MOVIE: Poltergeist (1982)

PoltergeistYear: 1982Rating: PGLength: 114 minutes / 1.90 hours Some movies have spoilers, and then some movies have so deeply-ingrained themselves in the popular culture zeitgeist that it’s nearly impossible to not have some knowledge of them before actually sitting down and watching the film itself. Poltergeist (1982) is just such a film for me. I’ve seen it referenced on many different lists and other places that claim it to be a great horror film. I’ve also seen it referenced and parodied in several places (like The Simpsons). The combination of its notoriety and its parody meant that I had pretty much already seen this film before actually watching it. Since I already knew the “big reveal” that caused the main characters’ house to become haunted, I had to watch this movie with a slightly different focus. Mainly: how and why has this film stood the test of time? Sure, it dates itself sometimes with its early-1980s style; however, the special effects for...
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MOVIE: The Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others Year: 2006 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours Quantum Physics holds to a belief that you can never truly observe something without affecting it. The mere act of observation alters the state of the thing being observed to the point where we can never be sure of the accuracy of the observation. I say all this to set the stage for the wildly tense and enthralling Best Foreign Film Oscar-winner, The Lives of Others (2006). There’s this weird dichotomy between voyeurism and being able to play God that makes this film so entertaining to watch, especially in the modern, surveillance-heavy society in which we live today (of which Person of Interest does an excellent job of exposing). Set in one of those rare historical moments right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others hinges on the superb performance of Ulrich Mühe as the audience is never quite sure what he’s going to do with the...
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MOVIE: The Look of Silence (2014)

The Look of Silence Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours It’s weird how a documentary can make something as deplorable as killing another human being a chilling experience. If the killings that happened in Indonesia were shown on the screen in all their gory detail, there’s a certain point where a viewer’s mind just shuts off from all the violence. It’s almost too much to watch, which is why interviews with those who did the killings is a different and almost more horrifying way to go about exposing this barbaric event. The Look of Silence (2014) is a tough movie to watch, but it is crucial for understanding how anyone could do something so vile. Put in the framing of an optometrist trying to confront his brother’s killers, The Look of Silence has this quiet, stoic energy about the horrific killings in Indonesia. I was in shock when these men talked so candidly, openly, and unabashedly about the atrocities they did...
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MOVIE: A Separation (2011)

A Separation Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Regardless of where you live on this planet, plenty of scenarios are just as likely to happen in Tehran as they are in Toledo. This is where A Separation (2011) pulls its strength. Set in a mostly modern Iran, A Separation is a series of dramatic twists that could probably happen to anyone. After all, tons of people have to deal with elderly parents with Alzheimer’s. There are plenty of divorces for trivial and non-trivial reasons. Good help is hard to find and even harder to afford. The combination of these things results in a gripping narrative that’s only given a distinctive Iranian flavor by its cultural limitations. If anything, A Separation shows how difficult it is to be a woman in a Muslim country. It’s not impossible, but certain limitations become evident when the strict religious rules of the Quoran come into play. It was nice to see a more liberal version...
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MOVIE: The Player (1992)

The Player Year: 1992 Rating: R Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Those who are aware of Robert Altman’s other films are sure to recognize the themes that permeated his oeuvre. He always seemed to find a way to satirize something in a way that underscored how broken the system is. From the military in M*A*S*H (1970) to the music industry in Nashville (1975), Altman had a keen eye to bring the ridiculous nature of these anthropological machines into the spotlight. Clearly, his time in the movie industry helped him adapt Michael Tolkin’s novel into The Player (1992). In a weird and meta way, nothing has changed since its early-90’s release. If you’re playing the “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game at home, this film is literally a “who’s who” of actors and movie personalities (many of whom appear “as themselves”). Unfortunately, this film does suffer from its early-90’s aesthetic, often highlighting how far we’ve come in terms of fashion and technology in nearly three...
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MOVIE: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Once Upon a Time in AmericaYear: 1984Rating: RLength: 229 minutes / 3.82 hours Nobody doubts Sergio Leone’s talent as a director. While he’s best known for his Spaghetti Westerns, he did make a few films like Once Upon a Time in America (1984). One does wonder if Leone was given free rein with this film, as it was probably an hour longer than it needed to be and included a lot of situations that could have been cut out, or at least trimmed down. If anything, it’s clear directors like Quentin Tarantino were influenced by movies like this, considering some of the similarities between it and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). I will admit that most of the scenes in this fractured timeline of a story were necessary. Something that was shown early in the film would inevitably come into play near the end. However, I don’t think this excuses the numerous (and gratuitous) sex scenes included in this film. With a run time of...
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MOVIE: Strangers on a Train (1951)

