"You don't like your job, you don't strike. You go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American way."
-- Homer Simpson

Don’t criticize what you can’t understand

watchmen_logo.jpg A bunch of us went to see Watchmen when it came out last weekend, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the film.

All in all, the movie was an excellent translation of the comic miniseries, which I enjoyed quite a lot. However, Watchmen isn’t Spider-man, that is, it really isn’t for everyone. I’ve read a few negative reviews, but based on what these critics are saying, they didn’t (or wouldn’t) like the comic either…

Fundamentally, Watchmen is a deconstruction of the superhero myth. The movie (and the comic) tries to answer the question: “If superheroes were real, what would they actually be like and how would they affect the world we live in?” And of course the answer presented by the story is that both they and the world would be pretty screwed up (even more than it has been and currently is).

The movie is a blend of faithful reproduction and adjustment for the medium. There are scenes that are built entirely around having specific shots reproducing panels in the comic. And there are entire plotlines that have been tweaked for either emphasis or believability (or both). Thankfully (at least in my opinion), the whole “black freighter” comic-within-a-comic was removed from the movie. The stark violence and gore from the comic was definitely emphasized in the movie, to the point of even adding some in where the comic didn’t provide any. Our heroes in the movie killed some of the bad guys, even where they didn’t in the comic. I’m pretty sure this was done to bring more focus to the deconstruction (by contrasting this behaviour with the usual “no killing” policy of most superheroes), but I know it left some viewers with a bad taste in their mouths.

One of the changes I didn’t like is that in the comic, there was no team called “The Watchmen”. The title of the comic comes from the quote “Who Watches the Watchmen?” of course, but in the story, this was sprayed on walls as graffiti during the fictional riots preceding the also-fictional Keene Act of 1977 (which outlawed non-sanctioned vigilantism, i.e. superheroes). The title is therefore itself part of the deconstruction. It wasn’t even clear to me when they teamed up in the movie, since the flashbacks followed the plotline in the comic, where the team didn’t actually form (in the scene where the Comedian burns the map). So this change irked me a little.

The effects were as good as we’ve come to expect from these types of movies. Nite Owl’s ship (Archie) was very impressive and Dr. Manhattan’s powers were pretty seamless (even when he was growing or shrinking himself). I don’t remember Doc Manhattan being quite as well-hung in the comic, but I guess these things are bound to happen when you bring a real live actor into the mix… :-) I felt that the execution of the fight scenes with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were great, as they served to remind us that these are people who survived for years while fighting gangs and other criminals…and they were also a nice reference to the type of hand-to-hand fighting we’ve seen in the Batman movies. After all of the more expository scenes, it’s good to be reminded that oh yeah! these folks really are superheroes.

The movie is long (2 hours, 43 minutes), but at no point does it feel like it drags. I hope more production teams will take note of this…yes, Warner Brothers, I mean you. Particularly in the case of translating a book or a large graphic novel, the movies can be destroyed by trying to stay within the focus-group-friendly 140 minutes (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix suffered from this tremendously). Zack Snyder must have a little juice after 300, since he managed to convince the WB brass to let him keep the extended run time of Watchmen.

Overall, it was an enjoyable movie…but not one for the kiddies! Bogman, Homewrecker and I are going to see the IMAX version of the film on Wednesday, so I might have more comments to add after that.

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Notes

"Don't criticize what you can't understand" is a line from Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'. I used this both as a nod to the song's excellent use in the movie and as a bit of finger-wagging at the critics who panned the movie only because it wasn't Spider-man.

Good job!

BirdLady and I decided to defy both metacritic and rottentomatoes this weekend and see Hancock, the new Will Smith movie that came out last weekend.

The movie definitely turned out to be more interesting than the reviews would lead you to believe. I’m not sure I’d call it a great movie, but it definitely ranks a solid “good”. The key thing that I think most reviewers missed is that it’s not really a superhero movie, just a movie about a superhero (if you take my meaning). Hancock is a superhero who has given in to loneliness and the apparent futility of his immortal life, only to discover the real key to his past over the course of the story.

