Category Archives: Movies

Movie Review: Rise of the Guardians

One of the few things that I look forward to in December aside from traveling (yay long school holidays!) is actually to hit the theatres to catch the latest Christmas movie. From years past, clear favourites have emerged such as Home Alone, Jingle All The Way and Love Actually. But while these movies remain as firm holiday classics, it is nice to see what new Christmas movie is in store.

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Have you been naughty or nice?

This year, that move is Rise of the Guardians. The title doesn’t sound like a typical movie that is bursting with holiday spirit but I have to say that it is a movie that has alot of heart. So the story goes like this. The Boogie Man is slowly gaining back his power and he intends to wreck havoc on the human world by instilling fear through nightmares to children. In doing so, he weakens the children’s belief in wonder, hope and innocence and in turn, this diminishes the power of the guardians: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sand Man. So the Man in the Moon (who rules them all) summons a new guardian, Jack Frost, a wayward troublemaker who has issues of his own (think: low self-esteem, fears that he is invisible and insignificant) so they can all join forces to defeat the forces of evil.

APphoto_Film Review The Rise of the Guardians

Behold, the Guardians gather…

Not exactly revolutionary in terms of its storyline since the main plot structure is similar to all movies that pit Good against Evil, but the animation and illustration was pretty awesome. Sandy the Sand Man is simply adorable despite the fact that he doesn’t utter a single word, the Yetis who help assemble the toys are huge burly furry blobs that are too cute and the tiny little elves will crack you up because of their little quirks and mischievous antics.

APphoto_Film Review Rise of the Guardians

Cute furry Yetis!!!

The Boogie Man was sufficiently scary especially as he launches a huge brood of black stallions (nightmares geddit?) against Sandy’s unicorns and even the Easter Bunny has a great deal of personality (loving that Aussie accent!) with his witty banter with Jack Frost. The fight scenes between the characters were pretty riveting though I thought Santa lacked pizzazz. I mean, since when does Santa fight with a sword? That’s just wrong and most of the time, he needs the other characters to win. Frost and Sandy being the strongest.

All in all, a great feel-good movie. Okay storyline, very respectable if not impressive animation and a good message that resonates rather convincingly: hold on to that childlike wonder, do not be afraid to hope and dream because that belief and that step of faith is very powerful.

Movie Review: Argo

Ben Affleck has finally made his mark and drawn an X on the treasure map. Forgive the lame analogy but before <em>Argo</em> Ben Affleck was sooo forgettable. Handsome, but forgettable. The last movie that I can vaguely recall that was remotely fascinating was Good Will Hunting which was eons ago. And in his heyday (if we can even call it that), Affleck was more well known for his amorous relationship with J.Lo than his acting chops.
It seems however that marriage and fatherhood has changed him and as Argo would prove, Affleck is coming into his own as a director, producer and actor. The story is based loosely on an incident called the Canadian Caper where Tony Mendez, a former CIA operative  rescued 6 diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. There’s alittle bit of background history that you need to read up on to fully understand and appreciate the context but basically in short, militants stormed the US embassy in fear and fury because the US was sheltering the recently deposed Shah. As a result, more than 50 embassy staff were taken hostage but 6 managed to escape and were taking refuge with the Canadian ambassador. And so the US state department are trying to figure out how to extricate them from this delicate situation. Mendez, inspired by the movie <em>Battle for the Planet of the Apes</em>, proposes that they film a fake movie set in exotic Iran. They will then use that as a cover, giving each diplomat a role in the film so they can fly out of Iran as a film crew.
The story itself is intriguing because it borrows from different genres and themes: science fiction, orientalism, spy fiction, history, biography (somewhat) and disguise. The beginning is alittle slow moving with quite abit of incongruous moments that don’t seem to make sense at first. I guess it is in a way purposeful because it shows us the many tedious and tiresome layers of clearance needed in a bureaucratic system. But the story really begins to come together once Mendez hires John Chambers (John Goodman) a brilliant makeup artist, producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and the cover story is complete. (And can I say that these two provide much needed comic relief to an otherwise serious film?) Then he finally gets to enter Iran and help the diplomats disguise themselves and assume their new identities.
The second part of the movie was so gripping and so full of tension. There were moments where I almost felt like they weren’t going to make it and I have to give credit where credit is due. Affleck crafted this perfectly. I was entirely engaged and engrossed every single bit of the way. The set was so real, the clothes were true to the time period, even the characters resemble their real life counterparts. It’s absolutely astonishing as you watch the credits roll and you see the juxtaposition of images.
Some may argue that it is a biased viewpoint put forth, that the Iranians look bad in this movie. Yes, there’s some degree of that with the sweatshops and swarms of little kids piecing shredded paper together to form evidence. Then there are the gun touting ruffians. The fire burning, the riots, the list goes on. But I guess the true heroes perceived in the film isn’t so much the Americans or Mendez (though this is glorified), but the Canadians. And even the house servant at the ambassador’s place. She in her small way, is also perceived as a hero. I guess we cannot escape from the biased viewpoint, after all it is an American movie (though interestingly, the beginning prezi bit does present balance what with the interference of the US in imposing the Shah in the first place). But if we put the politics aside, it is great storytelling and I did enjoy it. Alot in fact.
Truly an amazing movie well worth the 95% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes. I was utterly, completely, sold.

