Friday, 29 November 2019

MOVIES XXIV

BUT TELLY THOUGH...


I've been watching so much tv that my movie watching has been somewhat curtailed. I finally decided to properly watch The Americans (2013-2018) from start to finish after seeing random episodes on the telly every now and then over the years, thinking I should watch the whole thing one day. Now The Americans has grown in my estimation to become hands down what I believe to be the best drama of the 2010s, crime or otherwise, from the USA. 


Writing about tv is a bit redundant now innit? It probably became obsolete somewhere during the early 00s. When it was announced that Clive James was dead, I thought he lived through an interesting time television-wise. He was at the inception of serious and some not so serious television analysis. Then he was at the forefront of its serious criticism only to see it become obsolete as everyone with a laptop and a mouth became an instant television expert and their well articulated thoughts were immediately expressed and sent out to every corner of the world seconds after an episode of peak television had aired or even during the airing of an episode. By the time we got to read Clive's reflections on his latest box set it was redundant. We had moved on, heard it all before ad nauseam. This is not a criticism of Clive, merely an observation of the swift change of media platforms, how they're consumed and peoples attitudes towards telly. Clive made us all Mini-Clives and that was that.

 

Having said that I am curious as to what Clive James thought of the third series of The Crown as there was none more eloquent than our dear departed Clive. The Crown #3 was finally dumped on Netflix a week ago and well, you all have your own opinions on the matter but for me it was slightly anti-climactical. I did not love or enjoy the cast changeover. When it was announced a couple of years back that they were going to meddle with what had been two seasons of television perfection I couldn't believe it. Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Vanessa Kirby, Victoria Hamilton and John Lithgow had all been impeccable in their roles as royal and political figures. I thought if Netflix can spend a hundred million dollars on an internet telly show why can't they just do some amazing make-up on these actors to get them looking a bit older? Surely that's not too hard. It also seemed like such a risky decision considering the amount of money being spent but they went ahead and did it.


First of all the choice of Helena Bonham Carter was the weirdest. She's a divisive actor, actually I don't know anyone who would utter the words "I love Helena Bonham Carter. She's fantastic!" In the end I didn't hate her I was just indifferent to her as Princess Margaret. Vanessa Kirby had been scintillating and unforgettable as the polymorphously perverse and recalcitrant Margo in the first two seasons. Then there was Olivia Coleman. Everybody loves her and she's brilliant in Peep Show, Hot Fuzz, The Night Manager, Broadchurch, Fleabag etc. It's very hard to get past the fact that you are watching Olivia doing the queen though. Coleman's natural charisma and cheeky sunny smile can't help but escape onto the screen. She just has too many qualities that the actual Queen doesn't seem to possess. They didn't change John Lithgow as Winston Churchill thank heavens although 'spoiler alert' he was only in a couple of scenes before his demise. I can live with the new Queen mum, Lord Mountbatten and Prince Charles. The revelation in season three cast-wise has been Tobias Menzies as the belligerent Prince Philip. He is just fantastic and very similar in looks and demeanour to the previous actor playing Prince Philip Matt Smith. I feel like Menzies really did his homework to make this transition the smoothest of all the character change overs. The other great new edition to the cast is Erin Doherty as Princess Anne. Although I don't know anything about the real Anne, Doherty is a great lookalikey and inhabits her apparent frank character with vigour.


My perceptions of the royal family probably differ to that of many Australians and most of the British. I never followed them with interest but they were always in my house from the day I was born to this very day in the form of pictures in magazines mainly and on the telly. I always thought they were fucking dull, inbred and didn't deserve their status in life. So it feels like this show has made them much more cool and likeable than they really are. I mean in this latest season I started thinking Charles was honourable and I absolutely loved Anne. Philip is the one though who I now think is so fucking cool but isn't he just a grumpy backwards twerp in real life? They even manage, particularly in the first two seasons, to make the Queen sexy...ew!


Anyway season three was mostly very good but I'm sorry it cannot compare to the television superiority of the first two seasons of The Crown. The famous faces and casting choices were just too distracting. I would have gone for less famous people than Olivia Coleman and Helena Bonham Carter to ensure a cohesive transition from season two to season three. Still it's a testament to the show runners that I watched it at all, didn't immediately switch it off and rather enjoyed it.  

