Monthly Archives: November, 2013

Trailer for your Weekend: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


mitty poster

I know this trailer has been out and about for ages now, but I haven’t shared it as yet and to be honest there is nothing new out there particularly grabbing me. This has been playing in front of a bunch of the films I have seen recently and I really dig it.  It looks like the film could combine fun, whinsy and a little dramatic weight in an original way. I have no idea if Stiller will be able to pull it off. But given it is not a franchise/adaptation film and is getting a rare prime release slot (Boxing Day in Aus), twould be good if this turned out worthwhile. What do you guys think of it?

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Mr. Hulot’s Holiday

hulot poster

Jacques Tati is one of the more famous comedians in film history, possibly even the most revered of the sound era. Tati is most famous for his recurring character Monsieur Hulot who features in three films on the 1001 list. I thought I would take a look at the first of them.

The character of Hulot debuted in Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), a film famously and shamefully remade by Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007). This is unsurprising given that the character of Hulot is clearly a massive influence on that of Mr Bean. In fact, most of the best jokes in Mr Bean seem to be lifted pretty much straight from Tati’s work. Mr Hulot’s Holiday sees the good natured, but somewhat bumbling Monsieur Hulot funnily enough take off on holiday. A vast majority of the film concerns the travails of the character on his beachside holiday. The film is a gleeful insight into that microcosm that is created when strangers congregate at the same place for a holiday, with firm transient relationships springing up.

The only character that the audience gets a real sense for is that of Hulot, and the whole film really does centre on him. Earlier I said that the character of Hulot is a bumbling one. But it is not really that. It is more that Hulot struggles to keep up with societal sensibilities. He is not aware of the chaos he is causing because he is off in his own world. It is the delightful havoc that one slightly different soul can make in the world. Hulot is not really fussed about keeping up with society, rather he seems content to exist slightly outside of it.  Describing humour as slapstick often gives the impression of lazy, stupid, rambunctious attempts at jokes – pies in the face and slipping on banana peels. Mr Hulot’s Holiday sees a lot of slapstick, but it is far more gentle and nuanced than that described. It is derived from Hulot’s befuddlement and inability to use the objects around him. There are also straight visual jokes that in less assured hands would fall flat, but when delivered through the genius of Tati all of a sudden seem inspired. Hulot’s numerous attempts at driving cars spring to mind. One of the great strengths of Mr Hulot’s Holiday is that rather than being a straight slapstick film, it trades in a variety of other comedic forms such as comedy of errors as well. This means that it can appeal to more people, and also that it does not wear out its welcome by continually bombarding the viewer with one kind of joke. It is not only his skill as a writer and filmmaker that ensure this, but also Tati’s physical presence. His long, large former Rugby Union player body creates so much of the humour.

© 1953 Cady Films / Discina Film

© 1953 Cady Films / Discina Film

In the current cinema climate it almost seems strange or unnecessary to talk about technical aspects of filmmaking when reviewing a comedy. But as with many older comedies, Mr Hulot’s Holiday really does hold up to this kind of analysis. The film is wonderfully shot, simply done yet beautiful to look at. The cinematography is sharp and there are just enough longing shots of the seaside to set up the idyllic location. Strangely for a film almost free of dialogue, the use of sound is innovative. The film opens by introducing the catchy tune that resonates throughout the entire film, reinforcing the atmosphere Tati is going for throughout. The volume of the sound effects is quite high, giving them added emphasis, especially when Hulot interacts with the props he is surrounded by. As such, waves crashing and doors swinging shut become a focus. The film is gently satirical in tone at times as well. People are really quite rude to this man who is slightly different to them and Tati gently mocks this coldness and uncaring attitude that is found in society.

This is a gentle, simple introduction to the Hulot films, which would evolve and enlarge as the series goes on. It is not entirely groundbreaking, a lot of it riffs on what Keaton and other silent stars did many years before, but it is done well and it is done in a wryly humourous manner. A word of warning though, make sure you get a hold of the subtitled version, not the horrid dubbed version that occasionally rears its ugly head.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 95/1001

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patrick eye poster

I have written in passing about the new Australian flick Patrick (2013) a couple of times on the blog recently, predominately focusing on the shabby cinema release it has received. I was lucky enough to catch the film when it played as part of the Canberra International Film Festival and now it is getting a limited run at Arc Cinema here in town, so hopefully more people will get the chance to check it out.