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect

I’ve been waiting all month for this movie and it finally came out on 8th November. If you are a Glee fan, you love acapella and show choirs are your kind of thing, then Pitch Perfect is made for you. The movie focuses on Beca, a new freshman at Barden College who aspires to produce music but her father wants her to complete college. And so, as the story goes, dad gives Beca an offer. Prove to him that she is really trying to give college a real shot by taking an extra curricular activity and then he will review her decision in a year. And so, that’s pretty much how Beca ends up in The Bellas. An all-girl acapella group on campus.

Now the plot thickens when you throw in a rival group called the Treble Makers (an all-guy acapella group on campus) and a shot at the show choir championships. And then there’s all-round good guy Jesse who is cool, funny, can sing and really really digs Beca. But alas, he’s part of the Treble Makers so… how will it all work out?

Well, let’s just say that this movie is a feel-good flick. And as all feel-good flicks go, the story is predictable. Yes, it is all rainbow, sunshine and happy endings in the end. I guess you could say that this is the singing version to the Step Up series and Bring it On but what makes this a truly enjoyable movie, the true selling point in my opinion, is the script which is absolutely hysterical.

There are jokes poking fun at Glee, jokes targeted at different stereotypes (sex pot, lesbian, asian girl, fat girl, crazed obsessed overachiever etc) and it’s all meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s all in good fun. The parodies and exaggerations like seeing Aubrey comfort Chloe over her inflammation of the lymph nodes which is apparently likened to cancer, only serves to show the ridiculous lengths people go to to achieve success. So definitely, I feel like the musical comedy genre worked really well!

I think Fat Amy has all the best lines. Rebel Wilson is a natural at comedy and Anna Kendrick is extremely likeable. She was brilliant in Up in the Air and 50/50. She’s becoming one of my favourite indie movie actresses to watch (it’s really between her and Felicity Jones at the moment!) and Skylar Astin is cute in an unassuming, nerdy way (he reminds me of Ted from HIMYM). He’s like the average typical nice guy with killer vocals. I think these two are great together.

Oh and need I mention the awesome mashups? I loved the Riff-Off. Definitely the highlight of the show. That and perhaps the Just The Way You Are/Just a Dream mashup. I got chills! Enough talking, check out the trailer!

Movie Review: Skyfall

There are so many good reasons to watch the latest Bond film, Skyfall. Adele sings the haunting theme song, the brilliant Sam Mendes directs (his previous films include American Beauty, Revolutionary Road and Away We Go), Javier Bardem stars as deranged villain Silva and new Q makes his entrance in the embodiment of geeky cool Ben Whishaw. And of course, who can forget the Bond girls who are sizzling hot as ever, Naomi Harris and Berenice Lim Marlohe.

