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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) Movie Review

only_lovers_left_aliveTom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are centuries old vampire lovers coming together in Only Lovers Left Alive and writer/director Jim Jarumusch allows their history-filled lives tell an entertaining story of a culture closing in on itself.

A satisfying piece of light-hearted, metaphorical cinema

Only Lovers Left AliveTilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

It’s no surprise Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t a vampire film in the same vein as anything you’ve seen come out of Hollywood. These vampires don’t glitter and they’ve found more conventional ways to sate their blood lust than risking exposure or worse by draining human beings. There is, however, an overall sense of loneliness and the characters are quite moody as most vampires tend to be. Their disgruntled, “hate the world” nature speaks to the film’s larger theme, and while it isn’t exactly ground-breaking, in terms of execution, it’s quietly entertaining.

The story centers on centuries old vampire lovers Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), the first of many recognizable/metaphorical/playful names used within the narrative. Though, when it comes to these two names Jarmusch credits his inspiration as not from the Bible, but from Mark Twain’s “The Diaries of Adam and Eve”, which itself has Biblical roots. I’ve never read Twain’s collection of short stories, which sounds like it was something more of a comedic look at the gender divide, but Only Lovers Left Alive is a rather cynical look at the degradation of society through the eyes of vampires that have lived through the times of Shakespeare and Schubert, two examples the film determines to be on the verge of becoming obsolete and/or forgotten in today’s society.

Though there is no time travel and the number of historical “celebrities” is limited to one, Only Lovers Left Alive shares a kinship with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Both films reflect on the glory days of the past and while Midnight is more hopeful, they both share a cynicism when it comes to today’s society, with “old soul” lead characters — in the case of Lovers it’s quite literal — hungering for the culture of the past and nervous for what the future has to offer.

We first meet Adam in Detroit of all obvious places. He’s a musician and has something of an admirer in Ian (Anton Yelchin) who’s blissfully unaware the man whose music he adores is actually a vampire. Ian is consistently bringing Adam new, classic instruments in exchange for wads of cash. As any vampire would, Adam clings to his seclusion, afraid of the celebrity status knocking on his door. Yet, his reclusive nature is only adding to his mystique as his music gains in popularity.

On the other side of the world, in Tangier, is Eve whose life we aren’t entirely privy to, though we do learn she shares evenings on occasion with Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), a vampire himself. Of course Marlowe’s inclusion plays with the theory he was the true author of William Shakespeare’s plays. He has a connection with a French doctor that supplies him the “good stuff” when it comes to blood and at one point he says to Eve, “Wish I’d met him before I wrote Hamlet.” The film is loaded with such humor, it’s the “laughing quietly to myself” kind of humor, that doesn’t evoke guttural laughter, but slight bits of amusement.

Adam and Eve come together as Eve detects a melancholy tone in Adam’s voice, complaining of the “zombies” (humans) around him, prompting her to make the trip from Tangier to Detroit. Just after her arrival a lovers’ reunion is disturbed by the arrival of Ava (Mia Wasikowska), Eve’s younger sister, a character whose age speaks volumes given her actions.

Amid the subtle humor and excellent music, the main thrust of the film is the deterioration of the culture around these two central figures who’ve lived long enough to watch the world around them crumble. On top of not wanting to feed on today’s humans because of the inability to simply throw them in the river and claim tuberculosis, as Eve says at one point, their blood is diseased and could easily kill them. This considered, it’s obvious Adam and Eve are more a metaphor than anything else, representing a world lost to time and forgotten by today’s youth as an ignorance of history has not only poisoned the blood of society, but the natural environment as well.

Some may complain the film is too quaint or too cynical and I can’t argue. The humor is a bit on the nose and obvious, though given Jarmusch isn’t playing it for big laughs I found myself chuckling innocently at the clear fun all involved were having with the over-the-top material. To the cynicism, this is where it departs from Allen’s Midnight in Paris. While Allen’s film shows a clear appreciation for the past over the current day, it also shows it’s natural for humans to grow older and more appreciative of the days gone by as the future creeps into their lives and the fear of the unknown, or the chaos it appears to employ, can be daunting.

With Lovers, there isn’t necessarily a fear of the future generation, but a distaste for it. Some could argue Adam and Eve are hypocritical of the “zombies” around them. It would be a valid hypothesis to simply say Adam and Eve have lived too long. After all, given the fact they are vampires, and made it this far feeding on humanity, Adam chooses seclusion when the “zombies” find an appreciation for his music? What good does it do to wallow and judge those around you if you so clearly don’t want to do anything to make your world better? It seems shortsighted for him not to find hope in the fact people like his music.

