2008

February 10, 2015

Taboo Films: Martyrs

Martyrs – Sad

SAD

As I continue my masochistic voyage to find films that are so-called “taboo” this brings me to another film that I’ve seen bits and know the ultimate ending, but never took the time to watch it from beginning to end. That film is 2008’s “Martyrs.” While you could easily write the film off as a rip-off of Eli Roth’s “Hostel” unlike “Hostel” which dealt with douche-bag American tourists caught up in a clandestine human torture-for-pay ring, “Martyrs” examines deeper issues like child abuse, the fallout, and exploration into whether there is a life after death, however, this is done in a very disturbing and sad way.

This tale begins with a young girl running away from an undisclosed location seemingly injured. Cut to the same girl, named Lucie, who is living in an orphanage. Lucie eventually meets Anna, and the two become close friends. Cut to 15 years later and the home of a father, mother, and two children, the perfect family. Comes a knock on the door and boom, a shotgun blast to the chest ends the father’s life. Waiting in another location, Anna, is waiting in a car and receives a call from Lucie. As the story progresses we learn more about Lucie and Anna and their sordid histories. There are also hidden passageways, women with weird metal blindfolds, and of course a notorious third act that kind of flips the whole film on it’s head, and oh yeah, torture of the highest degree.

Now, I could just spoil the ending of “Martyrs” and spare you watching the film, but I really feel that would be an injustice. Despite the harrowing story and bleak ending, this film is rather interesting in the manner of subject it’s tackling. At it’s core, “Martyrs” is quite philosophical albeit very hard to watch some of the tougher scenes in the film.

The performances by both Morjana Alaoui (Anna) and Mylène Jampanoï (Lucie) are both strong and very believable. There is a lot of subtext to their relationship and while you might feel worse for Lucy, it’s really nothing compared to what Anna endures the third act of the film, but even that is unfair to saying since both women endure unmentionable horrors.

The final aspect of this film that really gets me is the ending. Now this might be slightly spoiler-y, it needs to be said. The fact that the main villains are old people is extremely disconcerting, not to mention they seem to be rich, well-off, old people. The fact that younger people continue to play victims to an older generation who think they have a right to knowledge that no one else has gained yet feel the need to discover this through the anguish of others, is a major concern, and rightfully so. The main villain of “Mademoiselle” is demonically evil, but at the same time lays out her plan and concerns in a way that both makes sense and is interesting. I’m not saying it’s right, but the idea of creating a “martyr” to obtain knowledge from another realm of existence is an interesting, and terrifying, idea.

At the end of the day, “Martyrs” is a thought-provoking film that could be mistaken for a “Hostel” rip-off, but there is a lot more going on in this film. It shows not only the horror of abuse, but the lengths that some will go in order to obtain, and protect, knowledge. It’s a difficult sit for those adverse to, dare I say it, “torture-porn,” but it’s a film worth your attention and time.

Fun Fact: As this review is being written, Hollywood has decided it’s time for a remake. The Goetz Brothers and “wonderful” Blumhouse Pictures will be helming the remake that will hopefully be released…..never.

February 2, 2014

DJ Simply Loves Robert Downey Jr.: Iron Man

REBIRTH

This is it.  This is the movie.  This is the actor.  This is the moment.  Before the recent meteoric rise of Matthew McConaughey and before comic book movies became the most unstoppable form of genre films in Hollywood, there was Robert Downey Jr. and Marvel’s Iron Man.  It is ground zero for Marvel’s entire cinematic universe and also the vehicle that gave one of Hollywood’s most talented, charismatic, entertaining actors a much needed career REBIRTH.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Iron Man was a completely fringe comic book character six years ago.  And that was with comic book fans.  Sure, the character has been around since the 60s.  Sure, he had some famous and groundbreaking storylines.  But I’m not going out on a limb by saying that no one gave a good goddamn about Iron Man in 2008.  And now I almost feel silly explaining to you the plot of his first film.  (A playboy industrialist who is mortally wounded and abducted by terrorist builds a suit of armor to save/liberate himself, then keeps building more advanced armors until he becomes a bonafide superhero.) The fledgling Marvel Studios was taking a risk pushing out a summer blockbuster about Howard Hughes in a robot suit.  However, with most of their surefire properties like Spider-Man, The X-Men, and The Fantastic Four belonging to other studios, Marvel was kind of without options.  So, who would they get to helm this tricky endeavor?  Nick Cassavetes.  Yeah, you read me right.  The director of The Notebook was set to direct a summer action blockbuster comic book film.  Before him was Joss Whedon at New Line. (Whoops!)  Before him was Quentin Tarantino. (Interesting.)  Before all of them was Stuart “Re-Animator” Gordon. (Wuh?)  Finally, Marvel settled on hiring an up and coming actor turned director to right the ship.  A guy named Jon Favreau.

