Monday, July 27, 2015

Antswers

One thing I learned from pitching movies--you can't predict what problems people will have.  A plot hole you fear is gaping gets nary a mention, while the producer doesn't buy something you thought was bulletproof.

This is probably even more true when you're in the realm of sci-fi, fantasy and action films, where normal rules don't necessarily apply, so who knows what people will or won't buy? For instance, I thought many plot points in Jurassic World were ridiculous.  One example--they can't find the new super-duper dinosaur in his pen, so they figure he's escaped and go inside.  It turns out he's still in there, and he then escapes once they open the door. Only after that do they turn on his tracker.  Here's an idea--you think he's not in the pen, turn on the tracker immediately.  But it didn't matter to the audience, apparently, who made the film one of the biggest hits of all time.

(I'm also reminded of how I wrote about Siskel and Ebert's trouble with Return Of The Jedi:

I recall Siskel and Ebert complaining about the speeder bike chase through the forest of Endor in Return Of The Jedi.  "Why don't they fly above the trees?" they asked.  Well, maybe the speeder bikes don't move vertically that well.  Maybe it was a way of getting away from people chasing you.  Maybe the branches and leaves are too thick to allow it.  Maybe the air on the moon of Endor gets very thin a few hundred feet up so repulsorlift engines don't work.  Maybe a hundred other reasons.  Yet this is where Siskel and Ebert decided to take a stand--apparently they're experts on the physics of speeder bikes, the flora of Endor and the psychology of Imperial Stormtroopers )

Yet I was surprised to read a piece by Tasha Robinson at the AV Club about how a lot of Ant-Man didn't make sense--worse than in other Marvel movies.  Odd. I not only enjoyed the film, but also felt it had a better, tighter plot than usual for a superhero movie.  So let me try to answer Robinson's questions.  Spoilers ahead, of course.

Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. house its top-secret medical storage facility, where Captain America is meant to be protected from the modern world after his hibernation, in the middle of Times Square, instead of in some remote country hideaway?

This is a preliminary question, and not hard to answer.  Supervillains can get to you anywhere (if they know where you are), and regular citizens can't get past your security, so Times Square is as good a place as any. In fact, it's better, since it's near other people and places you might need, including top-notch doctors and medical equipment.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) was reportedly watching Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) for a while, long enough to judge his character and superhero aptitude. So maybe he could predict that Scott was desperate enough to see his daughter that he would follow the rumor of a big score far enough to break into Hank’s house and his safe. But how in the world could he predict that Scott would a) steal what looked like a crumpled old Halloween costume, b) choose to put the thing on, and c) activate it?

He couldn't be sure, but Lang was the curious type, and finding nothing else in such a heavily guarded safe would make him wonder.  And if he didn't put it on, no big deal. The main thing was showing he was resourceful enough to break in to begin with. Even if he left the costume behind, that would have been enough for Pym to go visit Lang and explain the deal to him.  In fact, putting on the costume almost put a crimp in Pym's plan and things might have gone more smoothly if Lang had just left things alone.  (It's also possible Pym was looking at other candidates and Lang was the first to pass the test.)

When Scott first activates the suit, shrinks, and winds up in a Honey, I Shrunk The Kids nightmare, why doesn’t he just press the button on the glove again?

Lang, just being shrunk for the first time, is going through a horrifying moment. He would be in shock, or close to it, not thinking straight, so don't expect his actions to make sense. But even if he completely had his wits about him, the last thing he'd do is press the button on the glove again, since that's what got him in trouble to begin with. (And I thought you didn't press that button again, you press a different button.)

For that matter, why doesn’t it get accidentally mashed when he’s crashing into everything on the planet?

If "it" is the suit, it's built to withstand the pressure. If "it" is Lang, he's got the strength of a man but the weight of an ant, so he can take a lot.

Or if Robinson is claiming why isn't the button pushed when he gets bumped all over, there'd have to be a built in mechanism to make sure only a finger pressing the button would work or the suit would be dangerous in battle.

What’s up with the ungodly hideous stuffed rabbit-thing Scott gives his daughter Cassie? It’s sweet that she loves it because it came from him, but… Did he buy it for her because she’s actually a fan of horror-movie-worthy stuffed animals (that speak with the voice of Tom “SpongeBob” Kenny), or is he just a really clueless dad?

This shows he's a really good dad. We find out immediately that his daughter loves ugly-looking stuff.  It's a thing between them.  How did Robinson miss this?

What exactly is the MacGuffin that Scott has to fetch from the new Avengers HQ, leading to the fight with Falcon?

That's what it is--a MacGuffin that will help him in future travails.  What's the problem?

For that matter, when he still had control of his company, why didn’t he delete his research instead of “burying” it where Darren could find it? He knew it was dangerous and that he didn’t want anyone getting their hands on it, but he had enough control to obscure it, but not to get rid of it, or enlist his former staff to get rid of it?

