Pride

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4
January 25th, 2015 No comments

Pride, 2014, UK

pride

Pride is based on the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists who raised money to support striking miners and their families during the British Miners’ Strike. They started the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners organization, and they, and the miners living in the village of Onllwyn found themselves to be unlikely allies.

This film is an uplifting and emotional journey of two groups of people learning about one another. The miners, in many cases, had never even met an openly gay or lesbian person, but throughout the film, but we saw the community members embracing their supporters. Ben Schnetzer plays Mark Ashton, one of the founders of the LGSM group. He acts at the ringleader of the movement, and his performance was excellent. I had no idea that he was actually a New Yorker until I looked him up after the film; his Irish accent was perfect. Paddy Considine is lovely as Dai, the representative of the community who meets them for the first time at the beginning of the film. Dai is a stoic, dignified sort of man, who is immensely grateful for the support they’re receiving from the LGSM, and influences the rest of the community to embrace the LGSM members and their fundraising actions.

Pride is incredibly funny at times, but it never makes light of the issues portrayed in the film: the importance of LGBT rights, workers’ rights, and the terrible prejudice LGBT people experienced in the 80s. The film is a wonderful example of the good that can come about when people work together and support each other.

After watching the film, I discovered that it was rated R, in the US, which is ridiculous. There is some language, and smoking throughout the film, but there is absolutely no reason it should have been rated R. It’s prejudice at the hands of the MPAA, simple as that. The American DVD release also makes no reference to the fact that the activists in the film are LGBT individuals, which is so incredibly disappointing. That is the backbone of the film, and such an important thing. It should be celebrated – not hidden. Shame on whoever designed and approved the content for the American DVD release for hiding such a crucial and wonderful aspect of this film.

Pride is now available for rental off iTunes. It’s an absolute joy to experience, and one I recommend highly.

The Giver

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 1
January 20th, 2015 No comments

The Giver, 2014, USA

My childhood hurts. It’s rare that I see a movie this terrible, and it’s a shame the filmmakers so thoroughly trashed the incredible material they had in Lois Lowry’s wonderful book. It was so unlike the book that you could hardly call it an adaptation. The book, The Giver, was a thoughtful book about a society that initially seemed peaceful, before the ugly reality of it comes open. It’s about the importance of emotion, of memory, and of differences. The film takes those beautiful ideas and throws them all out in favour of drone pilots and a power-crazed Chief Elder.

Part of the problem is that Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is aged up in the movie. There was something so captivating and heartbreaking about a 12-year-old boy discovering war and pain for the first time, and having the courage to do what he does in the book. Turning him into a grown man (albeit a young grown man) removes some of that emotion. An argument could be made that it might be difficult to find a pre-teen actor capable of the emotional range and maturity needed to portray Jonas effectively, but Thwaites wasn’t exactly hitting it out of the park in that regard. Frankly, I think they just wanted to cast a “hottie” so that fans of the book would find Jonas “dreamy”.

Jeff Bridges portrays The Giver, who gives memories of the old world to Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory. Bridges had wanted to make this film for about 20 years, and I have to wonder why he agreed to star in such a bastardization of a story he clearly loves so dearly. He must have known that what was being done was wrong. Katie Holmes plays Jonas’ mother, and her acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen on screen. She only seems to be capable of saying “precision of language” in a condescending tone. Her character in the novel is nothing at all like this, while she lacked genuine emotion like most of the characters in the novel, I always imagined her as a kind woman who is fond of those around her. Holmes shows none of this. It was as if she didn’t understand what she had to do with her role, so she just decided to make her character a shallow and rude person.

Meryl Streep portrays the Chief Elder, a character that doesn’t appear in the book, and one that has no reason to be there. “Hey, let’s hire Meryl Streep and make this movie REAL interesting!” is the approach the filmmakers took.

It’s been a few years since I last saw a movie as genuinely terrible as this one. If you love the book the way I do, stay the hell away from this movie. And if you haven’t read the book, drop what you’re doing and read it now.

Oscars 2015 – My Thoughts on the Nominees

Movie Rating:
January 16th, 2015 2 comments

Well folks, it’s Oscar season! This season has been a bit of an off-season for me. I haven’t been as impressed with many of the film offerings as I normally am, and a few I’m not interested in seeing, period. Many films have also been released here later than usual (or haven’t been released at all here!), making it more difficult to follow the race.

But I’ve seen quite a few of the films, despite everything, so I’ll do my best to offer up my thoughts on this year’s nominees.