Skyfall

I have to say, I wasn’t all that enthused when Daniel Craig came on board to replace Pierce Brosnan. He appeared to be too rough and rugged for the seemingly cool and suave spy but you know what, Craig grows on me. I really did enjoy his previous two showings Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace because we actually see a development in his character and a chink in his armour if you will. Bond isn’t always the suave and charming pretty boy who wields a martini glass and depends on exploding pens to save the day. Craig’s Bond is vulnerable and tormented (I swear it is those piercing blue eyes!) and surprisingly, a faithful lover (he seems to be hung up over Vesper Lynd which is quite charming to say the least) and he also possesses the fighting chops that the other Bond actors lack.

Berenice Marlohe;Daniel Craig

I felt that this film was the most all-rounded out of all the other Bond films because there’s that balance. There’s intrigue, action, a strong but understandable plot, witty dialogue with believable execution and the sensuality and sex appeal was toned down and it came across as tasteful instead of kitschy. I think the bed romping days are over and instead, there is a dawn of a new era for the Bond series and I think Craig really grows into the role magnificently. At some point in the film there are subtle references back to older versions like Naomi Harris’s character that is later revealed to be secretary, Ms Moneypenny, the replacement of M by Gregory Mallory played by Ralph Fiennes and the unveiling of the signature Aston Martin but an antique version used in the first Bond film. Skyfall was particularly brilliant imo because it still retained the legacy and culture that makes Bond, Bond but Mendes and Craig has injected a new fresh twist to make Bond relevant for the 21st Century.

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But you know who was exceptional too? Javier Bardem. He is officially my favorite villain. He comes across as unassuming yet creepy because he is so overtly friendly. He has the charisma of the Joker yet there is this softer side especially if you try to understand his backstory and how he became the man that he is. Interestingly enough, the return of Bond to his birthplace is also reminiscent of Batman in Dark Knight Rises. It seems that having a bad childhood is scarring for most of our heroes and that’s what makes them so mired in darkness and complexity.

All in all, I thought this film was simply awesome. I loved especially the opening sequence, the graphics and animation was enigmatic and gripping, the plot was well-formed, the cast was strong… I’m really excited for the next sequel. Mendes definitely breathed new life into this series, I’m loving the image overhaul.

My Week with Marilyn

I dunno whether it’s me but I’ve been watching alot of movies about dysfunctional female protagonists lately and tonight, the lady under the spotlight is Marilyn Monroe. Now, I don’t know much about her aside from the fact that she is a screen siren of her time and that she is the envy of every woman and the reason why lust and desire burn in every man’s loins. So I think what this movie did was to summarise her life in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Or rather, what Colin Clark knew of her life in his week with her.

Colin Clark was her escort while she was in Britain filming The Prince and The Showgirl as her then-husband, acclaimed writer Arthur Miller (you know, the dude who wrote Death of a Salesman) left the country to visit his children. So the entire film is a pseudo-documentary/drama about his time with her and  we get to see the different facets to Marilyn’s character. Truth be told, I was quite annoyed with her because the film portrayed her to be someone who is deeply troubled. She is constantly seeking affirmation from the drama coach, Paula as well as from the men in her life. She doesn’t seem like she believes in herself which is so ironic considering the fact that she disarms men with her beauty all the time. She always thinks that people will leave and as a result, she turns to drink and drugs, numbing herself from all the hurt yet in front of the camera and the public, she basks in the limelight and lives on fame. I mean, the film definitely gets me intrigued about her character. I mean, how can someone be so damaged and yet so perfect at the same time?

But yes, her weakness and vulnerability just gets me antsy and annoyed. In my head I’m shouting at her to get a grip and to stop playing the victim to lure guys into her web, only to leave them all heart broken again. I don’t really know what to feel about her. I think if there’s one word, it would be ambivalent. She’s the girl that every woman loves to hate and yet we admire her because she just glows on camera. I guess that’s why she’s a screen legend. It seems that the pre-requisite for greatness is to be messed up (see Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix et al.)

