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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A rousing sendoff, 23 January 2013
9/10

The first Back to the Future film was absolute genius. What a brilliant story, Marty McFly stuck in the past having to ensure his parents get together lest he be erased from existence. In Part II things got a little complicated and convoluted. Back and forth we went, from 1985 to 2015 to the hellish alternate 1985. And ultimately back to 1955, in fact right back into the first movie, Johnny B. Goode and all. Maybe it was at times a little hard to follow, maybe it wasn't quite as much fun as the original. But Part II was still an excellent film with a very smart, albeit complex, story. And that set us up for Part III which would prove to be a worthy conclusion to one of the greatest adventures of all time.

When last we left our heroes Marty McFly was stuck in 1955 (again) and a bolt of lightning had just sent Doc Brown careening back to 1885. Doc is quite content to live out his days in the Old West. Through the magic of Western Union he has told Marty to go to 1955 Doc (keep your Docs straight) for help in returning to 1985. But Marty and 1955 Doc make a terrible discovery. Just six days after writing that letter to Marty the Doc stuck in 1885 will be shot and killed. "Shot in the back by Buford Tannen, over a matter of eighty dollars" reads Doc's tombstone. As 1955 Doc puts it, "What kind of a future do you call that?" There's only one thing for Marty to do, fire up the DeLorean and head back to 1885 to bring Doc home.

From there it's a rather simple story, much simpler than either of the first two films. No more bouncing around the space-time continuum, no paradoxes to unravel the universe. It's basically just a Western. But as Westerns go it's quite a fun one. Seeing the Hill Valley of 1885, and its cast of characters, is quite a treat. There's another generation of McFlys for us to get to know. There's another Strickland, always the disciplinarians in that family. And of course, as in any good Western, there's a vile, odious villain. And in a Back to the Future film that villain just has to be a Tannen. Buford Tannen, call him Mad Dog at your own peril, makes his descendant Biff look like an innocent choirboy. Mad Dog more than lives up to that nickname he so despises. And there is one more important new character. Clara Clayton, a schoolteacher who greatly complicates Marty and Doc's return to 1985. Because Doc Brown, always the pragmatic man of science, has fallen head over heels in love with this woman who died decades before he was born. Seems maybe we'll have a paradox after all.

So Doc decides rather than go back to 1985 he wants to stay in the past with Clara. Of course there's the small matter that he's days away from being killed. It all makes for great entertainment. No, it's not as brilliant a story as in either of the first two films. But this simpler story has so much charm. It's great to see Doc in love and Clara makes a perfect match for him. They're like two lost little puppy dogs, the connection between the two instantaneous and incredibly endearing. What kind of a woman could fall in love with Doc Brown? Mary Steenburgen does a great job in portraying Clara, the kind of woman who could do just that. With Steenburgen having the key female role Lea Thompson has only a bit part this time around. But it's great to see her, you can't imagine a Back to the Future film without her. Thomas F. Wilson is simply terrific as Mad Dog Tannen, a nasty villain whom Wilson infuses with wonderful personality. But of course, as ever, the headliners are Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd as Marty and Doc. One of the all-time great film pairings. Two great actors who were absolutely perfect for their respective roles. What a journey those two characters went on over the course of these three films. This third installment may not be as frantic as the first two. It's not bursting with excitement, it's a little slower, suiting its Old West time. After the grave consequences of Marty and Doc's actions in the other films the story here can seem a bit mundane by comparison. But it still entertains, it really is great fun. Maybe the fact the consequences weren't so grave allowed the film to let loose and just enjoy itself a bit. We get one last look at these characters we've come to know and love. And this film gives them the rousing sendoff they deserve.

Disclosure (1994)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Full disclosure: this movie stinks, 17 January 2013
3/10

I suppose the idea of Michael Douglas being sexually harassed by Demi Moore could be intriguing. Could be. But in this movie it doesn't end up being intriguing at all. The story fizzles out before it ever really gets going. The movie goes on and on without ever really going anywhere. There's no spark, no sizzle. Attempts at humor fall horribly flat. The only laughs in this movie come from laughing at just how bad it is, most notably in the big climactic virtual reality scene. Wait, big climactic virtual reality scene? Yeah, it's just as stupid as it sounds, an awful idea executed so badly you can't help but laugh at how truly terrible it is. This is a movie which fails in pretty much every way possible.

