The failure of the modern Star Treks

My musings, Uncategorized

So I’d like a rant, of sorts, about Star Trek. Ever since J.J. rebooted this franchise, dragging it into the modern era, he set a new standard. Trouble is – and this is a problem many blockbusters have suffered in the last decade – his baddies have been under par. Yes, I get that he was rebooting and yes, I get that the focus is always going to be on the new Kirk and the new Spock and the rest of them, but I consider it dropping the ball a little to skimp on your bad guy. Especially in this day and age.

Maybe it’s excusable if corrected after the first film. Which, on paper, seemed to be the case with the casting of one of Britain’s finest for the sequel, Benedict Cumberbatch. Yet he hammed it up to the hammiest degree you ever did see (under J.J.’s direction) and his character didn’t really have enough depth to be a worthy villian (particularly as he was meant to be Khan) and his actions as a character made little sense, if you examined them in any close detail.

Then for the third film, Star Trek: Beyond we got a new director in Justin Lin (of Fast & Furious fame) and the geeky credentials of Simon Pegg on scripting duties.

So I had hope. Sadly, it was misplaced.

For the first film we had Eric Bana as the bad guy, then Cumberbatch, and for Beyond we got Idris Elba. So three guys, all with a specific vengeance they needed to settle. All utterly unknown to the new Kirk and his crew. So you sort of end up having to build the bad guy backstory each time.

And I get that films are standalone and aren’t TV, yet the lines are blurred these days.

Take James Bond as an example; where storylines and characters have continued under Sam Mendes’ watch. A juggernaut of a studio franchise, yet had kept some throughline in terms of evil organisations (although kind of squandered it all for SPECTRE, so maybe my point doesn’t hold up that well).

Anyway, I’m rambling, back to Star Trek.

Now I’m not saying that the ‘big bad’ has to Klingons or Romulans, but it’s getting pretty samey pretty quickly introducing a single bad guy with a weak motivation. There’s got to be other ways to do it?

And also, Pegg and Co… stop nicking stuff from Star Wars. I get that it’s kind of the benchmark when it comes to space adventures, but Star Trek is meant to be geekier, and it feels like it’s gone way too towards gung-ho action. And I say this not as a die-hard Trek fan, but a casual one. I can’t imagine how riled the hardline fans must be.

So my rant isn’t really a rant, it’s more an observation. I find these films fun popcorn movies, good for all the family on a Sunday afternoon and all that, but that’s it. I don’t know why I felt the need to voice this, but I feel Trek fans deserve more, and the characters deserve more.

Otherwise, not only will this franchise not live long, it won’t even prosper. Not even short term.

Hail Hydra. (Ah crap, wrong franchise.)

What Game of Thrones spin-offs would you watch?

My musings, TV

On the way to work today I walked past a mother and a young boy and couldn’t help but notice that the level to which he quizzed her on her activities was startling. And it reminded me, in a way, of the refreshing introduction of Lady Mormont in the season six of Game of Thrones and how it’d be great to see her in a spin-off.

Then I thought, what other characters would be great in a show of their own. So here’s my list. (I should have been in TV production with genius ideas like these. Expecting the call any day now.)

Lady Mormont: the path to power
Now whilst the first cousin of scaly love fiend Ser Jorah Mormont only had a few episodes upon which to make her mark, she did so most emphatically, like a mini Cersei chastising various Lords of the North like they were little boys. Then declaring her allegiance to Jon Snow as King in the North and embarrassing everyone else to do the same. What kind of ruler would she be on Bear Island I wonder? It would be fascinating to watch her rise to power.

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Clegane: the wilderness years 
Ah, Sandor Clegane. A big and brutal beast of a man, but oddly sympathetic as each season went on. Let’s be honest, none of us wanted him to die after Brienne worked him over and when he turned up in a peaceful community led by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray we all rejoiced. I’d have liked to have seen those two team up to bring peace to the region in a buddy comedy. Brother Ray with a twinkle in his eye as Clegane grunts, grudgingly accepting the way his zen-like friend does things, perhaps uttering the line, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’

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Assassin’s Creed: the tutelage of Arya
The most fiesty Stark was one of the more fascinating characters to watch develop in seasons five and six. Mostly because we were slowly seeing her become a faceless assassin and taking her fate into her own hands. And I’m all for seeing her development under the watchful eye of Jaqen H’ghar. As she gets sent on missions we would get to see how she wrestles with her progression from sweet and fiesty to bad-ass killer. And each episode could be titled, ‘A girl…’. Like, ‘A girl angers the Many-Faced God’ for example.