In another instance, while watching a young singer perform and finding her absolutely ravishing, Eve says to him, “She’s going to be a big star,” to which he replies, “I hope not, she’s too good for that.” While I laughed and share Adam’s pessimism, isn’t it the responsibility of the artist to maintain their vision rather than become corrupted by an adoring fanbase and the tendencies that come with fame?

For Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive is a film a long time in the coming as he hasn’t had a film I’ve felt was any good for well over a decade. Not only entertaining, Lovers clearly invites conversation and you can almost feel the joy everyone had in its making. Swinton and Hiddleston are fantastic as are Yelchin and Wasikowska, the latter finally breaking free of the whimsical, dead-behind-the-eyes pixie characters she so often plays and getting a chance to explore a character that’s actually interesting.

It must be said, however, Lovers is a slow burn that moves at a pace general audiences would consider lethargic. Jarmusch fans, on the other hand, should be pleased with what they see. Then again, many found something to enjoy in Limits of Control and Broken Flowers, and those same viewers may find this film too simple and almost too broad for their liking. I, on the other hand, found it refreshing and a fun piece of cinema unlikely to stand out as an end of year top ten qualifier, but certainly among the year’s honorable mentions.

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Bears (2014) Movie Trailer

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“Bears” – Official Trailer (HD) Disney Documentary

In an epic story of breathtaking scale, Disneynature’s upcoming true life adventure “Bears” showcases a year in the life of a bear family as two impressionable young cubs are taught life’s most important lessons. Set against a majestic Alaskan backdrop teeming with life, their journey begins as winter comes to an end and the bears emerge from hibernation to face the bitter cold. The world outside is exciting—but risky—as the cubs’ playful descent down the mountain carries with it a looming threat of avalanches. As the season changes from spring to summer, the brown bears must work hard to find food—ultimately feasting at a plentiful salmon run—while staying safe from rival male bears and predators, including an ever-present wolf pack. “Bears” captures the fast-moving action and suspense of life in one of the planet’s last great wildernesses—Alaska!

Official Site: http://www.disney.com/bears

Director: Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill

In theaters: April 18th, 2014

Copyright © 2014 Walt Disney Pictures

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Hank and Asha (2014) Movie Trailer

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Hank and Asha Official Trailer 1 (2014) – Movie HD

An Indian student in Prague and a lonely New Yorker correspond online through video letters. A voyeuristic love story about aching for human connection in a hyper-connected world.

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Cuban Fury (2014) Movie Trailer

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Cuban Fury Official Trailer #1 (2014) – Nick Frost, Rashida Jones Comedy HD

A former salsa prodigy attempts a comeback years after his career was ruined.
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Dancing in Jaffa (2014) Movie Trailer

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Dancing In Jaffa Official Trailer for the documentary starring Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau, Alaa Bubali and directed by Hilla Medalia

Renowned ball-room dancer, Pierre Dulaine takes his belief that dance can overcome political and social differences and applies it to eleven-year-old Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. What occurs is magical and transformative.

Release Date: 2014
Director: Hilla Medalia
Cast: Pierre Dulaine, Yvonne Marceau, Alaa Bubali
Genre: Documentary
Country: Israel, USA

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Oculus (2014) Movie Review

A brother and sister attempt to destroy the spirit-possessed mirror that killed their parents.

oculusEnjoyable ghost story makes good use of clashing perspectives.

Open: April 11 (Relativity Media)

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, James Lafferty, Miguel Sandoval, Kate Siegel

Director-Editor: Mike Flanagan

A brother and sister face off against the mysterious force that destroyed their childhood in Mike Flanagan‘s Oculus, an effective little creeper that makes the most of its ghost-hunting conceit. Key art focusing on our heroes as young kids fails to capture the well-balanced nature of the yarn, which is as involving in its present-tense action as in the extended flashbacks showing the horrors that the children witnessed. But strong word-of-mouth should help genre fans find the picture, which has no fright-flick competition in theaters at the moment save for a Jim Jarmusch vampire film that will never be mistaken for fanboy fare. Sequels are a possibility, though screenwriters would be unable to reuse the devices responsible for much of this outing’s appeal.

When they were young, Kaylie and Tim (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) were moved into a big new home by their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane), who very soon succumbed to dark forces. While dad grew increasingly secretive and distracted, spending all his time locked in his home office, mom went insane. When she grew so dangerous that she threatened the children, dad killed her in a domestic struggle. Tim, traumatized, shot him dead.