Best Picture

“American Sniper”
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Boyhood”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Selma”
“The Theory of Everything”
“Whiplash”

I’ve seen every film in this category except for American Sniper and Selma. I have little interest in American Sniper so I may end up skipping it. I was thrilled to see The Grand Budapest Hotel get a nomination. I thought it had zero chance of it when it came out so early last year; I had assumed the Academy would have forgotten about it. I am so glad to have been so wrong: it, and Birdman received 9 nominations! I find it very interesting that a dark comedic showbiz satire, and another dark comedy lead the nominations this year. The Academy tends to favour more dramatic films.

Lead actress

Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

I can’t say much about this category: I’ve only seen Jones and Pike’s performances, and both were quite good, especially Pike.

Lead actor

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

I’m very happy to see both Cumberbatch and Keaton get nominations, as both were incredible in their respective roles. I’m thinking Keaton has this one in the bag, and I’m fine with that result, as his work in the film was extraordinary.

Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

I’m thrilled to see Anderson receive his first Directing nomination for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I don’t think this will be his year to win, as it will likely go to the completely deserving Linklater for Boyhood.

Supporting actress

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep, “Into The Woods”

I’ve seen Arquette, Stone, and Knightley’s performances and all three are very deserving of their nominations. I imagine that Arquette will be winning in this category.

Supporting actor

Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

J.K. Simmons will be winning this category, as he should be!
Animated feature film

“Big Hero 6″
“The Boxtrolls”
“How To Train Your Dragon 2″
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Wow – I’ve only seen two of these nominated films. I have really done poorly on the animation front, this year! I was shocked to see that The Lego Movie didn’t receive a nomination in this category. I thought it was a near lock. It was a beautiful looking film, uproariously funny, and had a good deal of heart. I can’t even predict who will win this category this year.

What are your thoughts on the nominations? Were there any snubs that bothered you? Who are you rooting for?

The Hundred Food Journey

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
January 13th, 2015 No comments

The Hundred-Foot Journey, 2014, USA

Papa Kadam (Om Puri) has been in the restaurant business for many years with his family, including his son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), who is a culinary prodigy. After a fire bomb attack kills the family matriarch, Papa Kadam and the family seek refuge in Europe, eventually settling in a small town in France due to a twist in fate caused by a brake malfunction. Papa purchases a restaurant located across the street from “Le Saule Pleureur”, a Michelin Star restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who is harsh and traditional, and scoffs at the “Maison Mumbai’s” loud music and strong use of spices. The two restaurant owners enter into a war, but can an understanding eventually develop between the two of them?

The Hundred-Foot Journey is lovely, even if it is rather formulaic. It reminds me of director Lasse Hallström’s previous film, Chocolat. It touches on similar themes of not fitting in, being different, and the notion of food bringing people together. But, instead of incredible chocolate, this film showcases some of the most glorious meals ever put on screen. Everything looks absolutely delicious – but the Indian food looks especially wonderful. You will find yourself craving either Indian or French food, depending on where your tastes lie.

Mirren is good as the strict Madame Mallory. Her French accent is spot-on, and apparently she had wanted to do her entire performance in French, and even recorded her lines in French! Unfortunately, as it is an American film, having approximately half the film in French would be a difficult sell. North America’s aversion to subtitles is ridiculous and I’ve been saying that for years now. However, she does manage to sneak in as much French as she possibly could, so kudos to her! Puri and Dayal were quite good, as well. Dayal acts perfectly as the peacekeeper of the film.

Despite its formulaic nature The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming and lovely film. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see it in theatres, but it’s a good Friday night rental if you’re in the mood for a funny, feel-good film.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3.5
January 10th, 2015 No comments

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, 2014, USA

The film adaptation of Mockingjay has always had some challenges ahead of it. This book changes the format of the prior two books, in that there’s no Hunger Games: it’s more of a war story. It also has some serious pacing problems, particularly in the last half, which was rushed. I had hoped that by splitting the book into two movies, the filmmakers would have time to elaborate on the second half of the book and make it a stronger story and ending. Understandably, this film does not feel like a complete film, as it’s only the first half of a story.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is in District 13, which was once thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is in Capitol custody and is being used as their propaganda pawn. The leader of District 13, President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use Katniss as their own propaganda in order to rally the districts to rebel against the Capitol. Katniss, paralyzed by PTSD, and struggling to remain in control, eventually agrees after setting very specific terms. Working with a team of filmmakers, as well as the leaders of the rebellion, Katniss starts to film propaganda pieces to inspire further rebellion in hopes of overtaking the Capitol.

