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Second Half Of 2020 Film Round Up + Podcast

…Otherwise known as the extreme Christmas round up. I didn’t watch too many films until November when I figured I’d so something about the fact Christmas was going to be quieter and make it festive in other ways.

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Bringing Up Baby (USA, 1938) – A paleontologist, trying to get on with his work and prepare for his marriage, meets an all-over-the-place woman who pushes him to help her with her leopard. Obviously unrealistic and over-the-top but nevertheless absolutely hilarious.

Brief Encounter (UK, 1945) – Two strangers meet in a railway station café and begin a short affair. Definitely best in the context of the era.

Christmas Ever After (USA, 2020) – A writer goes on her annual Christmas holiday to a winter lodge and meets a man who looks exactly the same as the man in the artwork that graces her book covers; the predictable ensues. This is a bog-standard made-for-TV movie but the reason I’ve not included it in my Christmas list below is because this is a movie that has broken ground that’s taken forever to break. Whilst the story itself may be run-of-the-mill, the cast is good, and, most importantly, there is diversity. The lead uses a wheelchair. There is zero mention of her disability, zero questions on it, zero mockery, indeed the only time such a thing comes anywhere close is when she simply mentions that shes ‘going for a push’. It’s about freaking time this happened, and full props to Lifetime for doing this, the film gets a 5 from me just for that though the fact the cast are decent definitely makes it a lot better – and an actual disabled person/person with a disability playing the role! In addition to this, the as-I’ve-started-to-understand usual non-white best friend role (if there are non-white actors they have almost always been a sidekick of sorts) is an independent woman who is there for guidance and otherwise gets on with her own life; there is also a woman who likes the hero but isn’t in anyway nasty, which makes a change too. All around fabulous, grammar rules be damned.

Frozen II (USA, 2019) – Elsa and co. go in search of the spirits that have the power to bring peace. Definitely an exercise in ‘how do we make more money from this?’ but there are some very good moments.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (Keep Dancing) (India, 2007) – When a man approaches a woman at Waterloo Station she pretends to be engaged to put him off chatting her up, and he follows suit, making up his own fiancée; the fictionised stories of the two relationships are told as they spend more time with each other. Another film that’s difficult to summarise without spoilers; one of the best Bollywood films I’ve seen to date. Absolutely top-notch comedy, good references to older films and the actors’ real-life connections to each other, and just all-round fun.

Moana (USA, 2016) – A young woman in centuries-past Polynesia secretly takes on the task of finding the god that took away with him an essential ingredient to the community’s island’s peace. Pretty fun in parts but the limited scope in terms of location – in other words, most of the film taking place on a tiny boat – has a big affect on the over all product.

Muppets Most Wanted (USA, 2014) – During rehearsals for a stage show, Kermit is kidnapped and replaced by a Russian criminal who is also a frog. Some of the humour is good but I personally felt this went a bit too far with the stereotypes.

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12 Days Of Giving (USA, 2017) – A man wins $50,000 dollars and decides to donate it to various people he meets day-to-day to the upset of his fiancⅇ one of the people is a child who wants to play ice hockey and lives with his single mother… yep, it’s predictable. But also fairly good, a nice enough watch.

Broadcasting Christmas (USA, 2016) – Two presenters, past lovers, compete to gain the role of co-host on a popular morning show. Standard plot with above average actors; that one of them is Melissa Joan Hart makes it much better.

Christmas At Graceland (USA, 2018) – A business executive travels to her hometown to work on a takeover deal but finds the idea of a big corporation taking over a caring family company difficult, meanwhile she meets an old flame who she used to sing with. The film would be okay if the real-life country star who plays the lead could also act.

Christmas Cookies (USA, 2016) – A business… yeah, okay, this film has the exact same set up as the previous one, just with a cookie company instead of finance. It even has the same male lead, however as he can act and as the female lead of this one can, too, it works.

Christmas In Homestead (USA, 2016) – A filmstar visits a cute Christmas-loving town for her latest film and starts to fall for the owner of the hotel and his young daughter. Nice enough; bog standard.