Or so Tim’s shrinks say. Upon his release from a mental institution 11 years later, authorities declare that Tim (now played by Brenton Thwaites) “is a healthy adult” ready to reenter society. Kaylie (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, still believes in the version of events the children pieced together at the time: Their parents were controlled by a spirit residing in the beautiful, ornate mirror Dad bought for his new office, a mirror they tried and failed to break before it was sold in the aftermath of the killings.

Now, having tracked down the mirror at an estate auction and returned it to its place in their old house, Kaylie intends to document its powers before destroying it with Tim’s help. She has turned the house into an elaborate observational machine, building ingenious countermeasures she thinks will record any paranormal activity, even if the mirror gets inside their heads, making them think they see things that aren’t there. While Tim argues with her plans, parroting the psychological explanations of events he has heard for years, she uses an array of video cameras and computers to recount the history of this evil looking glass — which has caused four centuries of deaths in the households that owned it — and prove its power is real.

Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard get good mileage out of Kaylie’s no-nonsense planning, demonstrating the strength of “the Lasser glass” by showing how she hopes to foil its efforts to protect itself; the certainty of Gillan’s performance introduces another layer of unease as the debate between the siblings heats up, leading us to wonder if Tim is right in his more prosaic explanation of events.

That possibility is thrown out in one of the film’s cleverest moments, which involves Kaylie’s recording equipment and the characters’ faltering hold on their senses. Given the importance of character-generated video here, it’s a relief the filmmakers chose not to rely on a found-footage conceit; for once, our heroes have an excellent reason to view all the action through cameras, but limiting the audience to those perspectives would have resulted in a more ordinary film.

As the scares pick up pace and ghost-induced hallucinations dominate the action, the past and present start to overlap with each other; the adults watch their younger selves enduring horrors they can’t undo. These visions have a poetic quality at first, but as they proliferate (and as more and more of the mirror’s victims materialize in the house), the film’s tension between objective and perceived realities loses some of its power. Having tasked us with the job of separating one from the other, Flanagan needs to preserve some shred of our hope that we can do so. If we lose that briefly, though, the story’s conclusion benefits from a closure that is satisfying despite — and even because of — its predictability.

Production: Intrepid Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, WWE Studios
Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, James Lafferty, Miguel Sandoval, Kate Siegel
Director-Editor: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriters: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Producers: Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy
Executive producers: Michael Ilitch Jr., Dale Armin Johnson, Nail Kurian, Michael Luisi, D. Scott Lumpkin, Julie B. Many, Glenn Murray, Peter Schlessel
Director of photography: Michael Fimognari
Production designer: Russell Barnes
Costume designer: Lynn Falconer
Music: The Newton Brothers

Rated R, 103 minutes

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In the Blood (2014) Movie Review

Gina Carano plays a new bride hunting for her missing husband on their Caribbean honeymoon.

in_the_bloodServiceable suspense pic does little to further Carano’s action-hero career.

Opens: Friday, April 4 (Anchor Bay)

Cast: Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Luis Guzman, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Amaury Nolasco, Treat Williams, Danny Trejo

Director: John Stockwell

Aiming to continue the work started in Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire, John Stockwell‘s In the Blood again bends the talents of MMA star Gina Carano toward fiction, casting her as a new bride hunting for men who appear to have kidnapped her husband. Less ambitious than Soderbergh’s film in a few ways but workmanlike, the pic would have benefited significantly from a more taut edit; as it is, it will attract few new Carano fans in theaters and reach most of her existing ones on VOD.

The fighter plays Ava, a recovering drug user who marries fellow addict Derek (Cam Gigandet). Flashbacks show us the rough world Ava has escaped — she was taught to defend herself viciously by her grizzled dad — a background that worries Derek’s upper-crust family, particularly his prenup-minded father (Treat Williams).

The couple embarks on a honeymoon in the Dominican town of Punta Cana (the film was shot in nearby Puerto Rico), a trip whose idyllic appeal is conveyed flatly in an unimaginative montage of jet skis and beachfront frolic. Soon enough, though, things go wrong. Accepting the offer of a would-be tour guide named Manny (Ismael Cruz Cordova), they find themselves at a sketchy dance club where locals are overly attentive to the curvy gringa. Soon they’re in a brawl that might have been a show-stopper, had Stockwell not staged it amid distracting club lights. Danny Trejo, introduced here as a crimelord named Big Biz, literally growls as he approaches Ava, but then he vanishes inexplicably from the film, popping up only to play a dubious role in its climax.

Putting the nightclub melee behind them, Ava and Derek go ziplining with Manny. But Derek’s harness fails him smack in the middle of a mile-long run; he survives, but the ambulance that carries him away never reaches the hospital. After a panicked night of visiting local clinics and police stations, Ava starts to suspect this accident was actually an elaborate scheme.