Whatever Pym did, Darren did not have anywhere near enough information to rebuild it. There was old evidence of what Pym did available to anyone who was looking (i.e., his old adventures), but it took Darren years to rebuild the technolgy.

How much did Baskin-Robbins pay for the product placement here, not just in terms of having major scenes set in a Baskin-Robbins outlet, but to get everyone to repeat “Baskin-Robbins” over and over, while treating the company like a total badass?

The Baskin-Robbins stuff was great.  Whether or not the movie was paid for it, I don't care. I often complain films don't have enough real products, and we end up in this generic world.  If all the B-R gags were instead about some made-up ice cream place, they wouldn't have worked.

These are petty concerns, though. Here are some bigger ones you could walk a regular sized Ant-Man through: Why doesn’t Hope know what happened to her mother?

Because it was (and is still, as it's ongoing) a traumatic experience for Hank. He has trouble talking about it, and was trying to spare his daughter.

Why doesn’t Scott even ask about the downsides of the Ant Man suit?

This is Scott's chance to turn his life around. He realizes it's dangerous, but is willing to be the hero after years of being the bad guy.

How does a helmet protect Scott from the Pym Particle, when his brain inside the helmet is being atomically altered along with the rest of him?

So Robinson is an expert on how Pym Particles work?  I have to assume the helmet protects against what it has to protect again, while not stopping the things it's not needed to stop. If you can buy shrinking, you can certainly buy this.

“As long as I am alive, nobody will ever get that formula.” Brave words from Hank Pym, but he’s dealing with Hydra, which is not known for being gentle with recalcitrants, or respectful of ultimatums.

I assume Pym believes he won't give up the formula, and that's that.  What else should he do, kill himself?

How the hell did Janet or Scott disarm machinery while subatomic and shrinking into a quantum world?

I hadn't thought about this, and it's a good point.  I assume while you're shrinking you get through and cause damage, and even while subatomic you mess with stuff so the machinery doesn't work.

Why don’t the shrink/grow shurikens shrink/grow things infinitely? They don’t have belt regulators, which we’re told is the only reason a person in the suit doesn’t shrink forever. For that matter, why, when Scott is subatomic and wants to grow back to regular size, does he shove one of those shurikens into his belt-regulator spot as if they’re plug-and-play devices, when they’re actually impact weapons?

Once again, because that's how Pym built them.

When Scott is in a sub-sub-subatomic space “where time and space are meaningless,” how can he still hear his daughter yelling for him as if they were in the same space?

I thought about this when it was happening, and I just figured either he heard her as he was shrinking, and it echoed in his mind, or, knowing he was fighting for her, heard her in his imagination.

Hope this clears everything up. Any other questions?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kudos given where kudos due

I've been rather aggressive in detracting from our governor, so I would be remiss indeed if I did not praise him when he shows some courage and insight.

There are three or four staffers--cabinet officers--that I know personally who are top notch. One of them, Dick Ross, education superintendent, has been the target of a concerted Democrat and newspaper attack for several weeks now, pushing him toward resignation. In fact, we had heard rumors it was a fait accompli, made more likely by the resignation of a subsidiary official that created momentum (rather than blunting it).

The subsidiary official deserved what he got and more. Dick Ross didn't deserve the criticism at all. But with a presidential campaign winding up, the governor being a loose cannon on the decks of government, and too many Republican nitwits caving to anything the Democrats and newspapers (but I repeat myself) say, who knew what could happen? The safe bet probably would have been for another resignation (even though that would just add fuel to the fire).

But look what happened:

With some Democrats calling for the removal of state schools Superintendent Richard A. Ross, Gov. John Kasich was asked after a Michigan campaign stop on Saturday whether he was still 100 percent behind Ross.
“No, I’m not 100 percent behind him, I’m 1,000 percent behind him. He’s one of the best superintendents we’ve ever had,” the governor said.
Ross has taken heat for a top assistant scrubbing data to make charter schools look better, and for drawing up plans for a state takeover of Youngstown schools in private.
“Youngstown schools failed for nine years in a row, and this is the best thing that’s happened to Youngstown schools, and one of the best things that’s gonna happen to the city of Youngstown,” Kasich said. “And thank goodness we’ve got a superintendent that understands all this, and he is great — period, end of story. Stop the whining.”

It's not likely the state will do any better with the city school district, but that's not what's important to Democrats or newspapers. They're upset that Republicans exercised their power. Only Democrats are supposed to exercise power.

And who knows. There's always a chance that a tribe of monkeys will type Shakespeare, and maybe the Youngstown schools will improve after all.

(And let's not forget the obvious: Just because Kasich said it on Saturday doesn't mean he'll still be saying it Monday or next Saturday. But he's said it, firmly and in public, so hat's off to him.)