A Christmas Love Story (USA, 2019) – When her choir rehearsals are joined by a new kid, the teacher has to work out a way to convince his father that he should be allowed to stay – and the father turns out to be the nice man she shared a taxi with. There is a lot more going for this film than a spoiler-free premise would suggest; for all the predictability it’s actually a very decent film.

The Christmas Train (USA, 2017) – Two journalists who used to be together happen to take the same sleeper train just before Christmas; one of them is there with her boss, a director whose film she is writing. This film has an interesting concept, a different concept, but it’s far too sickly sweet, the green-screening is too obvious, and the surprise ending that really didn’t need to be there wrecks everything that came before.

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A Dream Of Christmas (USA, 2016) – A woman who wonders ‘what if’ is transported to a version of her life where she took the job offer and didn’t meet her husband. Nice enough.

A Godwink Christmas (USA, 2018) – A woman who’s unsure about her relationship goes to stay with her aunt but gets stuck in a cute town when her car breaks down and starts to fall for the owner of the hotel she ends up spending the night in. This would have been okay if there had been an ounce of chemistry between the leads.

Love You Like Christmas (USA, 2016) – A woman who works in advertising breaks down halfway through her journey and has to stay in the Christmasy village she comes to. Average plot – samey plot, in fact – above average actors; it turns out that a plot that’s been done to death can still have a breakthrough if the script is done right and is at least somewhat believeable.

Marry Me At Christmas (USA, 2017) – A bridal shop owner helps the sister of a filmstar plan her wedding and falls for the filmstar. Average.

Mistletoe & Menorahs (USA, 2019) – A woman who needs to learn about Hannukah to impress clients meets up with a Jewish guy who needs to learn about Christmas to impress his partner’s family. This film had a lot of potential – it’s a different premise, the actors are great, and so on – but it does miss the mark where the Christmas being taught is simply decorations and the Hannukah taught is how to light the menorah and make one item of food. Had there had been… more, this would’ve been a really good one.

The Mistletoe Promise (USA, 2016) – Two strangers who hate Christmas agree to pretend to be in a relationship to further their careers. Predictable premise well saved by decent actors and a good script.

A Rose For Christmas (USA, 2017) – A businessman is assigned to help create the festival float that will represent his company and the float company owner is a woman he’s going to fall for. Unrealistic and not a great story – the float’s also incredibly naff given it’s to promote a fair sized company.

Why do I watch these Christmas films? It’s certainly a good question when so many aren’t great – the ones that are good are pretty awesome, and therein lies the conundrum. I did do better this year; whilst still choosing premises that sounded okay, any that weren’t working for me within about 20 minutes were turned off in favour of the next. There were a ton and I only watched ones early on; I saw as the weeks went on that films added often had black actors in the main roles which was good to see; it seems this year’s productions have favoured more diversity in general and I’m looking forward to catching up on those next time.


This week’s podcast episode is with Katy Yocom. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Katy Yocom (Three Ways To Disappear) discuss tiger conservation in India and balancing numbers alongside human requirements for life, the importance of being diligent when writing about a culture that is not your own, and what the three ways to disappear are.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
First Half Of 2020 Film Round Up

I originally wrote a long tract for this paragraph; in sum, thank you Amazon for enabling easy, affordable, and constant, access to films from all over the world. You may be problematic but you (and Netflix most likely – I don’t have that) are doing what other companies and cinemas over here rarely if ever bothered with. On the more usual topic, the list below is a bit patchy, as might be expected at this time, but it also contains more than a usual number of long-awaited films, so for that I’m happy.

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Booksmart (USA, 2019) – Two US college near-graduates realise that by way of working hard they’ve missed out on the social experience and decide to spend the night before graduation at various parties. When I saw this advertised on the Underground, my quickly-get-on-the-train brain may have taken the title literally and considered a film about literature students; never mind, it’s a good film anyway.

Emma (UK, 2020) – Based on the book. Not perfect but a heck of a lot of fun. The way it diverts from the original story had obviously been much considered.