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Olenna Tyrell: the evolution of the Queen of Thorns
Now let’s all agree, actress Dame Diana Rigg pretty much stole every scene she was in as Olenna Tryell. Not quite a Dame Maggie Smith performance, but comparisons will be made, and rightly so. And considering she came to the Game of Thrones late, it would be interesting to see what she got up to before she made her way to King’s Landing. Sharp, wily and speaks her mind. Who wouldn’t want to see her run rings around everyone?

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Daenerys Targaryn and Asha Greyjoy: a love story
Now whilst they’ve only shared a single scene in season six, there was enough interaction between the Mother of Dragons and Asha to suggest something of a hint of romance. A frisson you may say. And why not? Asha has already had a scene in which she basically ‘acted like a man’ nuzzling boobs and spanking wenches. And Daenerys seems one of the most progressive characters in terms of the relationships and sexuality. It’d be great to see them take to the seas around Slaver’s Bay and beyond, raining fire down upon their enemies and falling in love in the process. A Westeros power couple, if ever there was one.

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RIP Alan Rickman: we’ve lost a great

My musings

First David Bowie goes then, mere days later, we lose Alan Rickman. Both 69 and both lost their battles with cancer. This just isn’t acceptable. It’s so, so sad.

But I am sure the man that so artfully played Severus Snape in Harry Potter wouldn’t want us to be morose and down in the dumps, oh no. For little do people know, but Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was a bit of a joker and had a great sense of humour. That’s the rub kids, he was acting. Acting. And he was bloody good at it too.

So rather than mourn his death let’s celebrate his life and, more specifically, his excellent body of cinematic work. Known for playing bad and despicable types, Rickman’s first credit on IMDb is for the nefarious Tybalt in a TV movie of Romeo & Juliet in 1978. This must have set the scene for what came next, surely? For a decade later, having worked steadily in TV and theatre, he made his big screen debut as the delectable – and thoroughly evil – Hans Gruber in Die Hard in 1988. A classic bad guy, and thoroughly worthy opponent for Bruce Willis’ cop in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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For me, the next time I saw Rickman chew up the scenery and scare – and hugely entertain – everyone around him, was as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991. Again, surrounded by Americans who weren’t quite sure what to do with him, they muddled by as best they could as he threatened to ‘cut their hearts out with a spoon.’ His legend status was beginning to cement nicely.

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He then decided to tone it down a bit, taking the role of the Metatron (the voice of God) in a quirky indie flick called Dogma, starring a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. His entrance, causing Linda Fiorentino to raise an eyebrow (no easy thing, she’s fiesty), proved he was very much in on the joke.

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Demonstrating his comedy chops were just as fearsome as his bad guy routine, he continued the trend that year playing a jaded and exasperated actor slowly unravelling (and massively enjoying himself in the process) in cult hit Galaxy Quest, a send-up of Star Trek, opposite Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen.

Then, in 2001, we got to see his take on the character for which he’s most well known, Severus Snape in Harry Potter. At the time just a fledgling film and not the juggernaut franchise we now know and love. And whilst the whole cast went towards making it a success – and spawning the aforementioned franchise – Rickman’s performance as Snape (probably the most accurate portrayal of a Harry Potter character by any of the cast) was no doubt a big part of that success.

So with the franchise going from strength to strength for the rest of that decade, Alan was kept busy, but to his credit he never let the character of Snape go stale. He was always finding new ways to give him more depth and nuance. Even make him sympathetic (he was helped by Snape’s arc in the source material, but J.K. Rowling was still writing the books and he still had to put it across what he did know convincingly on screen).

On a break from Potter in the early days he also managed to get in a romantic comedy, of sorts, in Richard Curtis’ obligatory one-to-watch-at-Christmas movie, Love Actually. Despite the gargatuan cast, he stood out. His relationship with Emma Thompson’s character is one of the most heartbreaking and affecting story strands in the whole thing.

LOVE ACTUALLY, Heike Makatsch, Alan Rickman, 2003, (c) Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

In 2010, in what I consider to be an inspired bit of casting, he then played the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. His dour delivery of lines striking just the right note to stop the film from becoming too overloaded with Johnny Depp’s mad overacting.

A few years later, in 2014, he even turned his hand to directing, in a moderately well received period piece A Little Chaos, starring Kate Winslet.

