Monday, 15 July 2024

Arts & Life




‘ROLE PLAY’ RATED R

Kaley Cuoco has come a long way since her role of pretty aspiring actress Penny, the apartment-dwelling neighbor befriending a pair of science nerds in the long-running popular series “The Big Bang Theory.”

Just a few years ago Cuoco’s Cassie Bowden was the titular character in the HBO series “The Flight Attendant,” an alcohol-fueled mess who traveled often on long-haul flights which she endured with copious indulgence of airline mini vodka bottles.

This series was an intriguing murder mystery in which Cuoco was anything but the pleasantly sincere “girl next door” as she turned out to be an inebriated libidinous party girl who on one trip wakes up in a Bangkok hotel room next to a dead guy.

Continuing on a path of more daring television fare than an innocuous sitcom about life with socially awkward physicists, Cuoco not only stars but serves as a producer on Amazon Prime’s “Role Play,” in which she has a secret life.

Cuoco’s Emma Brackett is apparently happily married to Dave (David Oyelowo) with two kids in the suburbs of New Jersey. For business, she’s supposedly traveling to exciting places like Nebraska but apparently not engaging in sexual trysts with strangers.

In “Role Play,” Cuoco’s character, much like the one in “The Flight Attendant,” skirts with danger once again, only this time she’s a willing participant in a hazardous position, which comes with the territory of being a professional assassin.

Back home in New Jersey, her unwitting husband is displeased that Emma has forgotten their seventh wedding anniversary, and he can be forgiven for fretting that their marriage might have lost its allure.

To pump a little excitement back into matrimony, Emma and Dave decide a little role-playing would be in order by planning a rendezvous at the bar of a swanky New York hotel, where they will pretend to be strangers before hooking up.

Drinking alone at the bar as a prelude to a make-believe encounter, Emma is approached by an older gentleman who is game for striking up a conversation, while Dave is apparently running late to the party.

The interloper in this situation is Bob Kellerman (Bill Nighy), who has a gift for gab. While his appearance is like that of a traveling salesman, there’s more to Bob than getting in the way of a role-playing occasion.

The encounter in the hotel lounge takes an interesting turn with a few surprises. What will it take for Dave to catch on his wife’s secret identity? An unexpected death exposes a rift in the marriage when both Emma and Dave find themselves “persons of interest” to the police.

Emma might not even be her real name, but the notion that she’s a professional killer leads to inevitable marital complications as Dave is completely bewildered and blindsided.

Things get even more dire for Emma when she has to go to Berlin for a contract, and mysterious handler Gwen Carver (Connie Nielsen) is determined to keep Emma from giving up her career for family.

A mix of comedy and action can work where the secret assassin is the central plot. Take the case of double secrecy in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, a couple in a decaying marriage, have been hiding from each other that they are assassins for rival agencies.

Kaley Cuoco and David Oyelowo are not exactly Brangelina, but as far as “Role Play” goes, they acquit themselves decently for a serviceable and formulaic comedic thriller that has enough moments of fun for a streaming production.

CRIME DRAMAS ON LIFETIME CHANNEL

Premiering on February 3RD on the Lifetime Channel, “A Mother’s Intuition” centers on the story of a young sculptor named Toni (Denise Boutte), a pregnant woman mourning the abrupt death of her husband who learns upon the birth of her child that her baby girl was stillborn.

The story takes a bizarre turn when Toni accuses the hospital of swapping her baby. More than paranoia is in play, and though no one believes her, the search for truth results in plenty of twists and suspense.

Based on a true story, “Abducted Off the Street: The Carlesha Gaither Story” chronicles the kidnapping of a Philadelphia nurse’s aide at the hands of a homicidal predator, and reveals how she fought to survive and created a trail that would ultimately lead to her rescue.

Carlesha (Riele Downs) was walking home from a family gathering when she is forced into a car at knifepoint. Determined to endure and outsmart her captor, Carlesha leaves clues behind at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, Carlesha’s mother, Keisha (Kenya Moore), stops at nothing to find her, making an impassioned plea to the media and working alongside a committed detective to rescue her before it’s too late.