Lawrence gives an inspiring performance as Katniss. She accurately depicts Katniss as a woman struggling to hold it together after going through hell not once, but twice. This film also makes it very clear how Katniss is being used by the leaders of the rebellion: she’s fragile and in no condition to be doing what she’s doing, but the leaders don’t care. They’re simply using her for their own agenda. It’s tremendously sad, and this film is actually incredibly depressing.

One thing I’ve admired about The Hunger Games series is how it handles serious and very adult topics, despite technically being young adult literature. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 gets into the ethics of war. It’s often an ugly film, and we see that ugliness through Katniss and her anger, rage and heartbreak. Remember: she never wanted to be a revolutionary, she just wanted to save her sister (Willow Shields).

All of that being said, this film is slower moving than the others in the series. It hasn’t made as much money as prior films in the franchise, and I fear that may be why. It’s perhaps even more thoughtful and intelligent than the others, but the tone is very, very different. I am very eager to see Part 2, as that is where more of the action is in the story, and I’m curious to see how the two films work when watched together.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
January 6th, 2015 No comments

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, 2014, New Zealand/USA

And so ends the trilogy based on a single book. The Hobbit trilogy has been problematic, primarily because there was no need for it to ever be three films in the first place, so each film is understandably going to include a lot of filler. This film is no different, but it does act as a satisfactory conclusion to the series.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the band of dwarves led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) are in the mountain following the defeat of Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Thorin is overcome by the allure of the gold and succumbs to “dragon sickness” and refuses to honour the debts he made in order to regain the mountain in the first place. This leads to strife between the dwarves, the residents of Laketown and the elves. A battle appears to be inevitable when word comes of an approaching Orc army.

This film is essentially one long battle sequence. The beginning is a little bit anticlimactic, as the death of Smaug comes very quickly. It would have flowed better had Smaug died at the end of the last film, but I understand why director Peter Jackson didn’t make that choice: that would have felt too much like a conclusion to the story, and people may not have realized there would still be another film.

The battle sequences were spectacularly filmed, as one would expect from Jackson by now. And Armitage does great work as the afflicted Thorin. But, there was a lot of filler, as I stated earlier, and the inclusion of Evangeline Lilly as the original character Tauriel genuinely angers me. I understand why they created her character: The Hobbit contains no major female characters, and they wanted female representation. But when that female character exists solely to act as character development for two male characters, it feels hollow and even offensive. I would have preferred if they hadn’t bothered including a major female character, rather than create such a poor, thinly developed and cliché character.

Overall, I enjoyed The Hobbit series despite its flaws. They’re fun films, though The Battle of the Five Armies is easily the darkest of the three. But they’re just that: fun. The Lord of the Rings trilogy will stand up as a classic film trilogy, but The Hobbit trilogy will not. I re-watch The Lord of the Rings every few years, but I can’t see myself revisiting The Hobbit anytime soon.

All of that being said, do go see The Battle of the Five Armies in theatres. I didn’t see it in 3D, IMAX or in 48 FPS, but I still recognized the need to experience this film on a big screen.

Top 10 of 2014

Movie Rating:
January 3rd, 2015 No comments

Another year gone, another top 10 list to do. I still haven’t seen a lot of 2014 films based on limited releases, and, admittedly, I’ve missed quite a few 2014 films. Overall, 2014 has been a weaker year for cinema, and I spent a lot of the year watching non-2014 films. For the purposes of this list, I’ve defined 2014 release by when it was first released here in North America – there are a few on this list that received 2013 releases in other parts of the world.

10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel consistently delivers quality films, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier plays out like a political thriller with superheroes. It was a risky concept, but it works perfectly, and Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is the most intriguing villain Marvel has debuted since Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

9. The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible as Alan Turing, the man who designed the machine that cracked the Enigma code. Turing’s story is both heroic and devastating, and the film brilliantly draws the audience into the puzzle of Enigma.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy

Another Marvel home run. Guardians of the Galaxy is perhaps even riskier than Winter Soldier, in that it features lesser-known characters. But its runaway success was proof that Marvel is now a solidly trusted brand by audiences. Chris Pratt is excellent as Peter Quill, giving the film a ton of humour and heart.