Douglas plays Tom Sanders, the head of production at some high-tech Seattle outfit. There's a big merger on the horizon, Tom expects a big promotion to go with it. But the job he covets goes to Meredith Johnson, a one-time girlfriend of his who celebrates their reunion by trying to rape him in her office. When Tom says no, not before having a little fun of course because the movie needs its obligatory sex scene, Meredith promises to ruin him. And the next day she duly accuses him of sexual harassment. He gets himself a lawyer, accuses her and it's a big he-said, she-said deal which only serves to bore those of us who are unfortunate enough to be watching. Drama and tension are in very short supply. Tedium is the order of the day. Moore's absolutely atrocious acting doesn't help matters. My goodness, she is terrible. The story slogs along, everyone ganging up on poor Tom in some horribly uninteresting conspiracy. It's not just Meredith out to get him, this goes all the way up to the big boss at the top. That character, played by Donald Sutherland, is I suppose meant to seem sinister but the way Sutherland mugs and overacts he just comes off as a buffoon. Just another example of the way this movie completely misses the mark. And just when you think it can't possibly get any worse along comes that absurd virtual reality scene which is simply one of the dumbest things ever seen in any movie. Even after that laughable "climax" the movie doesn't have the decency to just end. More pointless, boring twists to come. The whole thing is just interminable. Movies don't get much worse than this.

Failing to get real, 10 January 2013
6/10

Director Kathryn Bigelow tried to sell The Hurt Locker as a raw, gritty and above all else realistic look at the war in Iraq. In watching the film the problem with that becomes glaringly obvious. The film is not realistic at all. Bigelow strove for authenticity and missed the mark by a considerable distance. The characters in her story act in ways they simply could not and would not in the real world. Things are presented to us in this film which quite simply could not happen. By the time the main character is taking a solo nighttime sojourn through the streets of Baghdad the film has gone completely off the rails. It's ludicrous. And yet it manages to get even more ludicrous from there. Honestly, this deadly serious war movie ends up being somewhat laughable.

The story focuses on a bomb disposal unit. The danger of their work is made quite clear to us right from the start. Coming in to lead the three-man team is William James and here the movie begins to lose its way. James is a gung-ho, yahoo cowboy type who ignores the rules, unnecessarily putting himself and his team in danger. The kind of guy who, in the real world, would never be given this job. Rightly frustrated to no end by James is his by-the-book comrade JT Sanborn. The third member of the team is the young, impressionable Owen Eldridge who just wants to get out of Iraq alive. The interactions between James, Sanborn and Eldridge are at the heart of the movie. The conflicts which arise between James and Sanborn are quite powerful and compelling. But there's the nagging sense that none of it rings true. No bomb disposal unit would actually operate in the way this team does. No way.

This is a story which you would think would be fraught with tension, a bomb ready to explode at any moment. But you never really feel that. The film moves from one bomb to the next, the tension slowly draining away. It becomes rather repetitive and not particularly entertaining. Once the film really gets going you never get the sense it's going to shock you. And it's a film which could really use a good jolt. Some of the "action" sequences are frankly interminable. The film's better moments are really spent away from the ticking bombs, getting to know something about the key characters and what drives them to be the men that they are. Jeremy Renner performs the role of James wonderfully and is ably matched by Anthony Mackie playing Sanborn. And Brian Geraghty, playing Eldridge, has his moments too. These three actors are probably the best thing the film has going for it. The actors are better than the story. The story just isn't believable, by the end downright farcical. The central character of James is a fascinating one. Just not a believable one. With a character it is impossible to buy into at its heart the film was never going to be able to truly succeed. It is a decent film, but one with serious flaws. A film which does not live up to its acclaim.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Another poison pill, 2 January 2013
3/10

Here we have a sequel which has pretty much nothing to do with the first film in the series. Which is probably a good thing as that first film was quite terrible. Unfortunately this one is really no better. Alyssa Milano plays Lily, a shy girl from Michigan who goes to college in Los Angeles. There she comes out of her shell. And out of her clothes. Milano, at the point in her career where she felt the need to show how grown-up she was, dutifully doffs her top a few times. Honestly that's the only reason this movie exists, as a vehicle to put Milano on naked display. And again being honest that's probably the only reason anyone would ever watch this movie. You want a topless Alyssa Milano you got it. You want a decent movie you are well and truly out of luck.