Maybe it's because customers know what they like

IMDB is in pain, but I think I know how to relieve them:

Trainwreck, the Judd Apatow/Amy Schumer comedy, was off 43.7% from last week's $30M take, with an estimate $16.9M weekend. It is hard to determine whether the horrific events in Lafayette, Louisiana, where an assailant shot 11 people, killing two of them in a theater playing Trainwreck, affected patronage elsewhere and it's painful to even have to consider it. The film has a domestic cume of $61.2M. 

Yes it is hard to determine. It's even ridiculous. How about it's just a sweet enough movie that doesn't quite live up to the Schumer promise? But hey, we're glad to know you think those events are horrific. We could use leaders like you.

Aw, mom, not brain-eating amoeba again

brain eating amoeba has, once again, been found in the St. Bernard Parish water system

Ya work, ya work, and ya work some more, and what good does it do?

Was Something In The Water?

In the early 1940s, a lot of people were born on July 26th who'd go on to make great music.  Some examples:

1941



1941 again



1941 yet again



1942



1943

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Appealing authority

Well, he does have a license:
 
The group claims the videos demonstrate that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donation (which would be illegal) and that they are “haggling” over the price of “baby parts.”


These are not "baby parts." Whether a woman has a miscarriage or an abortion, the tissue specimen is called "products of conception." 

I'm a doctor, dammit, not a rhetorician!

More logic

Fewer Republicans view own party favorably

This makes perfect sense. Democrats lie to the public at large, so the extreme base is happy. Republicans lie to the base, and let the media lie to the public, so the honest base is unhappy.

Best part: You knew it had to be in the article, the *opposite* explanation, that this poll results from kowtowing to extremist Republicans, which by and large don't extist, rather than kowtowing to the libs, who are generally extremist--and there it is: Pew's latest poll was conducted early last week amid a nascent 2016 presidential race that has been dominated in the media by businessman Donald Trump . . .  Trump, a Republican candidate, has enjoyed weeks of attention for his controversial comments on "rapists" and other criminals coming across the border from Mexico . . . Despite the controversy, he sits atop a crowded GOP field  . . .

Well, "despite the controversy," it just goes to show how racist the Republicans are, even when it's costing them the support of so many moderate Republicans.

As my old friend Justice Rehnquist would have said--indeed did say--"Post hoke airgo prope ter hoke."

Broadway The Odd Way

I just read The Gentleman Press Agent. It's a life of Merle Debuskey, one of the top press agents in Broadway history.  He represented over 100 shows, including How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Man Of La Mancha, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Pirates Of Penzance, and The House Of Blue Leaves.

I don't have much to say about it.  It's not especially well written, but does have some fun backstage stories about actors, playwrights, directors, etc.  Of course, along with it, there are many stories of dealing with the press.

And that's the odd thing.  I've read many books about Broadway, but most deal with the creative side.  Debuskey, as honest and beloved as he was, was mostly a guy responsible for promotion.  That's not unimportant, but he rarely had anything to do with the artistic side of any production.

So a decent enough book for those interested in American theatre, but not from an angle you'd normally expect.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Les Is More

Happy 80th, Les Reed.  He's a British songwriter who composed many hits for acts across the pond.  Some of those titles made it to these shores.





Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bet he can't find his azimuth with both of Doug Preisse's hands

"The Sun Is Going To Rise To The Zenith In America Again"

Good lord. Is his five minutes of fame over yet? What's next? "A Time for Inscribing Elliptical Orbits"?

Highlights:

"Paraphrasing both Jesus Christ and Ronald Reagan . . ." [Who's the biggest moron, the reporter, the editor or Kasich?]

"Kasich gives somewhat meandering speech (no script per an aide) Themes include: Sun rising. Big ideas change the world. 2 black guys love me." [I thought the black guys referred to Montel Williams and Frank Jackson, but it turns out it was two guys at Wendy's. Hope he confirmed how they identified and didn't profile them.]

"Kasich speaks for 43 mins. Longer than expected. [Indeed.] Meandering speech without notes. [Indeed.] Final song? U2 Beautiful Day" [No Death or Glory?]

Whole Poll

Here's a BBC poll of film critics around the world on the 100 best American films. Should be fun. Let's see what they say (with the occasional note as I read them):

