Saturday, March 31, 2018
The New Centurions
This is my entry in the Good Cop / Bad Cop Blogathon hosted by Classics and Craziness
The United States today seems to be divided on the subject of illegal aliens. They want to build a wall on the southern border to stave off or prevent an influx of aliens from their southern neighbor. But the real wall should be built in outer space if they really want to prevent a "dangerous" alien infiltration, don't ya think?
The premise of this movie is that the world was turned upside down in 1988 when a spaceship landed in Los Angeles with a load of refugees from an interstellar slave ring. The Tectonese who had revolted against their slave masters had commandeered the ship and landed on Earth where they were given asylum.
Three years later, most of the slaves have been released from a temporary quarantine that had been imposed on them (mostly, it seems, just to be sure they weren't a threat to Earth citizens). They are now productive members of society at all levels. At least most of them are...
Alien Nation (1988):
Matt Sykes (James Caan) and his partner, Bill "Tug" Tuggle (Roger Aaron Brown), are a team of police patrol officers who are cruising "Slagtown". (Aliens from Tecton are referred to derogatorily as "slags", sort of like the derogatory names that will come to your mind for humans of African, Asian and Hispanic descent.) Sykes hates slags, typical of racist views of modern day. (This movie, if you are not aware already, is a parable against racism in it's sub-context.) The aliens are generally called "Newcomers" by more polite society, however.
The two observe some suspicious actions going on at a Newcomer convenience store which turns out to be a robbery. Two rough looking newcomers try to rob an older newcomer couple, and the male Newcomer owner is killed.
They try to stop the robbery and in the melee Tug is killed by one of the Newcomer thugs. Sykes chases down one of the aliens and is surprised that he is pretty hard to stop. The alien downs a vial of some drug that almost turns him invincible.
Sykes wants to get involved in the investigation of the crime but is refused the opportunity by the brass, because it is already assigned to a separate investigative team, but also because he is too closely connected to it, since his partner was a victim in the crime. At the same time, a newcomer, Samuel Francisco (Mandy Patinkin), is promoted to the rank of Detective and Sykes volunteers to be the new partner.
No, Sykes has not had a change of heart and is now friendly to "slags". He has an ulterior motive in that he thinks the Newcomer will be useful in trying to find the ones responsible for the death of his partner. Francisco will be of some help, Sykes thinks. Upon learning that his partner is named "Sam" Francisco, Sykes suggests that he is going to call his new partner "George", to which the amiable Newcomer agrees.
Sykes is forbidden by the brass to actually get involved in the case that lead to his partner's death however. But that doesn't prevent him from taking on a case that seems to have some peripheral connection. Which allows him to surreptitiously investigate the case anyway. Francisco wants to go by the book, however, and objects to anything that directly involves the other case.
But he changes his mind when he discovers some details about the death of their victim.
As it turns out, there is a highly addictive and deadly drug that was involved. The drug has no effect on humans ("it tastes like detergent") but it turns the Newcomers into superman-like monsters if overused. The case leads to a connection with a highly regarded Newcomer bigwig by the name of Harcourt (Terence Stamp). Harcourt and several of the victims turning up were all in the same detainment camp that the government sent them to prior to their acceptance as valid citizens.
One of the neatest little twists is it turns out that the aliens are drastically affected by salt water. It is an acid to them. Which makes one wonder why all Newcomers didn't relocate father away from the coast. The acidity of the salt water plays a significant role in the finale.
Gradually the two detectives come to respect each other. This is presaged about midways through the movie when Sykes takes a potshot at one of his fellow human officers for making derogatory comments about his new partner. The fact that the fellow human officer is a jackass and Sykes probably doesn't like him anyway notwithstanding.
This is a traditional cop buddy movie with a twist. The format runs along the same lines as most buddy cop movies, but the injection of the alien aspect makes it interesting on some levels. And it is a damn site better than some movies I could name that put a twist on the standard buddy cop trope. And of course, you know I will name some.... Like Cop and a Half which had Burt Reynolds matching wits with an 8-year-old kid, (and no snide comments about which one won that battle...) Or Theodore Rex which had Whoopi Goldberg teamed up with a dinosaur (???!!!) Or possibly the worst combo ever, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! which had Sylvester Stallone's ubiquitous tough guy cop teamed up with his mom, played by Estelle "Golden Girls" Getty.