And, even though he’s now gone, we may see him again, or at least his voice, as he reprised his role as the caterpillar in the not-yet-released Alice Through The Looking Glass.

So on a final note, to paraphrase/steal a line from Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black… Alan Rickman isn’t dead, he’s just gone home.

But if I’m wrong, RIP Mr Rickman, wherever you are, you’ll be missed beyond measure.

 

Whatever happened to ladies of the ’80s?

My musings

Hey Hollywood, what gives? I suppose young regularly replaces old, but some of the women from movies I loved growing up during this decade must still be acting. They can’t have all retired, right? Ladies like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Kelly Lebrock (Weird Science), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), Elisabeth Shue (The Karate Kid) and Geena Davis (Beetlejuice).

Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Phoebe Cates
She made her film debut in 1981 and a year later landed a role in a Cameron Crowe movie, Fast Times At Ridgemont High – probably the high point of her career. She also had a modest part in both Gremlins movies. After that, very little, and she retired in 1994 to raise a family. Such a shame, from an acting point of view of course.

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Jennifer Jason Leigh
Another Fast Times alumni whose career was more substantial than her colleague. Following a strong performance in Fast Times in 1990 she received high praise for two films; Last Exit to Brooklyn and Miami Blues, although she got a slightly backhanded compliment at the time being called ‘the Meryl Streep of bimbos’. Five years later she put in another great performance in Georgia. Since then she’s worked steadily but in recent years focused more on the theatre.

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Kelly Lebrock
Born in New York but raised in England, Lebrock was always more of a model than an actress. Beyond Weird Science in 1985 she never really added much else to her filmography. And no, starring opposite your then-husband Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill in 1990 does not count. In recent years she’s moved away from acting to devote her time to the terminally ill.

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Molly Ringwald
Kicking her career off in expert fashion Ringwald appeared in no less than three John Hughes films in three consecutive years (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles), making her the go-to chick for teen angst in the ’80s. Allegedly she turned down the lead roles for both Pretty Woman and Ghost, after that her career never really reached the same heights.

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Elisabeth Shue
Shue made her debut with The Karate Kid in 1984 and has enjoyed a fairly robust and consistent career since then. She has starred in films like Leaving Las Vegas (1995) with Nic Cage – for which she received an Oscar nomination – and she’s worked with a host of credible actors throughout her career… but, sadly, she never really reclaimed the position she held in the mid ’90s following her Oscar nod.

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Geena Davis
Employing an ‘it’s better to fade away than burn out’ approach, Davis has had some meaty roles in her career which have garnered strong praise. In particular Beetlejuice in 1988, The Accidental Tourist in 1989 (a performance which won her a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) and Thelma & Louise in 1991 (for which she received an Academy Best Actress nomination). She also gained critical acclaim for A League of Their Own (1992) and The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). Since then she’s moved more into TV work.

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Still Alice… Still sad, sorrowful Julianne Moore

My musings

I haven’t seen Still Alice yet but I appreciate Julianne Moore’s performance is meant to be quietly brilliant. It’s won her a Best Actress Oscar, so it should be.

And you have to hand it to her, no one does sad, sorrowful and full to the brim with pain and anguish quite like Julianne Moore. The film poster for Still Alice is masterful in its simplicity and use of vibrant colours to contrast Moore’s expression.

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Looking at her filmography, she took supporting parts for years across a number of different genres. Maybe she has now, in recent years, found her niche?

This may sound like a rant, of sorts. But it’s really not. I’m a fan. But now she’s got the Oscar for sad, why not mix it up? I’d love to see happy, feisty, aggressive, bitchy and bad ass Julianne Moore. I’m sure she’s got those qualities in her locker.

So how about it Julianne, fancy embracing a new career direction?

Oscars 2015: As the dust settles

My musings

So that’s the Oscars done for another year. Were they everything you expected? Did the actors and films you’d hope get recognition actually get it? And, more importantly, does it all even matter?

In answer to the last question, probably not, but industry acclaim is often (but not always) indicative of a job well done. And who wouldn’t want a big shiny award for their efforts?

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This year it seems Grand Budapest Hotel cleaned up (production design, best score, costume design, makeup and hair). As did Birdman (picture, director, original screenplay, cinematography) and Whiplash (supporting actor, film editing, sound mixing).

Eddie Redmayne took Best Actor for The Theory of Everything and Julianne Moore Best Actress for Still Alice.

