Tag Archives: Dark Knight Rises

2012 in review – Reeling in Films

As each year rolls to a close, I find myself desperately Googling lists of films which opened in the year in an effort to determine what I actually saw at the cinema.  You may encounter a similar situation – did I really enjoy that movie this year or did it come three years ago and I’ve only just caught up with it?

That said, I’m pretty sure that I can post a solid top five movies of the year – all of which are mostly perfectly defensible.  Ahem…

1) Brave

Women with bows and/or arrows - you couldn't avoid them in 2012 pop culture

Women with bows and/or arrows – you couldn’t avoid them in 2012 pop culture

I hated “Cars” so much that I purposefully avoided “Cars 2” when it opened last year.  I know people who loved both movies, but I’m firmly of the belief that I’ll only see it when it ends up free to watch on TV.  I’m happy to say that “Brave” reaffirmed my belief in Pixar’s storytelling abilities and seemed, at times, made for me.

Set in Scotland? Check.  Strong-willed heroine with character layers and imperfections?  Check.  Knockabout comedy and thrilling action sequences?  Oh yes.   Amazing voice cast? Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, Billy ConnollyCraig FergusonRobbie ColtraneJulie Walters – check-a-mundo.

And how bold of Pixar to essentially pull the rug from underneath you in the cinema and deliver a film which is quite different from the one advertised – there’s plentiful adventure to behold in this film but also a really interesting meditation on family and obligation which the trailers didn’t exactly shy away from but certainly managed to undersell.

My favourite Pixar movie is “Ratatouille” but this glorious adventure runs it a close second – if you didn’t get to see it in cinemas, I heartily recommend picking it up and wallowing in master storytellers weaving a brilliant yarn.  I’ve not loved an animated feature as much since “How To Train Your Dragon”, which is high praise indeed.

"Fanboys?  Let them eat Mjolnir!"

“Fanboys? Let them eat Mjolnir!”

2) “Avengers Assemble”

Joss Whedon – the vindication!  You may have seen this film once or twice.  I saw it three times theatrically, a couple of times since on Blu-Ray (full disclosure – I own two copies of it, as the UK release ditched various features and a Whedon commentary track).  The culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s Movie Take-Over didn’t disappoint, pitting the cast of bickering heroes against a galactic scale threat and finding a way, finally, to bring the Hulk to thrilling life via Mark Ruffalo and some absurdly brilliant CG wizardry.

Whedon’s voice remained undimmed by the demands of the multiple characters – much to the chagrin of his vocal detractors – and he managed to miraculously balance the demands of mythology, actor screen time, the expected summer movie explosions-per-second ratio and his own fan base to deliver a superhero smack down for the ages.  If you ever read comics as a kid, this movie was pitched directly at you and realised in vivid detail those action figure battles you sketched out at eight years old in the school playground.

Plus, you know, Shawarma.

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers...

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers…

3) “Cabin In The Woods”

It really is better if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it, such is its puppyish determination to take what you know and love about horror cinema and then twist it, delivering a glorious, genre-warping ride which celebrates the scare-flick even as it places some of its more objectionable stylistic tropes under an exacting microscope.

Best ending of the year?  Quite possibly.

4) “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant...

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant…

The latest from Aardman Animation arrived in cinemas in the spring and departed with indecent haste, which says to me that a great many people didn’t get to enjoy this joke-stuffed, superbly inventive pirate adventure and that’s a great shame.  This is a hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant, staggering levels of detail crammed into each gorgeous frame of this stop motion work of art and a really infectious sense of off-kilter humour – it is, in essence, a Monty Python movie for kids and if that doesn’t recommend it to you, I really don’t think that there’s any hope for you.

=5) “The Woman In Black”

What Harry Did Next

What Harry Did Next

A genuine breath of swampy, slightly decaying air, “The Woman In Black” capitalizes royally on our fear of creaking furniture in quiet old houses, of unexplainable noises late at night, of the thing that you glimpse for a second from the corner of your eye and delivers a bone-chilling, restrained journey into terror which eschews gore for melancholy, substitutes atmosphere for flashy jump scares and shows the idiots cranking out PG-13, pseudo ‘found footage’ schlock just how to genuinely unsettle an audience.

Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead as haunted young lawyer Arthur Kipps, wrestling bravely with events that he can never hope to understand and confirming that his will be a long and storied career if he continues to make smart choices like appearing in this film.  He’s already an audience identification figure for a generation of movie-goers and this film trades on that, using his iconic, essentially decent countenance to draw us into a Victorian milieu which is swiftly and convincingly drawn as a stultifying and closed-off nightmare – Kipps’ job-stipulated stay in a possibly haunted, rickety old mansion seems positively inviting by comparison.

More scares per minute than any other film in 2012?  I should say so.

=5) “Resident Evil: Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like...

Not so much a film as cinematic DLC. Yep, a bit of a tough sell…

Suck it haters!

 

In dispatches, I should also mention the likes of James Bond adventure, “Skyfall”, Christopher Nolan‘s audience dividing but audacious trilogy-capper, “The Dark Knight Rises“, Peter Jackson’s little movie that could, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, genius bare knuckle, sci-fi adaptation, “Dredd”, gleefully daffy TV remake “21 Jump Street”, putative epic sci-fantasy adventure “John Carter”, vamps versus werewolves franchise entry “Underworld: Awakening“, Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe in “Prometheus”, addled fantasy revisionism “Snow White and the Huntsman“, mumble-core superhero fable, “Chronicle”  and Sony’s promising, web-slinging reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.

And 2013 brings us a new “Star Trek”, “Elysium”, “Oblivion”, “Riddick”, “Iron Man 3”, “After Earth”, “Pacific Rim”, “Ender’s Game”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from merely the Sci-Fi and Fantasy film spheres – there’s a huge movie at the multiplex seemingly every month and I’d guess that I’ll get to see a mere fraction of those titles at the movies next year.

Which is kind of where we came in, isn’t it?

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Hirsute “Man of Steel” trailer defies snark, loves Malick

Gritty, crime-ridden mean streets? Check.

Great news, everyone – there’s now a proper trailer for the 2013 blockbuster perhaps best described as “Terrence Malick‘s Kryptonian Reverie'”

We had a first look at Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan‘s “Superman” reboot, “Man of Steel” in the summer  this year when a brief, impressionistic first look was attached to prints of Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy-capper,  “The Dark Knight Rises“.  As we near the end of 2012, and next summer’s action extravaganzas are beginning to make their play for our eyes and ears, it’s no surprise that Warner Brothers have placed Krypton‘s last son front and centre with this 2 minute and twenty seconds trailer due to play before “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” from Thursday.

That Malick comparison won’t yet abate, as the imagery in the first part of the trailer which Snyder has chosen in collaboration with cinematographer Amir Mokri clearly evokes the bucolic world visuals which have become integral to Malick’s past few films.

A nice way of saying, perhaps, that it all looks very pretty and scenic for the first minute of the trailer, with the once and future Supes coming of age, developing his remarkable Kryptonian abilities and growing up into brooding, beardy boy-next-door, Henry Cavill.   The more impatient viewer might begin to drum their fingers at this point and wonder where the flipping action got to.

Big S

As is by magic, this is roughly when we bear witness to the Superman that we might reasonably expect to turn up – the alien champion of our planet, replete with redesigned uniform, super strength, gift of flight and moral compass set approximately to ‘Boy Scout’ (not that this is a bad thing, in my book – I’ve always been more of a Superman fan than a Batman devotee when it comes to DC heroes).

After doing a very reverent and perhaps underrated job of bringing “Watchmen” to the screen, it’s nice to see director Snyder getting to stage huge action sequences and not have to apologise for cutting loose with all of the toys at Warner Brothers’ disposal – this is a summer movie with $225 million to play with, so you can imagine just how eye-popping some of these quick-cut, slam-bang action moments are going to be in the end product.