Well enough about Monroe the character. Let’s talk about Michelle Williams the actress. I thought that she was luminous. Like she really embodied Monroe and captured her spirit. She was vulnerable, needy, playful… all the things that I imagined Marilyn Monroe would be like. It all fit to a T. All down to the very last sigh. I don’t know whether it is the wardrobe and makeup, but Williams really looks like Monroe and I never thought she did before (but then again, Michelle Williams was quite low profile before). I would dare say that this is probably the film that will put Williams on the map. A possible Golden Globe nod? I sure think so. (But personally I hope that the award will go to Rooney Maya for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t know about you, but to me, a mark of a good movie is how memorable it is and I can’t get her interpretation of Lisbeth out of my head. Seriously a WOW performance.)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’ve been on abit of a movie blitz lately. I’ve watched MI4 (predictable storyline but action was pretty good), Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (way more complex and convoluted than the first movie but I enjoyed it still) and Flying Swords at Dragon’s Gate (which was pretty standard good vs bad wuxia film though the 3D effects made the fight scenes really cool). But while all these films were pretty good, the stand out for me so far this year is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I was very apprehensive about watching this film because I’m definitely not into violence and seeing the R21 rating and knowing that there will be sexual violence involved, I was pretty darn scared. It didn’t help that the opening credits were mimicking the elusive, mysterious and deadly vibe of James Bond movies but that being said, this film had an excellent screenplay and yes, some scenes were pretty graphic in its insinuations but overall it packed an edgy punch and I find myself yearning for more.

Now, I’ve yet to read the novel before watching the film but in terms of understanding the plot, it was quite easy to follow. In a nutshell, Mikael (Daniel Craig) is solving a mystery of a missing girl, Harriet and in return, he will be given information to help him wiggle out of a libel case with a billionaire industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerström. Of course, he can’t solve this case alone so he enlists the help of Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), a computer whizz to help him solve this mystery. But Lisbeth has a complex and violent backstory of her own as she is sexually assaulted by a lawyer, Bjurman and having torched her father when she was 13.

Given her troubled past, it is so exhilarating for me to see how she makes these sick bastards (sorry for the language but really, I think I’m being polite here) pay for what they’ve done and her methods while unconventional, are just brilliant. I also enjoyed the connection that Mikael and Lisbeth share (or rather, I think Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara have great chemistry). Yes it is a sexual relationship but not purely that. They connect on an intellectual and emotional level and I think that’s something that we don’t see on screen very often.

All in all, it is a gripping movie from start to finish and while there are many storylines going on at the same time, it merges seamlessly and it is all very believable. I really really dig Lisbeth and I thinkRooney Mara brought that urban sensibility as well as inscrutability to the character. Yet you can sense her vulnerability and desire to connect with Mikael. In short, her performance was sublime and unforgettable. I really do hope that she wins a Golden Globe for her performance here. This is definitely a movie to watch. Brutal yet electrifying and highly captivating. You will be riveted every single minute. David Fincher is a genius.

New Year’s Eve

I think I’ve mentioned somewhere before that I’m a huge fan of collage movies like Love Actually, He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and more recently, Crazy Stupid Love. So you can imagine my glee when I saw the star studded cast for New Year’s Eve. Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Katharine Heigl, dreamy Josh Duhamel, Ashton Kutcher *takes a breath* Zac Efron, Lea Michele, BON JOVI, Jessica Biel, Halle Berry… I mean this is one solid cast! But despite that, I went in with low expectations. I know that movies like this don’t really have much substance. It’s mostly a feel good film with a relatively weak plot that seeks to link different characters together in a spider web that is only revealed to you towards the last 5mins of the show.

Hate to say this, but I was right. The plot is rather blah. Basically it’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is waiting to see the glitzy ball drop in Times Square to welcome the new year. Thus, all the characters revolve around this New Year theme. Claire Morgan (Swank) is tasked to ensure that the ball indeed drops on schedule, Ingrid (Pfeiffer) a secretary at Ahren Records quits her job and tasks Paul (Efron) to help her complete her list of resolutions in order to secure tickets to the annual Ahren Records Masquerade Ball and Paul’s roommate, Randy (Kutcher) is stuck in the lift with backup singer Elise (Michele) who is supposed to sing for Jensen (Bon Jovi) who will be performing at the Masquerade Ball and Times Square.