The real culprit was a person by the name of Delvin Barnes, a man with an extensive criminal history who pleaded guilty to holding Carlesha hostage for three days. In June 2016, Barnes was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.



'THE BEEKEEPER' RATED R

Known for his muscular physique and believable portrayal of a gritty action hero, Jason Statham, with his martial arts background, has made such a career of being the tough guy that in about a dozen years or so he could turn into a durable aging version of Liam Neeson or Steven Seagal.

As long as he remains a bankable action star, Statham should not be lacking for work. His resume includes fine films in the thriller genre, from crime dramas like “The Bank,” “Snatch,” and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” to the action thriller “Transporter” trilogy.

The appeal of this British actor is that he is convincing in his action roles, which likely comes from his practice of kickboxing and karate. Having been a member of Britain’s national diving team and competing for his country in the 1990 Commonwealth Games rounds out his athletic abilities.

Statham’s Adam Clay is a loner living on Massachusetts farm land where he tends to his bee hives and operates out of a barn rented from his neighbor, the elderly Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad), who acts like his surrogate mother.

Aside from his love of beekeeping, Clay is a retired Beekeeper, a member of a clandestine government agency that apparently operates outside legal boundaries to restore order when corruption and nefarious crimes must be addressed.

Unfortunately, retired teacher Eloise responds to a tech support group’s notification of a virus on her computer and gets connected to sleazebag Mickey Garnett (David Witts), who then proceeds to drain her bank accounts of her entire life savings as well as the $2 million in her charitable foundation.

The scammers work for the despicable Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), a man-child cokehead who skates around his corporate office under the protection of some powerful people.

Feeling hopeless after losing everything, Eloise commits suicide, and this prompts Clay to take immediate action to hunt down the perpetrators of the telemarketing fraud.

Eloise’s suicide is a blow not just to Clay but especially to her FBI Special Agent daughter Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), who wants to find those responsible for her mother’s death, but must function within the law.

There are no such constraints for Clay who wastes no time finding the call center of the United Data Group where he arrives with two cans of gasoline and announces to the security guards that he is going to burn the place down.

Making good on this threat to turn the entire operation into an ashtray, Clay sets his sights on going after the main source, only to find that his Beekeeper replacement, Anisette (Megan Le), a punked-out lunatic armed with a machine gun tries to take him out.

As odious as he is, Derek is protected by people in high places, as his mother Jessica Danforth (Jemma Redgrave), with the ultimate political connections, is the founder of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate Danforth Enterprises.

Derek’s minder and protector of the family business is Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), a former Director of the CIA now in a cushy corporate job, who informs the spoiled rich kid that when a Beekeeper says he’s going to kill someone, nothing can stop him.

Westwyld calls in a favor from his old friend, the current CIA director Janet Harward (Minnie Driver in brief cameo), and before long everyone from Verona’s FBI S.W.A.T. team to Secret Service agents and mercenary thugs working for Danforth Enterprises are after Clay.

In addition to traditional law enforcement, Westwyld assembles his own team of Special Forces types, but they have no clue that the Beekeeper will do everything to “protect the hive” while spouting mythology about the importance of bees.

Derek seems to think his ace-in-the-hole is gnarled South African mercenary Lazurus (Taylor James), who once killed a Beekeeper but lost his leg in the process. You may guess how that’s going to turn out.

The climactic end comes down to a big party at Mama Danforth’s seaside estate, where Westwyld’s thugs and Secret Service agents are out in force, and Clay slips under their noses to end his mission.

Fifteen minutes shy of two hours, “The Beekeeper” has the welcome pace of an action thriller with just enough exposition and plenty of hard-hitting violent retribution on the bad guys that should satisfy any fan of Jason Statham.

Jason Statham always seems to be at his best when he lets his fists do the talking. Some of the best action stars have mastered the art of being laconic. As it is, enough of the dialogue is nonsensical.