100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
Good to see it on the list--not always mentioned in Wilder lists
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
Still trying to push this one
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
Surprisingly low, but fair
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
Way too low--wonder what McCarey would think if he knew this is the film he'll be remembered for
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
Interesting this has become a Spike Lee classic (as it should be)
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
Like many films on this list, overrated
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
Of course we'd see Nick Ray.
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
This film should lose its reputation.
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
A good film, but I'm certain better Disney features won't be here
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
Good to see Hawks on the list
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
So better than ET. (I probably agree)
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
Will Spielberg have the most titles?
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
He just may. (In general, I find the list too modern)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
This is the von Sternberg they choose?
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
Didn't know this was considered American
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
There better by more Chaplin higher
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
The more Hawks the better
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1965)
Not even a good film
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Yet another auteur classic for Nick Ray
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
I don't think we need any Cassavetes.
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
Two in a row by Kubrick, neither particularly good
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
Hope there's more Lynch
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
Great to see this title but it should be in the top five
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
There should be several Woody movies on this list, but not this one
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
Should be higher
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
More Billy, and I'm sure more to come
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
A rare documentary
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
Another one of those overrated titles
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
Hawks scores again
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
Overrated
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
Hitchcock has so many good films, what's this bizarre auteur classic doing here?
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
I'd do fine with no Ford here, but this one?
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
Finally some Buster.  Should be more.
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
Ranked too low
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
I'm glad to see it on this list, but Red River is better
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
More of historical interest than anything else
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
Maybe Spielberg's best, but Wilder is catching up
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
If there's got to be Sirk, might as well be this one.
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
Wilder's picking up steam
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
Preston should have two or three--not a bad choice, but not my favorite
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
One Cassavetes was more than enough
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
Wilder's best
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
One of the most overrated films (I fear they'll be others above)
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Should be in top ten
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
Are they picking every bad Kubrick film?
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
A good film, but I'm kind of surprised to see it on this list of big titles.
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
I figured it'd be his highest--though it shouldn't be
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
Too low
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
Scorsese scores a double
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
Chaplin gets a double, and both could be top ten
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
Good to see more Altman
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
This was one of those vastly overrated film I feared would be rated high (such as on the list at all)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
This is another vastly overrated film I feared would be rated too high.
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Yet another third vastly overrated film I feared would be rated too high.
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

Here's Todd McCarthy on what he calls a bizarre list.  Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg and Wilder all have five titles.  Coppola and Hawks have four.  Chaplin, Ford, Scorsese and Welles have three.  The 1970s is the top decades with 21 titles.  Coppola, Hitchcock and Welles have two in the top eleven.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pick your Dick

Kudos to Frank Easterbrook for citing controlling authority: Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you know what I mean” can amount to extortion under the Hobbs Act, just as it can furnish the gist of a Monty Python sketch.

The guy must do great at standup. "Well, you know, that's the gist of it."

(Really reprising LAGuy this morning. What can I say, when it fits it fits--although the  Donald Trump Insult Generator did say "Why does ColumbusGuy constantly seek out trivial nonsense?")

What does John Kasich say when you take away his drugs?

Prickly John once got kicked out of a Grateful Dead concert.

He's got that going for him, at least.

As to the main question, it's pretty clear Trump deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor: ". . . the difficulty is the continued presence of Donald Trump, who has taken much of the oxygen out the room over the past several weeks. Kasich’s launch is the most recent example of Trump’s overshadowing. As the Ohio governor made his pitch, Trump garnered a large crowd in South Carolina, where he made news by insulting Sen. Lindsey Graham and other contenders."

TB

Theodore Bikel has died.  He was a fine actor--nominated for a Tony as Captain von Trapp in The Sound Of Music and an Oscar as Sheriff Muller in The Defiant Ones--but was perhaps better known as a folk singer and musician.








Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stop And Take A Look

AMC surprised Hollywood when it renewed it's drama Halt And Catch Fire.  The show was set during the computer revolution of the 1980s.  The channel hoped for a new Mad Men, and instead got a low-rated series without much critical approval.  It would have been easy enough to declare it a mistake a move on.

But I liked it.  The first season was muddled at points, and the central character, Joe, a spellbinder with a big secret, was too on the nose in trying to be another Don Draper.  But it still managed to capture the excitement of creating something new, and being in on the ground floor of something big.  So I was happy it was getting a second season.

And, to my surprise, the second season is even better.  In the first, Joe came to a hidebound company and managed to create something forward-looking and innovative, destroying anything that got in his way.  This season takes us ahead a year, where the two main female characters, Cameron and Donna, are running their own company, an online operation named Mutiny that features original games, while Joe is off on his own, engaged to a new character, Sara, whose father is a rich businessman.  And Gordon, the other lead from the first season, a hardware specialist who cashed out, is trying to start his own Dell-like mail order computer business.

Joe has been removed from the center, and is, in fact, often seen as the enemy, and somehow this has enlivened the action.  We follow the women at underdog Mutiny (and the many nerdy male employees), seeing their ups and down, while Gordon and Joe revolve around them, sometimes working independently, sometime trying to get involved.

There are still two more episodes, and Mutiny looks like it's in trouble.  Whether or not it makes it through the season, the bigger question is if the show will be renewed.  The ratings, alas, are even worse this time around, so I doubt it.  But it would be nice to get just one more year out of it--we know computers are about to explode as never before, so let the characters get to see it.

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