For those of you who are unaware, this is a remake of a 1978 Australian ‘ozploitation’ film of the same name. Patrick is a comatose patient confined to an asylum. One of them old school ones where the main doctor is menacing and does terrifying experiments on all his patients.  The film focuses on the rather special mental abilities Patrick possesses that he uses to wreak a little havoc and instil terror in those around him. The asylum is tightly run by Doctor Roget, played by Charles Dance and also by Matron Cassidy, played by Rachel Griffiths. Into this atmosphere comes a new, too nosey for her own good nurse named Kathy, played by Sharni Vinson. Patrick has a somewhat different pedigree to most remakes because of the director. Mark Hartley is best known for directing the documentary Not Quite Hollywood (2008) which is an ode to underappreciated classic ozploitation films. It is a little ironic then that this film looks set to join what I think is a really underappreciated batch of genre films in this country, that are getting nowhere near enough love from local audiences.

Dance patrickThere is plenty of the schlockiness the trailer suggested in Patrick. But the film is not content to just rumble along doing that the whole time. It gets dark toward the end and I mean super dark. It is refreshing for an Aussie genre flick to not stay set in its ways the entire way through and to take the main characters some really interesting and unexpected places. One of the major positives for the film is the fact that, for me at least, it was genuinely scary. There were some good jump scares and also occasions of building the tension up to unbearable levels. There are moments of silliness that do break the mood, but looking back on the film, they definitely do not cloud my overall memories of it. Whilst not a haunted house film as such (or at all actually) the film takes place in pretty much a perfect haunted house setting. A majority of the action takes place inside the huge old asylum. It is so old that coupled with the design including costuming, tricks you into thinking this is a period piece for long stretches, when it is actually set in the present day. That sounds kind of awkward in theory, but the reality is that the setting and design really brings you into the world and atmosphere of the film and what it is trying to do. It takes an assured touch to clash elements like this – think iphones and old fashioned credits music – and have it actually deliver something to the film. That is a risk the film takes that pays off. There are other risks the film takes that are not so successful. There is a section involving a hand-job which falls to earth with a decided thud. I guess the intention was to have a big, totally absurd set piece. But unfortunately it was just a big absurd, unintentional laugh from the audience I saw this with. Having said that though, I will always go into a bat for a film that takes risks, even if they affect the overall quality of the film.

Despite being named for the main male character (who spends the entire film flat on his back comatose by the way), this is really Sharni Vinson’s film, with her new nurse at the asylum Kathy being the character whose journey we really go on. Hopefully given the success of You’re Next (2011) which was released this year, the presence of Vinson will ensure the film gets a fair workout on VOD internationally, or perhaps even a limited theatrical release. Just as in You’re Next, Vinson is really good here and she could easily spend the next few years of her career playing these roles very well. All the technical jazz here ranges from good to great. The film is beautifully shot. I am not sure what kind of budget they managed to muster for this, but there are no money deficiencies on show. There are some definite inconsistencies in the script. But most of it is really assured and the clunkiness is minimised. I think Hartley does a really good job with this film. You can tell he has an affection not just for the original film, but the form of old fashioned horror films more broadly and he brings that to bear on this. Importantly, he never lets that reverence get in the way of exploring new ground and his own creative channels. Which is a good thing, because the film could have easily been too stuffy given the narrative is a pretty simple one.

vinson and patrick

I haven’t seen the original Patrick so I cannot really compare the two efforts. But considered on its own terms, this film stands up as part of a growing canon of underappreciated canon of Australian genre work.  This is a fun combination of the schlocky and the really well crafted that will appeal to genre fans, or those who loved Vinson’s work in You’re Next.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Chasing Ice


Global Warming is not a core interest of mine. I have no doubt that it is happening and that it is cause by us shitty old humans. But for whatever reason, I have never felt particularly moved to either read or watch much about it.