Whereas Ivy, the central figure in the first film, was an unapologetic seductress and homewrecker Lily is a good girl at heart. A bit clueless but good nonetheless. Anyhow her pervy art professor tries to take advantage of her. And one of her fellow students treats her badly and publicly humiliates her so she of course immediately sleeps with him. Eventually she tries to tap into her darker, more seductive side but that effort fails rather miserably. Some other weirdos float around on the periphery of the story and eventually it all comes to an end in what may be the worst final fifteen minutes of any movie ever. The movie had very little going for it throughout and in that ending it completely falls apart. It's an ending which piles one laughable absurdity upon another. The movie's supposed to be a thriller but it ends up as an unintentional comedy. Sadly it's not even a good unintentional comedy. The story stinks, the dialogue is pitiful, the acting is generally terrible and the obtrusive music is just painful. This is a movie with nothing to recommend it. If you're just here for Alyssa Milano's breasts enjoy them. You won't enjoy anything else.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
No, we can't all get along, 31 December 2012
7/10

American History X tells the story of Derek Vinyard, a vile, racist, murderous neo-Nazi skinhead who decides he doesn't want to be that guy anymore. But he will find that once you are living that life it is not at all easy to get out. And much to Derek's chagrin he sees his brother Danny going down the same path which nearly destroyed him. Derek knows he has to reach Danny, change him, open his eyes. Before it's too late.

The film's story unfolds in an unconventional manner. We see the present-day Derek, a man determined to do good, to change himself and save his brother. This is intercut with flashbacks which show us the monster Derek was. When the film opens Derek is about to be released from prison. When we go back in time to see how he ended up in jail it is shocking and disturbing to say the least. We see a man consumed by hatred and anger. He tears his family apart. He destroys his own life. And he does it all with a sinister smirk on his face. The saddest thing is that Danny idolizes his older brother. Danny is a skinhead too, proud of it. There was a time Derek would have been proud of what Danny had become. That time has gone. Prison changed Derek. How exactly it changed him is told in quite vivid, brutal detail. And when it becomes clear who it was who eventually reached Derek, changed his way of thinking, it all begins to make sense. The path to Danny's salvation appears. There is only one person who was ever really going to be able to change Danny and that was his brother. But Derek had someone very important on his side to help things along. That help had better come quickly. Danny may be too far gone, time is running out.

It's a captivating film with an undeniably powerful story. But it's not a film without flaws. While Edward Norton is magnificent as Derek there's the sense Edward Furlong, playing Danny, struggles to keep pace. When Norton and Furlong share the screen, and they share the film's most important moments, there's the sense that Furlong just doesn't measure up. There's a certain level of maturity required to handle the very challenging role and Furlong seems to lack it. There are times it's hard to take his character seriously and that's a problem in a film as deadly serious as this one. The film also has a bit of a disjointed feel to it. The nonlinear structure works but not all of the pieces really end up fitting properly. This probably has something to do with the fact the film was taken out of director Tony Kaye's hands and reassembled by others, most notably Norton. There are places where the narrative just doesn't flow freely, the film bogs down. Kaye has said he wanted to make a tighter, shorter film. It probably would have been better if he had gotten that opportunity. The film also does a rather poor job of establishing the roots of Derek's hatred. One flashback dinner conversation with his father is all we really get and that sequence doesn't really work. It's as if it had to be tossed in because there had to be something there at the root of all this. But it's not enough. And then Derek's prison transformation, again not entirely convincing. You don't let go of that much hatred that quickly.

In one of his earlier racial diatribes Derek had invoked Rodney King, the man who famously asked, "Can we all get along?" The old Derek thought Rodney King was some kind of subhuman, the scum of the earth. The new Derek wants us all to get along. But we can't. Some of us have gone too far down the path of hatred and bigotry. You may want to change yourself. But it's hard to change the world. Derek wants to leave his old life behind. More importantly, he wants his brother to leave that world of hate behind. The clock ticks. Time is not on Derek's side.