Jawaani Jaaneman (Youthful Lover) (India, 2020) – A 40-something-year-old man who still enjoys a party (understatement) meets a very attractive young woman in a club; it turns out she’s his daughter and he’s soon to become a grandfather. A pretty fun film; goes down a few ‘filler’ avenues and certainly isn’t Saif Ali Khan’s best, but it was a good few hours.

Little Women (USA, 2019) – Covering both part one and part two of the original. I think this is the best adaptation I have ever seen. I’m planning a review of it at some point but in sum, the production team have taken the autobiographical basis and applied it to perfect effect – it’s full of background context and studies of the various ‘controversial’ aspects.

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Oklahoma! (USA, 1955) – A young man invites a woman to a dance but he doesn’t do it in the specific way she wanted so she says no and the rest of the film is spent getting them back together. Wanted to see this one since childhood; didn’t like it.

South Pacific (USA, 1958) – A lieutenant on an island army base is roped into a sudden relationship, and a nurse falls in love with a Frenchman who has taken up residence on the island, but then doesn’t want to be with him because he has children who are mixed race. Absolutely hated this one; I’ve since read that the idea is it explores issues of racism but I didn’t see that myself – the racism is there, certainly, but the commentary…

The Wedding Party (Nigeria, 2016) – Two people from wealthy families become engaged to be married; multiple clashes between the two sets of parents and the interference of an ex-girlfriend lead to many problems but the couple are determined. Until the sequel was released, this was the biggest Nigerian blockbuster and it’s not hard to see why; the characters are fantastic and it is often absolutely hilarious.

The Wedding Party 2 (Nigeria, 2017) – The English bridesmaid and the brother of the groom from the previous film have continued their relationship; owing to a misunderstanding they become engaged after a few short months and plans are afoot for a destination wedding. Even better than the first – you know most of the characters by now so the humour starts early on and the additional jokes work well.

What have you been watching in these strange times?

 
Second Half Of 2019 Film Round Up

Lots of classics here. I’ve listed the Hallmark made-for-TV Christmas movies at the bottom; whilst some are really good I can’t deny that they are guilty pleasures.

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Aladdin (USA, 2019) – This mostly follows the same storyline as that used in Disney’s 1992 cartoon version. It’s awesome. It was evident that they acknowledged Will Smith is very different to Robin Williams so instead they aligned the genie to Smith and it worked incredibly well. Loved the changed lyrics. Didn’t think giving Jasmine a new plot thread worked as well but understand why they did it.

Charlie’s Angels (USA, 2000) – Three women employed by a mysterious man they have never met look to stop a killer. Maybe it’s the age of the original showing through, but I wasn’t keen.

Enchanted April (UK, 1992) – Four women of differing personalities and backgrounds club together in order to rent a castle for a month’s holiday. This has all the atmosphere of the book and is quite wonderful. I found myself appreciating Scrap much more (though her nickname is left out in the film) and it brought to my attention the way that Briggs and Scrap being together would mean the seven of them would be able to return. The only drawback from the film was the way everything seemed to happen over a matter of days but that’s just the nature of a film trying to show a month – the script did include plenty of references to the passing of time.

His Girl Friday (USA, 1940) – A newspaper editor tries to sabotage the new relationship of his ex-wife, a reporter, getting her to cover a story only two hours before she’s due to catch a train. This was fulfilling in a technical way – it’s a dialogue-heavy play on screen and very funny. Unfortunately it also uses a word we consider racist – it’s used once but does make a mark. The film is in the public domain.

McLintock! (USA, 1963) – Based on The Taming Of The Shrew, a landowner’s estranged wife returns from the city and he tries to get her back. I’d never seen a John Wayne film and as one of his films that’s in the public domain it’s easy to find this one in good quality (Amazon has at least two). Best viewed in its full context, in which it’s enjoyable enough.