Strangers on a TrainYear: 1951Rating: PGLength: 101 minutes / 1.68 hours It’s a wonder after all these years that a Hitchcock film like Strangers on a Train (1951) escaped me until now. Sure, Hitchcock used trains in many of his films, but the premise here is so diabolically intriguing that it demands a viewing. After all, there’s an amount of logic involved with two strangers swapping the murders that they would like to happen to those tormenting them. And yet, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) is so unsettling in his ability to follow through that the suspense of the rest of the movie practically films itself. Several camera tricks that Hitchcock uses adds his signature flair to this movie. From a punch to the face to a tension-filled series of shots at the bottom of a storm drain, the cinematography in Strangers on a Train is yet another reason why people need to watch this film. This being said, the ending (despite being...
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MOVIE: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Magnificent AmbersonsYear: 1942Rating: Not RatedLength: 88 minutes / 1.47 hours Some films are timeless classics, like Citizen Kane (1941), then some are doomed to live in their shadows like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It’s easy to see how a success like Citizen Kane would incentivize studios to let Orson Welles direct another film in the hopes that he’d surpass himself. Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Magnificent Ambersons ever achieves that level of cinematic notoriety, merely acting as a footnote to much more famous films. Consequently, this movie hasn’t necessarily aged as well as its 1941 counterpart. I’ll still give credit where credit is due and say that The Magnificent Ambersons contains the visual charm and bold style that defined Orson Welles’ films. If only the story and characters were memorable enough to care about, then we might have a good movie on our hands here. As it stands, I didn’t care for any of the characters, nor did I even feel...
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MOVIE: An Education (2009)

An Education Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours I’m not sure how I missed this film when it first came out. I suspect it was because I hadn’t started making a point to see all the Oscar-nominated films of that year—and 2009 bumped that number up significantly from five to ten. At any rate, I’m glad I eventually came around to it as it was a delightful—if not mostly generic—coming-of-age story. The only modern and recent example I can think of that equates to An Education (2009) is Lady Bird (2017), and I loved that film for similar reasons. As someone who generally grew up feeling “older” than his peers, I could relate to Jenny (Carey Mulligan, in her best Audrey Hepburn impersonation). There’s a point when some teenagers like Jenny think they’ve figured out the “rules” of life and are therefore ready to jump into adulthood with both feet. This is definitely where the titular “education” comes in. It's both...
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MOVIE: Hugo (2011)

Hugo Year: 2011 Rating: PG Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours Enchanting. Charming. Magical. After re-watching this film again, I can still confirm Hugo (2011) legitimately earned all its technical Oscars, even if it didn’t end up winning Best Picture. Ironically enough, this American movie about the origins of French film lost out to a French movie about the origins of American talking pictures (i.e., The Artist (2011)). Of course, the more surprising aspect of this film was how Martin Scorsese was able to make such an entertaining (and family-friendly) film that didn’t involve the mafia at all. Personally, as an avid lover of classic films, I enjoyed the romanticism related to the earliest of film magicians. Scorsese’s love letter to the origins of cinema—and the masters of their craft like Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley)—is a stark reminder of how much we've lost of cinema’s heritage due to external events that forced the artistic community to abandon their art. The amount of experimentation and inventive...
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MOVIE: Hero (2002)

Hero Year: 2002 Rating: PG-13 Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours After the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in most of the worldwide markets, it’s no wonder that a film like Hero (2002) would make an appearance. Capitalizing on the choreography and visuals that brought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon success, Hero takes these acrobatic battles to the next level, even to the point of them becoming ridiculous and semi-cartoonish. Add to this the deliberate color theming for each of the film’s different sections, and Hero almost becomes a piece of art in its own right. It’s almost a shame that there haven’t been more movies like this in the years since. While some of the CGI hasn’t aged well since 2002, and the acting can sometimes be too flat or too over the top, the story is still entertaining. The language barrier did make it slightly confusing at times, but the twists were top-notch. It did help to have the “framing” of the throne room to not only show the...
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MOVIE: Senna (2010)

