The Magnificent Seven (2016): Movie Man Jackson

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Sometimes it takes an army. Other times, it takes only seven people. Some time in the 1870’s, the town of Rose Creek is under hostile takeover. Industrial businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is interesting in mining the town for gold. He gives the residents two choices: Either accept his payment of $20 per acre, or die trying to defend it.

The townspeople want to defend, but few know how. After losing her husband to Bogue and his henchman, widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) looks to hire some assistance, starting with Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), supreme bounty hunter. From there, Chisolm treks the Old Frontier for help, settling on gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Confederate deadeye Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner and assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Native-American warrior drifter Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Together, The Magnificent Seven provides a fighting chance for residents to keep their town.

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The season of fall officially began Thursday, September 22nd for the northern hemisphere. The season of fall began for Hollywood a couple of weeks ago. However, at least out here in Columbus, Ohio, summer doesn’t feel like it has left yet, weather-wise. And for a little over two hours, The Magnificent Seven makes one feel like we’re still in blockbuster season. In a point almost certain to be made in a lot of positive reviews, The Magnificent Seven is one of the movies summer 2016 needed.

Doesn’t mean it is flawless, but darn entertaining. I didn’t expect anything less from director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen). His movies, sans Training Day, may lack substantial substance but he’s always had a great eye and hand behind the camera. That doesn’t change here. The Western setting is fully realized, from the garb to the firearms to the alcohol. And when the quick draw action and prolonged gunfights goes down, it is thrilling, with the high point being a PG-13 limit-pushing climax where no one is safe. The Magnificent Seven 2016 absolutely benefits with today’s camerawork.

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This isn’t a shot-for-shot remake (thankfully), and even calling it a remake is somewhat misleading. But this is the retelling of a story that will probably always be retold every 40-50 years. That is to say that the story written by True Detective showrunner Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk follows the same beats as the 1960 and 1954 version, with a little more lightness and surprisingly good humor during the quieter moments. Putting it under a modern comparison, Fast Five (especially with the diversity aspect) and The Avengers come to mind, without the lore those movies afforded themselves as franchises.

Don’t go expecting to be blown away by any characters. A few have some interesting backstories that are briefly hit on, but by and large the actors are being seen and not the characters they portray. It’s not a bad thing, if only because everyone is having such a great time. Each member of the seven gets time to shine, some brighter than others. Denzel is a great lead as Chisolm, believable as the one guy who could get this group to work cohesively. He’s got some connection to the film’s main villain, played well by Sarsgaard. I think the finale could have had more emotional punch if their connection and why Chisolm is driven to take down Bogue was revealed earlier, however.

Hawke is good, even if his character’s struggles are only briefly touched upon. Though this is obviously a different movie, there’s something awesome about seeing him in scenes again with Washington 15 years later. D’Onofrio is easily the oddest of the bunch, yet lays a claim for being the most memorable as well. This film could be the vehicle to launch lesser stars like Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Byung-hun Lee into more prominent positions in Hollywood. Chris Pratt’s already in a prominent position, and he’s just a engaging personality here.

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Is the Western making a comeback? That remains to be seen, but The Magnificent Seven certainly could be an ignition starter. Anyone hankering for a traditional and explosive jaunt into the Old Frontier will find it here.

B+

Photo credits go to pgr.com and filmandtvnow.com

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Hell or High Water: Movie Man Jackson

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Almost anything can be done with ruthless determination. Brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) have begun to rob banks in small towns of Texas. Robbery and crime comes easy for lifelong convict Tanner, but Toby, with no criminal record to speak of, is a little taken aback by the action. But it needs to be done in his mind. He owes a ton of child support to his ex-wife, and the Howard farm is up for foreclosure.

On the trail of the brotherly due is soon-to-be-retiree ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Though unsaid, he’s actually a little afraid of retirement and relishes this one last opportunity to sink his teeth into something substantial with his Hispanic/Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). This is old fashioned cops and robbers. Who’s in the right?

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Is the Western making a comeback? I don’t believe the traditional Western genre will ever be like it once was, but it does feel like Hollywood has been fusing the genre with more modern genres moreso than ever. Enter Hell or High Water, a movie that doesn’t carry Western in its genre listing but is pretty much so. It will be hard for any upcoming Western to top the final product here.