What’s enjoyable about “The Beekeeper” is that Statham shines in his action scenes, and let us not forget the atrocious waste of his talent in recent the recent outings of “Meg 2: The Trench” and “Expendables.”

Even “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” proved disappointing. But that’s not the case with a thrilling B-movie bulging with stunts, explosions, gunplay and overall volatile mayhem.

Enjoy the scorched-earth ride for what it is. A “Beekeeper 2” could even be a possibility.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

Jaymie Hernandez de la Torre installing Growth Rings at the Middletown Arts Center. Photo by Tim de la Torre.

MIDDLETOWN, Calif. — The Middletown Art Center proudly announces the highly anticipated exhibition, “Raíces Hermosas~Gorgeous Roots,” showcasing a vibrant collection of Latinx art.

This compelling exhibit serves as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and artistic contributions of the Latinx community.

The opening reception of Raíces Hermosas on Saturday, Jan. 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. is a celebration of contemporary Latinx identity, culture and artistic expression.

The exhibit explores roots and addresses pertinent issues through a guest-curated exhibition featuring the exceptional work of local and regional Latinx artists.

Visitors will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a visual narrative that reflects the depth and diversity of the Latinx community.

“It’s a privilege to share the gallery with fellow Latino artists in the MAC’s new group show Raises Hermosas,” said Alex Blas, a Middletown artist originally from Mexico City. “This collection of work not only represents the inspiring diversity of Latinx artists; it also provides an opportunity to share our stories, dreams and passions with our broader community.”

The opening reception will provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts, community members, and supporters of Latinx culture to engage with the artists and explore the exhibition firsthand.

Attendees will have the chance to interact with the creators behind these captivating artworks, gaining insights into their creative processes and inspirations.

“Raíces Hermosas arose from a need to unify our diverse community through the shared language of art,” said Zabdy Neria, a behavioral health professional, Konocti School District Board member and Rotarian who joined the MAC board and planted the seed for this project.

“I firmly believe that our shared humanity unites us more than our apparent differences,” said Neria. “Raíces Hermosas celebrates Latinx culture and traditions and provides a platform to share these gifts with the rest of the community. MAC’s Posadas Party in early December was a wonderful taste of what's to come! I encourage people of all ages to visit the exhibit and attend upcoming workshops and community festivals at MAC.”

Raíces Hermosas will be on display from Jan. 13 to June 3, Thursday through Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The exhibit and opening reception are free and open to the public.

In addition to the exhibit, Raíces Hermosas is committed to engaging the local community, especially young minds through free guided school field trips to the gallery with hands-on creative art activities in the studio.

Approximately 3,600 Lake County students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Latinx art and culture through this unique program.

By providing a platform for local and regional Latinx artists, and by nurturing the educational experiences of thousands of students, this project aims to create a lasting impact on our cultural landscape.

There are still some dates available for field trips and educators are encouraged to contact MAC if they are interested in providing their students with a unique educational and cultural experience at 707-355-4465 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Funding for the Raíces Hermosas project is provided by Specified General Fund for the Museum Grant Program under the California Cultural and Historical Endowment.

Middletown Art Center is a Lake County nonprofit dedicated to engaging the public in art making, art education, and art appreciation.

Through exhibitions, performances, workshops, and community events, the art center provides a platform for diverse voices and perspectives, striving to create an inclusive and accessible space for all.

To learn more and donate to support Raíces Hermosas and other MAC arts and cultural programs visit www.middletownartcenter.org or call 707-809-8118. The MAC is located at 21456 State Highway 175 in Middletown.










‘MEAN GIRLS’ RATED PG-13

Screenwriter and director John Hughes was legendary as the creative force behind many memorable films.

He tapped into the zeitgeist of the coming-of-age teenage human condition in comedies that included “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club’ and “Weird Science.”