Lukewarm at best, 21 December 2012
4/10

Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie star in an erotic thriller which is not particularly erotic and certainly not thrilling. Yes, the obligatory Banderas-Jolie sex scene sizzles. But after that the movie fizzles out completely. The heat goes out of this movie very early on. The story relies on myriad plot twists which never really convince or satisfy. The dialogue is awkward throughout, often downright laughable. The acting leaves much to be desired. Banderas and Jolie are not very good. But they're better than Thomas Jane who, in the movie's one key supporting role, hams it up to ridiculous extent. There are a few interesting moments sprinkled throughout. But not nearly enough of them to save what is ultimately a rather bad movie.

The movie's story is told in flashback with Jolie's character, Julia, narrating. She does so from a prison where she is awaiting execution. How did she get there? Should be interesting finding out. Should be but really isn't. The story unfolds in 19th century Cuba with the Banderas character, Luis, having sent for a mail-order bride. Julia duly arrives from Delaware but she is not the woman in the photograph she had sent ahead of her arrival. She is not the woman she claimed to be but Luis is not who he claimed to be either, much wealthier than he had let on. But while it becomes apparent that Luis truly has the best of intentions it is just as clear that Julia is a woman with some demons and secrets. What darkness lies beneath the surface? Detective Walter Downs, played by Jane, shows up to help Luis sort out the mess Julia makes. From here the story relies on tricks. But you can see the twists and turns coming a mile away. There's nothing to surprise you. There's really very little of interest at all. The story limps along towards its conclusion. Yes, we find out why Julia's in that prison cell. But by the time we do most in the audience will find they really don't care anymore. The movie has completely lost its hold on us. And then as a final insult the ending is just ludicrously stupid, a tacked-on bit of nonsense which undercuts the whole movie. Not that there was very much worthwhile to be undercut anyway.

A magical movie, 20 December 2012
8/10

A grandfather sits down to tell his sick grandson a story. And what a magical story it will be. There's fencing, fighting, torture, revenge...and kissing. The grandson may not have any interest in a "kissing book". But he will find that he can't help but be swept away, utterly transfixed by the story of The Princess Bride.

This is a story of true love. And true love is a very special thing. True love can triumph over anything. Evil princes, six-fingered counts, rodents of unusual size, a Fire Swamp, a Pit of Despair. Maybe true love can even triumph over death if in fact you are only mostly dead. The two central figures in our romance our young Buttercup, played by Robin Wright, and simple farmhand Westley, played by Cary Elwes. Just as soon as Buttercup and Westley come together they are torn apart. Buttercup goes on to be a very unhappy princess. What happens to Westley? Perhaps better to ask what doesn't happen to Westley? This guy is put through the wringer. But he never gives up on his beloved Buttercup. You never give up on true love.

Elwes is absolutely magnificent in this movie, perfect in every moment. He's got the humor, the look, the athleticism and heroism and vulnerability. Whatever is required in the moment Elwes delivers. And as the Princess Bride herself you could hardly do any better than Wright. She looks absolutely radiant, like any fairy tale princess should. And she pours everything she has into the role. You can see Buttercup's heart break when she believes Westley to be gone. The audience can't help but fall in love with her just as Westley did and for that give Wright so much of the credit. Even a modern-day boy who doesn't like kissing books will fall in love with Buttercup.

For as wonderful as Elwes and Wright are the fun doesn't stop with them. This movie is perfectly cast all the way through. Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest are wonderfully hissable villains. Wallace Shawn is so funny as a criminal "mastermind" who overestimates his own intelligence. For the giant Fezzik could there be anyone other than Andre the Giant? As the grandfather and grandson respectively Peter Falk and Fred Savage are terrific. Falk is the perfect narrator and Savage has his own amusing take on the story. There's a brilliant, hilarious cameo from an unrecognizable big star hidden away under old-man makeup as Miracle Max. Because every good fairy tale needs a miracle right? And perhaps most memorable of all is Mandy Patinkin. "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!" This is a movie which has something for everyone. Action, adventure, comedy, romance and some of the most quotable dialogue ever put to film. A brilliant script from William Goldman brilliantly executed by director Rob Reiner and his wonderful cast. Someone not loving this movie would be would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
America's birth, bathed in blood, 17 December 2012
7/10