Alien Nation went on to become another of those great TV shows that I liked but were cancelled after a short run, this time only one season. It was one of the first series that Fox TV introduced when they went the TV network route. This one had Gary Graham and Eric Pierpoint in the lead roles as Sykes and Francisco, respectively. The sad part about the cancellation was it left the season ending show in a cliffhanger. Financial issues were at the base of the reason for the cancellation. Believe it or not, the megalith fourth network television studio suffered from lack of revenue in its first year and most of the more expensive shows were cancelled to save money.
Despite the fact that Fox brass decided to cancel the show, some of the office bigwigs green-lighted a series of TV movies based on the series. Part of this was probably due to a fan base that made a graphic novel version of the show popular. The first TV movie, Alien Nation: Dark Horizon gave us the long awaited conclusion to that cliffhanger from the end of the first TV season. Fox went on to produce four more Alien Nation TV movies; Alien Nation: Body and Soul, Alien Nation: Millennium, Alien Nation: The Enemy Within and Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy. Proving that there was some interest in the series that Fox had so capriciously cancelled, the movies garnered a good rating during their individual airings. The TV movies are available on Amazon in one collection (and my birthday is in December... the collection costs $100...)
There were also a series of 9 novels that were published under the Alien Nation name. Written by such familiar names (at least familiar to sci-fi novelizaton fans) as K. W. Jeter, Barry B. Longyear and the husband-wife team of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, these novels, first taking the traditional route of novelizing the scripts of movies, then continuing in original stories are all interesting.
Alien Nation is still fondly loved by it's fan base. In 2009 the SYFY Channel announced it was going to revive the series, still yet to be done however. And a remake of the original movie is also rumored to be forthcoming. Those of us who love it wait in anticipation.
Drive home safely, folks. Me, I think I'm gonna go cruise the Newcomer neighborhood looking for some alien action.
Friday, March 30, 2018
It's The Beginning Of The End (of the World Blogathon)
Today starts the End of the World Blogathon which is being hosted by yours truly and my partner in crime, Movie Movie Blog Blog. We have gathered some of the most interesting movies concerning the End of the world and brought them all together, with the help of some fellow prognosticators and their movie choices. Hope you enjoy the foray. This post will be updated periodically over the course of the weekend, so if it's not April 3rd in your part of the world, there is probably still more to come. Keep coming back.
The End of the World Movie List:
My first entry is on On the Beach, a look at the end after a nuclear war has devastated most of the world.
Movie Movie Blog Blog takes a humorous look at the situation with an entry on both Plan 9 From Outer Space and Strange Brew
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films looks at the impact of Deep Impact
1984, the 1956 version, plays out in melodramatic fashion for Silver Screenings.
An obscure but fascinating movie, The Story of Mankind, intrigues Seeker of Truth.
What happens When Worlds Collide? Ask Caftan Woman.
The end of the sun would mean the end of the world. Thoughts All Sorts discusses Sunshine
Speakeasy considers two classic looks at the end, This is Not A Test and Five
The Dream Book Blog gives us the film noir side of the end with Kiss Me Deadly
Movierob tells us about his thoughts on I Am Legend
A classic from the dawn of the last century, End of the World comes from Diary of a Movie Maniac.
Panic in the Year Zero! is the subject of an entry by Old Hollywood Films
The end of the world comes with a whimper. Once Upon a Screen talks about Fail Safe
Your truly looks at a Terry Gilliam classic, 12 Monkeys
Things to Come is discussed by Crítica Retrô:
Realweegiemidget Reviews gives thoughts on Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Movierob sides with many of the people who saw the film version of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Moon in Gemini looks at a classic 80's outing War Games
Thursday, March 29, 2018
No Time Left
This is my first entry in the End of the World Blogathon hosted by yours truly and Movie Movie Blog Blog
I knew the plot of this movie in intricate detail before I ever saw it. No, I didn't actually read the novel by Nevil Shute (I keep meaning to do so, but I haven't got around to it.) No, actually, when I was in high school I had a teacher for history and civics named Bill Crenshaw. Coach Crenshaw (he was one of the athletic directors too, back in the day when coaches actually had to teach classes too) was a great guy. And an interesting teacher. He saw this movie when it came out and it must have had a profound effect on him.