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Mughal-E-Azam (The Great Mughal) (India, 1960) – A prince falls in love with a court dancer and his father becomes enraged. I’d wanted to see this classic and I’m glad I did, but in this case I’m also glad it’s behind me as whilst the story itself is okay the father’s wrath just gets worse and worse. I watched the colourised version, which has been done very well.

Sholay (Embers) (India, 1975) – Two thieves are summoned to the aid of a policeman who once arrested them; he needs their help to catch a murderer. Like the previous film, I’d been wanting to see this one for years but in this case I’m truly glad I did; its blockbuster factors are in evidence. Essentially an Indian wild west film with lots of good humour and many pairs of flares, nowadays just beware the violence.

Top Hat (USA, 1935) – A man wakes a woman up tap dancing in the apartment above hers and decides to pursue a relationship with her; all the while she mistakes him for the husband of her friend. Other than the pursuing, this is a great film, and I say that as someone who isn’t into tap dancing in musicals. The humour works incredibly well still today.

Wonder Woman (USA, 2017) – The daughter of a god chooses to leave her people’s island sanctuary to help the allies in World War Two fight against the Germans, who she believes are led by an enemy god. For me, that it was about a real event didn’t work, much better if it had been pure fantasy.

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Christmas With A Prince: Becoming Royal (USA, 2019) – The continuing story of a paediatrician and her romance with her childhood acquaintance who happens to be a prince. Watched purely because it was a sequel and thus a very easy option on a sick day; I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise, it’s very contrived.

Christmas At Pemberley Manor (USA, 2018) – An event planner helps a town reestablish their Christmas festival, aiming to use an old house owned by a famous billionaire that is due to be demolished. There is only a slight resemblance to Jane Austen here in the main characters’ names and the house, but the film itself is nice enough.

A Christmas Movie Christmas (USA, 2019) – A woman who loves Christmas films, together with her sister who couldn’t care less, wake up on Christmas Day to find themselves in a perfect Christmas village, complete with the Christmas-loving sister’s favourite actor already set up as her boyfriend. This film is essentially a parody of Christmas films and it’s a lot of fun for what it is, the sisters foreshadowing events that take place. The ending is pretty great, too, almost parodying the parody.

Christmas Around the Corner (USA, 2018) – A workaholic decides to spend Christmas in a small town working at a bookshop that can be hired by tourists. Whilst still definitely made for TV, this film is pretty good – it obviously helps that it’s about a bookshop and that the character wants to bring in more custom – but it’s a fair film objectively, too.

BBC iplayer now has a dedicated category for classic films so needless to say I’ve already watched one film this year and plan on another few before they’ve been taken down from the application. Other than that I have a long list on Amazon that I need to sort through, and I’m looking forward to it.

Which films have you enjoyed recently?

 
First Half Of 2019 Film Round Up

Looking at my list over the weekend, knowing I hadn’t watched many films but not thinking it was as ‘bad’ as it turned out to be – I last watched a new film in April – I already expect to do better in the latter six months this year. I’ll be wanting to up my numbers and I’m always aware of the short shelf life of films on subscription services.

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Beauty And The Beast (USA/UK, 2017) – I’d been ready to find this not as good as hoped, having read a few negative reviews, but I have to disagree with them. It is a great pity that so much of this film is CGI – Dan Stephens in a mask would have been better however outdated it may have looked – but the script and the acting is a lot of fun. I was hoping for a copy of the much-loved library but the use of a library in a historic house wasn’t bad.

The Black Knight (USA, 2001) – The reality of this film wasn’t at all what I’d expected, a seeming vehicle for the actor, a slapstick comedy rather than something more thought-out. I didn’t hate it, but I won’t be watching it again.

Charade (USA, 1963) – Really good film with constant red herrings and changes of perception. But perhaps the best part is that it’s in the public domain and there are some wonderful high-quality versions about. I put Grant and Hepburn into Google, hoping this wasn’t the only film they made together; unfortunately it is.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (UK/France, 2018) – A very good adaptation of the book which gets around the ‘problem’ of story being epistolary with aplomb.

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Jumanji (USA, 1995) – I’d seen parts of this film before and enjoyed it. It is still good fun in adulthood.