Not that there was ever going to be any doubt that I would be going to see this film, but the trailer does a pretty good job of convincing me that my money will be well spent come next summer’s IMAX engagement…

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“The Amazing Spider Man” movie review

Much better than "Spider-Man 3".  But then, what isn't?

Much better than “Spider-Man 3”. But then, what isn’t?

I intended to go and see director Marc Webb‘s summer reboot of Marvel’s beloved defender of New York City earlier this year and somehow never got around to it.  Trailers didn’t really amaze me, the advance word was somewhat muted and even the mighty “Empire” magazine were a little cool on it with their three star review – the proverbial drums were beating ‘stay away, stay away!’ to anybody even half-listening.

As it turns out, true believers, The Amazing Spider-Man is perhaps the best adventure for Peter Parker since Sam Raimi‘s peerless, knock-it-out-of-the-park sequel, Spider-Man 2“.  It’s better written than the fairly woeful third movie and has captured more of the charm of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko‘s eternally teenaged shutterbug/wise-cracking vigilante than the Raimi series really managed to – Andrew Garfield is a fantastic Parker and a great Spider-Man.

Something that must be said is that this version does take some fan-baiting, mildly controversial liberties with the established origins of the character – there’s a teasing thread which shows us the hither-to unseen Parker parents, who disappear from the young Peter’s life under the proverbial cloud and the pivotal death of Uncle Ben is rendered slightly differently – but no less effectively – than I remember it from the comics.

In this, the film is greatly assisted by having Martin Sheen in the role.  He’s not in the film for a major amount of time but utterly commands the screen as the great paternal substitute in Peter’s life – there’s a palpable dread running through this section of the film as you know what’s going to happen, know that it has to happen to really set the plot and the titular character’s central struggle in motion but really don’t want Uncle Ben to, you know, go to the big idyllic NYC stoop in the great hereafter.

Kissy-kissy, lovey-dovey Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey.  Doing kisses.

Kissy-kissy, lovey-dovey Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey. Doing kisses.

Where this movie really soars is in the depiction of the Parker/Gwen Stacey relationship.  In hiring Marc Webb, the director of “500 Days of Summer“, a quite distinct signal was being sent to fans ahead of time that there was going to be more focus on and attention paid to the relationship side of this superhero adventure story and that has indeed proven to be the case.  The boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic of Parker and Stacey is really quite charming and performed beautifully by Garfield and Stone – they’re a very convincing on-screen couple.  One, in fact, which you actually don’t mind spending some time with – usually the obligatory, focus-group insisted-upon love story is a cue for me to zone out of most Hollywood pictures, but I really didn’t mind this aspect of the film at all.  It was very well done and made all the more compelling when you know how things are supposed to pan out for this comic book couple.

In fact, weirdly, the stuff that you’re supposed to come to this movie for – the action and set-pieces – are not really as interesting as the dramatic heavy-lifting and acting from the excellent cast.   I’m sure that this wasn’t the intent but, for the most part, the expected spectacular sequences of super heroic derring-do really don’t materialize that often and when they do don’t hold a candle to the equivalent mayhem on display in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” or “The Avengers”.

Perhaps the best moment, in fact, comes right at the end – I won’t spoil it, but it involves C. Thomas Howell and a moment of transcendent,  blue-collar, NYC solidarity for their web-slinging, wise-cracking knight .  You might find it too cheesy if you need more irony from your cinematic spectacle, but I loved the way that the scene in question allowed the city that Spidey will save time and time again to give their champion a much-needed assisting hand during a moment of crisis.

The Lizard isn’t the greatest Spidey villain, for me, but Rhys Ifans does a great job in portraying his alter-ego, Doctor Curt Connors – he’s simply a much more interesting character than the charmless, technically competent but utterly uninteresting monster which he morphs into when an experiment goes wrong.   When the action goes from the refreshingly practical staging which typifies the opening half of the movie to a CG character beat-down a-la every other superhero movie in recent memory, it’s really quite easy to find yourself looking at your watch or checking your phone – the action is weightless and the threat to our hero is non-existent (awesome Stan Lee cameo, though…).