However I recently watched the fantastic documentary Chasing Ice (2012) on the subject which may lead me to explore the topic a little more. The film takes quite a different approach to the issue compared to most. The focus of the film is photographer James Balog who begins an epic effort to set up time-lapse cameras pointed on various glaciers throughout the northern hemisphere. Balog, at one time a climate change denier, is a scientist by trade who ended up devoting his life to photography. His interest has always been the interaction between humans and nature and climate change is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of that.  The reason he never really pursued science is due to its obsession (in his view) with statistics and computer modelling. This is also something that plagues discourse around global warming to a degree (no doubt with some understandable reasons underpinning that) which is part of the reason why I am not generally too fussed watching or reading about it. Photographing the change in glacier conditions is a great way to put in perspective what is really going on with our planet. There is interesting interrogations of the science as well though. But even that is a little different to the norm. This is about the concept of ‘air change’ and what ice cores can tell us about climate change over the centuries, which was all new to me.


Copyright 2012 Chasing Ice LLC

Chasing Ice is only 75 minutes long but manages to cram a hell of a lot into the lean running time. It gets into the nitty gritty of Balog assembling his team and the high tech equipment that he needed. It also follows the expedition to set up the cameras in a number of countries (4 or 5 from memory). This part of the film almost needs to be a whole film in itself. It is so interesting and it is a perfect setup for a longer focus.  That is almost my only criticism of the film. It could be longer or even a TV series with each episode focusing on a different aspect of the story – the global warming background, the kernel of the idea, the planning, initial expedition to put the cameras out, maintenance through the years and the final results. Having said that, all of those aspects are touched on satisfyingly, if briefly, throughout the film. And my, as you may imagine, this is a really pretty film. The imagery is incredible and varied too. Often with docos such as this, the imagery is a little repetitive. But as Balog touches on, there are seemingly infinite variations to the look of glacial ice and many of them make an appearance here. I wish I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen actually. The film closes off with the fruits of Balog’s labour. His time-lapse images are stark in the extreme. A sobering lesson that something is very wrong with our world.

CI 1

It is not often that I give full marks to a film that I think is definitely imperfect. But when my issue is that the film is too short, then the film has done its job really well. Not content just to rest on the laurels of its interesting subjects, Chasing Ice tells this story really well and even better than that, it does it in a really engaging way. If you are after a global warming doco that is not all graphs, doomsday projections (though it is blunt about the future) and arguing between factions, give this a shot.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

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Trailer for your Weekend: Noah


You know whatever the state of your belief or disbelief, the tale of Noah and the ark could make for a badass film – dude with a beard faces apocalyptic floods on a wooden boat containing every species on earth. That’s rocking. With an really intriguing director, Russell Crowe as star and that killer poster above, Noah could be great stuff. However there has already been murmurings that the final cut of the film will be highly geared toward fundamental US Christian audiences. And if that is the case, it will make the target audience for the final film very narrow.

This trailer, quite frankly, looks terrible. Aside from the fact that Rusty looks totally killer with a beard and a buzzcut.  I really hope I am wrong and we get a film that is fun and engaging for the everyday filmgoer. But I am not so sure. What do you guys think?

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goddess poster

The marketing for the Australian film Goddess (2013) was a strange hodgepodge. Highlighting a heartthrob first time actor in Ronan Keating (former member of Boyzone who seems to have taken up residence in these parts), a woman who starts singing to her webcam whilst doing her dishes, numerous musical numbers and a rags to riches tale.