La La Land (USA, 2016) – This was strictly okay; I liked the music but I’m glad I didn’t make a trip to the cinema for it.

The Lego Movie 2 (USA, 2019) – Absolutely awesome. This Song’s Gonna Get Stuck Inside Your Head did get stuck in my head and I didn’t mind a bit.

What films have you seen recently?

 
Second Half Of 2018 Film Round Up

In the last six months, I have seen more films than ever. When, in August, I realised I’d not watched anything since April, I started making it a priority, and as the months went on I looked for Indian films I’d wanted to see (thank you, Amazon!) and films from industries I’d not yet encountered. Here are the films I watched for the first time in the latter half of 2018, with my thoughts added in italics:

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13 Going On 30 (USA, 2004) – Her wish to be 30 immediately fulfilled, 1980s teenager Jenna finds herself in the new century – a magazine editor and best friend to the leader of the ‘cool’ girls pack from high school. But this adult life is missing childhood friend, Matt, the person who was always there for her. A lot of fun and Thriller.

Christmas With A Prince (Canada, 2018) – A pediatrician on a tight budget is offered the chance of funding if she will accept an injured royal onto her ward – a prince she used to know. Very much a TV movie but also an unintentional bookish watch; I was pleasantly surprised to see ‘based on A Harlequin novel’ in the opening credits – it’s an adaptation of a Sarah Morgan book.

Le Concert (France, 2009) – Andreï, a Russian conductor who failed to save the Jews in his orchestra, intercepts an invitation for a conductor to perform in Paris. Andreï searches with his friends for various past members who may or may not hold up their end of the bargain once in France, which isn’t going to go down well with the famous soloist who agrees to join them. A comedy drama in French and Russian, this film is a lot of fun but also very poignant. The full Tchaikovsky piece is included.

Despicable Me (USA, 2010) – A man who has been cruel since childhood hatches a plan to steal the moon but ends up stealing it back from someone who gets there first. Part of Grue’s plan involves adopting children to serve as a ruse and instead of distance he finds himself becoming a father. Very funny. I liked the Annie context, even more when they credited it in the film.

Despicable Me 2 (USA, 2013) – Grue is invited to join an anti-villain operation and gains a partner, who often makes things worse. As good as the previous film.

Despicable Me 3 (USA, 2017) – Grue, Lucy, and the children travel to meet Grue’s twin brother who desperately wants to do something villainous. Good. Loved the screaming goat reference.

Fallen Stars (USA, 2017) – A man with a mundane life meets a girl who seems equally fed up. Excellent, bookish, film. I reviewed it here.

Florence Foster Jenkins (UK, 2016) – Based on a true story, an American woman with a terrible singing voice nevertheless finds fame. Very average. Would’ve been better if they’d started a little earlier in her life and if they hadn’t fictionalised Hugh Grant’s character in regards to relationships (the real man was Florence’s loyal partner).

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Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word (South Africa, 2016) – Lawyer Nandi is mostly happy with her fiancé, she’d just like a bit more say in where they go in life, but when her ex hires her to help his business she’s tempted; Zaza leads a wealthy life but her husband travels a lot and, missing him, she has an affair; artist Princess meets a photographer and while there’s an artistic culture clash, she believes it will work. This is an adaptation of the novel by Cynthia Jele. The acting and execution here is pretty great and it all comes together to make a really good film.

The Incredibles (USA, 2004) – With super heroes made illegal, a family full of powers try to live normal lives until the father can’t take it any more and starts moonlighting as a saviour. Very good.

The Incredibles 2 (USA, 2018) – Still ruled illegal, Helen/Mum/Elastigirl takes a secret hero job while Bob/Dad/Mr Incredible looks after the children until they are inevitably all required to be there. My favourite part of the first film was the subtext that the baby was going to be the most powerful of them all, and so I loved this film much more for the development of the idea.