The effects were pretty good, although many of the flying and action scenes felt like they were zoomed in just a little too much. Will Smith delivers his character with a perpetual sneer that’s almost comical, and I was very pleased to see Jason Bateman in a semi-leading role for a change…outside of the indie world, he hasn’t really been in too many major movie roles. I really hope that his excellent work in Arrested Development is finally being recognized. Charlize Theron is also excellent as always, but I won’t talk about her role too much to avoid ruining the plot for anyone.

I definitely would recommend Hancock for anyone who’s looking for a movie outside of the usual superhero formula. Don’t let the critics scare you off! :-)

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Does whatever an iron can…

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Well, the boat is now in the water, and the mast is up. You can see the pictures from preparing the boat for launch here and here.

I went to see Iron Man last night with BogMan, the Friendly Redhead, and Homewrecker & beau (he’s gonna need a nickname for the blog). The movie was absolutely phenomenal, and definitely on a par with the other Marvel-based greats, Spiderman and X-men. As this is Marvel’s first foray into financing (and therefore producing) their own movies, I hope this is indicative of what we can expect from future movies as well.

Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect choice to play Tony Stark — he completely owned the role, bringing weight to the emotional and dramatic scenes while still delivering on the comedic moments. Much like most first movies for a comic book character, the entire movie is devoted to the Iron Man origin story. However, unlike Fantastic Four, the requisite final battle feels neither stilted nor tacked-on. It wasn’t quite as phenomenal as the Spiderman climax, but definitely on par with X-men.

The effects were, of course, as mind-blowing as we’ve come to expect from these types of movies. Jon Favreau (the director) seems to have taken a page from Firefly and used a lot of simulated hand-held photography for the mid-air battle scenes (the battle between Iron Man and two fighter jets was particularly well done). And the suit itself looked great…or should I say the suits looked great — there’s a good build-up of prototypes until the final Iron Man armour appears.

Just like with Spiderman, what makes the movie great is the strong focus on the hero character himself. Over the course of the movie, you see Tony Stark develop from a smug and self-righteous war profiteer who loves the ladies into a self-aware and somewhat humbled humanitarian…who loves the ladies. :-)

I am very much looking forward to both seeing this movie again, and to the inevitable sequel. I also can’t wait for Marvel to deliver on the not-so-subtle hint given in the post-credits scene!

Now, if only Warner Brothers would clue in and start diversifying their DC Universe movies beyond just Superman and Batman…actually, make that just Batman, since none of the Superman movies have had anything to do with the character from the comic book… :-(

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More movie musings

I think I found a movie worse than Fantastic Four:

Two For The Money. Avoid this piece of crap at all costs. One might call Pacino’s over-acted (as usual) character sociopathic and schizophrenic, but it’s just bad writing. Horrible writing. The editing is almost worse. You could chop this movie into pieces (please do) and rearrange them and it wouldn’t make any difference. I won’t waste any more bandwidth on this except to express disappointment at the too-kind lukewarm reviews, and to say that the one bright spot here is that this kind of filth gives me inspiration to do more writing of my own, knowing that there are hacks like that actually making money.

Breaking my string of slanderous pans, I very much enjoyed Lord of War. I’m not a huge fan of Nic Cage but he was ideal for this role. The cinematography and soundtrack are both top-notch, and the script is peppered with cheeky, though often dark, humour. The social and political commentary is set at just the right tone and leaves pause for thought without being too preachy or dominating the story. The good versus evil stare down at the end is the perfect climax to the gradually-built character metaphors.

“I would tell you to go to Hell, but you’re already there.”

Highly recommended viewing.

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Fantastic Four review.

Worst. Movie. Ever.

I can’t BELIEVE I didn’t check out Metacritic before seeing this, as I ended up wanting those two hours of my life back. Definitely felt like walking out. I’m not even going to get into its faillings as an adaptation because I was never very familiar with the comic series.

The best part of the movie BY FAR is the short film preview for Ice Age 2.