So, were these all worthy winners? Were any overlooked or snubbed?

Yes, yes and yes.

There’s always going to be unhappy people come awards season, but I think Birdman perhaps did a little too well – although it does seem typical Oscar material. Last year my film of the year was Nightcrawler, which got barely a look-in, although it got a nomination for Original Screenplay and it would have been nice to see it beat Birdman, but this was a tough category and all entries there were outstanding ones.

Talking of tough categories, Best Actress was apparently a shoo-in for Julianne Moore for Still Alice. I’ve not seen the film yet but it sounds very ‘Oscar worthy’ in terms of the material and her performance. Literally all of the other nominees could have won in my book, they all were fantastic (Rosumund Pike – Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon – Wild, Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything, Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night).

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I’m pleased Redmayne took Best Actor. His performance was truly astonishing and a thoroughly affecting one as Stephen Hawking, edging out Keaton’s washed up actor trying to reinvent his career in Birdman. And out of a category with five nominated, two were Brits (the other being Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game) which was pleasing to see.

Given the experimental nature of Boyhood or the electric performances in Whiplash it would have been nice to see either take Best Picture, but losing out to Birdman is something I can grudgingly accept with a ‘well played, sir’.

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Best Supporting Actress went to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Now I haven’t seen the film but I’d have really liked to see Kiera Knightley take this category for her underrated performance in The Imitation Game, or perhaps Laura Dern for her tender one in Wild.

I could go on and on, but let’s stop there. To sum up, not a bad list of winners. Not too many surprises or upsets. There’s some I would have preferred to win over others, but I’m not too cut up about it all.

What was your reaction to this year’s winners and losers?

Oh, and a final note, The Lego Movie should have won for Best Original Song. In that respect, everything is not awesome.

Until next year.

‘American’… what?!

My musings

I blame American Sniper. (Damn you Bradley Cooper.) Maybe this film was the final straw. To explain: over the last few years (or even the last few decades) there’s been a regular slew of films that start with the word ‘American’. Is it a sure fire way to gets bums (at least, American ones) on seats? Or does it simply sound cooler to have that word at the start of a film’s title? I mean, c’mon… French Sniper, British Sniper, German Sniper – they just don’t inspire, do they?

Maybe it’s just simpler.

American Sniper. You know what you’re going to get. Job done. Whatever the reason, here are my top 5 (in order) that proudly wear that word loud and proud for all to see.

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Photo courtest of http://gabrielttoroart.com

1. American Beauty (1999)
The debut of Sam Mendes as a director and the introduction (largely) of Kevin Spacey to the moviegoing public. Getting close to two decades old, the film still stands up perfectly today and is immensely watchable. No scene is wasted, every line loaded with meaning. A modern classic which reminds us of all the beauty in the world.

2. American Psycho (2000)
Upon hearing the part of Patrick Bateman had gone to Ewan Mcgregor, Christian Bale allegedly called him and argued (convincingly) that he’d be better for the part. And he really was. Played as a dark comedy, the world was finally introduced to the twisted, mad intensity of the man that would be responsible (along with Nolan) for reinventing Batman.

3. American History X (1998)
Yet another introduction (in a way) to a manly, pumped up and thoroughly volatile Ed Norton. As a modern-day Lieutenant in a right wing neo-Nazi gang, the arc Norton’s character goes through is hugely affecting. A riveting and towering performance that commands your attention in a film which deals with some big and complex issues.

4. American Pie (1999)
I remember explaining this film to my parents. ‘Well, there’s a guy that has sex with an apple pie, it’s full of crude humour yet…. you have to watch it.’ They were skeptical, but watched anyway. My poor description failed to explain that it was a warm, incredibly well-observed, coming-of-age tale about four very likeable lads. Sadly, the magic was never captured again with the franchise that followed.

5. American Hustle (2013)
Bit of a guilty pleasure this one, featuring both Bale and Cooper (again). It will be interesting to see if this movie stands up over time. Ultimately it’s a fairly shallow tale, but a fabulously looking one with an impressive cast. Worth your time for Bale’s combover and beer belly and all the huge hair and power dresses. As well as Bale, both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were also on fine form.

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Deluded brats: The American dream

My musings

Every few years American cinema turns its eye on its youth. Kids that have lost their way (or maybe never found it in the first place) with too much money and time on their hands they find themselves, quite quickly, in a world of idle trouble and wanton criminality.