Then there’s a side story featuring Stan Harris (De Niro) who is dying of cancer wishing to see the ball drop for the last time, a story of a couple, Griffin (Seth Meyers) and Tess (Biel) having a competition to win a baby bonus and a story about how a 15 year old, Hailey (Abigail Breslin) wants to experience her first kiss at Times Square and how her mother, Kim (Parker) has anxieties about that.

As expected, everything works out in the end for everyone because new year’s is a time to forgive and forget, to start anew, a time for second chances. If I had to pick, my favourite story where Paul helps Ingrid fulfill the items on her wishlist. He creatively devised a way in which she could travel round the world, see Bali and to ‘be amazed’ all in a span of few hours in order to check things off the list before midnight. Zac Efron was pretty suave and I can’t believe I’m saying this but he definitely had the swagger. Clearly he has moved on from his High School Musical days.

Another person that deserves commendable praise is Jessica Biel. She’s just such a natural when it comes to comedy and I think that the banter between her and Seth Meyers’ character was probably the most witty and believable (I mean, compared to the stuck in the lift scenes of Kutcher and Michele? That’s pretty unoriginal).

All in all, an okay film. Definitely a festive feel-good film so don’t overanalyze it. Just, sit back and enjoy the festivities.

Movie Duo: The Brothers Bloom & Hanna

I watched two mindblowing movies on DVD the past two weekends and they were just so amazingly good because it was so different from mainstream Hollywood movies. The Brothers Bloom was a wickedly dark comedy about con artists and pulling off that perfect con job and Hanna was an action-drama about a genetically modified child soldier who is out for revenge. But despite their very differing plot lines and genres, I think the recipe for success remains the same.

Great Plot

The art of storytelling is apparent in The Brothers Bloom. I love how they borrowed the whole fairytale idea with the Grimms Tales and the subtle influences helped make this a rather intriguing postmodernist work. Mark found it strange and weird especially since not everything works out sequentially or follows some kind of logical order but the weirder it got, the more I loved it! It has a kind of indie quality to it. Abit Juno-like. I think if I had to describe it in a word, it would be different. A real breath of fresh air. And of course, the ending was just superb. Think The Prestige.  

 
 

Hanna isn’t as interesting in the storytelling department. The plot is quite simple to understand. What’s interesting about it is the cinematography and the surrealistic feel that the film has (according to Mark’s ‘expert’ opinion). Once again there’s abit of that reality vs fantasy vein as lo and behold! Hanna is supposed to make her way to Brother Grimm’s house. Now isn’t that a creepy coincidence. But what I liked about it was how subdued the treatment of a typical chase thriller was. I mean usually it’s so over the top with explosions everywhere but in Hanna, the action is very selective and you can’t always predict what will happen next so very good management of suspense methinks. The opening and closing scenes also fit together so nicely in a kind of nicely framed embedded narrative. Sort of like Inglorious Basterds.

Great Cast

Having a good story isn’t good enough without the right people to execute it. Adrien Brody was just fantastic as the tormented anti-hero who is forever trying to differentiate reality from fantasy because he is trapped in an intricate web of lies. I think he is immensely charming and magnetic on screen and he is able to convey that soulful despair and anguish in his eyes in the last scene and that’s something that’s so difficult to do. He did it in The Pianist, he did it here. Rachel Weisz was likewise very talented. I enjoyed the scene where she is talking about moving past hate and to live life with no regrets while shuffling a pack of cards, pulling out the Aces all the time. What a far cry from the character she played in The Mummy. She has so much more depth and personality here (she portrayed an OCD person really well! Very measured, not at all over the top).