I've also just caught up with The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story which was from last year. Hey I'm only a year behind on this one! While the tv series is excellent there are a couple of problems. For a start the title is very misleading. It is not a show strictly about the assassination of Versace. It is a series about the serial killer Andrew Cunanan. He killed five people, one of which was Gianni Versace. I would have called it The Killing Of Versace & Other Murders: The Story Of Andrew Cunanan. The telly-makers also make the show unnecessarily confusing by jumbling the narrative to a stupidly knotty degree. There are so many flash backs and flash forwards it becomes tedious and almost unwatchable. If it wasn't for the sublime cast particularly Darren Criss as Cunanan I think I would have switched it off. The story is so bizarre, it is totally compelling. It would have benefitted from a straight chronological telling of the tale with perhaps the flashback device being used only once or twice. Emma and I thought that the suspense would have been much higher had it been a linear narrative. The Assassination Of... is pretty disturbing stuff, unlike say Mindhunter this mainly follows the life and events of the murderer not the detectives investigating the case. You are stuck in Cunanan's world to a frightening degree. This is a depraved and depressing place to dwell. It's almost enough to put you off serial killer shows and movies altogether. The police really only come into it during the final episode. If the last two episodes of this series had been released as a theatrical film it would have gone down in history as an instant classic. 

*I'm well aware of the irony of this article. Go ahead say it. "This is so redundant man."

RECENTLY RE/WATCHED MOVIES

Cobra (1986) 
Berserk entertainment 80s stylee. Panos's dad George P Cosmatos directs this over the top ultra violent action/renegade cop movie with a whole lotta style and pizazz. First of all we get a siege inside a supermarket so Cobra (Sylvester Stallone) is called in for his special services. He is part of an elite team of the LAPD known as The Zombie Squad. Cobra finds out that an evil organisation known as The New World are not only responsible for this hostage situation but a whole bunch of other crimes. The New World might just be an army of serial killers. Holy Shit! What can be done? Cobra & The Zombie Squad need to track down and kill New World's leader The Night Slasher (Brian Thompson) but who is he? And have The Zombie Squad been infiltrated by a Mole? An edge of the seat of your pants delight.


Magnolia (1999)
An epic melodramatic dirge that's very of its time. Speaking of time, is three hours and nine minutes long enough for ya? Magnolia is surely designed to make you anxious and put you at maximum unease which nearly pushes it into horror territory. It's full of OTT actoring from an incredible ensemble cast that includes Phil Seymour Hoffman, Felicity Huffman, John C Reilly, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Philip Baker Hall, William H Macy, Jason Robards and quite a few more. Magnolia is all about flashy film craft ie. the directing, cinematography, editing and soundtrack are all at a supreme level. This movie seems to be a meditation on people who think parents fucked me up so I'm gonna have a little cry about it instead of taking responsibility for my own actions and life. Magnolia's basically a film full of arseholes who give themselves way too much morbid self attention and who are almost all unlikable. So now I'm done with this  movie for the rest of my life so thanks Paul Thomas Anderson...er...I've probably watched it eight or nine times, that's a lot of hours. Worth watching at least once to experience 90s film-making at its highest level, if you have enough time left on earth that is.

In The Tall Grass (2019)
More Netflix bullshit. There is no need to press the play button on this internet horror movie. Is it time to perhaps consider a Netflix subscription cancellation?


Hard Ticket To Hawaii (1987)
El cheapo 80s exploitation but made with obvious chops. The director Andy Sidaris was originally an award winning director of sports TV. This is deliberately cheesy and somewhat endearing. A tale of good versus evil of biblical proportions to be watched off yer head with friends who are in a similar state of inebriation. Hard Ticket To Hawaii includes boobs, a very young Ridge from The Bold & The Beautiful, some pretty funny dialogue, tits, strange acting, a mutant killer snake, smuggling of drugs & diamonds, norks, frisbees of death, jacuzzis, bazookas, nefarious skateboarders with blow up sex dolls, crappy death scenes, breasts and I think there was some kind of kung-fu. Late night movie of the week.