Senna Year: 2010 Rating: PG-13 Length: 106 minutes / 1.77 hours I’ve never been much of a fan of NASCAR racing, mostly because I knew that Formula-1 existed. While I haven’t paid much attention to Formula-1, it was interesting to watch the documentary on Ayrton Senna, especially with how it was put together. Most documentaries will intersperse interviews and other pieces of ancillary information to support the main narrative. Not Senna (2010). Consisting almost entirely of video clips recorded at the time he was racing, Senna is a fascinating look into this racer’s life that benefits from hindsight to piece the video clips together and the full story. The sheer amount of skill and mechanical prowess it takes to race Formula-1 cars at top speeds is what gives this film its initial entertainment value. Added to that, we have the charismatic personality of Ayrton Senna, whose whole goal in life was to be the fastest driver around. He didn’t care about the politics of the...
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MOVIE: City of God (2002)

City of God Year: 2002 Rating: R Length: 130 minutes / 2.17 hours About a decade ago, I saw a clip from City of God (2002) in my Film Studies course at college. One of my classmates brought it to show everyone how realistic the acting appeared during a scene where young children were initiated into a gang. I had to admit that the acting seemed authentic. However, I didn’t consider it as part of the whole movie until recently, when I had a chance to sit down and watch the entire thing. While I’ll agree that this short clip was a good example of what the film had to offer, I was more in awe of plenty of other aspects it brought to the table. First off, the beginning of this movie wowed me with its cinematography. The whole “chicken chase” sequence is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen. City of God still manages to maintain some exquisite subtlety in showing the audience what it wants...
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MOVIE: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams Year: 2010 Rating: G Length: 90 minutes / 1.50 hours Every once in a while, ideal conditions align to preserve a piece of ancient human history. Time and the march of civilization have destroyed plenty of important artifacts of our past, but occasionally something happens that protects this history for future generations to find. In Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), the audience gets a breathtaking look into an amazing discovery that has a cultural impact stretching back eons to the origins of our species. It’s a shame that most will never be able to visit this cave, but this documentary is practically the next best thing. Interspersing first footage and high-quality video of the cave, the music and narration in this film create a mesmerizing quality as we are introduced to cave drawings and other artifacts that haven’t been seen by human eyes in a very long time. The expansive nature of the art and the level of preservation are quite awe-inspiring. I...
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MOVIE: Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anvil! The Story of Anvil Year: 2008 Rating: Not Rated Length: 80 minutes / 1.33 hours Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is one of those movies I sat down to watch because it’s on the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list. Before watching this film, I honestly had never heard of this Canadian heavy metal band, and it soon became apparent why. What immediately struck me was how similar the premise was to the 1984 mockumentary, This is Spinal Tap. It was difficult to separate this real-life story of the rise and fall of a heavy metal band with the Rob Reiner comedy since so many of the beats of the plot seemed to match up. Still, it was somewhat engrossing to see how Anvil! followed the progression I’d already seen in Spinal Tap. At first, I thought, “Is this for real?” This was before I realized that perhaps the reason why Spinal Tap worked so well was because that’s just how the music industry functions and has functioned...
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MOVIE: Heat (1995)

Heat Year: 1995 Rating: R Length: 170 minutes / 2.83 hours It’s interesting to go back and watch something by Michael Mann after seeing his later work. I enjoyed Collateral (2004) and considered it to be a well-directed film. Of course, there’s deliberate pacing and acceleration of Collateral that drew me in. Unfortunately, this biased me somewhat when I sat down to watch Heat (1995). Stylistically, both are fairly similar and use similar locales. However, at almost three hours long, some of the pacing in Heat made me think that it could have used a bit of a trim in the first half. I understand the deliberate nature of the buildup of the first half, with each event introducing some core tenet of the main characters that come to fruition by the end of the film. It helps that there’s a good bit of action early on, but until the twist that happens about half-way through occurs, the comparison to the pacing of the second half makes the early part of this movie...
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MOVIE: As Good as it Gets (1997)