Director David McKenzie (Perfect Sense) manages the proceedings here. The Texas—technically, New Mexico–backdrop isn’t flashy, but there is something striking about it. But he may be outshined by the screenplay turned in by Taylor Sheridan. Debuting with last year’s Sicario, the man has quickly established himself as a talented writer in less than a year’s time.

Nothing about Hell or High Water is truly original, but in a way, that makes what Sheridan accomplishes all the more surprising and impressive. At the core, this is a movie about inequality, the 1% versus the 99%. It is a theme that is as old as the beginning of time, and one that is ever-popular in recent years from The Dark Knight Rises to Money Monster. But it is subtle, such as the billboards that the brothers find on the road that bring up debt and quick cash. The script gives reasons to care about the main characters; they’re actually people with believable motivations. And on a basic sense, the characters are just entertaining to hear talk. This isn’t an action-heavy piece, as even the robbery scenes are muted. Dialogue definitely is at the forefront. With a title like Hell or High Water, one might expect nonstop heaviness and grit. What is surprising is how much humor is injected in the movie and how it actually is effective, and its characters are made more endearing for it.

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Each of the three main actors, Texas drawls and all, turn in impressive performances. He may not be a lead character in this, but Gil Birmingham flashes great chemistry with Jeff Bridges and their ride-along relationship is entertaining. Bridges himself is a better version of what Tommy Lee Jones’ character was in No Country for Old Men. He understands the situation at hand instead of being taken aback by it, and his zeal for wanting to get the job done is a treat to watch.

The dynamic that Ben Foster and Chris Pine show is electric. Character-wise, Tanner should be a guy that is impossible to root for, and yet he isn’t. Ben Foster does stellar work with the role, and gives heart to a semi-unstable character. It is Chris Pine, however, who comes out of this one as the talking point of the film. I’ve always felt he’s had it in him to do this quality of work, and his Toby is likely the high point of his career to this point, and the end scene that is reminiscent to Heat‘s iconic De Niro/Pacino moment seals the deal, his character’s plight, and why.

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Hell or High Water is high tide for the Western genre. Coming near the end of the summer, it feels like the perfect catalyst to lead into a (hopefully) good fall movie season.

A-

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, thefilmstage.com, and ew.com

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The Magnificent Seven (1960): Movie Man Jackson

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Once you’ve met them, you’ll never forget them. A small Mexican village is ransacked a couple of times each year by a dangerous bandidos gang. Led by the treacherous leader Calvera (Eli Wallach), the residents are hungry, oppressed, and afraid. They could fight back, but with no weapons training, their effort would be futile.

Needing assistance, village leaders go to the U.S. in search of firearms. Upon their search, they find something better. Experienced gunslinger Chris (Yul Brynner) is asked to help defend their place. But he can’t do so alone, so he recruits six others to provide support. Together, The Magnificent Seven just might have a chance in turning back Calvera and company.

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While I wouldn’t call it an absolute classic regardless of its genre (only a few films I believe can lay claim to that mantle), director John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, an Americanized remake of the often-imitated Seven Samurai, is an absolute classic for its Western genre. It is the type of film that might not appeal to fans of Westerns, but those who have even a little appreciation for the old frontier that have never seen this feature need to.

Perhaps no genre of movies does credits like Westerns do. There’s something about seeing all of the names in a production set to the background of the particular locale that sets up the tale. Add in one of greatest scores and themes of all time done by one of the greatest composers of all time in Elmer Bernstein and TM7 is as atmospheric as they come.

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Admittedly, the film is a little long for how straightforward it is at two hours and ten minutes. Much of the first 40 or so minutes are devoted to getting the group together and efforts to flesh out everyone. A few attempts at individual character work, but these guys are more or less chaotic good guys who are in a shady profession, but have enough heart to do the right thing. But, this 40 or so minutes does feature some great scenes that aren’t full of shootouts, but simple, occasionally odd, banter and even some humor.

But c’mon, it is the shootouts and old-fashioned western action that makes The Magnificent Seven so fun to watch. Sturges, already very familiarized with the genre and other period pieces by this movie’s release, stages some very impressive standoffs with steady and maintained camera work.