Kites (India, 2010) – Told in a mix of Hindi, English, and Mexican Spanish: Jay, an American immigrant who has married many women so that they can get green cards and he can get money, finally gets to where he wants to be when the daughter of a wealthy casino owner falls in love with him. But the family have vast connections and criminal backgrounds and when Jay discovers that his future brother-in-law’s girlfriend is the one woman he liked – his last wife he’s not yet divorced – and that she is being abused, he is forced to go on the run with her. Strictly okay – the action is understandably unrealistic, but the ending is a big disappointment.

The Lake House (USA, 2006) – Upon moving out of her beloved home, Kate leaves a letter for the next resident; when Alex finds the letter and replies to her, the pair discover that their time line is reversed. The Hollywood adaptation of a South Korean film, the changes made – few – work well to make this its own product.

A Little Chaos (UK, 2014) – Half based on a true story, the architect of the Sun King’s gardens employs a budding female botanist who has visionary ideas. Nothing breathtaking but well worth seeing. Sadly, Kate Winslet’s character is completely fictional.

Love And Friendship (UK/Ireland, 2016) – This is actually an adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan rather than Love And Freindship; a less-well-off-than-before society lady moves from house to house, creating gossip, helping people in their infidelities, and causing misery for her daughter whom she regards as a problem. The acting and script are superb – they’re both very funny and show off well Austen’s cleverness. The rest of the production isn’t as good.

Minions (USA, 2016) – The story of the Despicable Me Minions from the prehistoric period to the present day. Not sure why this went so wrong but the villain really needed to bow out a lot sooner, and the jokes were far and few between.

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Namastey London (India, 2007) – Jazz, a young British Indian woman, agrees to date Indian men, but messes it up on purpose because she likes her British boss. After a few rounds of this, her parents take her to India to see if they can arrange a marriage because whilst the boss is wealthy, he’s already been married 3 times in 2 years and even his own parents are dissuading Jazz from marrying him. A potential match comes in the form of a family friend, who is willing to wait. Features every Bollywood stereotype to fun, 90s effect. It’s a good story and the acting is okay but whoever added the audio track did a terrible job.

New Year’s Eve (USA, 2011) – The story of several people’s lives as the clock ticks towards midnight. There’s nothing new here that other films of the same type haven’t already done, but it’s a fair choice if you want easy viewing.

One Small Hitch (USA, 2012) – His father in failing health, a man asks the sister of his best friend to pretend to be his fiancée, to make his family happier in the days ahead. This is an independent film and so aspects of it aren’t particularly polished, but the humour and acting are very good. (It’s available on Amazon.)

Paddington 2 (UK, 2017) – Paddington tries to catch a criminal but is arrested himself and the family have to clear his name. Not as good as the first, but still fun.

The Royal Hibicus Hotel (Nigeria, 2017) – Quitting her job as a chef in London, Ope returns to Nigeria to take on her parents’ hotel’s kitchen. What she doesn’t realise is that her father is planning to sell the hotel and the rather handsome man she bumped into at the airport is the prospective buyer. It’s pretty slow which means less character development, but the acting, and the plot, are good.

Step Up (USA, 2016) – A young man who helps to wreck a stage set-up in a prodigious arts school is sent back there for community service, and there he meets a girl who needs a rehearsal partner for her final project. The dancing isn’t as slick as in other dance films but there’s more to it than most films of this genre.

This Beautiful Fantastic (UK, 2016) – An aspiring writer with OCD who hates her garden is told she must tidy it up or leave her rented flat. Superb. A little bit of The Secret Garden, and a hint of Alan Bennett. I reviewed it here.

West Is West (UK, 2010) – George becomes concerned that youngest son, Sajid, is too British, so he takes him to Pakistan to learn about his heritage, moving back into the home of the first wife he left 30 years ago. There are fewer members of the original East Is East cast here, so it’s not the same, but it’s still very funny.

Given my lackluster book statistics, I won’t be placing such an emphasis on films this new year, but I am going to continue to look for those I’ve wanted to see for a long time as well as recent literary adaptations, repeating the idea if not the same thoughts as to quantity.

What films did you see over the last few months that you would recommend?

 

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