Whenever the subject in class would veer off into the potential for nuclear war (which it sometimes did, and I must admit we sometimes would intentionally veer the topic), Coach would go off and relate the plot of this movie. This was in the late 70's, when the Cold War was still in full swing, so it still had an impact on the level of the potential threat of nuclear war, although maybe not quite as fearful as the late 50's-early 60's. But it wasn't until years later that I finally got to see it. By then the Berlin Wall had fallen and, before the events of 9/11, the world was in a lull, nuclear-ly speaking, and so it didn't have quite the same impact for me. But it was still a great movie, and I have watched it a couple of times more since then. It was directed by Stanley Kramer, a man known for his "movies with a message".
Imagine, though, a world that teeters on the brink of the threat of war between the two nuclear powers. At the time, it was Russia and the U.S. facing each other nose to nose, and this was just a couple of years before Kennedy and Krushchev faced off during the Missile Crisis) . The dynamic impact at the time was that this movie ostensibly was to take place in 1964, just 5 years into the future from the time of it's release. I can only speculate on how people who had seen the movie felt when the events of that October 1962 event was ongoing. Although the reason for the nuclear war which has devastated the rest of the world is not actually stated, one couldn't help but think immediately of either Russia or the U.S. instigating the start.
This is a very heart-rending movie. After all, the ending is known from the very beginning of the movie. The world is due to an untimely death. The rest of the world has already ceased to exist. Nuclear radiation fallout from the war is on the horizon and nothing can stop it. The only remaining island of civilization is just that; an island called Australia. Throughout the film people are constantly trying to cope with the inevitable end. Nuclear fallout is like that. It doesn't care one whit about how much people want to go on living, it has it's own goal and that is destroying everything in which it comes in contact.
In the aftermath of 9-11, this movie has had a resurgence in its potential impact, especially with every third world country and their mothers now having access to nuclear weaponry, and some of those countries being run by egomaniac nut jobs who have no care about the downfalls resulting from their use. Fair warning. If you decide to watch this movie, it may scare the hell out of you. It will almost surely elicit a sense of dread and pathos for the characters. It is somewhat dated, as any movie from the 50's will be, but if you watch it with an open mind, it can be just as entertaining as, say, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, another Kramer directed movie that is dated in its theme.
On the Beach (1959):
Spoiler Alert!: By necessity I have to reveal the ending to this movie. Although it should be obvious before the ending is revealed, you might want to watch the movie before you read further.
The USS Sawfish, under the command of Commander Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck), is looking for life. Nuclear fallout has covered all of the Northern Hemisphere, and they are having zero luck. Thus they pull into Melbourne, the southernmost port in the southernmost country and become, for all intents and purposes, an adjunct of the Australian Navy.
Meanwhile Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife Mary (Donna Anderson) deal with the day-to-day coping with the effects of rationing and lack of necessities as a result of the war. Peter is given an assignment as a liaison to the Sawfish, which has been given the task of investigating how much damage and radiation still exists in the Northern Hemisphere.
Peter invites Dwight to a holiday party at his house, and Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), a n alcoholic friend of the Holmes is invited to the party, too, mainly to keep Dwight preoccupied. moira is attracted to Dwight, but he is still under the illusion that his wife and kids are still alive and rejects her advances.
Meanwhile, the Navy is receiving garbled messages by telegraph from San Diego. Someone is sending messages, they conclude, but none of it makes any sense. Only a couple of random words are among the words (or letters, if you will) that are being sent. The Navy concludes that the person sending the messages is just uneducated in Morse Code.
Accompanied by a scientist, Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), the crew heads north to check things out. Everywhere they go, however, the radiation levels are higher than expected, rather than lower. When they reach San Francisco, they see it is deserted. (One thing you may wonder is how the town avoided any devastation. It is the only city we are given a chance to see, but one could easily be convinced that the war did not cause any physical damage to structures...) A crewman who was originally from San Francisco (John Meillon, whom you may or may not recognize as Walter Reilly from Crocodile Dundee) deserts the ship so he can die in San Francisco.
