank the Essex did not come back and attack the small whale boats weeks after the sinking.
- Cillian Murphy is wonderful as crewman Joy, but for some reason quite criminally underused. They even opt to leave his character on Henderson rather than stick to the facts and have his character die at sea.
- The barren island they are stranded on looks nothing like Henderson Island, which today is actually one of the most pristine ecosystems left in the world and quite lush, periodically used as a source of timber by neighboring Pitcairn Island.
- The cannibalism aspect is very barely touched on and in a very PG-13 way. There's a gritty suicide (in a great dramatic scene that actually sticks to history) but it's undermined by a lot of earlier telegraphing to show that the character is violent and unstable from the start.
- There's a distracting reliance on go-pro footage all throughout the film, I assume to give us a "you are there" sort of experience but instead just distances by turning an aesthetically prestigious survival story into a "Man vs. Wild"-style reality show.
- The scenes with Gleeson and Melville make no sense. In 1850 many of the original crew (including the first mate) were still alive but Melville makes it sound like Gleeson is the last one left. The drama with him withholding facts, arguing with his wife, being an alcoholic, and then talking fictitiously about the discovery of oil in the ground at that time just feel like a full-blown celebration of convenient clichés piled on top of a trite foundation.
- An added on conspiracy theory about covering up the incident just destroys the ending of the film. The captain finally has his change of heart and redemption, but once again at the expense of representing a true story. I would have been much more interested in seeing how the whaling community would have been shook up by the knowledge that whales could sink ships, but instead we missed another opportunity in favor of another boring cliché.
This would have been a lot stronger of a film had they just stuck to the facts and not taken every cheap shot imaginable to increase the drama at the expense of realism. In the end, this film's inability to transcend or even match its historic material stems from the filmmakers' sheer cowardice, laziness, and lack of imagination in finding interesting ways of presenting accurate history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While this film didn't quite cause me to shoot baffled glances,
eyerolls, and chuckles with my neighboring theater-goers like the
prequels did, it certainly left me feeling underwhelmed and a little
embarrassed to have spent money on something so cynically aimed at
getting me to do just that. There's just very little new and
interesting here, outside of a compelling opening scene which features
A) Max Von Sydow, and B) some welcome development on what it means to
be a storm trooper. After that first 10 minutes though FORCE AWAKENS
sadly goes strictly by-the-numbers, and hits many of the exact same
notes that STAR WARS (and yes, I'm aging myself to refer to it not by
its episode number) did including Death Star destroying a planet,
cantina scene, droid with important data stashed on desert planet, game
of holographic claymation chess, heroes sneaking around Death Star
lowering shields, etc etc. There were a couple new things, like the
first killer CGI tentacle aliens yet in a Star Wars movie, but they
come and go so quick that you'll forget about them immediately.
The goofiest thing about this movie to me that kept striking me while watching, is how ridiculously small of a universe it establishes. Now, I'm no astronomer or physicist or anything, but in order for a planet to have gravity and an ecosystem, it has to be pretty big, right? Like, thousands of miles across? So, why is it that every time two important characters on the same quest happen to be on a planet they are within walking distance of each other? Okay, and if randomly crashing and marooned on said planet with the Empire hot on your tail, how would one have time to wander to a settlement unless one happened to be oh forget it! So, this Death Star is about as big as the planet Earth, but coincidentally has the prisoner interrogation room just an easy walk away from the important shield controls? Also, space itself is a pretty big place, right? So why is it so hard to hide from the Empire, say to go hide behind some random asteroid like they did in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK? How does news travel so quick, like that the Empire (or First Order, whatever ) is looking for that Soccer-ball Droid travel instantly to this outlaw planet and to some random space smugglers? Is everyone tuned in on some kind of faster-than-light space TV/radio/internet service we never see? Why is everyone so quick to sell the heroes out? Does everyone just love and respect this First Order? Why? What have they done to earn such unwaivering loyalty the universe-over? Where'd they get the money from to buy off all these thugs unless the Space Smugglers and Cantina Woman were all just major coincidences? I think the real movie we needed to see was the one that answered these questions, not the one we got.
However the most immediate problem I noticed while watching was the lack of clear motivations by the main characters. They all felt like totally blank slates to me and kept splitting up and wandering around the cantina planet for reasons that aren't even properly explained. Why not stick with Han and just go straight to Princess Leia and the resistance once learning about them? Did Finn really have more important things to do after making the snap decision to kill off dozens of his own men? What also could have used explanation was who this Emperor Snoke character was (possibly Gargamel from "The Smurfs" or one of the trolls from the Jackson Hobbit?), how he took control, what he is trying to accomplish, and how he can find all these willing and obedient servants from all over the galaxy to work for him, especially considering that the casualty rates suffered in all these frequent Death Star explosions.