The Laughing Policeman (1973)
This film doesn't get any less odd the more times you watch it. It's interesting for the outstanding performances of Bruce Dern & Walter Matthau. Then you wonder whether the story warrants such an extravagant production that gets into the minutiae of criminal street life in early 70s San Fransisco. Then you think yeah of course it does because it's more of a true indication of what cops have to go through during a murder investigation. Real investigations are not brilliantly twisted crowd pleasing narratives. The world is complicated, not everything is easily explained away and there are not always straight answers. Police work is full of puzzling dead ends, frustration, grimy characters, sad lives, senseless actions, boring stakeouts, daily routines, arsehole shenanigans, casual violence, psychological collateral damage etc. The script is pretty bloody 1973 and it's so good. You can't really fuck up the cinematography in the always scenic San Francisco can you? Jake Martin (Matthau) the grumpy ageing laconic gum chewing cop who's seen too much and Leo Larsen (Dern) the young tactless smart-arse are the two unlikely cops who are partnered up with each other. This cop duo are thrust together after Martin's previous partner was shot dead in a spree killing on a night bus. We get a whole lotta underground 1970s San Fransisco here in gay leather bars, drag queens, male strippers, pimps, hookers, drug dealers, creepy businessmen, jaded cops etc. Amongst the gritty urban realism we get fabulous 70s cars, furniture, fashion and vernacular. Director Stuart Rosenberg is an underrated film-maker probably because his work is so diverse thus not fitting neatly enough into the American 70s auteur model. Critics and fans alike need to drop these antiquated terms and just rate directors on their batting average I reckon. An absolute must watch for any fan of 70s crime films.


The Driver (1978)
Every now and then I have to check if my favourite movies are still great. Check! Bruce Dern's character here could almost be a continuation of Inspector Larsen who he played in The Laughing Policeman (1973). The Driver includes cars, fast cars, car stunts, car chases, car POV shots and car crashes...oh and some robberies, trains, gunslinging shootouts western stylee and Isabelle Adjani! This is a film stripped down to an elemental level. Minimal. You either know The Driver as one of the best movies of the 70s and one of Walter Hill's finest works or you probably don't care.

Stick (1985)
Wow this is just bad. At the start I thought Stick was gonna be some good trashy 80s crime fun but after an hour I couldn't take it anymore. How on earth do you cock up an Elmore Leonard screenplay? After Burt Reynolds directed the near masterpiece Sharkey's Machine (1981) his directing career ground to a halt here with this epic fail. For all I know maybe something bad was going on behind the scenes and maybe this was a troubled shoot. George Segal, Burt Reynolds, Candice Bergen, Alex Rocco and Charles Durning all reach the nadir of their careers in the same movie no less. Avoid like the plague.


Sorcerer (1977) 
All you ever seem to hear about this movie is its hard luck story. I feel like you're meant to feel sorry for Sorcerer and rate it way higher than it should be because Star Wars (1977) killed it. Let's get real here. This film was never destined to become a box office smash. For a start the first quarter of the film is all pretty much in subtitles. You know how much Americans love subtitles? They fucking don't. The first half of the film is basically flab that could have been condensed into five or ten minutes. The second half is where it's at and is pretty much masterful but hey!, that's only half a good movie. Now I can understand that a movie like The Thing (1982) really did miss out on success because it's a film that is great from the get go and could have had mass appeal. Sorcerer not so much. William Friedkin's earlier classics The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) had real crowd pleasing exciting/horrific moments that made them instant classics of their respective genres but Sorcerer is pretty much a movie about a truck trying to cross a rickety bridge. Sorcerer was always a difficult film and has been quite lucky to become a critically rehabilitated cult film due to some clever hindsight marketing and repositioning. Four dodgy criminal blokes hiding from their own four countries strangely all end up in the same village of Porviner in the South American jungle. This foursome are also all recruited by an oil company as truck drivers for a perilous journey to move some shonky dynamite a few hundred miles to an oil well. The tension created during this dangerous trip is fantastic, all actors are outstanding and the film finally comes alive. Be on the lookout for Joe Spinell in a tiny role as Spider, a dude who tries to get the the truckin gig but fails the driving test. Why is it called Sorcerer? It's a terrible title that seems to have nothing to do with the film whatsoever. It sounds like some daft fantasy movie which would have been another handicap for its commercial chances.


