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Thursday, May 31, 2012

SIFF Sighting: LOVE FREE OR DIE (Documentary, USA)

Gene Robinson led a traditional life for many years. He married, had two daughters with his wife and then divorced a few years later.

He began dating Mark, who would become his husband, soon after. Oh—and he's also a man of the Lord.

In 2003, Gene became the first openly gay bishop to be consecrated in the Episcopal church. Struggling with death threats and the old-world beliefs of many who belong to the same faith, Gene has become a figurehead for religious equality and a symbol of hope for the Christian LGBT community.

This film tells his story and chronicles his time behind the scenes as his church was voting on crucial LGBT issues.

The footage of his various news coverage (60 Minutes, The Today Show, The Daily Show) is entertaining, and the interviews with Gene, his family and other bishops are earnest and sincere.

Really, the film is a simple reminder of how people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ should probably act a little more like Christ (non-judgmental) to achieve the peace and harmony our universe so richly deserves.

LOVE FREE OR DIE screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

SIFF Sighting: RENT-A-CAT (Comedy, Japan)

Sayoko (Mikako Ichikawa), a single twenty-something, is sad following the death of her beloved grandmother.

To cope, she raises cats as companions, then builds a business out of it, renting the felines out to other lonely folk.

What makes her enterprise so charming is that she treats it much like a modern-day adoption agency. She makes her prospective customers pass "tests," which include a visit to their home from her to ensure the surroundings are suitable for her cats. And those who are serious about renting the animals happily comply.

All the while Sayoko is meandering through her own life, hoping to marry, taping goals on the wall for herself to hopefully achieve.

Bridget Jones she's not, but she does have a familiar desperate-single-girl-with-spunk essence.

Thought the film doesn't reach any unexpected heights, the situations our heroine finds herself in (a nightmare sequence is particularly hilarious) are a delight to watch.

RENT-A-CAT screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Troy (Jacob Wysocki) has been medicating himself with food since his mother died. His father (Billy Campbell), a tough ex-marine, is worried about the friend he’s made in Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a junkie that’s using Troy for room and board in exchange for a promise to join his punk band.

The harsh dynamics of high school life are well-represented in this charming directorial debut from Matthew Lillard. Go see it—you’ll laugh a lot!

FAT KID RULES THE WORLD screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

SIFF Sighting: LIBERAL ARTS (Comedy, USA)

Jesse (Josh Radnor), 35, travels to his alma mater to speak at a retirement ceremony for one of his beloved professors and meets 19-year-old Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen). They develop a 'connection' and Jesse has to determine whether or not the risks of being with her outweigh the joy.

The all-star cast, featuring Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney and Zac Efron are all wonderful, as are the leads in this charming 'what if' about morality.

LIBERAL ARTS screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cinebanter #112: THE AVENGERS

The mp3 of this show is here.

In this episode, Michael and Tassoula harness their own superpowers, as they review THE AVENGERS. In the Last Five®, both find Martin Scorsese connections in their lists. They also respond to Listener Feedback. The breakdown is as follows:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 Discussion of THE AVENGERS
• Break
• 25:33 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 26:11 The Last Five®
• Break
• 55:32 Listener Feedback
• 1:06:31 Credits and Outtakes


See Tassoula in the Seattle PI (she's in the costume contest photo, to the left of "Jennifer").

Want to contribute to the show and help with production costs and server fees? Click on the "Make a Donation" button to the left of this blog.

Special thanks to Brad Daane, Mark Cummins and Vincent Do for providing the original music in this episode.

Tassoula has reviews, musings and movie-related product links at Tassoula's Movie Review Blog.

Reviews and/or notes of movies Michael sees can be found at his MichaelVox website.

Feedback is always welcome - you may leave comments here or e-mail the hosts at

We hope you enjoy the show!

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SIFF Sighting: TWO FOR THE ROAD (Classic, United Kingdom)

Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play Joanna and Mark: a 60s-era couple that succumbs to the stereotypical failures of a wedded union.

They begin, as most couples do, passionately in love with one another; playful and carefree.

They're both gorgeous, charismatic and engaging, so what could possibly go wrong, right?

Their story is told in non-chronological flashbacks, so we alternately experience their best memories along with their worst. Sort of like real life, which is alternately touching and frustrating.