The crew continues on to San Diego, the source of the strange telegraph messages. You may or may not be surprised as to "who" is sending the messages, but I'm going to leave that as a surprise if you decide to watch the movie. The crew return to Melbourne where they will wait out the coming end.
Everybody approaches the end in their own way. Dwight apparently comes to terms with the truth about his wife and kids and has a last-minute affair with Moira.
Julian, the scientist, lives out his dream of racing his roadster in the Australian Grand Prix.
Mary, however, becomes almost catatonic, refusing to accept that she must kill her own child to prevent the poor thing from contracting the radiation sickness. The government has issued suicide pills that the people can take to circumvent the poisoning death.
The finale is wrenching to say the least. Kramer shows many deserted streets and avenues, nothing ismoving, and the camera closes on a banner from a church revival, with the words:
"There is still time....Brother!"
The obvious message is not meant for the characters in the movie, of course. It's Kramer's message to the society as a whole still able to watch the movie. Not that anyone really needs to be told that nuclear war is a bad idea. But to open ones eyes to the fact and to convince the hearts and minds of the fact are two different things. Thus my opinion that this movie is still relevant today, despite its rather dated feel.
Once again, the view of this movie comes from how impactful it was to a teacher I had. Had it not been for him, this movie may have never appeared on my radar. Coach Crenshaw passed away last year, and when I first heard the news, this movie and his relating of it in class was the first thing I remembered from our time together as teacher and student. RIP, Coach, this one is dedicated to you.
Drive home safely, folks!
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Book Review: Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies
It's time for another book review! I found this book on the shelf at my local used bookstore and just based on the title, I clutched it with both hands tightly and rushed to the checkout counter immediately. And you can see why. Being a movie masochist, I like to watch movies that others consider to be bad, just to see if my tastes come any where close to the average viewer's. Spoiler! If you haven't read my blog except for the occasional entry, they don't. I absolutely love Ed Wood, and especially Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is on a lot of lists as the "worst movie of all time". Low rent movies, the kind that were made for, like, change from selling scavenged aluminum cans are among the kind I like to watch. I get a kick out of The Brain that Wouldn't Die which a lot of people would probably turn off about 20 minutes in.
Not that all cheapjack movies are gems, though. I watched Teenage Zombies and I thought it was the second most boring piece of crap I ever watched. (Kevin Costner's The Postman still reigns supreme on that list.) My review of Robot Monster and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, although tongue-in-cheek, is a tribute to two low-rent features that can be entertaining under the right circumstances. So needless to say, I was interested in a fellow reviewer's insights into the nadir of movies.
So I bought this movie book last Saturday, and despite having to work a 60-hour work week, PLUS keep up with my regular duties for watching movies I need to review for this blog, I still managed to devour this book in a week. And it was worth it.
Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic's Year-Long Quest to Find The Worst Movie Ever Made: by Michael Adams
Michael Adams, at the time of writing this book, was a movie reviewer for the Australian edition of Empire magazine. One day, after having seen the then currently released Material Girls, was browsing on the internet sit The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and found that Material Girls was currently holding the number 1 spot on that site's list of the worst movies ever made.
Inspiration comes at the oddest times. While he agreed that the movie was pretty bad, he wasn't quite so sure it was the absolute worst. So he decided to embark on a year-long quest to find the absolute worst movie. Now if he had watched every movie ever made, he would have still been watching movies and would never catch up. But he limited himself to movies that were on other people's lists of worst movies, and included many of the entertainment people he encountered in his position on the Empire staff during the crusade.
With the initial blessing of his wife Clare (who probably internally thought she'd married a whack job), he began the quest. The biggest hurdle was buying all those movies, of course. (It did occur to me initially that he could probably have used Netflix, but after seeing many of the titles he reviewed, I'm not so sure Netflix would have been much help. Is there a site called "Crapflix"???)
This is sort of a diary of his quest rather than a brief synopsis of the movies. Adams entertains his audience not only with the reactions he had to watching these movies, but some of the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) interactions he has with his wife and his co-workers about this somewhat insane quest.