There have not been many films about the American Revolutionary War. That is somewhat surprising as there are so many stories there to be told. The Patriot tells the story of one man, Benjamin Martin, who fights for his family. If at the end of the fighting independence has been achieved that is all well and good. But for Benjamin Martin family comes first. He is reluctant to fight, unwilling to place his family in danger. He won't go to the war. But the war comes to him. Right to his front porch. With horrifying consequences. And so Benjamin Martin takes up the fight. And what a bloody fight it will be. Nobody ever said the birth of a new nation would be pretty. There will be tragedy, heartbreak and grief along the way. Nothing worth fighting for comes easily.

It is a blow to his family which drags Benjamin into the war. A blow which will be avenged quickly and savagely. The tone is quickly set for a film which will be bathed in blood. But there is more to Benjamin than brutal violence. He proves to be smart, cunning, an inspiring leader. Mel Gibson gives an excellent performance in the role, capturing all that makes up this very unique man. There is a quiet dignity and honor to Benjamin Martin and Gibson brings that out. But there is that brutal side to him as well and Gibson handles that with aplomb too. Speaking of brutal, there is the film's main antagonist, the unspeakably evil British Colonel Tavington. When first we meet him he commits an obscene atrocity. And it only gets worse from there. This is truly one of the most reprehensible film characters ever. Jason Isaacs relishes the role, embraces the evilness. It's a solid performance from Isaacs but the character really does go too far. He's too evil. He does things which simply are not believable. Yes there were surely atrocities committed in this war but this film takes the character past the point of no return. Bad things may have been done but not that bad. No wonder so many British critics were up in arms upon the film's release. It's good if a film has a villain you can truly despise but this villain is just too much. He leaves such a bad taste in your mouth that it detracts from the film.

The over-the-top villainous Tavington is not the film's only flaw. There is a lot of dialogue that is clunky and awkward. The film clearly goes on too long, approaching three hours and at times really struggling to sustain itself for that length of time. But despite the flaws the film does enough good things to be deemed a success. Gibson is excellent, Isaacs a worthy foil. Other winning performances come from Heath Ledger as Benjamin's son, so eager to join the fight, and Chris Cooper as an American Colonel trying to hold his ragtag army together. If you want a bit of romance there's that too, Joely Richardson and her absurdly bountiful cleavage paired up with Gibson and bright, young Lisa Brenner for Ledger. And then there is the war itself, the brutal battles. The film spares nothing in its gory accounts of 18th century combat. The close-range gunfire, the bloody bayonets, and the cannonballs that do truly grotesque things to a human body. There are two good stories here, the big picture revolution and the more personal story of the Martin family. Those stories are meshed together very well by director Roland Emmerich. We haven't gotten many American Revolution stories in films. This one, flawed and highly fictionalized though it may be, is ultimately a satisfying one.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Was shocking, is dull, 6 December 2012
4/10

Upon its release in 1978 Pretty Baby was shocking and controversial. Maybe all the controversy obscured the fact it was not a particularly good film. The film was famous for displaying a naked 12 year-old Brooke Shields. And that does indeed prove to be as uncomfortable to view as you would imagine. Yes, it's a story about child prostitution but that story surely could have been told without putting Shields on such display. And what of that story? Is it a good enough one to hold your interest and make for a compelling, entertaining film? Not really.

The film is set in New Orleans in 1917. Life moved a little more slowly back then and Pretty Baby mirrors that. The whole film has a very languid feel to it. The pacing is slow bordering on glacial. The action, such as it is, centers on a brothel. Shields plays Violet, who lives in the house with her prostitute mother Hattie, played by Susan Sarandon. The film establishes the goings-on and routines of the house. Young Violet is not herself a prostitute. Yet. A photographer, Bellocq, shows up to take some portraits of the prostitutes. He also takes an interest in Violet, though certainly not in a sexual way. He actually seems quite asexual, hanging around the brothel constantly but with no interest in partaking in the goods on offer. The time inevitably comes for Violet to start selling herself. Her virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder. She's excited, her mother's excited. Bellocq's not excited, he sees it for the disgusting spectacle that it is. But the deed is done, Violet becomes a full-fledged mini-prostitute and things unsurprisingly unravel from there.