The most entertaining bits feature them on a road trip with another couple and their obnoxious young daughter Ruthie (Gabrielle Middleton). The parents here are on the cusp of the generation that started letting discipline go out the window in favor of allowing kids to explore their "feelings" and "experience independence." The little brat spotlighted in this role is a perfect example of why that parenting trend was (and continues to be) a huge failure—blatant displays of entitlement and general disrespect. But I digress...

The two leads here behave much like the couple in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, which came five years prior to this film, but without the same intensity or venom.

Their fights are uncomfortable, sure, but not entirely enough to convince the audience they won't eventually kiss and make up.

Overall, it's not a bad film, and the recent restoration by The Film Foundation and Twentieth Century Fox makes the print glow with nostalgia and light.

TWO FOR THE ROAD screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

SIFF Sighting: TAKE THIS WALTZ (Drama, Canada)

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are a happily (if not immature) married couple going through the motions of life. He's a cookbook writer; she spends her days hanging out with Lou's alcoholic sister Gerry (Sarah Silverman).

When it is discovered that cute Daniel (Luke Kirby) is her neighbor, Margot tests the waters of infidelity.

The performances here are first rate, but the story and tone have trouble deciding what they want to be.

TAKE THIS WALTZ screened at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SIFF Sighting: 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (Comedy, USA)

Julie Delpy brings her character Marion back as an older version of her neurotic self in this follow up to the witty 2 DAYS IN PARIS.

In this installment, Chris Rock plays her loving partner Mingus, who appears to be almost saint-like until his patience wears thin during a visit from Marion's obnoxious French family.

This ride through clashing cultures and true romance is a delightful romp, just as the first.

2 DAYS IN NEW YORK screened at the 38th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

SIFF Sighting: DREAMS OF A LIFE (Documentary, United Kingdom)

How can a vibrant, social woman in her 30s, living in a big city, die alone in her home and not be discovered for three years?

This is what the documentary DREAMS OF A LIFE examines in the true story of Joyce Carol Vincent.

Joyce was apparently wrapping Christmas presents one evening in 2003 and died of what must have been natural causes. She was found in 2006, her remains so decomposed they could not definitively determine what killed her.

Due to the type of housing she lived in, her rent was covered for a long time, her electricity was never shut off (her television was still on when she was found) and she was in between jobs so none of her colleagues "missed her." The friends she had knew of her as a free spirit and figured she was off on some adventure. Her mail continued to be delivered, piling up in her front room where it landed. No one realized her body lay ready to be discovered in a London flat.

What this documentary does is re-enact certain elements of Joyce's life using an actress who bears a strong resemblance to her, and they mix that with talking head interviews with friends and acquaintances who can't believe she's gone.

The story is undeniably fascinating and speaks to a larger issue in the lack of community of present times. However, I do think the filmmakers focused too much on silly details (so what if she liked to sing—we didn't need to hear several 'songs' to represent that) and not enough time on her living sisters and the actual investigation following the discovery of her body.

Nonetheless, a powerful representation of what can happen, even in this age of information sharing and virtual connectedness.

DREAMS OF A LIFE screened at the 38th annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012


The great friendship of Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris (Emily Blunt) is tested when Jack visits the remote cabin that belongs to Iris's family, and her sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there. What's more, Iris shows up the next morning.

To say that the next few days become complicated for the trio would be an understatement as the twists and turns of this entertaining, heart-filled comedy unfold.

Lynn Shelton's YOUR SISTER'S SISTER opened the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Scenes from SIFF: Opening Night Red Carpet and Gala Reception

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SIFF Sighting: THE MEXICAN SUITCASE (Documentary, Mexico)

What if your work or work of art at the height of your career went missing only to turn up five decades later?

That's what happened to three photographers who shot 126 rolls of film during the Spanish Civil War. And though the photojournalists are no longer with us, their haunting images of that time survived completely intact in a Mexican closet. How they got from France (which is where they were last seen) to Mexico remains a mystery.

The three boxes that were found were nicknamed "The Mexican Suitcase," and that's where this illuminating documentary gets its name.

Aside from showing countless images from the boxes (now restored and safely residing at The International Center of Photography), the film tells the stories behind photographers David “Chim” Seymour, Gerda Taro, and Robert Capa.