Best of all was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” which remains a favorite. Matthew Broderick was outstanding as the slacker titular character, a manipulator and con artist as he ditched high school for a day with two friends enjoying the best of Chicago that included a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

The whole point of bringing up Hughes is that you would be far better off insofar as being entertained by watching his films from the Eighties than spending time with “Mean Girls,” which is essentially a remake of the Broadway musical of the same that was an adaption of the 2004 film.

What we get with the new “Mean Girls” is the same old story of the new girl at the high school finagling her way into the social hierarchy of the popular girl group known as the Plastics, an oddly fitting name for the vacuous teens.

The difference between the two films is that the new version, such as it is considering that Tina Fey was writer of both along with the Broadway musical, are musical numbers that would work best in a stage production.

The role of Cady Heron, originally played to perfection by Lindsay Lohan, now belongs to Angourie Rice. As with the 2004 film, Cady transfers to North Shore High School after being homeschooled in Africa, which would seem to result in a serious case of culture shock.

At first, Cady falls in with two other outsiders, Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey).

Janis was once friends with Regina (Renee Rapp), the rich mean girl who is the leader of the Plastics. But that friendship dissolved when Regina outed Janis as a lesbian.

Though warned by her friends to avoid the Plastics, Cady is invited to become part of Queen Bee Regina’s clique, which includes the bubbly and dimwitted Karen (Avantika) and insecure Gretchen (Bebe Wood).

Of course, Regina has ulterior motives; after all, she’s as fake as the name “Plastics” would imply. While Cady is bright, she feigns a lack of math skills to get closer to Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron (Christopher Briney).

Naturally, Cady’s infatuation sends Regina into a spiral of cruelty and malicious jealousy, which leads to vindictive backstabbing that one might expect from a borderline sociopath. High school is a brutal breeding ground for broken souls.

Aside from a cameo appearance by Lindsay Lohan as a math quiz moderator, Tina Fey reprises her role as math teacher Ms. Norbury, while Tim Meadows is once again the beleaguered school principal Mr. Duvall, who looks ten years overdue for retirement.

Granted, many of the newcomers as students demonstrate passion and energy, but in the end the inevitable question is why was there a pressing need to bother with a reboot that adds nothing of weight to the overworked teen angst.

Midway through the Nineties, Amy Heckerling, as writer and director, delivered “Clueless,” an appealing coming-of-age teen comedy. She also directed 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” a teen comedy that greatly amused with Sean Penn’s stoner slacker Jeff Spicoli.

There are just too many good teen comedies from three to four decades ago to revisit than bothering with an unmemorable remake, unless there’s some weird fascination with the Plastics. “Mean Girls” will likely find its audience, but this reviewer does not fall into that camp.



‘RESCUE BOWL’ PRECEDES THE SUPER BOWL

Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 11 will be preceded by Great American Family’s annual “Great American Rescue Bowl” that has been created in partnership with the North Shore Animal League America.

The program is a fun interactive way to raise awareness of the huge number of wonderful animals in local shelters across the country and has been highly successful at increasing the adoption rate several fold during Super Bowl weekend.

Renowned animal advocate and bestselling author, Beth Stern, who has personally placed more than 2,000 fosters over the years, returns to host “Great American Rescue Bowl.”

An active member of the Animal League America Board, Beth Stern is joined in hosting duties by TV personality and producer, Brian Balthazar, and 13-time Emmy-winning morning news anchor. Dan Mannarino.

Since 1944, North Shore Animal League America has saved more than 1.1 million pet lives through the organization’s medical care, vaccination programs, and the ultimate pet life savers – rescue and adoption.

“Great American Rescue Bowl 2024” features a tail-biter of a bowl game between The Adorables versus The Cuddlers with a halftime show that will melt hearts. Spoiler alert: The status of each furry player is – adopted!

Animal lovers are bound to be touched by the Animal League’s pioneering as the no-kill movement and architect of the happy ending for more than a million deserving shelter pets for 80 years.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.