Without being too blunt about things, the one thing Goddess didn’t look was particularly good. Credit to director Mark Lamprell then that he marshals material that is a little all over the shop into a (mostly) satisfying and (mostly) coherent piece. Keating plays an absent husband, off in Antarctica saving the whales or something like that. The former boy band crooner does not stand out as being particularly bad in this acting endeavour, but neither does he truly engage. The same can’t be said for his onscreen wife Elspeth as played by Laura Michelle Kelly who is a firecracker and has a really endearing presence. Whilst Keaton has a bit of star power, and no doubt a help when financing calls were made, this is Kelly’s film. Her ditties in costume over the dirty dishes go viral meaning she jets off to Sydney to meet with an agent interested in making her huge. It is a credit to the script that Kelly has a fair bit to work with. The characterisation of her as a former small time musician who loved playing gigs but now finds herself on house mum duty is definitely not overly original, but it is made to work.

goddess pic

Goddess plays as both a musical and a melodrama with capital M’s. It is quite old school in how much it wears these two attributes on its sleeve. So much so that there is not really all that much effort put into incorporating the songs into the narrative. Like many of the best musicals there is more than a hint of the surreal to proceedings and it generally does not take itself too seriously. The prime attraction is the cast though. The aforementioned Kelly will hopefully be seen again soon. Whilst Magda Szubanski, a name familiar to Aussie readers but quite possibly no one else, is brilliant as always and her solo number is an unmitigated highlight. Also good in a quite hilarious support role is Hugo Johnstone-Bart. For the most part, the film is a light-hearted success. But it is when it attempts to get a little weightier that it falters. Initially the signs are promising. The thematic concerns of both chasing dreams and being wary of selling out are both teased out nicely. But rather than being a nice, mildly feminist jaunt it turns into quite the opposite. Elspeth becomes racked with guilt simply for chasing the dreams that she should be going for. It becomes this kind of absurd ode to the housewife existence and doing the dishes.

Despite my issues with the problematic themes, the charming cast and assured direction mean you could do worse than checking Goddess out if you are in the mood. Sure the film falters a bit in the last act, but Aussie musicals are not particularly common these days, so give this one a go.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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Trailer for your Weekend: Captain America The Winter Soldier

Cap poster

Woah just realised I completely forgot to post a trailer for this weekend, as mine winds down with a beer. Here is the trailer for next year’s second Marvel Captain America film. Have to say I was a real fan of the approach that Marvel took with the first, making it essentially a period piece. With Cap now in the present day, it will be interesting to see how this standalone film holds up without that hook.

The trailer is promising enough though. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow appears to be along for the ride not to mention Robert Redford doing something or other rather businesslike. There also appears to be some interesting plot points about Cap adjusting to the modern world of preemptive strikes. I will be definitely keen to check this one out as soon as it opens next year.

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POV: The Loneliest Planet

planet poster

Welcome to a new feature for the site. Hopefully a semi-regular one but it could just drift out into the blogging ether, joining other great features of the past such as The Bergman Files and Bondfest.

Opinions on all kinds of films differ and really, as much as people may argue otherwise, there is no right or wrong opinion. As Chris put it really well in a preface for his piece when he emailed it to me: “Film criticism is a totally subjective field; I truly believe that there is no definitive answer for whether or not a film is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So when I’m talking to one of my friends and they say “dude, the last Transformers movie is the best film I’ve ever seen” (and yes, my friends talk like stoners from early nineties teen movies), I’m inclined to believe that they truly think that the last Transformers movie is the best film that they’re ever seen, even if the film lover in me dies a bit.

The aim of POV, is to look at a film that has divided opinion. This is not designed as a competition or to decide who is ‘right’. In fact there is no arguing. Neither Chris nor I saw each others thoughts before we wrote our own. The Loneliest Planet (2011) is a film that really has garnered its lovers and haters. For me, it’s a fringe top 10 film of the year. For Chris, it is by far his least favourite of the year. Here are the reasons why.

Five things I love about the Loneliest Planet by me

1. The scenery.

Damn this film is pretty. It is shot well, but also the landscapes it takes place in. Set in Georgia (though not sure if shot there), it is the kind of incredible physical world that is not seen on film too often. The locations manage to somehow be green and lush as well as barren at the same time. Even better than just looking amazing, the scenery plays a role in the action as well, influencing the characters as they travel along. The scenery is also thematically important. The Loneliest Planet is a film about the cycles of sullying and cleansing that we undertake throughout the course of our life. So shots of water – bubbling brooks, raging currents and industrial blasts of it – all comment on the action and status of the narrative.