There is a potentially interesting, if very uncomfortable, story in here. But the film never really takes off. Right from the beginning it's a film desperately struggling for momentum and it's a struggle it never wins. It's just dull. The dialogue is rather forced and clunky with Sarandon and Keith Carradine, playing Bellocq, forced to spout lines which sound completely unnatural. The most natural, and probably best, performance in the film comes from the young Shields. Discomfiting nudity aside she's the best thing the film had to offer. Of course nobody puts the nudity to the side, that's the first thing people talk about when discussing the film. If it was a good film the Shields controversy would be an unfortunate distraction. As it is, it's not a very good film. The whole thing is just unfortunate.

Network (1976)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant and prescient, 3 December 2012
8/10

Look at the cesspool that is modern television. Who could have ever foreseen this? Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet could. Way back in 1976 they produced a film which in addition to being a simply brilliant satire also served as a preview of our modern media world. Anything goes in the quest for an extra point or two in the ratings. You watch Network and you think maybe Chayefsky and Lumet pushed it a little too far, that by film's end they had gone past the point of believability. But did they really? Would what was so shocking in 1976 really be shocking at all today? Can anything really shock us anymore? Something to think about when watching the film. Or, if you don't really want to think about things like that, you can just sit back and enjoy the film. If all you want are laughs Network works on that level too. It really is a near-perfect combination of humor and smarts. Network gives you your laughs. But it gives you a brilliant story too.

So Howard Beale is mad as hell and he's not going to take this anymore. That's what everybody seems to remember most about Network. Understandable as the character is so memorable and the performance from Peter Finch so unquestionably superb. But this film has so much more to offer. Just look at the cast list. William Holden, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Ned Beatty. Magnificent performances from all of them and solid support from a host of others as well. Heck, the acting in this film is so good Beatrice Straight got an Oscar for about five minutes of work. Terrific actors working from a marvelous Chayefsky script, all guided by the eminently capable hands of Lumet. Put all that together and it is no wonder Network turned out so wonderfully.

At its beginning the film appears to be about Howard Beale, the old news anchor about to be fired who rather than go quietly into the night announces his plans to kill himself on-air. This proves to be quite the ratings boost so Beale is kept on the air. The further he goes down the path to madness the bigger a hit this mad prophet of the airwaves becomes. Thrilled about this is programming executive Diana Christensen, a woman laser-focused on her career and the quest for better ratings for the network. To her Howard Beale is a godsend. Howard's old friend, news division head Max Schumacher, on the other hand considers this obvious exploitation of a clearly insane man to be a tragedy. The professional conflict between Diana and Max leads to a personal relationship between the two. But is the emotionless, soulless Diana even capable of being in a relationship? Some of the movie's best moments come in the push and pull between Diana and Max, played perfectly by Dunaway and Holden. The higher-ups at the network, personified most clearly by Duvall's Frank Hackett, make it clear whose side they're on in the Diana-Max kerfuffle over Howard. Money talks and Howard Beale is making them money. This network will do anything for money. Absolutely anything to protect the bottom line. Including getting in bed with terrorists...which may prove useful later.

There's a sense the film goes off the rails a bit towards the end but if it does it does so willfully and gleefully. Chayefsky and Lumet had a statement they wanted to make and boy does that statement still hit home all these years later. What a story, what performances. Genuine laughs and genuine heart. Everything works. Finch, Holden, Dunaway and Duvall are the four big stars with the meatiest parts and they're all fabulous. But you can't discount the smaller performances either, Straight earning that Oscar with such raw emotion as Max's aggrieved wife. And Beatty with one of the all-time great movie speeches which isn't even the greatest speech in this film thanks to Finch's mad as hell moment. Network has, in Howard Beale, one of film's all-time great characters. But the film has so much other great stuff going on that Howard becomes almost a sideshow. It's a film which is brimming with excellence. Quite brilliantly done.


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