Not everyone can play a gunslinger, as it takes a certain persona and charisma. The casting is superb with this one. Though some of the guys feel interchangeable and underwritten, the guys playing them are believable as tough and skilled cowboys. Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner are the biggest stars, and it is the latter that outshines all (in what seemed to be a constant wars of alpha actors during filming) as the leader. His gaze, demeanor, and even Russian accent all add to his presence. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest cinema gunslingers of all time fighting against an underrated villain in Eli Wallach’s Calvara. He’s actually not on screen a ton, but when he is, he is the villain Calvara.

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Westerns are usually the most basic tales and plots to be had. Basic isn’t a bad thing, however, as long as it’s done superbly. The Magnificent Seven is as basic as they come, but with brillant casting and direction that elevates it to quite the high level.

A-

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, britannica.com, tvtropes.com, and commentarytrack.com.

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The Revenant: Movie Man Jackson

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Who needs winter weather when you have The Revenant? In 1823, the wilderness is very much an uncharted place, harsh and unforgiving. Explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fellow hunting party members John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) are on an expedition for fur. After being attacked by some vengeful Native Americans, the expedition turns to one of pure survival.

If that weren’t enough, Glass is absolutely mauled by a wilderbeast known as a grizzly bear, and left to perish out in the cold by his group. Down, but not out, he sets out to brave the relentless elements and find vengeance on those responsible for their selfishness.

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Directed by Birdman auteur Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant is the magnificent result of a director, in addition to the entire cast, pushing his limits as to what can be shown—and how it can be shown—on film. When people talk about filmmaking being dead, this would be a film to counter that argument. What Iñárritu, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, have done here is capture some of the best cinematography in cinema history. This is an amazing production.

There are few better than Iñárritu at this point in time. He, not DiCaprio, is the star of the movie. The way he sets up a shot, holds it, and keeps it moving is the stuff of legend, aided by the decision to shoot with natural lighting. Surely this had to be difficult for everyone involved, but it pays off with everything competing together in an extremely visceral way. Many times, yours truly wondered just how he was able to get a specific shot, or who he had to sell his soul to in order to pull off such amazing wizardry. He even has nice little visual touches such as staining the lens with blood for specific encounters that break the barrier between camera and subject. It all equates to an brutally unflinching view.

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I understand Tom over at Digital Shortbread is unwilling to jinx Mr. DiCaprio, but I’ll take the blame if his name isn’t called after “And the Oscar goes to…” in the Best Actor award. In a semi-weak field (compared to the Best Supporting Actor category), Leo is by far and away the favorite in the clubhouse. Those who maintain that his recent roles like Gatsby, Belfort, and Cobb aren’t all that stretching can’t use that argument this go-round. His commitment to the Glass character is something that has to be seen, because it feels so real. He’s just as convincing in another language as he is in English. The audience feels every fall, attack, and step taken by Hugh on his arduous journey.

It’s fair to say that Hardy wasn’t the star in Mad Max: Fury Road compared to Charlize Theron, despite playing the titular character. It’s wrong to say that he is the acting star here, because he isn’t. However, he does come close to stealing DiCaprio’s thunder at certain times. Hardy’s role is clear, and his character does everything in his power to make life miserable for Hugh in one fell swoop. Talk about a guy getting under your skin and that character is Hardy’s Fitzgerald. It’s hard to definitively see a nomination only because that field is so tightly packed, but he’d be deserving of one. Work turned in by Domhall Gleeson (a part of many great films in 2015!) and Will Poulter is not to be forgotten, either.

Earlier in this piece, it was written that The Revenant is an amazing production. Those words were chosen carefully. This is a great movie inspired by real events, but on the story front, I did expect to be blown away. Unfortunately, the script is a little bit of a letdown. Seeing Glass’ refusal to give up is riveting, but seeing predicament after predicament that has to be overcome can get a little old, akin to Southpaw. The survival aspect works tremendously. It’s just that at times, thematically, it appears to be going for more profoundness which hampers the storytelling. Minor flaw, as eventually, one realizes that The Revenant isn’t telling a story. The film itself is the story.