He does give some details about the movies, although I suspect he doesn't go into details of ALL the movies he watched. He did, after all, make a goal to watch enough movies to make it come out to be at least one a day for an entire year (in other words, at least 365). I admit I didn't count the titles he mentions, so I can't be sure about that. But he does give us enough details to make it interesting reading.
And what movies! Some of them I have never seen, or even heard of, and some of them, based on his descriptions of the content, I probably wouldn't even watch on a dare. (Some of them are extremely graphic and borderline pornographic. Yes, I did watch and review A Clockwork Orange and Myra Breckenridge and Midnight Cowboy, all of which could fit in that "borderline pornographic"description, but some of these sound even more bizarre.)
I definitely don't envy Adams on his quest. At some point prior to the end I might have conceded the quest, but he kept it up right to the bittersweet end. There were many movies that I had seen that he also watched. I love the fact that almost 10 pages of the book were spent discussing my beloved bad movie director, Ed Wood. How Adams decided what to watch is also interesting. He assigned each bad movie to a category, then assigned each category a number. He used a bingo ball machine which he fired up whenever he had to choose a category, thus letting the capricious hand of fate to determine which movies he was going to torture himself each viewing session.
I must admit I have several of the movies he watched on my radar. You can expect my take on some of them in future blog entries. On the other hand, you can be sure I won't delve into those really bizarre ones I referenced above (the ones that sound as if they are pornographic). The book is a keeper, however, and will be on my shelf for reference in the future.
Friday, March 23, 2018
Planet of the Apes "The Liberator"
This is my entry in the Favourite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts
As a kid I was fascinated by science fiction. In the 70's, when I was growing up, science fiction was a rarity on network TV. Most of the successful ones managed to stay on the radar because they kept it in the modern day and didn't over inundate the public with any outre science or implausible concepts. The Six Million Dollar Man comes to mind. (At least I didn't think a bionic man was too implausible, anyway).But I never really considered this show to be science fiction because Steve Austin was just James Bond with some added cybernetic features.
The really cool shows lasted only one or two seasons at best. Logan's Run for instance, which was based on the movie of the same name, managed to air only 14 episodes. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica only lasted a bare two seasons. And one of my favorites, Project U.F.O. ( which was really about Air Force investigations in UFO sightings, and thus not technically sci-fi, but I still rank it as such) also only had a short two season run.
A far cry from other decades. In the early days of TV there were quite a few sci-fi shows (although admittedly some had similarly short runs). Compare that to today when there are quite a few TV series that had extended runs, not even including any of the Star Trek franchise shows. There are about a dozen sci-fi shows currently on various formats, such as network TV, internet, and cable stations.
Planet of the Apes was based on the hit movie series. The original movie hit the big screen in 1968 (coincidentally the Year of the Monkey in Chinese 12 year zodiac cycle). I did a review of the five movies in 2016 (again a year of the Monkey) which you can find on this blog. In 1974 (not a year of the Monkey, but what the hey...) CBS brought the idea to TV. Instead of just one lone astronaut doing the gig against those "damn dirty apes" this featured a pair of astronauts, teamed with a friendly chimpanzee on the run from the authorities represented by the scientist apes and the army apes.
The series opened with the episode called Escape from Tomorrow which established the crash landing of three astronauts from 1980 on what is Earth in 3085. One of them, named Jones (actor unknown), died in the crash. The two survivors, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton). were taken by Farrow (Royal Dano) to a cave. The future Earth, much like the movie series from which it sprung, was now dominated by intelligent apes.
One particular change from the movies (the first two, which take place on the future Earth) is that the humans can talk and converse with the astronauts. (In the movies they were mute savages, sort of a transfer of status from modern Earth in which humans can talk but apes can't). The series starts out pretty good. It seems to gravitate towards a moralistic theme in most of the episodes, however. This was the mid-seventies, remember, and on the back side/decline of racial discrimination that was one of the predominant themes in the news (the other being the Vietnam War).