planet scenery

2. That one, achingly elongated shot.

There is one shot in the film that not only encapsulates everything I love about the film (and probably what many others hate) but also I think says a lot about the film as a whole. It is a wide shot, of the three main characters traversing along the side of a green hill. The camera is stationary and lingers, unmoving for around two minutes as these small, almost insignificant figures make their way. When you think about it, two minutes is a long time in film terms. I think this shot is symptomatic of the whole film in that the film is a reflection of life. Shit happens in real time. Sometimes that is boring, sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly. This single shot makes for an interesting viewing experience, and will probably tell you if you are going to love or hate the film.

3. How it totally hinges on a single moment.

There is a single moment in this film that changes the entire complexion of the film and the relationships of those in it. The moment (which I won’t spoil) comes from nowhere in a single jolt. The moment forces one character to act instinctively in a way that will affect them no end. Have you ever done something in a split second and realised it was incredibly wrong? And no matter how much you want to, you can’t take that moment back. The film captures that perfectly. What’s more, everything that follows in the film harks back to that one moment and the attempting to not erase it (because that is impossible) but to move past it and gain a redemption of some sorts. The film doesn’t give any easy answers in that regard.

4. The performance of Hani Furstenberg

furstenbergThe three central performances in the film – from Hani Furstenberg, Gael Garcia Bernal and Bidzina Gujabidze – are all really good. But it is Furstenberg (someone who was previously unknown to me) who really shines. She plays Nica, a woman who has a genuine lust for life and approaches it in a playful manner. Adventurous and tough, she is strident in her determination. Also, without reverting to histrionics or tracts of expository dialogue, Furstenberg manages to take the audience on Nica’s emotional journey that is in many ways the heart of the film. There is a moment where Nica falls into a freezing river and it is the high point of Furstenberg’s performance. She physically transforms, showing the audience the torment her body is in whilst all the while maintaining the very specific mental state that her character is currently in.

5. It is a (rewarding) challenge

Some films that are a challenge to watch give the audience no reward. You merely have to slog through the film and survive it. But The Loneliest Planet gets the balance right, and at least in my case, rewarded me for my persistence. And the film is a challenge. There are stretches of dialogue with no subtitles, it is slow at times and there are occasions when the film is raw and confronting. The pace and lack of plot also means that you really have to work to stay in the world of the film. But there is a lot of joy to be found in the film from picking up the nuance and contrast that populates it. Not all of life is easy, so not all of film should be either.

Five things I hate about The Loneliest Planet by Chris Smith

1. It’s Boring. This is the worst thing a movie can be.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against movies that are deliberately paced for effect. Gus Van Sant’s masterpiece Elephant benefits enormously from the hour or so build up where we follow characters walking and talking around the corridors of their school with nothing much happening. The difference is that in Elephant we come to care about the characters and something actually happens, in The Loneliest Planet the uninteresting characters wander around for an hour until an event happens which some critics have interpreted as “earth shattering” but I found to be equally as uninteresting as the characters.

2. We already have one Werner Herzog, and he is awesome. We don’t need pretenders.

A good deal of director Julia Loktev’s visual style seems to consist of (admittedly) gorgeous shots of the Georgian landscape set to strong orchestral music, essentially the same visual style Werner Herzog has been employing in his films since as far back as Aguirre: The Wrath Of God (1972). When he does it, it has the effect of penetrating the viewer’s very soul, here it feels empty and pads out an already excessive running time.

3. 113 Minutes.

113 minutes is the film’s running time. A movie with so little plot (that is actually narrative cinema) cannot sustain a 113 minute running time. Ten minutes in and I was already checking my watch. I’ve used this analogy before, but the extended version of Sergio Leone’s final masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America (1984) clocks in at 229 minutes and uses some of the same meditative and slow moving techniques as The Loneliest Planet, but does it so, so, so much better. After watching something like that, I could easily go back to the start and bask in its glory for another four hours, after 113 minutes of The Loneliest Planet, I wondered if I could ever make it through a feature film again (not really, but you get what I mean).