Jon Favreau, and all of the other people considered to direct Iron Man, gave me my first clue of how Marvel Studios were going to run things from now on.  Where everyone’s mind at the time would go to hiring a traditional action director like a McTiernan or a Cameron or a Bay, Marvel was picking guys who ultimately understood characters.  Guys who would bring something tangible and real to these characters in the capes and suits of armor.  (Take a gander at the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy to see my point.)  Favreau was lucky because he had a pretty clean slate when it came to the character of Tony Stark.  Other than the basic information that I brought up before, the character could have portrayed in any way.  That is why casting him was going to make or break the film and the studio’s future.  Cast an actor who can create something original, entertaining, believable, and iconic, you cement him into the lexicon of film characters forever and truly put your studio on the map.  Cast an actor who is unable to grab the public and give them something they hadn’t seen before, your film becomes a marginally successful yet forgotten outing along the lines of a Daredevil and Ghost Rider.  Marvel sought out everyone from Tom Cruise, to Clive Owen, to Justin Timberlake for Tony Stark.  To Favreau’s credit, credit I personally think he does not get enough of by the way, he knew the actor who could reinvent this character.  An actor who was in need of a reinvention himself.

Robert Downey Jr. is part of a long list of immensely talented actors who became detoured in their personal and professional lives by substance abuse.  Heath Ledger and the recent tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman shows us the commonality of Hollywood’s best and brightest skirting the edge of self-induced oblivion.  I chose Robert Downey Jr. as the actor I simply love the most because, like Ledger and Hoffman, Downey Jr. has always captivated me while equally entertaining the hell out of me despite his personal weaknesses.  He has gone through the rabbit hole of self destruction and used his experiences to not only make himself a better actor, but a better person as well.  Thankfully, Jon Favreau saw some of the same things in Downey Jr..  But how the hell do you pitch a felonious, drug abusing, career burnout as the title character in Marvel’s first big cinematic shot?  You explain that Robert Downey Jr. eerily IS Tony Stark.  And that is exactly what Favreau did.  Stark is a genius at his craft, a celebrity by his birthright, and substance abuser by his own hand who suffers a horrific experience which motivates him to change his life.  Though, breaking in and passing out in a stranger’s bedroom isn’t exactly synonymous with taking a chest full of shrapnel, you can still appreciate the similarities.  Favreau put his foot down for Robert Downey Jr., Marvel reluctantly agreed, and Tony Stark became a household name.

Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark is completely magnetic.  I had an experience with an audience during the scene below that I hadn’t felt in some time.  Watching Downey Jr. humorously ramble and strut in the Afghan desert was like watching Indiana Jones trying to switch a bag of sand with a golden idol, or Detective John McClane cracking wise on a walkie talkie in Nakatomi Tower.  Tony Stark was introducing himself to the cinematic world, and we could not get enough of it.  We still can’t.  Spider-Man uses humor as a guise for his darker nature.  However, Peter Parker can only get so dark.   That is because Peter Parker is a genuinely good person.  Tony Stark does the same thing.  But his darker nature can really be dark.  I mean really dark.  Watch the scene where Tony starts angrily blasting up his lab after watching the news and tell me you can’t see the blackier parts of his conflicted soul bleeding through.  Downey Jr. brought that with him.  That isn’t on the page.  Mainly because there weren’t a lot of pages actually finished on this script when the film was being shot.  The way you hide that problem is by making sure your characters are strong and by making sure the actors playing them are equally so.