Over the course of it's brief run, Alan and Pete, along with Galen (Roddy McDowell), are on the run from the prevailing ape society, including the gorilla General Urko (Mark "Sarek" Lenard) , who wants to kill them, and Zaius (Booth Coleman), the orangutan scientist who wants them captured alive so they can be studied. (Roddy McDowell, by the way, is an actor who is probably more well known for his appearance as an ape in this and 4 of the 5 Planet of the Apes movies than he is for all of his appearances as a human combined in his career)
The series only lasted one season (and in my admittedly vague memory, I don't even think all the episodes that were made were aired, at least in my part of the country). When I finally was able to get the complete run on DVD a couple of years ago, I only remembered seeing the first 8 episodes. The powers that be tried again a year later with a cartoon series, but that only lasted one season, too. Apparently people were willing to pay money to see apes on the big screen, but thought that the concept was just too boring stacked up against the story of a half-Chinese monk's travels in the Old West (Kung Fu on ABC) and the travails of a black junk dealer (Sanford and Son on NBC).
I definitely don't remember the episode I am reviewing today. And there is some debate on the internet whether the episode even aired at all, which makes this one a natural choice to choose for someone like me.
The Planet of the Apes: "The Liberator":
As usual, Burke and Virdon and Galen are on the run. A village in the country is approached by a party of Apes. A deal has been struck in the past history of the village that they will supply 5 people periodically to the apes as slaves to work. The village usually tries to supply the slaves by capturing people outside the village (called "Meadow people"), but in order to fulfill the obligation, sometimes villagers have to draw lots to be added to the 5.
On this occasion, one of the villagers, Clim (Peter G. Skinner), decides he really doesn't WANT to be a slave and tries to run. Outside the village he encounters our heroes who hide him from the chasing apes. Clim lies to the group telling them the apes are chasing him for some sick idea of a sport, and takes them to his village. Clim thinks he is in the clear because he has brought two new potential outsiders to be slaves and Burke and Virdon are imprisoned and prepared to be in the next batch of slaves given to the apes.
But Brun (John Ireland), the head of the village and it's religious leader has other ideas for Clim. He says the gods must decide his fate and brings him to the temple. As Galen watches, Clim dies in the temple, without ever having been touched by Brun.
Miro (Ben Andrews), Brun's son, goes out to hunt down more meadow people to add to the next slate of slaves. Meanwhile, Burke tries to put the moves on one of the female captors, Talia (Jennifer Ashley) in an effort to try to get her to free them. But Talia is in love with Miro and the two plan to be married, so that idea falls flat.
When Galen tries to rescue Burke and Virdon he falls into disfavor with Brun, who despite the fact that Galen is an ape, refuses to release the two human captives and now holds Galen captive awaiting the decision of the impending arrival of the gorillas. Miro gets sliced on his arm by one of the meadow captives and is rescued from impending death by the medical knowledge of Virdon and Burke. So when Talia is chosen by lots to be among the next batch of slaves to go with the gorillas, and with his father refusing to allow him to take Talia's place, Miro arranges for the escape of our heroes on the condition that they take Talia with them
Cornered at all angles, they decide their only avenue is to head to the temple where Clim died. It turns out that the temple originally was a place where they created some fairly toxic nerve gas, something along the lines of the same stuff the Nazis used to gas concentration camp victims in WWII or it is supposed to be a parallel to the Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War. This is what has caused the death of renegades like Clim over the years, although the claim is made by Brun that the "gods" have decided their fate.
Whether or not Brun actually believes the "gods" have determined the fate of the victims is pretty much decided when our heroes discover a cache of clay pots that have been used to collect the gas. Brun plans to use them when he has enough to attack ape villages and kill them. The usual platitudes of how war doesn't solve anything come out from Burke and Virdon, as well as how the gas that brun has collected would also kill humans, but Brun is determined to keep his plan alive.
The episode ends rather satisfactorily with our heroes ending up continuing on their goals, and of course with the potentially deadly weapon cache destroyed. While most of the episodes tended to beat you over the head with their barely disguised political agenda, this one tended to be a little more interesting, especially with the mystery of how Brun and his "gods" actually managed to keep the people under his thumb.
The entire series can be found online, or if you are interested, it is available as a DVD collection.
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