7. Ida

Ida is a wonderful Polish film about religion, and family. Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) grew up in a Catholic convent, and has trained to become a nun, but before she can take her vows, she is told she must meet her aunt (Agata Kulesza). She discovers she is actually Jewish and that her birth name is Ida. This film is subtle, thought-provoking and beautifully filmed in black and white. This is the film I want to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

6. The Face of an Angel

The Face of an Angel has not had a wide release yet; it had been playing at film festivals around the world last year, starting from its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, which I had the pleasure of attending. It will receive a wide release this year. Daniel Brühl plays Thomas, a once-respected film director who is in the midst of a career lull. He travels to Italy to make a film about a prominent murder case (a fictional case based on the real-life murder of Meredith Kercher). There he descends into his own personal hell. The film is structured like The Divine Comedy; a book that is also referenced throughout the novel. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved it.

5. Boyhood

Boyhood is the most ambitious film released this year. Director Richard Linklater shot this film over the course of many years. Through this technique, we get to watch the characters grow up naturally, without the use of make-up or different actors playing the same roles. It flows seamlessly, and is a remarkable artistic achievement.

4. Interstellar

While Boyhood was the most ambitious film of the year, Interstellar is also worth noting for its technical ambition. This film was remarkably beautiful, as a whole. The visual effects and the cinematography were gorgeous, and the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is easily my favourite of the year. 169 minutes has never flown by so quickly.

3. Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 is one of the most emotional films Disney has ever made, but you would never know it from the trailer. I went in expecting a fun superhero film, and found myself weeping several times throughout it. It’s a surprisingly mature and thoughtful examination of grief, loss, and friendship. Disney’s animated films have been making appearances in my top 10 for the last few years now, and, in fact, Frozen appeared in the very same spot on my 2013 list!

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Anchored by Ralph Fiennes’ remarkable performance (perhaps my favourite in a Wes Anderson film!), The Grand Budapest Hotel is a dark, humourous and moving film. It takes place in a fictionalized Europe during the interwar period, and tackles the realities of living in that time in a way only Anderson could.

1. Snowpiercer

Taking place entirely on a train traveling on a year-long rail track, Snowpiercer is a dark social satire. It’s highly stylized, features inventive and brilliant fight sequences, and is unrelentingly bleak. Tilda Swinton plays a character you love to hate in the most incredible fashion, and one that would simply be comic-relief in the hands of a lesser actress. She should be receiving an Oscar nomination for her work in the film, but won’t, because The Weinstein Company buried this film after director Joon-ho Bong refused to cut 20 minutes out of it. It would do my heart good to see it get a Best Picture nomination despite Weinstein’s attempts to bury it, but I have no expectation of that happening. Regardless, it’s the best film of the year, and one that everyone should watch.

I am so excited for the films of 2015 – bring them on!

The Imitation Game

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 4.5
December 31st, 2014 1 comment

The Imitation Game, 2014, UK/USA

During World War II, Nazi Germany used Enigma, a code that is thought to be unbreakable. Mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is hired by the British Government to break the code, along with a team of other code breakers, linguists, and puzzle enthusiasts. Alan proves to be difficult to work with: he’s blunt, has difficulty understanding social cues, and prefers to work on his own. He determines that a machine is the best way to defeat Enigma, so he begins to build the machine, much to the consternation of his colleagues, who are working by hand. Slowly, and with the help of his friend and colleague Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), he wins their respect. But Alan is a gay man, and hiding in the closet, because at the time, same sex relationships remain illegal in the UK.

Turing’s story is a tragic one. He is a man that should be celebrated as a hero, yet he was persecuted after the war for his sexual orientation. Everyone in the Western world should know his name and what he achieved; because of his machine, it is estimated the war ended two years early and he saved 14 million lives. Despite this, he was persecuted and convicted of gross indecency because he had sex with another man. It was a terrible, disgusting injustice, and this film will leave you heartbroken and angry.

Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan is one of his best performances to date, which is saying something, given his excellent work in film, on television, and on stage. He’s likable and oddly charming as Turing; the audience is immediately engaged with him as a character. His charisma with the wonderful Knightley is excellent too: Joan is in every way his equal, and her story is captivating, as well. Joan’s story is quite sad: because of her gender, she is denied opportunities to excel and reach the same level Alan reached in her career; something women are still dealing with to this day. It was fitting, in this way, to see these two social outcasts become such close friends, because both seemed to understand what the other was going through.

The Imitation Game is a must-watch film. The story is told like a puzzle, which gives the audience a real sense of what it was like to be trying to break Enigma, and the frustration the team felt when they failed over and over again. While I haven’t been following the award’s race this year, it has been nominated for several awards, and quite justifiably so. Go and see this film, because the world needs to know more about this remarkable man, and the terrible injustice he faced, simply for being who he was.