It’s a very promising start to a new trilogy and I’m keen to see if Webb – who is apparently returning to helm the second movie – manages to keep the momentum going that he has established with this first film.  Word has it that Electro might be the bad guy in that movie – wonder if they’ll be keeping the classic costume?

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Alternate “Avengers” Awesomeness Amazes?

“And this is the bit where more amazeballs awesomosity is going to go…”

In the spirit of global collaboration and nerd-sharing, it behoves me to direct you towards io9.com, who currently have an alternate opening sequence for “The Avengers” posted on their site.  It’s a really interesting choice and I can absolutely see why it went the way of all flesh – I can’t imagine many fans digging the ‘unreliable narrator‘/alternate perspective direction that this opening implies, intriguing as it might have been…

If I know Marvel (and their dark corporate over-Mice, Walt Disney) this won’t be up for long but you will be able to peruse it at your leisure in a few weeks when Joss Whedon‘s superhero opus is out on DVD, Blu-Ray, digital download and can settle the question once and for all – how did this film and “The Dark Knight Rises” both manage to independently construct endings which pivot on wide-ranging moral choices selflessly enacted by rakish billionaires who moonlight as technologically advanced fighters of crime.

And no, h8t0rz, that doesn’t mean that Hollywood has no ideas.  Just not that many.

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David Cronenberg on “Batman”, Christopher Nolan – handbags at dawn!

 

Oh, internet hive mind – must you be so thin-skinned?

“And Wolverine’s an asshat, too!”

David Cronenberg has been promoting his current rumination on post-economic meltdown NYC, “Cosmopolis“, and managed to upset a great many bloggers, forum trolls and click baiters with his off-hand dismissal of “The Dark Knight Rises“, Christopher Nolan and superhero cinema in general:

“But a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it’s comic book. It’s for kids. It’s adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art, I don’t think they know what the f**k they’re talking about.”  

Cart upturned, apples everywhere.  But he’s got a point.  As Danny Bowes’ excellent piece over at the Tor Books blog observes, this isn’t a case of some arthouse know-nothing aesthete critiquing superhero flicks and genre film from a position of arrogance and indifference, it’s one of cinema’s most pre-eminent and skilled navigators of genre convention and subversion making a concise and cogent argument about a significant director and the most lucrative films being made by the major studios today.

I’m a Christopher Nolan fan, and moreover I love his Batman movies, but I wouldn’t make any huge claim for their relevance beyond being entertaining examples of mainstream entertainment with some interesting underpinnings.   That’s why I found some of the forum negativity towards “The Avengers” and Marc Webb‘s “The Amazing Spider-Man” somewhat baffling,  particularly when it was coming from the self-appointed Nolan Defense Force, for whom their blithely unaware leader’s every bodily emission is a sacred text to be studied and treasured.

At the level that Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, Marc Webb and co are working – with major studios, on comic book flicks, with £250 million budgets and all the toys that their tent-pole flicks can command – there’s very little chance that their movies are ever going to be allowed to be anything other than entertaining popcorn flicks with most of the rough edges snipped away.  Any opportunity to challenge the assumptions of the audience or make observations about the psyche of the viewer are going to be a very distant second to building a massive thrill ride which gets butts on cinema seats, sells soundtracks on iTunes and gets the truly devoted to buy all the related tie-in products in the eyes of the studio.

Simply put, Cronenberg has always been in a different business to the guys who bet on comic book characters to bring in the bucks and keep their jobs safe.  Whilst it might be nice to imagine what he might do with a character like DC’s John Constantine (astute cinephiles reading this blog will doubtless remember the fine work that Cronenberg turned in with his graphic novel adaptation, “A History of Violence”, so it’s not as if he’s so against the artistic form as a whole), I suspect it’s a safe bet that we won’t see him directing that “Guardians of the Galaxy” flick in our collective lifetime.