What's great about the narrative is that even if you're not a history buff, or particularly fascinated by photography, the story is rich and presented in a beautiful way.

It's essentially a time capsule brought to life.

The Mexican Suitcase will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

SIFF Sighting: THE 5000 DAYS PROJECT: TWO BROTHERS (Documentary, USA)

"Some kids have a journal; I have an older brother," says Luke Nelson, one of the two brothers featured in this installment of The 5,000 Days Project.

The idea that Director Rick Stevenson came up with a decade ago, to chronicle the lives of elementary students as they grew, will sound very familiar to those who love the British Up series by Michael Apted, who revisits the original children he interviewed for the 1964 TV show every seven years (critic's note: the latest edition, 56 Up, debuted yesterday and follows three of the original kids).

This is a bit different—shot in closer installments—and this particular 'chapter' zeroes in on two Mormon brothers in Shoreline, Wash. When they're little, they don't get along. When they're older, they discover Sam has a problem with depression and Luke turns out to be his biggest ally. When they're ready to leave the nest, one heads to a foreign country on his religious mission; the other sets out to play football at a Mormon university.

The trouble is: if you can't relate to Mormonism or being someone's brother or battling depression, there's not a lot of revelation here for you as an audience member. It's not presented in a way that makes you want to invest any emotion.

There are admittedly tender moments and sweet memories shared here, but the footage feels too much like unedited home movies to be completely effective. I'd revisit Up again before watching another chapter of this.

THE 5,000 DAYS PROJECT: TWO BROTHERS will screen at the 38th annual Seattle International Film Festival later this month. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

SIFF Sighting: 6 Points About Emma (Drama, Spain)

Emma (Verónica Echegui) is a beautiful girl in her twenties, dying to become a mother. To achieve this, she sleeps with various men to try to get pregnant; not always telling them this is her goal. Emma claims she wants to love someone, but fears she is incapable of it since she does not become attached to her lovers.

Also, Emma is blind.

Germán (Alex Garcia) is the therapist that leads the group sessions she attends for persons of various disabilities. There are deaf lesbians, paralyzed women hungry for intimacy and mentally retarded men. It's a colorful bunch, and Emma emerges as the most confident and comfortable with the hand in which she's been dealt.

Soon, Emma adds Germán to her list of lovers and a series of events follows that makes her question her ability not to be hurt by her partners. It's just sex anyway, right? And she's using them too, right?

The thing I loved about this film was that the story, though focused on a disabled person, really had nothing to do with their disability.

Sure, we saw how much easier it was for Emma to be taken advantage of because of her blindness, but it wasn't the reason we were watching the film—and that's refreshing.

Verónica Echegui is delicate and strong all at once and reminded me of Natalie Portman throughout. Alex Garcia makes Germán someone you want to like despite his reprehensible actions.

If you're in the mood for an unconventional love story/dramedy, you shouldn't miss this film.

6 POINTS ABOUT EMMA will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival next month with director Roberto Pérez Toledo in attendance. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

SIFF Sighting: 38 WITNESSES (Thriller, France)

In the spring of 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally raped and murdered in New York, just steps from her apartment. 38 people heard the attack; none acted quickly enough to save her life.

This true story became famous and ignited many psychological studies into group mentality (the theory was that most likely everyone who heard her screams figured someone else had already called the police).

Kitty's murder also inspired this film, 38 WITNESSES, a fictional version of the crime which takes place in France.

This spin on the situation focuses on the guilt of the witnesses rather than the loss of the girl.

At first, all claim not to have heard anything at the time of the attack, but then Pierre (Yvan Attal), who lives in the same complex, can't live with himself and comes forward to confess he heard it all. This causes the investigation to re-open and interview the 37 other witnesses as well. Of course, not all 37 were asleep during the crime.

Director Lucas Belvaux poses an interesting question in his exploration of the witnesses, that makes us ponder the aftermath of the real event. What happened to all of those people who heard Kitty die? Did they suffer remorse for their silence? Did they just go on as if nothing had happened? Or were their relationships, jobs and futures affected by the tragedy?

The acting and production value in this film is superb, though we would've probably felt more empathy with the characters had we spent some time with the victim. We as an audience don't get to learn about the life that is lost, which does provide a convenient detachment from the case.

But it's a good, solid film from an impressive director and cast.