I will be doing a top ten list for 2014 sometime early next month so keep your eyes out for it!

The Interview

Movie Rating: This entry has a rating of 3
December 27th, 2014 No comments

The Interview, 2014, USA

This is the movie that has caused so much controversy? Seriously? The Interview has been the reason behind the Sony hacks, and it was received a very limited US theatre release and a wide VOD release. I rented it off YouTube – an experience I won’t be repeating, since I could not view it in full screen on my computer without it stopping at a very specific point early in the film. Watching a film on a YouTube sized screen? Not fun.

The Interview is very much a typical Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg film. It’s crude, but it does have some heart. Dave Skylark (James Franco) is an entertainment reporter with his own show that is produced by his friend, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen). Aaron wants them to be taken more seriously, so when he finds out that King Jong-Un (Randall Park) is a huge fan of Skylark, he arranges an interview with him. Kim’s media officer is Sook (Diana Bang) an intimidating, no-nonsense sort of woman who has an odd rapport with Aaron. Dave and Aaron are asked to assassinate Kim by CIA Agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan), and are given the training needed to do so. But once they’re in North Korea, Dave and Kim bond, and he finds himself having second thoughts about the assassination.

If anything, the film is more a satire of the state of American journalism. Dave lacks any sort of journalistic ethics, and is willing to act as Kim’s propaganda puppet for the sake of attention. Aaron is very much the straight man of the film, though that does not mean Rogen does not have his moments: a scene where he has to hide a rocket in a very specific place is hysterically funny.

Franco is excellent as Dave, a dumb, narcissistic TV host with a bizarre obsession with Lord of the Rings. I also loved Park’s performance as Kim. He portrays him as a shy and nervous sort of man with a secret Katy Perry obsession, and the film is surprisingly sympathetic towards him. Perhaps a little too sympathetic, in fact.

The film does have its issues. It’s almost two hours long, and the plot just cannot hold up over that time frame. It drags terribly at times – especially when Dave and Kim are bonding. The climax of the film was excellent and satisfying, but it took way too long to get there. A good 20 minutes could have been cut to make the film stronger. Some of the better moments of the film were at the beginning when they’re in the United States. Here we get much of the commentary on the state of American journalism, and it’s both damning and hilarious.

You can rent The Interview on various VOD services here in Canada. It’s problematic, but at times it is quite funny.

Arthur Christmas

Movie Rating:
December 23rd, 2014 No comments

Arthur Christmas, 2011, UK/USA

Oh, how I adore Aardman Animations. They make incredibly funny, witty, and heartfelt films. Arthur Christmas is no different. It’s a fresh take on the Christmas movie genre, and I think it’s destined to be a new holiday film tradition for me.

Arthur (James McAvoy) is the younger son of Malcolm ‘Santa’ Claus (Jim Broadbent), who is the latest of a long line of Santa Claus’. Arthur is a compulsive worrier, and enormously clumsy, but he loves his job working in the mail room answering letters from children to Santa. His older brother, Steve (Hugh Laurie) runs the Santa operation, which has essentially become a military operation. Steve is impatiently waiting for his father’s retirement so he can have his chance at being Santa. When a little girl’s gift from Santa is accidentally not delivered, Arthur and his grandfather (Bill Nighy) take the old Santa sled, the retired reindeer and a plucky elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen) and set off to make sure her Christmas is perfect.

Seeing the updated gift delivery process was fantastic and incredibly creative. So many Christmas movies featuring Santa stick to the classic story of how Santa delivers toys to children – but this modern update was very much appreciated. It was also great to see the repercussions of this modernity: it feels very sterile, and more like a business. Arthur represents classic Christmas spirit: he’s an idealist who embodies the very meaning of Christmas. McAvoy voices him brilliantly, and Arthur is a character us neurotic folk can relate to. He’s a worrier, he’s anxious, but he’s also a hero! Laurie is also great as Arthur’s cynical older brother. He acts as a foil for Arthur, but he’s never a villain. He’s written well, as are Malcolm Claus and Grand-Santa, who have occupied the same position and have differences in opinion as to how to perform the duties required of Santa Claus.

Arthur Christmas is an excellent and festive film that is appropriate for people of all ages. There are clever jokes (both spoken and sight gags) aimed at adults, so there is more than enough to appeal to parents watching it with their kids. It’s available on Netflix, and I imagine once you’ll watch it, you too will find that you have a new annual Christmas movie to add to your “must watch” list.

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