And, hey – if you think that Cronenberg’s some highfalutin snob who doesn’t have a sense of humour, get your ocular accentuation receptacles around this compilation of kills from “Jason X” (Reader discretion is advised – contains gore and Jason Voorhees smoking fools).

Yes, that is his Cronenberginess getting a right old smoting at the grisly, undead hands of Camp Crystal Lake‘s brightest son.  It fair brings a tear to my eye, so it does…

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“Gangster Squad” release postponed – good taste or overreaction?

 

In a reaction to Friday’s tragic events at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, word has it that Warner Brothers will be postponing the September 2012 release of their 40s and 50s set crime drama, “Gangster Squad” to January 2013.  Anybody who’s seen the Jay-Z scored trailer for the film may remember the bit where a cinema audience is gunned down by merciless criminals and realise quickly that this sequence now has as much chance of remaining in the movie as a scene in “The Expendables 2” where everybody sits around and discusses their feelings.

Whilst I understand the reticence to include any scene which reminds a potential audience of the shooting deaths in Colorado, it occurs to me that this delay is due less to any sudden attack of conscience than a desire to maximise the box office potential of the film by excising any particularly troublesome elements lest they be ceased upon by a media eager to jump on any potential controversy and run it into the ground.

Going back to the trailer – linked here (it features the scene now being excised from the film, so approach with caution if you’re sensitive to this kind of imagery) – it’s hard to see how taking one arguably contentious scene will do much to alter the tone of the film, which seems to revolve largely around sexy guys in stylish period attire punching, shooting and shagging their way across a lawless 40s Los Angeles.  Taking out one scene which has unfortunate echoes in real-life events hardly changes the fact that much of their trailer promises the likes of It Boy Ryan Gosling shooting slightly less handsome people in the face in the name of ne0-frontier justice, after all.

I confess, I find Warner Brothers’ knee-jerk desire to pull scenes from their film to be entirely disingenuous and quite insulting – they greenlit this film, after all, and let director Ruben “Zombieland” Fleischer do his thing.  Did they somehow not read the script?  Are they suddenly surprised to have a film on their hands which has Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin‘s heroic off-the-books cops brutally murdering gangsters?  This is, I take it, the same Warner Brothers who built much of their early success on gangster flicks and lurid crime dramas?

In the end, it’s all about cash, not caring about the sensibilities of victims of atrocity.  Controversy sometimes equals full tills, but just as often induces people to avoid your product because it offends some weird moral sensibility which gets uptight about violence in films but sees no problem at all in having a gun (or two) in the house.  As ever we see that popular culture is the real villain in cases like this, not the ease of purchasing high-powered firearms and ammunition for any sociopathic nut-job with a psychotic manifesto and a nihilistic worldview.

 

 

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“The Dark Knight Rises” – film review

“I once caught a bat THIS BIG

I still remember the slightly dazed feeling that Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and I had after going to the Vue cinema in Sheffield to see Christopher Nolan‘s dizzying, operatic “Batman Begins” sequel, “The Dark Knight“, in summer 2008.

It was a Sunday lunchtime, Batman was in the wind after sorting out the Harvey Dent situation and there was this distinct sense between us of having just been put through the wringer.  Had we just been entertained for two and a half hours or been through a punishing, sensory obstacle course?

The same feeling struck me after emerging from this morning’s screening of the third movie in Nolan’s series based on the DC comics character, The Dark Knight Rises“.

It needs to be said that this is an excellent film – a worthy cherry on top of the proverbial trilogy cake – but it’s an exhausting one which demands a lot of the audience, in terms of memory and ability to not visit the bathroom several times (forego the Super Gulp cup at your concessions stand – you will miss stuff if you have to visit the facilities during the film).  There’s no walking into this film green – you really do have to refresh your memory of “Batman Begins”, as it plays a significant part in proceedings, and it helps to have an appreciation of Harvey Dent, too.  It’s not as though there’s an exam paper to sit as you leave, but it will help to have some recollection of how our hero got to this point in this life and to know who the characters are, as introductions are sketchy at best. This is particularly true if the people in your party are not quite as geeky as the rest of us – you’ll be explaining a lot to them and missing things yourself.