Spoiler alert: it was no accident. But the eventual answer to this riddle, which falls apart under scrutiny, is all but irrelevant. The film is more interested in watching Carano take the law into her own strong hands while dodging opposition from a sluggish lawman (Luis Guzman), who claims to believe she herself has staged Derek’s disappearance in order to collect his insurance.

Carano has yet to develop much in the way of on-screen charisma, which isn’t a fatal flaw. It’s unfair to compare the fighter to earlier avenging women like Pam Grier, Uma Thurman and others, but her physical gifts are undeniable, and the right couple of movies could conceivably position her as a female Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal. In the latter company, the taciturn Carano already holds her own. In the Blood offers her a few memorable moments — one, happily, involves a return to that zipline — but doesn’t recognize what is essential in its pulpy, noir-leaning plot and what can be trimmed. A 107-minute runtime might have made sense in a film packed with set-piece showdowns or elaborate escapes, but this is a humbler production, one that should be as direct and punchy as its heroine.

Production: Movie Package Company

Cast: Gina Carano, Cam Gigandet, Luis Guzman, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Amaury Nolasco, Treat Williams, Danny Trejo

Director: John Stockwell

Screenwriters: James Robert Johnston, Bennett Yellin

Producers: Raymond Mansfield, Shaun Redick, Cash Warren

Executive producers: David R. Arnold, Baron Davis, James Gibb, Rachel Green, Michael Ilitch Jr., Dale Armin Johnson, Gary King, Julie B. May, Glenn Murray, Lee Portnoi, Nathan Ross, Luillo Ruiz, Glenn M. Stewart, Belly Torres

Director of photography: P.J. Lopez

Production designer: Monica Monserrate

Costume designer: Milagros Nunez

Editors: Doug Walker, Lucase Eskin

Music: Paul Haslinger

R, 107 minutes

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The Unknown Known (2013) Movie Review

unknown_knownKNOWING NOTHING Despite unprecedented access to Donald Rumsfeld, director Errol Morris fails to create a truly engrossing film.

Release Date: Apr 04, 2014; Rated: Unrated; Length: 103 minutes; Genre: Documentary; With: Errol Morris and Donald Rumsfeld

Errol Morris must have thought that it would be a real coup to do a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, just as it was when he got Robert McNamara to confess his doubts and mistakes during Vietnam in The Fog of War. To make The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld agreed to be interviewed for more than 30 hours in front of Morris’ specially rigged Interrotron camera. But when you see the movie, you’ll know why: Donald Rumsfeld is a man who likes to hear himself talk. That, after all, was the ultimate message of those realpolitik Zen koans (”Stuff happens,” ”Osama bin Laden is either alive and well or alive and not too well or not alive”) he dropped in his Iraq-war press conferences. He was making his prankish obfuscations the real story, a gambit the press mocked but also fell for.

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld prattles on, quoting from the thousands of ”memos” he churned out like notes to be stuck in fortune cookies during his tenure in Washington. The memos are stray thoughts, directives, and random bits of Rumsfeldiana; the film’s message seems to be that in corrupt governments, words are used not to communicate but as a kind of fascist confetti. Yet to take the playfully convoluted, semi-nonsensical aggression of Rumsfeld’s language and make it the whole point of a movie is to fall into the trap of mistaking the spin for the story. (Also available on iTunes and VOD)

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Dom Hemingway (2014) Movie Review

dom_hemingwayRelease Date: Apr 02, 2014; Rated: R; Length: 93 minutes; Genres: Comedy, Drama; With: Richard E. Grant and Jude Law; Distributor: BBC Films

If ever there were an actor ripe to ”McConaughnesize” his career, it’s Jude Law — and guess what, he has done it, spectacularly, in Dom Hemingway. The title rogue is one of those seething low-rent blokes of an East End gangster whom we now think of as coming out of a Guy Ritchie film. It’s a kick to see Law, who normally plays more civilized types, get his underworld thug on by embracing the role of a vicious Cockney criminal with greased-back hair, a double-muttonchop beard, and a glittery-eyed leer of sexual hunger. (In the outrageous opening scene, he growls out a tribute to his manhood while being serviced in a prison shower.) Yet getting cast against type will take an actor only so far. The real amazement of Dom Hemingway is that, as written and directed by Richard Shepard, the movie picks up this snarling hooligan and treats him like a character out of Shakespeare.