Impulse (1984)
Now this is what I'm talking 'bout. Impulse is a mysterious sci-fi/rural horror kinda thing that was a total surprise packet in the very best way possible. Once again Kino Lorber (a blu-ray label) pull out a barely known undervalued gem and shine a light on it by giving the film a beautiful blu-ray transfer. A quiet and isolated little country town is rocked by a small earthquake. The town's population then become erratic or as the title suggests start acting impulsively. The usually anodyne community become mean, suicidal, uninhibited, anti-social, violent and even homicidal. What's going on? How can it be stopped? Stars Meg Tilly, Tim Matheson, Bill Paxton and Hume Cronyn. A fantastic premise that's expertly executed. I recommend.

*Weird footnote. Meg Tilly plays a character called Jennifer. So I kept thinking it was Jennifer Tilly. Now I wonder if Jennifer Tilly has played a character named Meg.


Busting (1974)
Why isn't this film considered a cult movie or a classic movie or something? It's quite possibly my all time favourite cop film. Hey it has stiff completion too particularly from the same era in The French Connection (1971), The Laughing Policeman (1973), Electra Glide In Blue (1973) Freebie & The Bean (1974), Report To The Commissioner (1975) et al. Elliot Gould (Michael) and Robert Blake (Patrick) have extraordinary chemistry and are brilliant in this funny lil' caper as the smart-arse, burnt out, politically incorrect, recalcitrant and incompetent LAPD vice squad detectives. I wish they'd made a Busting sequel for every following year up until, I dunno, 1982. Detectives Michael and Patrick just feel like real lived in characters with their warts and all, funny and some not necessarily nice characteristics. They are not meant to be role models. They are flawed and inadequate human beings and thank god for their depiction of these mortal characteristics. You probably wouldn't be able to portray such nuanced individuals in a Hollywood movie in this day and age with all their rules and committees and what not. I recommend.


The New Centurions (1972)
This is a serious cop drama and it's seriously great. Another 70s crime gem that doesn't make the canonical lists. Richard Fleischer's finest film in my book. Roy Fehler (Stacy Keach) is fresh out of the police academy and is paired up with veteran copper Andy Kilvinski (George C Scott). Roy is intending to only work for the LAPD temporarily while he studies law at night school. Roy becomes obsessed with his work as a copper though which causes problems in his marriage. Cops and robbers shenanigans ensue with shoot outs, car chases, hold ups, unorthodox police methods, hookers, unfair gay arrests, alcoholism, illegal immigrants, depression etc. The drama meets the action in The New Centurions and it doesn't disappoint. Also stars Erik Estrada, Scott Wilson, Clifton James, Jane Alexander etc. with a tasty soundtrack from Quincy Jones.


St Ives (1976)
I was thinking 'Did Charles Bronson appear in more movies than anybody else in history?' but before he even popped up on the screen Elisha Cook Jr reared his head and I thought well hang on he's probably been in even more movies. Raymond St Ives (Charles Bronson) is a likeable ex-copper come crime-writer. His solitary life is interrupted by the shifty Abner Procane (John Houseman) who hires him to do a simple go-between job that involves the return of some stolen goods. Things are not what they seem though and soon the plot boils over with murder, shonky cops, a femme fatale (Jacqueline Bisset), a dodgy psychiatrist (Maxmilian Schell), more murder and some kind of confusing conspiracy. Look out for Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund in tiny roles as a hoods #3 & #1 respectively. There are some choice 70s locations including Raymond's Hotel, a laundromat, a Drive-In and a classic dodgy cafeteria all captured rather nicely on celluloid. The Lalo Schifrin score is fabulous. St Ives is an ok movie with some crucial evidence withheld from the viewer thus taking the solving of the mystery out of your hands which was a bit of a shame because it had a cool atmosphere and the film felt like it was leading up to a big ending but that was a little anti-climactical. The ending has a Murder She Wrote type of wrap up which was kinda fitting as Raymond St Ives was writing a crime book.