This horrible movie can be summed up by pointing out that NOTHING HAPPENS. Some idiot of a studio exec (sorry, redundant) probably figured that character development was an important part of a movie, except you’re still supposed to do that part well. Acting: bad. Directing: awful. Editing: Atrocious. Script: cocktail napkin. A few characters have the same conversation several times. Aren’t sappy scenes supposed to be interspersed with ACTION???

The entire movie is painfully slow-moving backstory for the final fight, which is terrible of course. But at that point you don’t care and you just want the whole thing to be over. The only other action in the flick involve public calamities that the F4 caused in the first place. Whenever any of them are in public everyone is cheering, even though they haven’t done anything good for anybody. In fact they are busy trying to get rid of their powers. Apparently, with great power comes great responsibillity. What? Screw that.

I grow tired of superhero movies that spend half the film (or more, in this case) showing how they got their powers in the first place and then go straight into fighting their arch-nemesis. F4 is obviously trying to start a franchise but it is not going to happen.

If someone in studioland wanted to toy with a new business model, Fantastic Four is the kind of thing that should be made available for free on the Internet 6 months or so before you release the REAL movie.

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I, disturbed.

DVD review of I, Robot.
The DVD release is my excuse for not having seen (and panned) this movie when it was in theatres.

Review in a nutshell: Only watch the last 20 minutes of this movie.

This is because the ending contains the most spectacular action (particularly the robot-on-robot martial arts), and because the plot makes more sense when you don’t watch the first three-quarters of the movie. Whatever references the characters make to the rest of the plot, alleviate your confusion by using your imagination to fill in the blanks …you’ll end up with a better story anyway. Whereas many movies seem to be the product of a decent script that falls apart at the end (with the logical explanation being that the screenwriter died in a horrible vending machine accident and the janitor found the unfinished script and wrote the ending himself – did you know that more people are killed by vending machines than by sharks each year?), I, Robot has the opposite problem – a terrible script that apparently had the ending doctored by someone that knew what they were doing. Hopefully that person also arranged for a vending machine to fall on the original screenwriter. Run THAT by a test audience! Normally I wouldn’t write so extensively about a poorly presented film, but this one started out as being merely quite bad but then descended into something that I found fairly disturbing.

Because of the slick visuals and interesting concept, including a reasonable attempt at some buzz-like marketing (ads for the featured robots appeared in theatres among the regular commercials as though they were actual products, before the previews) I, Robot was one of those big budget movies that I really wanted to like. Those hopes were dashed in the first 30 seconds. First off, Chicago seems to have advanced extremely rapidly in 30 years, resembling something you might create in SimCity 3000. Shiny skyscrapers and tubular trains abound. The Sears Tower is dwarfed by several other buildings (notably the one belonging to US Robotics – later to more closely resemble the Death Star). At ground level, this post-present looks more appropriate for something campy like Back to the Future part II. Thus right off the bat do we see how childish the script is. The writers and art directors (and therefore the producers) were obviously thinking in terms of Future versus Not Future, starting from scratch in 2035 as opposed to showing our own world 30 years from now. This simplistic mindset is also displayed via the robots, as 30 years of technology seems to have been concentrated only into robots, cars, and buildings, so that there aren’t various degrees of helpful technology everywhere, you’re either a robot or you aren’t. Again, it’s not my intent to harp so loudly about details like this, but they are symptomatic of larger flaws of perspective in this movie.

Furthermore, one has barely finished rolling their eyes at the laughable context when the audience is subject to the most blatant product placement I have ever seen. I’ve never really minded product placement in movies and TV, because I’d rather see someone drinking Pepsi than Acme Cola, so long as the fact they are drinking cola actually fits into the scene. Here, the courageous Detective Spooner proudly shows off his Converse All-Stars, and actually makes reference to them as being “Vintage 2004”. Ugh. Don’t you mean vintage 1950s? These shoes are referenced verbally on two other occasions, and this and the splashy Audi on constant display makes it plain that 20th Century Fox is for hire (I guess the upgrade to 21st Century Fox is costing more than expected).