Dom’s gutter eloquence has a touch of the poetic, and he’s a beast with a beating heart. A notorious safecracker, he has just served 12 years after refusing to rat on his boss, and he now wants his reward. So after a three-day bender of hookers and cocaine, he teams up with his old crony Dickie (Richard E. Grant, playing the straight man for once) and drives up to the villa of the sinister Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir), who pays his debt to Dom by gifting him with nearly a million pounds. But then, thanks to more drugs and a car accident, Dom loses the money, and this sets up the film’s ingeniously karmic, yin-and-yang version of a crime-caper plot. As Dom attempts to reconnect with his daughter (Emilia Clarke), his luck keeps jerking back and forth, and the movie whiplashes between freedom and violent desperation, with each twist really asking, Does Dom deserve to get what he wants? Law makes Dom a brilliant contradiction. He’s a piece of pond scum with a sense of honor, a bad man and a good man. And the question of which side will rule turns Dom Hemingway into the most mesmerizing drama of British lowlifery since Sexy Beast.

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Under the Skin (2014) Movie Review

under_the_skinJohnny Depp did it for years. James Franco can’t stop. Now Scarlett Johansson is trying her luck. Why do A-listers make art films, and must we be forced to watch?

Release Date: Apr 04, 2014; Rated: R; Length: 108 minutes; Genres: Drama, Sci-fi and Fantasy; With: Scarlett Johansson; Distributor: A24

As problems go, it’s a pretty First World one to be saddled with. You’re a movie star pocketing obscene paychecks to appear in Hollywood blockbusters. But something is missing. Fame and box office success alone aren’t why you started making movies. You are an actor. If only your fans could see just how cool and fearless and devoted to the craft you really are. What to do? Worry not. There’s a well-trod path laid out that will put this plight behind you once and for all: You will make a boldly uncommercial art film. The weirder, the better.

The tradition of megawatt stars defiantly letting their freak flags fly in oddball indies is a long and proud one. Each actor comes to it with his or her own set of reasons. Sometimes it’s to show a hint of hidden hipster cred no one suspected you had. And sometimes…well, sometimes you’re Nicole Kidman and you just want to pee on Zac Efron (The Paperboy). If there’s a patron saint of the stardom-subverting subgenre, it’s Johnny Depp. Or at least it used to be. Before he was beckoned by the siren song of Jack Sparrow sequels, Depp tried everything in his power to dodge bankability: Arizona Dream, Dead Man, The Libertine. Still, the most confounding example is 1997′s The Brave. Made right after Donnie Brasco won him the best reviews of his career, Depp directed and starred in this barely seen downer about a desperate Native American who acts in a snuff film. It says something that Marlon Brando is the least bizarre thing in it.

The impulse to run away from fame rather than cozy up to its 500-thread-count embrace can be a strong one, as Kate Winslet proved post-Titanic. Few lined up for the obscure one-two punch of Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke. But you didn’t have to see either to understand that Winslet is someone for whom ticket receipts and celebrity matter little. The same goes for Matt Damon, who abruptly shifted gears after 2001′s ring-a-ding smash Ocean’s Eleven by starring in Gus Van Sant’s nearly silent celluloid ramble Gerry. It wasn’t a good film, but it was hard to question the actor’s beyond-the-fringe bona fides afterward.

A step above that lies the rarefied plateau of Christian Bale, whose A-list-versus-artist struggle seems like an almost existential wrestling match. Every time he fattens up or wastes away for a role (as in 2004′s The Machinist), he seems to be doing hair-shirt penance for the sin of being a movie star. And James Franco…let’s just concede that he exists on his own gonzo planet. Each project he takes (Spring Breakers, Interior. Leather Bar.) is more puzzling than the last, so that when he does appear in a mainstream film such as Oz the Great and Powerful, it feels like a giant put-on.

Scarlett Johansson doesn’t go quite that far in her latest film — the inscrutable sci-fi brainteaser Under the Skin — but she comes damn close. Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Birth), the movie is an avant-garde experiment that throws narrative storytelling out the window in favor of mood, mystery, and monotony. It makes The Man Who Fell to Earth look like E.T. Johansson, outfitted in a black wig, blood-red lipstick, and often nothing else, is an alien who drives around Scotland trawling for male hitchhikers to lure back to her surreal black-widow dream chamber, where her victims are submerged in inky liquid and have their flesh sucked out of them. Why? It may have something to do with a mission from her home planet. Honestly, who the hell knows? As a film, Under the Skin is hauntingly freaky and ultimately frustrating. But as a movie star’s gamble to be seen as more than just a moneymaking member of the Marvel universe, it’s a home run.

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