That is another forgotten thing about the first Iron Man.  The casting, from top to bottom, is practically perfect.  Want proof?  Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson made his first appearance as a throwaway character here.  And now he is practically the MCU’s mascot.  Favreau cast actors who knew how to hold their own with Robert Downey Jr.’s constantly adapting approach to the material.  The best example of that casting was with Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s Assistant/Counselor/Love Interest Pepper Potts.  I always hear how Marvel films don’t have strong female characters.  Short of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster in Thor, I think Marvel has some of the most underratedly badass, strong willed, well rounded female characters in this genre.  From Peggy Carter, to Black Widow, to even Maria Hill.  Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is easily the best one of them all.  Every 95 mile per hour argument or flirtation Paltrow and Downey Jr. have is an automatic injection of life into a scene.  It is the truest illustration of onscreen chemistry I can think of.  One cannot exist without the other, which is why Downey Jr. persuaded Joss Whedon to put Paltrow in Avengers.  There is only one “feel good” couple for me when it comes to comic book films, and maybe films in general.  It’s not Bruce and Selina, or Clark and Lois, or Peter and MJ.  It’s Tony and Pepper.

The casting of Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane was also a stroke of genius.  Putting an actor up against Robert Downey Jr. who is just as fearless and creative and charming as him really makes for some great moments.  Watching these two practically create a scene out of thin air is a sight to behold.  So, behold it!   Tony Stark’s biggest flaw as a hero has always been his lacking list of enemies.  However, even I have to admit that the actors who have been cast as his adversaries are always top notch.  Bridges, to date, has been the best of them.

Embarrassing confession, but the first Iron Man also has the best depiction of Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes for me.  Now, I love Don Cheadle.  I like his version of Rhodey a lot.  However, I am a bit skeptical of his depiction because I’m so used to how playfully charming Cheadle is as an actor.  Rhodey is the other half of Tony Stark’s grounding force in his life.  But where Pepper is the spirited verbal sparrer of Tony, Rhodey is typically the more stern and stubborn big brother figure.  I believe Terrence Howard nailed that tone of the character more in Iron Man.  Whatever fallout he and Downey Jr. and Marvel had has always been a tough set of circumstances for me to take.  

If the 900 pound gorilla that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an actual living thing, Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. would be its heart.  With Downey Jr.’s days playing the genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist numbered, let’s hope Marvel Studios can find a suitable transplant before he’s gone for good.  Suit up…Watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  Why?  Because that’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.  To Peace.

September 29, 2013

What We’ve Learned From Breaking Bad

September 10, 2012

The Wire, Wrap-Up

*Spoilers Ahead*

The case is closed on “The Wire.”  Some of the good guys won, some of the bad guys won, and there were plenty of people caught in the cross-fire, but it was a ride that everyone should be willing to take if you enjoy story and character-driven dramas.

While this is not so much a review, as a wrap-up, I will be detailing characters, plot lines, and a few top ten lists, including; Top 10 Characters, Top 10 Tragic/Offing Moments. (Just to clarify, an offing is a death or murder of a character)  Now allow me to drop you back into”The Wire.”
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Cheese: “This is some shameless shit!”
Omar Little: “Oh, ain’t no shame in my game, doe.  I’m here about my business, ain’t dat right Joe!”
– Season Four
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It’s a little difficult to pick just ten characters that I would classify as the best from the entire series.  In such a character-driven show all your characters should be great, and trust me they’re all great.  So here goes nothing as I unveil MY Top 10 characters on “The Wire.”

10.  Det. Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski:  The funny thing about Prez is that he went from an asshole detective who was messing up left and right to someone who I truly respected come the end of the show.  Once he started his new career as a middle school teacher, the character became a tragic reminder of someone who continues to have hope in a hopeless situation.