The scale of the enterprise is what surprised me – we’ve all read those pre-release puff-pieces which seek to convince that “Summer Blockbuster X” sets the bar incredibly high and that we’re going to see things that we’ve never seen on-screen before – usually this translates as ‘canned special effects sequence marginally more entertaining than the one in that film we were conned into seeing last year’.  With “The Dark Knight Rises” I actually believe the hype for once – I’ve can’t recall having seen a film which has action set-pieces of the scale and duration seen during the last act in this film.  Big isn’t necessarily better, but Nolan’s taut command of the toy box at his disposal on “TDKR” makes the likes of “Transformers 3” seem even more weightless and juvenile than it already was, despite both films dealing in similar scenes of extended metropolitan destruction.

The performances match up to the apocalyptic imagery on display – Christian Bale is excellent and fully justifies Nolan’s initial decision to cast him with the rounded, nuanced turn he delivers here.  He’s beaten, bloodied and bowed by the demands and toll that his by-night vigilante campaign has taken on his body and mind – this is a Batman who wants out from the life he’s created for himself and finds that a wider world has something quite different to say about that.

Leaving on a jet plane? Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in “The Dark Knight Rises”

He’s more than complemented by Anne Hathaway, who defies a million dim-witted fanboy forum posts by making the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman her own – slinky, sarcastic, haunted, defiant, conflicted, capable and able to walk in heels that even Lady Gaga might deem a bit complicated, this is a Catwoman quite distinctively different to those we’ve seen before in Bat-Cinema, TV and games.  There’s an exchange of dialogue between her and Joseph Gordon Levitt‘s idealistic policeman mid-way through the film which goes past beyond the sexy cat burglar archetype to hint at Kyle’s essential dilemna in this telling of the tale – she’s brilliant at what she does, but what she does puts her in situations which can’t help but keep her in the mire that she’s trying to escape.

Best Catwoman ever?  Your mileage may vary, but I thought that she was wonderful and that Hathaway did splendid work in the role.  Even the ears worked.  Kind of.

Tom Hardy is fantastic as the force of nature Bane – he’s got layers of character which haven’t been hinted at in the pre-publicity and their unpicking on-screen is a delight, giving this unaccountably posh berserker man-mountain an array of quotable and – get this – easy to understand dialogue.  It’s a strong actor indeed who can command the screen and hold the attention with much of his face replaced by a high-tech dog muzzle and Hardy manages to do it consistently – he’s helped, of course, by his imposing physical presence.  The words ‘Brick’ and ‘Outhouse’ come to mind.

Is this a good ending to the Nolan trilogy?  I would say so – but it’s not without some dodgy moments.  I thought that we were going to have a retread of  the second film’s “Which boat shall we blow up? The one with the rapists and murderers or the ‘Ickle Kittens and Orphans’ cruise?” moral non-quandry at one point, but we got past it swiftly.  There’s some fairly on-the-nose dialogue to contend with, too – you may wonder if Bane’s job is to defeat Batman or engage in some kind of unorthodox, “The Game”-style Billionaire Life Coach programme with him, given the steady stream of tough love aphorisms he delivers in their scenes together.   And Hans Zimmer‘s score is so overwrought that any metalhead listening will wonder why they didn’t save a few bob and just sling some Dimmu Borgir on the soundtrack – the aural, cumulative effect is noticeably similar.

I will want to revisit this film, but I suspect that a little distance will certainly help me to appreciate it all the more – it’s big with a capital B and such an endeavour deserves to have a little gulf between viewings, I think.  If “The Avengers” was like the best chocolate cake ever (with extra sprinkles), “The Dark Knight Rises” is like a delicious pasta dish with such a rich tomato sauce that you can’t face any other course afterwards.

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