Sexy Beast (2000)
This is all about the optimum powerhouse actoring, particularly the interaction between the two main characters Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) and Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) then later the brilliant Ian McShane in a small but pivotal role as Teddy Bass. I hadn't watched this since it was in cinemas and totally forgot what a fucking bizarre movie this is. Thankfully it's also very entertaining. Like the aforementioned Magnolia this is all about the flashy film-making but unlike that film Sexy Beast has a plot to compliment its flash. Gal Dove was a successful now retired British gangster who specialised in cracking safes and is now living the good life in sunny Spain. He gets a a call from his old pal Don Logan the psychotic criminal kingpin asking him to join his gang back in England for one last heist. Gal declines the offer. Does he have a choice though? Don eventually arrives in Spain unannounced to menace Gal into taking part in this future criminal endeavour. The plot then unfurls in a spectacular display of pure sound and vision. Don is so vile that his heinous gangster colleagues don't even like him. Ben Kingsley as Don goes all the way and over the top here and is truly terrifying, deranged and absurd. Amanda Redman, Cavan Kendall, Julianne White, James Fox and Alvaro Monje are fantastic as the supporting cast. Sexy Beast is an incredibly assured debut film for the idiosyncratic director Jonathan Glazer who has only made two films since.


Night Moves (1975)
The grubbiest neo-noir of the 70s. This movie's vibe feels just as gross as the extreme horror and exploitation flicks of the same era. This new hollywood apex from the great Arthur Penn is where the nefarious intrigue reaches a cesspit and the bleakness is infinite. Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is an LA private detective hired by Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) to find her missing sixteen year old daughter Delly Grastner (Melanie Griffith). Just what the hell is Delly up to? Twisted and delirious antics ensue. The plot really thickens from here but never gets bogged down in being too convoluted. We go from LA to Florida and back again and then back again to Florida as the mystery unfolds. Most of the characters here participate is an array of unhinged roguery. Sometimes I think this is the best film of the New Hollywood era or at least the most emblematic. Gene Hackman's greatest role is right here folks plus a terrific score from Michael Small.

Sisters (1973)
I thought I'd give this film another shot after 15 or so years but it seems I just don't like Brian De Palma movies very much. This starts out with an intriguing premise and blows it halfway through going from absurd to ridiculous and back again but not in a good way, in an unsatisfying manner. Margot Kidder is damn fine though as is the OTT sonics of the score from Bernard Hermann.



Villain (1971)
Film script writer Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Man On The Moon, Dolemite Is My Name) alerted me to this film months ago calling it a masterpiece. I finally got round to watching it. Villain is a whole lotta wrong and yeah it's pretty pretty fucking good. Right up there in the British gangster pantheon along with Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa and Sexy Beast. I don't get why it isn't as famous as those aforementioned titles because the script is full of great quotable dialogue that should be absolutely iconic to gangster film buffs across the world. Maybe the British particularly East Londoners were put off by having the Welshman Richard Burton play the vile cockney crime boss Vic Dakin. Burton as the loving mummy's boy Dakin is an incredibly entertaining miscreant of a character though. The conflicted Dakin's sordid relationship with Wolfe Lissner (Ian McShane) which involves a bit of rough stuff is just one aspect of his brutal, sadistic and disturbed personality. Along with the sordid we get kinky sex parties, crooked MPs, murdered people hung out of windows, sunny days with mum at the pier, blackmail, a payroll heist, snitches, car chases, toilet scenes, smart arse cops, an excellent soundtrack from Jonathan Hodge and general degeneracy.....what's not to love?


The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Cops and robbers crime drama in excelsis directed by Peter Yates. This is not action packed so it's not going to be for everyone. It's a low key drama about the daily grind and minutiae of small time criminal life. We get crooks with short term goals making deals with cops to improve their hopes of longevity or at least less time in prison. Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle put in sterling understated performances as criminals and informants in 1970s Boston. The rest of the cast are spot on too. It's refreshing to see a crime movie of this era not set in the usual NYC or LA. We get some terrific urban Boston locations ie. neighbourhood bars, dodgy cafeterias, tunnels, car parks etc. This film goes along at a leisurely pace but the tension builds in the last fifteen minutes to a good lil climax. Dave Grusin provides an excellent soundtrack. This feels like a Sopranos (1999-2007) blueprint. If you just replaced each character here with a Sopranos cast member this could easily be an episode of that classic HBO television show. Not only that it would be one of its best. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is probably for 70s crime enthusiasts and Robert Mitchum fanatics only.


Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)
This film is probably most famous for having Robert Forster riding naked on a horse. It was also his film debut. Reflections In... is a strange and perverse epic. Adult themes include voyeurism, depression, gas-lighting, homosexual repression, stalking, animal cruelty, mental illness, heterosexual repression, eruptive violence, psychological abuse and much more. This is set on an isolated military base where Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) is a lecturer. Somewhere within the grounds away from the barracks are some lovely houses. One contains Major and Leonora Penderton (Liz Taylor) and the other is the home of another married couple Lieutenant Colonel Morris (Brian Keith) and Alison Langdon (Julie Harris) with their Filipino house boy Anacleto (Zorro David). Needless to say the wives are bored. Leonora has her eyes on Lt Col Langdon while The Major becomes intrigued by Private Williams (Forster) after seeing him starkers on that horsey. Private Williams on the other hand is a creepy perv with an obsession for Leonora and lord knows what else. One outrageous scene has Liz whipping Marlon across the face with a riding crop in front of all of her party's guests. Suffice to say a tumultuous climax is imminent. Liz is at her playful and outlandish best here and Marlon is at his most uniquely Brando-y. Sometimes I wonder what demented person allowed Marlon Brando onto our cinema screens. I can never tell if he's just shite, the strangest creature the world has ever known or some kind of genius. It probably depends on the role. His voice and accent here are just pure fucking alien-ese. Julie Harris puts in an impressive performance as Alison Langdon, a woman who's been through severe depressive episodes after a traumatic miscarriage but sometimes she is the most sound minded character in the entire film. Then there's the wonderfully exotic Zorro David as the ├╝ber-flamboyant Anacleto making the uptight husbands irritated and resentful. I can't help but think that American Beauty (1999) stole a thing or two from this curious classic.


The Thing (1982)
It's Friday night and the 3 and a half hours of Scorsese's The Irishman (2019) just seemed way too daunting for tired eyes. 1 hour and 48 minutes of The Thing felt just right though. This movie gets better each time you watch it. Masterful film-making trimmed of all fat for your superior scary entertainment needs. Added ice, snow, fire and explosions to further enhance your viewing pleasure. The fucking best.

2 comments:

  1. Gday Tim.
    Hard Ticket To Hawaii has got to be one of my favourite b-grade movies. Highly entertaining. I've seen a few other Sidaris films, but I think HTTH was the funniest. I watched The Driver the other night actually. It was pretty good but it kind of lacked character development I thought. Seems to be the case with Hill's films. Although you could argue that it gives the protoganist a "mysterious" quality. I think I saw Cobra some years back. I can't remember much of it except for some asinine scenes with Brigitte Nielson adding tons of sauce to her chips and a photo shoot? Not sure if I'm thinking of the correct film. Night Moves is on my list to see and unbelievably, I still haven't watched The Thing but know I must see it.

    I tried to watch 48 hours but gave up an hour into it. Those fight scenes man, too much suspension of disbelief than I can manage. Just quickly, I want to recommend Thief from 1981. I can't write for peanuts, so I won't be reviewing it and especially on someone else's blog. But if your looking for material, check it out. Maybe you have already? Ciao.

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  2. Hey Dan!

    I probably wouldn't go into THE DRIVER or other Walter Hill Films looking for character development. I wouldn't say Ryan O'Neal's character was meant to be mysterious so much as blank. Similar to that of characters in TWO LANE BLACKTOP, THE PASSENGER et al. Characters who are null and void and interchangeable. I'm sure the interweb is full of theories on these type of 70s voided characters.

    I feel THE THING may not live up to its expectations but you gotta watch it before you die. COBRA was a delirious hoot. Actually that whole bunch of above films was mostly of very high quality. The films I talk about that are truly not worth watching do not get a picture. So I put a Pic of THE SORCERER because it's worth a look for historical purposes even though I don't understand the love it's been given retroactively. I watched THEIF a while back. I'll probably watch again soon.

    Cheers.

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