Here are a few for your consideration, some based on fact and some fiction.

Bully (2001)
Based on the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent in south Florida, this Larry Clark film starred Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl and featured a bunch of kids hanging out and getting wasted; who then cook up a plot to murder their ‘friend’ with pretty much no thought for the consequences. An intense performance from Renfro in one of the last before his tragically early death.

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Alpha Dog (2007)
Like Bully, this film is based on a true story, this one focusing on the killing of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz in 2000. Directed by Nick Cassavetes it featured an impressive cast of up-and-comers and established names (Bruce Willis, Ben Foster, Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin) and was a compelling albeit harrowing watch from start to finish.

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Spring Breakers (2012)
Fiction this time, but not wholly implausible. Directed by Harmony Korine and starring Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine as four girls on spring break – pretty much permanently in bikinis – who descend into a world of drink, drugs, guns and crime, mostly thanks to James Franco’s wannabe gangster called Alien.

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The Bling Ring (2013)
Another true tale, this time focusing on a group of teenagers who, looking to emulate celebrities, robbed their homes in 2008 stealing around $3 million in cash and belongings. Directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson this didn’t reach the heights of some of her previous work, but nevertheless was a fascinating and darkly compelling tale.

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Naming Queen songs in film… don’t stop me now

Music, My musings

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Everyone loves a bit of Queen right? In tribute to their musical greatness I thought I’d highlight a few moments they’ve contributed to cinema.

Whether – like the first two in the list below – they were responsible for almost the film’s entire soundtrack, or one of their songs were used in a particular scene, a bit of Queen goes a long way.

Here are mine. Which would you pick as your favourite Queen song from film?

Flash Gordon ‘Birdmen, to me!’
Right Brian May, we need some epic guitar with an ominous keyboard drumming beneath for tension, scored to a scene of a lycra-clad guy with Prince Charming hair flying a spaceship into a laser-guarded fortress with Brian Blessed regularly screaming ‘Die!’. Got it? Good.


Highlander
‘Who wants to live forever’
Freddie Mercury’s vocal was never better than when crooning on this track penned by Brian May. Sad, poignant and beautiful. And almost balanced out Christopher Lambert’s and Sean Connery’s woeful attempts at accents. A standout scene.


Wayne’s World
‘Headbanging in the car’
Looking back, this film (and the sequel) were really just a series of set piece gags upon which to hang the plot. Here, in what could have been a humdrum extended title sequence at the start of the film, Wayne (Mike Myers) puts on a Queen tape to liven up the journey.


Shaun of the Dead
‘Jukebox zombie’
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and the gang crafted comedy gold with this entire film. One scene saw them trapped in the local pub, the Winchester, forced to administer a beating to a zombie barman, perfectly timed to ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Tongue firmly in cheek? Check.

That’s paranoia baby!

My musings

SHUTTER ISLANDThat creeping sense of dread. Tick, tock, goes the clock. Your time is up. Is someone approaching? Did I leave the oven on? And what about those damn test results?

We’ve all got paranoid at one time or another. Difference is we’re often alone with our thoughts, or boring friends and family with our self-destructive ramblings. Whereas on film we’re witness to a character’s descent into madness, every step of the way.

Which of these mad, raving loonies are you most like in your darkest moments?

Teddy Daniels Shutter Island
This film gets better with every viewing. As Scorsese turns the screws and builds the tension on this claustrophobic island amidst a storm, we watch Leo’s mind unravel.

Howard Hughes The Aviator
DiCaprio again, this time as recluse nutcase Howard Hughes. Afraid of germs and physical contact, this has to be up there as one of the most OCD characters of all time.

Jack Torrance The Shining
Paranoia or just plain madness? Nicholson and Kubrick made quite the team for this one. It received mixed reviews on release but is now regarded as a horror classic.

Douglas Quaid Total Recall
‘If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?’ Great line. As a director, Paul Verhoeven often gets a rough ride from critics, but he’s made some great films. This is probably my favourite.

Edward ‘Brill’ Lyle Enemy of the State
A twitchy, nervous and angry Gene Hackman. What’s not to love? Convinced everyone’s out to get him and it’s Will Smith’s fault, he elevated this movie to something quite compelling.

Jeffrey Goines Twelve Monkeys
Brad Pitt as we’d never seen him before. Unhinged and demented. Fairly unknown at the time yet his performance got him a Best Supporting Actor Academy nomination.

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