If we were to talk about Saoirse Ronan, then I only have praise for her. Loved her performance as Briony in Atonement, one of my favourite novel to film adaptations of all time, she was excellent in The Way Back and likewise she portrayed that acute sense of vulnerability underneath all that ruthless detachment. I swear it is her blue eyes and angelic blonde curls that just draws you in and I dunno how to describe it but she intrigues me. I am definitely a fan.

And need I say more about Cate Blanchett? She is so striking with her red hair and kelly green outfit and she’s so sleek and agile, almost like a cat. I think that’s what I liked most about her performance in Hanna. Her sleekness. She makes one helluva convincing villain.

Great Literary Value

And as much as I love to watch films to destress and to unwind, it’s nice sometimes to watch something intellectually stimulating and I was very interested in deconstructing these movies and look at particular elements that made it successful. I think that these two films are rare literary gems. Definitely something that I will watch over and over again to better appreciate it.

One Day Movie

I have gushed about how wonderful this novel is to friends and of course I had to watch the movie on its opening day. I was so excited because Ann Hathaway plays Em almost to a T and Jim Sturgess was the charmingly detestable Dex. I thought that Ann succeeded in capturing Em’s endearing wit and I’m glad that some of my favourite lines were featured in the film.

“You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if i could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle”

“Salmon. Salmon, salmon, salmon, salmon. I eat so much salmon at these weddings, twice a year I get this urge to swim upstream.”
 
“You’ve got to stop letting women slip drugs into your mouth, Dex, it’s unhygienic. And dangerous. One day it’ll be a cyanide capsule.”
 
 

For people who have not read the novel, the transitions between the years may be alittle abrupt and that’s really cos chunks of the story are missing like how Em has an affair with the Principal of the school she was teaching in or even Dex’s time in India was glossed over. But in all fairness it is difficult to represent a full year’s passing within a matter of minutes so yes, the significant scenes are all there, some of which are poignant to say the least.

“I’m not the consolation prize, Dex. I’m not something you resort to. I happen to think I’m worth more than that.”

“I love you. I just don’t like you very much anymore.”

In addition to the great chemistry that Ann and Jim share onscreen, I thought the magic was also present in the setting. Edinburgh, Paris… the landscape and the soundtrack was just made the novel come alive and of course, the cinematic ending where the two of them were gamboling down the hill was just breathtaking. It reminded me alittle of the ending to  Time Traveller’s Wife (with the flashbacks and all) and when they parted after saying goodbye with Em giving this confident, mischief in her eye glint… wow that was such a good ending. In short, I really really did enjoy it. I felt that it stayed true to the essence of the novel.  

Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway in One Day

I will end with my favourite quotes of all time from the novel:

“Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at…something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”

Johnny English Reborn

And so after much misadventure, I finally managed to watch Johnny English: Reborn and it was a blast! This is one sequel that I think is more enjoyable than the original and Rotten Tomatoes seem to agree giving this movie a 50% fresh rating. And really, alot of why this film is awesome is cos Rowan Atkinson doesn’t even need to try to be funny. He just is.

So the story goes like this. It’s been five years since Johnny English was sacked from the His Majesty’s secret service (MI7) but he is called from his hiding place in Tibet to serve a mission- stop a secret assassin group called Vortex from killing off the Chinese Premier. They had already been successful once in Mozambique and that cost Johnny his job so this time, he’s back to redeem himself and to prove that he can be a top secret agent.

Of course along the way he shows off his newly acquired karate skills and smarts but that doesn’t seem to help when he lacks basic common sense. I loved the scene in the plane where a man wearing a steward’s uniform has a name tag “Susan” and it’s really because he knocked a woman out and took over her identity. Our dear Johnny believes that it is a chinese name “Su-Shan” and as a result, evidence gets stolen. Yes, this and more wisecrack antics are featured in this 102min film.

Thankfully it’s not as annoyingly stupid like Dude Where’s My Car where I get super exasperated and impatient within the first ten minutes. The jokes are actually clever and who can expect any less from the dude who friggin’ invented Mr Bean? It takes a genius to make people love without utterly a single word. So if you are looking for a good laugh, for some downtime to chill out and forget your worries, this movie is definitely good for the soul.

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