9.  Dennis “Cutty” Wise:  Cutty, a former Barksdale enforcer, has been recently paroled when we first meet him.  He tries to get back into the drug game when he leaves prison but realizes that the life isn’t meant for him anymore and decides to open a boxing gym for the troubled youth of West Baltimore.  He is one of the lone bright spots in the show as he not only saves his own life, but indirectly saves the life of Namon Brice, the son of incarcerated Barksdale enforcer, Roland “Wee-Bey” Brice.

8.  Brother Mouzone:  While he only appeared in a few episodes, the suit, glasses and bow-tie of Brother Mouzone left a lasting impression.  Essentially Mouzone was a mirror image of Omar Little, only Brother wore a smart suit and sported a pistol while Omar preferred a brown duster and a shotgun.  The duo also supplied one of the more surprising deaths in the series when they gunned down Stringer Bell at the end of Season Three.
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Omar Little: “I knew you’d come back.”
Brother Mouzone:  “I trust you didn’t lose much sleep over it?”
Omar Little:  “Worryin’ about you would be like worryin’ if the sun gonna come up.”
-Season Three
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7.  Michael Lee:  During Season Four we were introduced to the youth of West Baltimore and the one character that really stood out from the rest of the pack was Michael.  From a broken home, Michael tried his best to walk the line between right and wrong while trying to protect his friends and his younger brother, Bug.  In the most poignant moment of Season Five, Michael, now on the run from Marlow, Chris, and Snoop, has to say goodbye to both his friend Duquan and Bug and disappear from Baltimore.

6.  Chris and Snoop:  I consider both Chris Partlow and Snoop pretty much the same character, just one male and one female.  They are both extremely loyal, and similar to Omar and Brother Mouzone, they both have a “code.”  Chris is the more calculating of the two, and while it’s not said directly, seems to be a victim of childhood abuse.  Snoop is the colder of the two and would do anything to protect the reputation of Marlo Stanfield.

5.  Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins:  With a show so grim, it was great to see how one character in particular went from a hopeless drug addict to a reformed member of society.  That character was Bubbles, a police informant, heroin addict, and just maybe, the lone bright spot on “The Wire.”  In the series finale, Bubbles finally opens up at an NA Meeting about losing a friend, and it always brings a tear to my eye.  It’s truly a beautiful moment in the series.
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Bubbles: “Ain’t no shame in holdin’ on to grief.  As long as you make room for other things too.”
-Season Five
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 4.  Russell “Stringer” Bell:  If anyone knows anything about “The Wire” you know Stringer Bell, portrayed by Idris Elba.  Stringer was the brains, while Avon was the brawn of the Barksdale Crew, and when Avon went away to prison he took over the crew and tried to steer them in a different direction.  Unfortunately, Stringer thought that drug dealers could be rationalized with and “trained” but the one thing he forgot about was the fact that he was still a drug dealer trying to move past his station in life, and that is pretty much what finished him off in the game.

3.  Marlo Stanfield:  Marlo was a different breed of drug dealer then what we had seen from Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, or Proposition Joe.  He was ruthless, had enforcers that would do all of his bidding, and he got to the kids early, looking for the next generation of hopper even in middle school.  But not even money mattered in the grand scheme for him, it was knowing that people feared him.

2.  Preston “Bodie” Broadus:  Bodie was one of those characters that I didn’t think much of when I first started watching “The Wire.”  I personally just thought he was some low-level drug dealing prick that would get killed early in the series, but as time went on, Bodie really fleshed out and became my 2nd favorite character on the show.  After Avon’s arrest, and Stringer’s death in Season Three, Bodie pretty much became all the Barksdale Crew had left and was the only dealer on the street that wasn’t scared of Marlo, and eventually, it cost him.
 ————————————————————————————————————–
Omar: “You got the briefcase……I got the shotgun…..It’s all in the game tho’.”
-Season Two
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1.  Omar Little:  I can pretty much sum Omar up in a few words.  “Omar don’t scare.” 