4. Characters We Don’t Care About.

It’s important to distinguish between characters we don’t care about and characters we don’t like. I don’t mind watching the rare movie or television show that has at its core characters that aren’t likeable (Tony Soprano for instance), in fact they make for fascinating viewing, but regardless of whether or not I like them, I still care enough to keep watching them. The characters in this film are so uninteresting though. They walk and talk, walk and talk and don’t say or do anything remotely interesting. When the “shocking” event does come and changes their dynamics entirely I found myself not caring about them in the slightest, and next to boring that might be the second worst sin a movie can commit.


5. It’s vulgar.

I’m no prude, well at least I don’t think I am, but having the camera linger on Nica (Hani Furstenberg) while she’s throwing up or relieving herself is just downright tasteless. I know it’s in the film’s style to have long takes that focus on the mundane, but come on, the Movie God’s created the cutaway for a reason, and I personally have no interest in seeing that kind of thing, but hey, each to their own.

Chris Smith is a Melbourne based freelance writer who is passionate about film, books and music. His work is often featured on Film Blerg and various other places.

La Maison de la radio

la maison poster

Any list of the best cinema documentarians working today must surely include Frenchman Nicolas Philibert. From this Thursday at Arc Cinema, Canberrans will be treated to a limited season of his latest film La Maison de la radio (2013), in which Philibert takes a look at a day in the life of the French public radio station Radio France.

la maison womanPhilibert is an exponent of an extremely verite, fly on the wall documentary style. At no time at all during La Maison de la radio does he feel the need to get his Spurlock or Moore on and insert himself into proceedings. He does not even get a famous ring in to provide a voiceover. Rather, he just shows the goings on simply, confident that the inherent interest of what is being shown will coalesce into an equally interesting whole. Luckily for Philibert, in this case it works. This day in the life approach allows the film to simultaneously expose the sheer volume of information the station broadcasts each and every day whilst also restricting the film to a set timeframe which makes it relatable and digestible.  The editing and multi-camera shooting allow Philibert to successfully convey the cacophony of an organisation of this size and scope. And what scope it is too, we see the recording of classical music, the live broadcast of a cycling race, in depth discussion of untranslatable Japanese concepts, the in-house garage and plenty more.

It is somewhat interesting that Philibert has an increasing reputation as a real auteur of doco cinema when his style is in so many ways so anti-auteur. Perhaps it is because he is so damn good at it. Specifically the construction of the film is what Philibert does so well, perhaps better than anyone else. There is quite an apt sequence in the film actually where an experienced producer is teaching a young employee the art of the news flash. She emphasises the detail of the content, the choice of items and their order. These are the technical aspects that Philibert does so well in La Maison de la radio and which make it such a success. Despite not having a ‘narrative’ as such, the film flows from one vignette to the next in some sort of logical sequence. The attention to the detail and minutiae of life in the organisation is painstaking and I don’t think there is a single sequence that did not hold my attention for the duration it was on screen. Everything is interesting for Philibert, but nothing is too interesting. He dwells in many places in this film but none for too long. He gets in, shows the audience something thought provoking, funny or informative and then gets out of there and moves on to the next sequence.

la maison cd

La Maison de la radio does not quite displace To Be and to Have as my favourite film of Philibert’s, but it is still an exceptionally rich and informative journey into a very specific world. If you are interested in seeing a master of his craft at work and a really cinematic doco, it is well worth checking out. It also contains the best potato peeling scene you will see onscreen this year.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

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Trailer for your Weekend: The Raid 2: Berandal

raid 2 poster

One of the biggest surprise hits of recent years was action flick The Raid. Coming out of Indonesia, the film was loved by basically everyone (including me). A sequel is on the way, and here is the first teaser trailer.

I have to say I really quite like it.Like so many trailers it basically goes down the montage route. But I love the visual of the guy punching the snot out of the outline of a dude on his prison wall. I think it takes what would be a stock standard montagey trailer, and makes it a fair bit more interesting. Release dates are still up in the air, but there is talk of a March-ish release here in Aus, so it will probably be vaguely around there. You psyched for it?

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