38 WITNESSES will screen later this month at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

SIFF Sighting: PRICE CHECK (Comedy, USA)

I've always been a fan of Parker Posey and the types of films in which she stars, but her character in this drama-that-wants-to-be-a-comedy has to be an exception.

Pete (Eric Mabius) is an uptight, seemingly unhappy marketing expert that had to take a job with a grocery chain because the industry he really wants to be a part of (music) is failing.

Posey plays Susan, an obnoxious executive brought into Pete's regional office to save the day. She arrives guns blazing and at first we can't tell if she's calculated or just crazy. The further we travel through the story, we realize she is both.

Susan seems to crave an idyllic family life like the one Pete has, so she ingratiates herself into his—befriending his wife and showing up at their son's school parties. She rewards Pete with a generous raise and heaps of ego-boosting attention, which leads him to make some poor decisions in his personal life.

The problem is, the film leaves no one to root for. Susan is nuts; Pete is boring and apparently easily corrupted; his wife is money-hungry and the other folks in the office are borderline cartoonish.

It's a shame this misses the mark, as the premise was a good one.

PRICE CHECK will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

SIFF Sighting: FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (Ukraine, Documentary)

Olga is a good soul—she sees the injustice of how minorities are treated in her country (Ukraine) and wants to do her part to combat the hate. She does this by taking in as many biracial orphans as her home will allow. At the time this documentary was made, she had 17 foster children.

As in any family there are conflicts and kids that don't want to do their chores and siblings that feel left out. Olga is old-fashioned in her beliefs that children should do their work, get an education and then start a life of their own right there in the homeland, but a few of her kids have their own ideas.

Due to the Chernobyl disaster, many orphans get assistance, which enables them to spend summer months with host families in places like France and Italy. The children love this vacation from their poverty-stricken home and many hope to be adopted by their summer hosts. When a few actually get that chance, Olga does everything in her power to block it, even though the kids would clearly be better off in the other countries. Sure, she loves them, but her need to control them seems to outweigh her rational thinking.

This isn't an easy film to watch.

The director admittedly began making the film to spotlight the horrible racism in the country, so there are scenes that show Neo-Nazi activity and interviews. The African biological father of one of the kids Olga is raising discusses how dangerous it's becoming simply to be black in the Ukraine.

It's nauseating that in this day and age, there are still places populated with a majority of hate.

In spite of that, there are also very touching scenes with the kids speaking on camera of their love for Olga and vice-versa. If nothing else, she provides a real family unit to children who may not otherwise have had one.

Family Portrait in Black and White often reminded me of another documentary, My Flesh and Blood, which has a similar story, but takes place in the U.S.

And both beg the questions: What makes these 'saintly' women hoard children? Are their motives altruistic or simply compulsive... or both?

This film doesn't answer that question, but reminds us that society has a long way to go by way of acceptance.

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE will screen later this month at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

SIFF Sighting: COMING HOME (Drama, France)

Gaëlle (Agathe Bonitzer), has been locked up for years in her kidnapper's cellar. Though he doesn't appear to be sexually abusing her, he does beat her and sometimes tie her up. 

In contrast, Vincent (Reda Kateb) also attempts to educate her, shares meals with her, takes her for walks in the forest and does his best to provide medical care.

She seems to develop a fondness for him, though she frequently slaps him and says she'll never love him. In a weird, warped way, they seem to care deeply about one another. One day when she is nearly an adult, he finally allows her to leave. And leave, she does.

Upon her return home, she is sent immediately to therapy, which also makes her feel like somewhat of a prisoner.

Her parents love her and were desperate to get her back, but once she's home they have no idea how to treat her. The same is true for her childhood friends—especially one who witnessed her kidnapping. He doesn't know why he felt the need to come and visit her, shares this with her and promptly leaves.

As if it wasn't hard enough losing your childhood.

Frédéric Videau's film is a psychological exploration of what happens in an authentic way between a prisoner and their captor. How human nature shapes one's feelings and emotions to cope with whatever is placed in one's path.

Agathe Bonitzer plays the lead role with the right mix of angst and fragility; Reda Kateb makes Vincent less a monster than we'd expect.

All in all a great film to spark debate about the complexities of such a relationship.

COMING HOME will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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How many of your superheroes are women? A few at least (I hope)?