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What is the title of a film that has a reported $135 million budget, and still feels like a independent passion project? That would be The Revenant, a revelation for anyone who appreciates push-it-to-the-absolute-limit filmmaking and acting.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, and giphy.com.

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The Hateful Eight: Movie Man Jackson

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“The name of the game is patience.”

Hate! Hate! Hate!  Not too long after the Civil War, the state of Wyoming is home to a myriad of characters, all nefarious and dangerous. On the way to the town of Red Rock, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) rides in a stagecoach which is transporting a woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Daisy is a fugitive who will be put to death by hanging in Red Rock. Making their ride up difficult is a relentless blizzard that promises to only get worse.

Along the way, fellow bounty hunter and former Civil War participant Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), hitch a ride to the same stagecoach. Eventually, though, that snow storm forces the foursume to seek refuge at a local cabin. It is there where they run into more characters—“Mexican” Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Only one thing is certain amongst these people: They are all bad people. 

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As of this writing, it has been almost 48 hours since yours truly has come out of Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature, known as The Hateful Eight. And, I still don’t fully know how I feel about it. On one hand, it is blueprint Tarantino, infusing his irreverent trademark style in every piece of the movie. On another hand, it can feel like the work of a man feeling himself a little too much, reveling in those Tarantinoisms that don’t feel as inventive and unique as in previous works.

Aside from the script leak, the usual uproar of whether Tarantino is going too far, and the roadshow/70mm intention, the biggest story talking point going into “H8teful “seemed to be its over three-hour runtime. Could QT, one of the best writers of dialogue today in film, quell the concern about length? The answer is no…and yes. It really does take some time for his Western to get going, and to give a quantifiable number, I’d say about 60-90 minutes. While one could say that he is building character, I struggle to remember any key lines, or tidbits of information that moved the story along and/or gave more elements to those characters. It is possible that another watch is needed.

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Still, this stretch is where to look for any material that could have, and probably should have, been cut. But, that isn’t to say that The Hateful Eight is devoid of good writing, because it isn’t. Character-wise, these are really nothing but extremely vile people, though some entertaining (yet dulling over time) dialogue does exist. It, like the gratuitous violence, is more for shock value than anything else. But, Tarantino manages to surround these villains with a highly entertaining script that takes primary focus around the second act. Yes, it is a whodunit, but Tarantino uses a few plot mechanics—even his own narration—to fill some gaps. It is likely that the narration could be jarring to some, but it really adds to the old school style and live play aspect.

H8teful achieves a little bit more than not because it is simply an experience. Yours truly didn’t have the pleasure of seeing in 70mm, but this is one of the more unique watches in quite some time. The locale is amazing, and it being predominantly set in a cabin gives a truly confined and claustrophobic touch. As the runtime goes on, Tarantino’s technical work does begin to shine. Not flawlessly, but the film is a great example of sum greater than its parts. Speaking of parts, Ennio Morricone does his by providing an original score that captures the era of the Spaghetti Western. It is that mesmerizing, and potentially the strongest piece of the entire feature.

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The characters in The Hateful Eight may really be nothing more than caricatures, but that doesn’t mean that the actual work turned in by the thespians is to be scoffed at. Samuel L. Jackson does his Samuel L. Jackson thing here, but there’s a tad more meat than many of his other roles in Tarantino films. Kurt Russell may be the most entertaining individual in the entire production, which is a surprise seeing as where he begins at the start. Other great performances include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, and Michael Madsen. At times, they can go a ton over the top, but that is attributed to QT writing more than a performer not knowing what to do.

Starting to see the picture? As odd as it sounds, I’m interested in watching The Hateful Eight again, just to see if there is anything that was missed, any dialogue that went over the head, etc. Very possible this opinion can change down the line with more views. On a first, it isn’t without flaws, or absent of merit. About the only thing I know is that it is a very memorable experience.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, filmmakermagazine.com, and latimes.com

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A Million Ways to Die in the West: Movie Man Jackson

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“Look around you. Everything out here that is not you wants to kill you.”

In real life, Seth MacFarlane is seemingly a man of a million talents, but in A Million Ways to Die in the West, he is just a man…a man devoid of a backbone by 1882 American Old West standards. MacFarlane stars as Albert Stark, an aforementioned individual making a below average living in the frontier, which is an absolute drag of a place to live in. The only thing that makes his situation bearable is the company of his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried).