So we begin with James Cromwell’s Professor Somethingorother falling to his death, with Will Smith’s Detective Spooner following the case to a particularly squirrelly robot named Sonny, one of a new line of robots that USR is about to roll out (naturally, the older models look requisitely obsolete even by 2004 standards). Except what is very striking about the story here is the fact that Detective Spooner seems to be the only person who has an issue with the existence of robots in the first place. His scepticism of the robots, even before the mayhem begins, is presented as an anomaly, as though 2004 was instantly transformed into 2035 and no one except him had noticed what had happened, as though this was a brand new issue and that there hadn’t been 30 years of liberal opposition to artificial intelligence with legs. When Sonny is suspected of being involved in Professor Whatshisname’s death, both Spooner and US Robotics seem to want to treat this as an isolated incident: the company claiming it’s a defect, with the Detective wanting to arrest Sonny for murder. Why the two sides couldn’t easily agree to this is odd. USR finds it ridiculous to treat him as a murder suspect yet they seem to want to treat him as an individual to find out what might be wrong. More odd still is the apparent non-existence of any government-like authority in this future world. No dismantling of Sonny followed by a huge lawsuit? No fines or regulations? In typical science-fiction style, the Professor that ‘invented’ the robots is of course the same person who drew up the laws that govern them (internally, anyway). You really get the sense that corporations run things and this one cop is the only person that isn’t brainwashed. No Big Brother plot backdrop here…everyone’s simply been numbed by watching reality TV for 30 years.

My problems with this movie started out with petty annoyances that kept growing, so that once the action started, I couldn’t help but shift my perception from Will Smith versus US Robotics to Humans versus NewsCorp (you know, the employer of those friendly folks at FoxNews). Since the movie bugged me so much I had a nagging feeling that the bad guys represented the studio and its owners. Since they don’t portray any human emotion or free thought, I wonder if they expect their audience to have any either. Even Sonny is more life-like than most of the characters, Bridget Moynahan’s vapid scientist foremost among them, who never seems to stop expressing dumbfounded astonishment that anything could be wrong with this perfectly automated world. (As I read when the Final Fantasy movie came out, actors don’t have anything to fear from technology, only bad actors do). The half-assed way in which the producers gloss over any ideological resistance to a world filled with allegedly servile robots (ultimately domineering or not) is insulting enough that it almost seems like they are championing the cause of this technology and think that Smith’s character does enough to offer balance, which of course it does not come close to doing. When the robots start to take control at the end, there are mere smatterings of conscientious objectors.

The fairly optimistic portrayal of the world thirty years on could be dismissed by the ubiquitous suspension of disbelief, but there is too much else to disbelieve in this movie for the producers to expect us to look past it all. My main issue here is that what they would have you believe or accept is indicative of their world perspective, and the ‘they’ in this case happen to be some very influential people. There is such a lack of humanity in this film to juxtapose the omnipresence of artificial intelligence that it makes you wonder if they understand people at all and wonder why they protest about anything.

On a lighter note, this movie contains some fantastic special-effects and action sequences. The final fight in the Death Star and the tunnel chase verge on mind-blowing, though all the explosions make me wonder why these techno-savvy denizens are still using internal-combustion engines. Maybe the Iraq war is about preserving the future of action movies? With the great effects and sometimes-thrilling scenes it’s too bad they couldn’t find a better box of Cracker Jacks out of which to pull a story.

Feel free to take my soap-box musings with a grain of salt or a roll of the eyes of your own. The next thirty years will indeed bring us countless technological advances, and a goodly portion of them will be bad ideas. Many of them will come about because we can and not because we should. As I said, the lack of human response in I, Robot, apart from the token Spooner, suggests the makers of this film and their bosses want things to go full steam ahead, or full nuclear ahead, or something. The blunt product placement and the huge ad for the studio at the start of the DVD support this. When formations of robots end up marching in the streets announcing curfew (with only one brave lad questioning this), I couldn’t help but picture Rupert Murdoch muttering in a Denethor-esque tone: “Yes, I wish that.”