Now, stop to consider this: none of them may exist today had it not been for the creation of Wonder Woman by DC Comics in the 1940s.

Sure, she was voluptuous. And yes, undeniably sexy—but she also kick-started the feminist movement a few decades before it really came to life.

In this touching and enlightening documentary from Kristy Guevara-Flanagan, various female icons weigh in on the importance of this fictional character, and how far our society has come by way of gender equality since then.

Activist Gloria Steinem,  rock star Kathleen Hanna and Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter, all share their memories and experiences of our changing world as we hear about the progress made by the stories of modern-day superheroines.

While many may minimize the impact of pop culture on society as a whole, films like this remind us why role models—even fictional ones—are so important.

WONDER WOMEN! THE UNTOLD STORY OF AMERICAN SUPERHEROINES will screen over Memorial Day weekend at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Like so many American kids, 13-year-old Lauduree (Perla Haney-Jardine) is basically raising herself. Her mother, Tanya (Marin Ireland), has problems with addiction and her father is gone.

Ree channels her energy into her science experiments and develops a bond with her compassionate teacher Ms. Markovi (Lili Taylor).

Life is manageable until Tanya decides to pursue her dream of becoming a celebrity makeup artist and moves to California. She does not take Lauduree with her.

Afraid her science experiments will be compromised if she is forced to move, Ree keeps her mother's departure a secret until she is caught shoplifting and her grandmother Greta (Amy Madigan) discovers the truth.

Depressed about moving in with Greta (her mom's trailer is behind in rent), she turns to science for comfort and becomes borderline paranoid about the state of the ecosystem.

Her grandmother recognizes that Ree needs professional help, but does not have the resources to make that happen. Ms. Markovi, though concerned, says she "isn't equipped to handle" Ree's issues.

What writer/director Jenny Deller so brilliantly achieves in this quiet, slice-of-life saga is the painful reality of being an unwanted child.

Sure, Ree's mother and grandmother love her, but they are not remotely able to care for her in a healthy way, and lack the intelligence to learn how.

Perla Haney-Jardine's performance is rivetingreminiscent of Jennifer Lawrence's work in WINTER'S BONE. Her ability to convey the covering-up of pain is spectacular, and should open the doors to more substantial roles in the future.

Amy Madigan and Lili Taylor also deliver flawless turns as Greta and Ms. Markovi. Both have appeared in so many other films, it's a testament to how good they are that they can disappear into these characters and make us forget their previous work.

I can't recommend this film enough.

FUTURE WEATHER will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival next month. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

SIFF Sighting: FIVE STAR EXISTENCE (Documentary, Finland)

Note: I'll be periodically posting reviews from the Seattle International Film Festival throughout June. These write-ups will begin with "SIFF Sighting" so you'll always be able to distinguish them from our regular posts. And of course, for our most recent Cinebanter episode, please scroll down the page.

As members of the information age, are we benefiting from the endless technological advances in our society, or are we losing touch with human nature as a result of adapting to them?

This is the big question that director Sonja Lindén asks throughout this beautifully shot documentary.

The camera takes us on tour to places (farms, forests, etc.) that may not initially come to mind when we think of technology, but which are utilizing its newest toys to make life simpler for humans. In some cases, such as in the logging industry, new equipment has led to a significant reduction in manpower because it simply takes less people to do the work. This is obviously great for the logging companies; maybe not so much for the skilled laborers that will need to find employment elsewhere.

There are also psychologists and professionals in Internet addiction clinics who speak about how detached society is becoming at such a rapid pace because of our collective constant need to be 'plugged in.'

On the flip side, a case is made that children with aggression are sometimes helped by video games, which can channel their energy into something positive, if not entirely productive.

And that's what's great about this exploration: it fairly spotlights both sides of the debate.

For every expert featured who has a problem with the way the world is changing, there is another who stresses the gains that can be made or demonstrates the leaps and bounds that have occurred in a variety of industries that were stale for decades.

Though I could have done without the graphic surgery scenes, the film is shot almost like a moving museum, where every frame could be paused to reflect a precious moment in time—even if the sum of its parts is sensory overload.

FIVE STAR EXISTENCE will screen at the 38th Annual Seattle International Film Festival next month. For tickets, visit the SIFF website.


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