As these things go, Louise tires of Albert and decides to end things with the poor sap after he shows cowardice before a quick draw. Luckily, Albert’s long depressive stupor is ended when a beautiful mystery woman named Anna (Charlize Theron) comes into town. Out of character during a ruckus, Albert saves Anna’s life, and the two strike a liking to each other. Unbeknownst to him, Anna is actually married, and not just to some nobody. No, this guy is Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), the best and most dangerous shot in the whole Wild West.

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A Million Ways to Die in the West should really be prefaced by Seth MacFarlane Presents. . . If you don’t know by now, the man credited with Family Guy’s success and bringing Ted to life not only stars here, but also produces, writes, and directs. What does this all result in? A movie with no true cohesion, and one in which too much responsibility was bestowed upon one man.

A comedy’s first and sometimes only goal is to be consistently funny. This is not easy, seeing that what tickles one man’s funny bone may fail to leave a mark on another’s. With A Million Ways though, I cannot remember the last time I was hoping, waiting, and wishing for jokes and gags to genuinely make me laugh. Speaking for most of those in my theater, it appeared my sentiment was shared. As it stands, only one scene in my opinion occurring in the middle was a legit funny moment, which is a shame. Because on paper, this is a solid cast, which is something I’ll come back to later.

The problem essentially comes down to lazy writing and a dependence on overused gross out gags, fart, and Indian jokes. There isn’t much of a story really, just comedy sketches draped in Old West garb barely tied together. Early on, it becomes apparent that the people with the most creative power in this (read: Seth MacFarlane) maybe believed that the setting of the Old West would “sell” itself from a humor standpoint, and all that was needed as a supplement to this backdrop is a few random scenes interspersed with strong language and revolting moments.

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Yes, this is an R rated comedy film, so a high level of raunch is expected, including the common fare just described. These jokes are fine in doses, but when it becomes what the well consists of, well, the film gets old very quickly, which in turn makes the film feel a lot longer than it should be.

Not necessarily featuring big stalwarts in comedy aside from Seth, still A Million Ways is comprised of well known actors who do their best to make it better than what is presented to them. Charlize Theron shines brightest as Anna, who generally looks she she is having fun and is easily the most likable and appealing character throughout.

Sadly, this is a major issue being that Seth’s Albert is the character we are supposed to pull for and like. At length, I am unsure of whether his grating role is a result of the lazy writing, or if it is just he himself who cannot carry the weight. It is probably the latter with a bit of the former mixed in. The film is undoubtedly a comedy, but there are instances of Western drama sprinkled across, and when Seth actually has to act, it isn’t believable. He appears to be in over his head when these times come up. Additionally, the whining act becomes played out, to the point where (Spoiler) I actually wanted Liam’s character to shoot and kill him in the end climax. Not exactly what I should be rooting for.

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Played by Neeson, Clinch is a good antagonist, but one that is also forgotten for a large chunk of the movie, so his presence is sort of nonexistent. Giovanni Ribisi plays off of Sarah Silverman in a side story that wears out its welcome immediately. Amanda Seyfried and Neil Patrick Harris fill the secondary villain roles, and aren’t particularly memorable in doing so, but NPH may be the funniest character as a whole. Similar to Family Guy, there are random occurrences and bit players unrelated to the main tale that are supposed to inject laughs. Just know it works better in animation than in a live feature.

The biggest positive ends up being the setting, from a visual sense. It appears that tons of research and hard work was done to make this look like the old frontier, from rinky-dink saloons to clothing worn, so kudos to that.

However, a successful setting does not solely make a successful film, especially a comedy. There may be a million ways to die in the West, but side splitting laughter isn’t one of them.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to collider.com, whysoblu.com, & http://www.evoke.ie.

Reader’s/Followers note: Hey all, I will be on vacation starting late Thursday-June 15th, and I will most likely be without Internet, so new postings are not likely. If I somehow do post a review, expect something older. When I do return, I will be a bit behind, but I do plan on checking out and reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, The Signal, and maybe The Fault in Our Stars. Thanks all for reading and supporting my blog!

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