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Some Kind of DVD

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is being released on DVD today. I could’ve sworn one of us had posted about this movie before, but it looks like we only posted about the concert.

I’m sure others can comment more (I’m thinking of one post-challenged person in particular), but I thought this was an excellent presentation of the difficulties Lars, James and Kirk were (and are) trying to work through, all with the goal of continuing to deliver their unique brand of metal mayhem. This wasn’t some kind of watered-down publicity stunt, it seemed to be an honest look at some real people. For an outsider to the world of metal, it was a great introduction to the band, but I know that long-time fans also enjoyed the movie immensely as well.

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Uh-oh, looks like I’m monologuing…

The IncrediblesSaw The Incredibles again last night, so I figured maybe it’s time I say something about it…but the only thing I can come up with is: WOW. I think this is Pixar’s best film ever, and that’s pretty impressive, considering the history (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, along with a plethora of entertaining shorts). However, it’s also interesting to note that this is not as much of a kid’s movie as its predecessors have been — while I’m sure plenty of kids will enjoy The Incredibles, there are some violent scenes that the younger ones may find a little disturbing.

So what makes The Incredibles so great? Trying to put down some kind of enumerated list is actually giving me trouble, because both times I’ve seen the movie, it’s just been a two-hour period of pure joy. But I’ll try to break it down a little more than that… :-)

SyndromeTo start with, it’s a superhero movie. That in and of itself just makes it fun — I’ve been reading comics for most of my life, and collecting them for the last decade-and-almost-a-half, so the superhero genre of movie always fills me with a kind of giddy pleasure (but a manly giddy), especially given the stupendous entries in this genre in recent years. And not only is it a superhero movie, but it’s a good superhero movie. The Incredibles takes the concept of a hero-filled world and tries to apply it to the real world — the heroes operate under a government sanction, and are obligated to knuckle under when a litigious populace starts costing too many taxpayer dollars. Mr. Incredible himself is shuffled into life as a corporate drone, spending his days in a tiny cubicle that is slowly crushing his spirit. The term “cooperative cog” is used by his amoral manager to describe the ideal employee’s aspirations, something I can relate to, as many similarly ridiculous buzzphrases are bandied about by the Evil Corporation that keeps me in the lifestyle to which I am accustomed (a topic for another day).

Added to this are the family dynamics, which are extremely well-written. The Parr family, made up of Bob (Mr. Incredible), Helen (Elastigirl), and their children Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack, have all the same problems that any family has — the kids fight, dinner is an adventure, one parent is trying to relive past glory, while the other is trying to put a happy face on what they have. At the core of it all, they love each other very much, which they eventually are able to demonstrate in an epic battle to free themselves from an evil genius and save the world as they know it from his destructive technological creation. OK, maybe they have some problems that other families don’t… :-)

Edna ModeThe Incredibles tips its hat to many different inspirations. The society itself is based heavily on Cold War-era America, both in character attitudes and the look of their fair city. Syndrome’s island lair, and all of its accoutrements, evoke the Ghost of Bond Flicks Past, with the elaborate monorails and cavernous hangars. And the speeder bike scene from The Return of the Jedi is beautifully retooled into a fast-paced chase scene where Violet and Dash are finally able to use their powers to their full extent.

Brad Bird, creator of The Iron Giant, has managed to blend all of these elements together into an action-packed movie that keeps you laughing all the way through. Having seen The Iron Giant only recently (and having enjoyed it immensely), I have to say that Brad Bird is someone whose movies I’ll be waiting for anxiously.

Hmmm, I guess I had more to say than just “wow”…and I didn’t even get to say anything about Edna Mode!

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Matt Damon!

Kamelot and I just saw Team America: World Police, and the boys from South Park have scored another work of genius. This movie manages to effectively satirize both the war-mongering right as well as the bleeding-heart left, while slapping down Bruckheimer-helmed Affleck outings, and ending with a climactic speech about the relationship between dicks, pussies, and assholes. And of course, there’s the graphic puppet sex.