Okay, it certainly could have been worse. The special effects mostly looked pretty good, Williams's score soared, there was some effort to restore the lived-in grittiness of the original trilogy, and there was minimal CGI cartoon stupidity aside from Snoke and the Yoda-like lady who ran the cantina. I appreciate that there were more substantial female characters, though to me it all felt a little overboard as part of aiming the franchise in as politically correct a direction as possible. The only white men in the film were of course the two villains, unless you count Han Solo in perhaps Harrison Ford's most phoned-in performance in well, weeks. Sadly, he and Carrie Fisher have no chemistry at all anymore and we never get to see "the gang all back together again" in any one scene like we were all hoping for. What we do get is a "passing the torch to the new generation" type film focusing on millennial nobodies, much like such modern masterpieces as THE EXPENDABLES 3, INDIANA JONES 4, and Abrams's own STAR TREK reboot. If you loved those films, are physically or mentally under the age of 15, and find your soul aching and yearning to see a Star Wars-themed film on the big screen, this one is for you. Otherwise, it's much more palatably viewed as what it really is; a glossy and bloated fan-film rather than actually part of the Star Wars saga.
Lastly, I can't be the only one who sees it as an utterly cynical cash-grab to have Mark Hamill given front billing on the film when he's only in it about 30 seconds before the end credits roll: "Stay tuned for the next installment via a film which will actually star the person we claimed on the posters and trailers would be starring in THIS movie that'll just be another $15 please."
Another one of those movies where my own 8-year-old Self and my
35-year-old Self would give it entirely different reviews. It was
certainly a great movie to grow up with in the 80's and even though
it's not nearly as bonkers as SPACEBALLS, I remember liking it a lot
better because it's certainly a lot darker and contains a lot more
tension, thrills, and suspense.
Really fun space action movie gets off to a bang but quickly bogs down in some talky bits and lack of action and funny jokes until about halfway through (I still have no idea why that pointless and long Carradine scene was included). However right at the point when Urich asks a guard for a drink and splashes it in his face, the movie starts getting good and maintains an energy that just gets better as the film goes along. Annoying romantic subplot interrupts a lot of great space battles and robot action. The (often incompetent) robot henchmen are tremendously well-realized and provide the lion's share of the enjoyment. Good music, fun costumes, lots of fun action and effects mainly hampered by mushy stuff and jokes that flew right over my head.
I'll agree on most of those points, only I had no idea at the time how cheap this movie looks. Some of the effects come off well for the time and it's got a good dingy ALIEN-style art direction and production design for the ship interiors. Also look out for the great cast of up- and-comers who exhibit great some chemistry together, not to mention Mary Crosby is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately most of the humor falls flat, mainly being aimed at very young teenagers, featuring a very unwelcome cameo from an irritating Bruce Villanch.
However, this film certainly has an idiotic charm to it that I haven't seen a lot of movies manage quite this well. It's a goofy slapstick for fits and starts yet retains enough of a respect for its own universe to preserve a sense of gravity and pathos enough to be emotionally resonant at times. A lot of this is thanks to Bruce Broughton's excellent old fashion musical score and the strength of the performances. Robert Urich was certainly a capable and charismatic leading man who unfortunately never quite escaped TV and he shall be sorely missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Lavish production design and Shakespearian performances elevate this
handsome looking production. Story-wise it's quite emotionally poignant
and sticks close enough to history to bring enjoyment to anyone patient
enough to put up with the slow pace and talky nature of things.
An air of apocalyptic unreality engulfs the Romanov family through their downfall from 1904-1918. If you think about it, had any one of the factors presented here not happened, we may never have had a Stalin, a Lenin, a Hitler, a Cold War, or any 20th Century as we know it. What if the Tsar never had a son? What if he hadn't been born with Hemophilia? What if Rasputin, the bizarre mad monk hadn't been there at just the right time? We will never know. It's astonishing though that such small things represent such pivotal cornerstones in our history.
According to this film, the insecure and controlling Tsarina Alexandra was largely if not fully responsible for Nicholas II's inept leadership and decision making, with the addition of a hemophiliac son certainly not helping much to keep him from being utterly distracted from sound running of the country. I have to call this film quite successful though in terms of finding a way to make him into a very tragic figure and most of the revolutionaries like Kerensky are presented as quite human and multidimensional.
While this film has much in common with DOCTOR ZHIVAGO including some extremely top-notch cinematography, lighting, and set design, it also suffers from a lot of the same downfalls like not being able to maintain its energy over its full running time. Despite all the big sets, it doesn't feel as big of a film due to largely shying away from action and bloodshed during this very violent time. Things start to feel quite sad and listless as the film bears down upon its inevitable climax, but along the way there are plenty of notable moments of greatness:
* Any scene involving Tom Baker's mesmerizing personification of Rasputin. This certainly was a role requiring that delicate balance of humor and intensity that no one could ever hope to surpass this largely (at the time) unknown actor with. This led directly to his casting as the villain in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD and then to his becoming a TV legend.
* The subplot of the factory family turned revolutionaries who lose their matriarch during Bloody Sunday.
* The rapid buildup to war and hijacking of the peace process by his Hawkish Generals followed by rapid disintegration of the Russian army after its many crippling defeats. There's just something so fascinating to me about watching armies crumble under poor morale and desertion, maybe as it feels unthinkable to anyone who grew up in a fairly patriotic American military household like I did.
For a fuller picture of what was going on at the time, I'd recommend watching the films BATTLE OF THE SEA OF JAPAN (for a view of the humiliating defeats of the Russo-Japanese War mentioned during the first part of the film), TIKHIY DON, and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO for a window into the chaotic nature of the Russian Revolution and Civil War.
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