It is difficult to pick just ten characters as the best of the bunch on “The Wire” because they are all so damn good.  Moving on to the tragic/offing moments.

*Warning, there will be spoilers ahead*

10.Chris and Snoop torturing and killing Butchie for information on Omar.
9.  Seeing Duquan succumb to drugs.
8.  Bodie being gunned down by the Stanfield Crew while defending his corner.
7.  The death of Wallace by Bodie and Poot.
6.  Cheese being shot and killed by “Slim” Charles.  Probably the most “satisfying” death in the entire series.
5.  Frank Sobotka murdered by “The Greek”
4.  Stringer Bell gunned down by Brother Mouzone and Omar in his own building.
3.  Michael saying goodbye to Duquan and Bug
2.  Seeing Bubbles’ revenge plan backfire and kill Sherrod.
1.  Omar being gunned down by Kenard.

September 5, 2012

Simplistic TV: The Wire, Season Five

The Wire, Season Five – Bravo

*Spoilers Ahead*

After watching four seasons of “The Wire” in about the span of three weeks not only was I heavily invested with what would happen to the Barksdale Crew, Jimmy McNulty, Bunk Moreland, the New Day Co-Op, and Omar Little, but I was getting mentally exhausted.  All the shows run a full hour (more on the season openers and finales) and the show-runners pack so much in each episode that I hit information overload at certain points.  However, regardless of how much is is crammed into each show, I couldn’t get enough and needed closure, and I really wanted some good to come out of the whole shitty mess that is West Baltimore (I got some, but I mostly got kicked in the nuts).  This brings me to Season Five of “The Wire,” the final season, and an excellent conclusion to a series that you could call “The Standard for all crime dramas.”

Released in 2008, (season four finished up in 2006, so for those who were watching season-to-season, there was almost a 14 month waiting period between the end of four and the start of five) we shift to the magical land of journalism and the offices of the Baltimore Sun.  As in real life, the written word is on the ropes and newspapers are slowly becoming obsolete so writers are becoming more desperate and trying anything to cling onto their jobs, similar to the drug trade in Baltimore, which is shrinking as crews are falling and the Stanfield Crew has monopolized the market.  Desperation is a major theme for this fifth season as McNulty starts a new “crusade” to finally put an end to Marlo Stanfield’s crew, newly-elected Mayor, Tommy Carcetti, wants a “serial killer” who is targeting the homeless caught, and the clock is ticking as job cuts at the Baltimore Sun are starting to affecting employee morale.  If people weren’t desperate in Baltimore before, they certainly are now.

The one gripe I could find with this season are how the plot lines are tied up. You could tell that HBO was ready for the show to end (not because the show was bad, but when it comes to business, its all about ratings, and during the original run of the show the ratings were lacking), and the plot lines had to be cleaned up as best they could.  Season Five was also the shortest season (ten episodes).  However, I will say everything came to a satisfying end and watching the ending montage made me feel happy, mad, frustrated, hopeful, but most of all, in awe.

Watching “The Wire” made me realize that TV isn’t dead.  To be honest with you, it took me watching this show to really get back into watching TV and wanting to see if I could find something that could really top “The Wire.”  There are a few shows (funny enough, most of them are on HBO) that can really hang, but I will include “Justified” and “The Shield” in that grouping (funny enough, both on FX), but I think I’ll be hard-pressed to find another show on TV that really gave me everything I wanted (and ironically, didn’t want) from a TV show.  “The Wire”……bravo……

Fun Fact:  Dominic West, who plays Det. Jimmy McNulty, directed the 8th episode of Season Five, “Took.”

July 22, 2012

Quantum Of Solace

MISUNDERSTOOD

Now I think Dark Knight Rises is a good film.  But the real highlight for me when I saw it was the IMAX Special Skyfall trailer that played right before it.  Now I love James Bond films.  I especially love ‘Daniel Craig as James Bond’ films.  His stint as Bond, Skyfall seemingly included, shares a particular theme as Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  They are both exercises in the tearing down and rebuilding of iconic characters in a different form than the preconceived notions of the mass fan base.  Much like Dark Knight Rises will be panned in the coming days by critics who didn’t see it as a satisfying display of their expectations, Quantum was panned for that very reason.