I know there will be a lot of people who will be incredibly offended by this movie, just as many were offended by the last big-screen offering from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. However, just as Saddam waving a big cock at Satan was topical in its day, there is nothing that should be more immediate in our minds than well-intentioned (mostly) yet naive American actions to impose their “moral fibre” on an unwilling world (and the longer-term effects of those actions).

But before you start thinking that Team America is a serious examination of American hegemonic ambitions, I’ll mention that I spent the entire not-quite-two-hours laughing my ass off. Parker and Stone know how to deliver a crude joke and take it those twelve steps too far.

Plus, did I mention the graphic puppet sex? :-)

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I find his lack of faith disturbing…

I’ve been going through the DVD goodness that is the newly-released Trilogy, and I have to say that there are both good and bad things going on here.

Before I get into it, I should say that I haven’t finished all of the material on the discs…I’ve watched most of Ep IV, all of Ep V (along with about half of its commentary), and the bonus materials on the fourth disc. While I have had sufficient hours between purchasing the Trilogy on Tuesday and now to have watched all of these, I have chosen not to forsake real life.

In what I’ve seen so far, I do have to say that I love the extras (the 2.5 hour documentary about the making of all three movies is absolutely excellent). I am, however, a bit lukewarm on the new edits in the movies. Stuff like the revamped Jabba scene in A New Hope are a welcome improvement on the early-CG efforts of the Special Editions, and I can accept changing the holographic Emperor in Empire to Ian McDiarmid, but did we really need to have the new line stating that Luke Skywalker is probably the son of Anakin Skywalker? I mean, was Vader really having issues connecting the dots between himself and a kid named Skywalker coming off Tatooine, where the Death Star plans were jettisoned?

Don’t get me wrong–I think Lucas has the right to do whatever he wants with his films. I just draw a big difference between restoring a deleted scene or enhancing some effects and changing the behaviour of the characters. One of the coolest things about Vader and the Emperor is that they rarely spoke. A few lines here and there (along with several evil, yet meaningful, pauses) were enough to convey the emotion and progress the plot.

All that being said, I’m still geek enough to love the fact that I can now enjoy these glorious movies in full 5.1 surround sound. So, despite all the griping, I’m still pretty happy… :-)

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AvP

I went and saw Alien vs Predator last night, despite many warnings not to. I actually enjoyed it, but I thought it should be longer. And I was kinda hoping for little penguin aliens…

They sped up the whole alien gestation and maturation period, which was kind of a slap in the face to the other alien movies but I could understand how the movie needed it to be faster. Also, that was one very personable predator. I was waiting for him and that chick to make out at the end then go back to his homeworld and make predator babies. Seriously, they might as well have given him some cheesy back story, involving a parent that never quite beleived in him but came to root for him at the end. Or maybe he’s haunted by the memory of a fallen comrade in a previous battle but overcomes his grief in order to save the climber chick. Man, predator/human babies, that has fourth degree tear written all over it…

Basically, don’t go see this movie hoping for good acting, plot, dialogue, or any other measure of cinematic quality. Go see it cuz its Alien vs Predator. You get to see lots of shots of the whole alien which totally rocks, you get to see Human-Bishop be retarded, and there’s minimal backstory on the hapless victims. I hope they do a sequel, cuz they leave it wide open for the best sequel ever at the end. I mean, I was kinda rooting for the aliens…

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Ron Howard Jr is sooo cute!

So i just saw ‘the village’ and i have to say not a bad movie, but not at all what i expected. It was kinda sweet and adorable when i was hoping for shocking and scary. I guessed at the big bad secret early on but as a joke in my head thinking to myself ‘noooo, that would just be silly…’ Not wanting to give away said big secret i guess all i can say is that there’s only one or two good scares and there are more than a couple really funny moments. The only thing that *really* didn’t make sense by the end was why they decided to talk like that.
So to recap:

  • M. Night Shyamalan was beaten with something red as a child
  • Ron Howards spawn better be in the firefly movie
  • I must find and marry Joaquin Phoenix
  • y’know, i think i’m gonna like blogging. mer.

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