As Good as it Gets Year: 1997 Rating: PG-13 Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours I’m not sure how it’s taken me this long to sit down and finally watch this movie. I’ve enjoyed other films by James L. Brooks, like Terms of Endearment (1983) and Broadcast News (1987). If anything, As Good as it Gets (1997) is almost like the end of the trifecta of Brooks films, considering how well-received by critics they are. When it comes right down to it, the appeal of these movies is the characters. There’s a heart and realism rarely seen in comedies (most of which resort to stereotypes and fart jokes to get a laugh). As a more intellectual comedy, As Good as it Gets manages to bring together three unlikely people and push their boundaries to grow as characters. Of course, it’s somewhat easy to do this with abrasive characters like Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson). After all, actively trying not to be a jerk is great growth potential. Additionally, other characters grow through their...
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MOVIE: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential Year: 1997 Rating: R Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours There are police dramas, and then there are police dramas set in Los Angeles. Something about this town makes the crimes that much more interesting. Maybe it’s the intersection of fame and criminal activity. Perhaps it’s that the crimes are so much more grandiose due to the wealth of the area. Whatever the reason, L.A. Confidential (1997) is a fantastic film that manages to show different perspectives of the seedy underbelly of the glamor and glitz that makes the town so successful. If it weren’t up against Titanic (1997), it probably would have won a lot more awards than it did. It’s almost surprising how many famous actors are in this film. Sure, some of them were unknowns at the time. Even within three years, we’d see Guy Pearce in Memento (2000) and Russell Crowe in Gladiator (2000), both rising into their stardom. This is not to mention the fantastic performances by Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, and Ron Rifkin....
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BOOK: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2008)

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die: 5th Edition Year: 2008 Author: Steven Jay Schneider Length: 960 pages As a movie aficionado, it was only a matter of time before I picked up this book. At the time, the 5th edition covered most of the films that were out at the time, but I do realize there are more recent versions of this book that include some of the latest hits of the last decade. Not one to use this book as a simple desk reference, I took the time to sit down and read through the reviews of these 1,000+ movies. In the time since buying this book, I’ve managed to increase my percentage of films seen, but there’s still a long way to go. Even before I started reading this book, I had already seen a good portion of the movies mentioned, many of which won critical awards for their achievements. With a concerted effort, I’m now sitting at 42% of these 1001 movies...
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MOVIE: Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.36 hours For the longest time, I had only seen pieces of Forrest Gump (1994). After watching it in fits and starts, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing in one go probably ten years ago. Upon re-watching this Best Picture-winner, I realized how it has maintained its cultural appeal for so long. After all, it’s not necessarily a story about a slow southern boy; it’s the story of history and the story of America. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but they’re relatively minor compared to the impact of the rest of the film. What’s perhaps the most impressive part of Forrest Gump is the visual effects. From digitally inserting the titular character into archival footage to removing a Vietnam War soldier’s legs, even knowing these computer-aided elements are there doesn’t hinder how real they look. Although, being able to match the visual tone and style of several decades was equally as impressive....
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MOVIE: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner Year: 1982 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours When I first saw Blade Runner (1982) many years ago, I understood that it was the quintessential, if not the defining, cyberpunk film. Since I was used to the more modern cyberpunk at the time (a la The Matrix (1999)), I felt the slow unfolding of exposition wasn't nearly as action-driven as I had hoped it would be. Of course, at the time, I might not have been watching the "Director's Cut" version of Blade Runner, which was what I watched this time around. Needless to say, it's a much better movie than I initially remembered. I think part of my improved assessment of this film came from a realization that it wasn't intrinsically a science fiction film. Sure, it is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, it is set in a fast-approaching and somewhat inaccurate representation of the future, and it has the trappings of a sci-fi film (i.e., androids,...
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MOVIE: Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting Year: 1996 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours As someone who has never done drugs, I have no way to know what the experience of being high on heroin or cocaine is like. Fortunately, I don't have to do these drugs to get an understanding of the sensation. In the early years of film, most movies about drugs were usually cautionary tales (as was the case for Reefer Madness (1936)). By the "free-loving" decades of the 1960's and 1970's, drugs were more acceptable but often were seen in a comedic context (a la "Cheech & Chong"). The societal excess of the 1980's and 1990's beget an epedemic of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. Consequently, we started to see more films that would glamorize drug use, but would still show the consequences of extended use of these harder drugs. Perhaps the most famous film that fits in this category is the hard-to-watch Requiem for a Dream (2000), which really played up the "consequences" part. A few...
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MOVIE: Aliens (1986)