Casino Royale is amazing.  Stupendous.  Terrific.  Adjective after adjective synonymous with good.  I loved how Craig portrayed Bond.  His attitude.  His wit.  His determination.  He really got to the meat of the character.  A good man.  A man who wants to do whats right.  A man who will not accept defeat.  And a man who’s feelings about resorting to extreme violence to accomplish his goals rival that of even Dexter himself.  The film gave you everything.  Great action.  Great acting.  Great villains.  Great set pieces.  Bond girls.  Mystery.  I could go on.  The film, however, ends on a cliffhanger.  An acceptable one, but a cliffhanger none the less.  That fact is where Quantum of Solace comes in.  That fact is why I think Quantum of Solace is MISUNDERSTOOD.

Dark Knight Rises is not a stand alone film.  It is the culmination of an arc.  Its a cog in a giant machine.  Accept it for that and any negative opinion you have may sway a bit.  That said, Rises takes place YEARS after The Dark Knight.  It at least has that bit of a buffer between stories to start fresh as a film.  Quantum gets similar criticism because people say it doesn’t feel like a complete story.  And I don’t blame people for thinking that.  They are right.  Quantum of Solace is not a stand alone film either.  It is just the very long final act of Casino Royale.  Quantum is a direct sequel.  Its the ONLY direct sequel in the Bond franchise.  And the damn thing takes place mere MINUTES….MINUTES after Casino Royale.  If you view it in that light, it makes more sense as to why it is the way it is.

I wish they would do a version where they stick Quantum at the end of Casino and play it out, much like what Quentin did with Kill Bill.  The movie would be Lord Of The Rings long but it would be one grand arc of Bond’s origin story.  Quantum is about Bond’s rage.  Its the result of what happened to Vesper at the end of Casino.  That is not a stand alone theme for a movie.  It is a great theme for a final act.  I watch it with that in mind and always enjoy the hell out of it.  I mean, its not like it has horrible acting…its still Craig as Bond…and he’s perfect.  Its still Dame Judy Dench as M.  Still Jeffrey Wright as Felix.  The cinematography is beautiful.  The action is still crazy good.  And I love the lurking idea of some evil organization controlling everything.

For as good as Skyfall looks, it owes whatever ease of making it and success it has to Quantum Of Solace.  Quantum did the dirty work of finishing off a storyline that Skyfall can choose or not choose to hint back to.  By the end of Quantum, Bond is finally a complete character.  He is finally the Bond we remember.  Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace just showed us how that transformation happened.  Watch it again…then tell me I’m wrong.  

July 20, 2012

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a PornoLong

I consider Kevin Smith somewhat of a personal hero of mine.  Not only is he not afraid to take chances (Red State) but this guy dropped everything he had into his first movie and he was successful and got the chance to keep making movies.  Yes, he’s hit a few roadblocks along the way (being too fat to fly, “imploding” at Sundance 2011, “Cop Out“) but the guy makes movies for his fans, and not to mention himself which I respect.

When “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” came out there was some fan fare, and it did decent in the theaters, but for me the standout was one scene with one character and one actor with the surname “Long.”  In genius cameos, Brandon Routh aka the Superman that everyone hates aka Dylan Dog aka Todd Ingram, plays Bobby Long, the high school heart throb that Miri (Elizabeth Banks) has always been secretly in love with.  Meanwhile Zack (Seth Rogan) has recently made the acquaintance of one Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long) a film star most famous for the coming-of-age tale “You Better Shut Your Mouth Or I’m Gonna Fuck It.

In five short minutes Justin Long and Brandon Routh received pardons from me for both “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Superman Returns,” respectively.

Fun fact: Kevin Smith wrote one of the original scripts for a Superman re-boot that involved a giant spider (later taken by Wild, Wild West). “Zack and Miri” stars an actor who played Superman, while Kevin Smith co-starred with Justin Long in “Live Free or Die Hard“.

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