Aliens Year: 1986 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While I’m sure a Ridley Scott sequel to his smash-hit, Alien (1979), would be fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, the choice to go with similarly-successful James Cameron in the director’s seat helped to keep the franchise from becoming too stale. Of course, with a sequel appearing seven years after the original, Alien had plenty of time to rest on its laurels before the follow-on film came along. Watching Aliens (1986) with the knowledge of James Cameron’s other work, it soon becomes apparent that this movie is all his own. After all, if I told you there’s a James Cameron film about space marines invading an alien world to eliminate an alien threat, many of you would think I’m referring to Avatar (2009) and not Aliens (1986). In the original Alien, much of the focus of the film is on survival, let alone how to defeat such an unstoppable creature. For Aliens, the...
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MOVIE: Alien (1979)

Alien Year: 1979 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours Science fiction in film has faced an uphill battle in terms of being taken seriously. Up until the late 1960’s, most sci-fi was low-budget, B-movie schlock more likely to be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder than Oscar potential. This all changed in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now that sci-fi could be considered art it took almost a decade for other films to capitalize on Kubrick’s groundbreaking work. Star Wars (1977) expanded on the special effects and made sci-fi a fun, action-filled ride. Regarding the horror aspect of sci-fi, Alien (1979) remains the founding film of these combined genres. Not only does Ridley Scott do a fantastic job directing this movie, in particular through the use of elaborate sets, puppetry, and just plain spectacular cinematography; but the fact that Alien has an incredibly strong female protagonist (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) puts it leagues ahead of its time in terms of character-driven plot....
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MOVIE: Jaws (1975)

Jaws Year: 1975 Rating: PG Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours Back when I first saw this film as a child, it scared me quite a bit. Later, when I watched it again for the first time in a while, it didn’t scare me as much, but it certainly was thrilling. Now, having read the book it was based on, I have a fuller and more in-depth understanding and appreciation of all sides of this classic story. With the knowledge of what was missing in the movie from the book, I thought it would detract from the viewing experience. Instead, I found that the book and the film covered two very different aspects of the story, each expertly done for the utilized medium. In the book (which was released a year before the film), we find that the shark hunt is not only a matter of public safety but also infused with the politics of the island of Amity and the personal drama of a cuckolded...
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MOVIE: Dirty Harry (1971)

Dirty Harry Year: 1971 Rating: R Length: 103 minutes / 1.72 hours What makes an iconic film? Is it something that has memorable moments and catch phrases? Is it something that stands up against the test of time? Is it something that resonates with us on a deeper level? Whatever it is, I feel Dirty Harry (1971) is certainly an iconic film. Let's take a look at why this is the case. First off, there's the famous monologue about counting. "Do you feel lucky?" completes a tense moment that merely started with a detective's intuition that something was about to go down. But what make this early scene that much greater is the bookend it creates with the film's antagonist, Scorpio (Andy Robinson). This isn't even the only bookend this film has to offer, as the two deaths at either end of the movie end up being submerged in water. Secondly, while the 1970's seem quite different to our modern styles, something about the culture...
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MOVIE: Collateral (2004)

Collateral Year: 2004 Rating: R Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours Having seen this film many years ago when it came out, a recent re-watching of the Blu-ray at home with my wife has cemented itself as a tight and well-done film. While most action films like to confuse the audience with shaky cameras and quick cuts, this one starts calm and builds to an exciting conclusion. Of course, it's not just a steady and methodical thriller, it loops back on itself, tying up all loose ends and bookending the whole plot in a neat little package. Each of the segments where they drive to the next destination gives a chance for excellent character building as well as giving the audience a break from the brief moments of action (which steadily get longer and more intense as the film progresses). Along with the overhead tracking shots and expert use of depth of field, this film almost borders on art. These are what good action films should be. What's...
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