‘THE HOLDOVERS’ RATED R

Released late last October, “The Holdovers” achieved almost universal acclaim, and yet seemingly did not snare a wide audience. With possibly limited commercial appeal, the film may have been too thought-provoking to catch on in theaters.

Fortunately, “The Holdovers” is now streaming exclusively on Peacock, a platform that gives this wonderfully bittersweet holiday story more exposure. The film reunites “Sideways” director Alexander Payne and star Paul Giamatti.

The time is December 1970 at the Barton Academy boarding school in New England. Giamatti’s Paul Hunham, a stern taskmaster, teaches ancient history to privileged, disinterested students bored out of their minds with the subject matter.

Worse still, the pupils intensely dislike the curmudgeonly instructor, and not just because a good grade is hard to achieve. These pampered kids come from wealthy families, and their sense of entitlement is grating to someone like Hunham, even though he’s a Barton grad himself.

As the Christmas break approaches, the irascible teacher also finds himself out of favor with Headmaster Woodrup (Andrew Garman) for having the temerity to flunk the son of a senator, who just happens to be a major donor.

With four students, for various reasons, having to spend the holiday break staying on campus, Hunham is assigned the duty of babysitter, and you can be sure his charges are not thrilled to discover they are stuck in an educational detention camp.

Among the holiday hostages are the brash Teddy Kountze (Brady Hepner) and laidback jock Jason Smith (Michael Provost), and two younger students. Not long into the break, they are freed by Smith’s family for a ski trip.

Not so lucky is the last-minute addition of upperclassman Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) as a holdover, because his remarried mother (Gillian Vigman) decided that a Caribbean vacation with her new husband would be better off without her son.

Failing to get parental permission to join the other students on a ski excursion, Angus is stuck with a teacher he despises and school cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a grieving mother whose son died in Vietnam.

An interesting dynamic emerges between the damaged, brainy troublemaker and the crusty teacher who seemingly has no life outside the boundaries of the school. An unlikely bond slowly forms when Angus needs medical care and they are both invited to a Christmas party.

The true beauty of “The Holdovers” is driven by sharp dialogue and meaningful character development. The film proves to be a bittersweet dramedy with truly humorous touches. Paul Giamatti deserves a Best Actor Oscar.

JANUARY MOVIES ON THE LIFETIME CHANNEL

A “Ripped from the Headlines” movie, “Girl in the Video” examines the story of widowed mother Mo (Cush Jumbo) who is managing parenting two teens the best she can. Her daughter Krissy (Tia May Watts) has begun secretly chatting online with a boy she believes is a cute high school senior.

Krissy sneaks out one night to meet him at a party. When Mo discovers her daughter is missing the next morning, Mo and her son Robbie start an all-out search for her and alert local detectives.

As the case garners media attention, an anonymous tip reveals Krissy is being held captive and exploited in sexually abusive live streams for money on the dark web. Racing to find Krissy before she is murdered, Mo and Robbie track down every clue they can to try to bring her home.

Inspired by true events, “Dying in Plain Sight” tells the emotional story of overweight high school student Morgan Cruz (Raffa Virago) and her mother Kim (Nicola Correia-Damude), who both harbor dark secrets that lead to devastating circumstances.

When Kim leaves her cheating husband, she becomes so focused on “clean eating” that she doesn’t notice that Morgan has stopped eating altogether. While Morgan receives positive validation for her changing body, privately she begins to experience the terrible side effects of her disorder.

Morgan’s cries for help seem to fall on deaf ears until she’s hospitalized for life-threatening malnutrition, leading Kim to finally realize how her own disordered eating was a terrible influence on Morgan, pushing her to the brink of death.

Inspired by real stories, “Confessions of a Cam Girl” follows the eighteen-year-old fashion savant Kristen (Megan Best) who is set to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

Her working-class parents are furious when she reveals a plan to attend fashion school instead of college. Her parents refuse to use her college fund for her farfetched dream.

Determined to pay for fashion school herself, Kristen secretly creates an online explicit content page to raise $10,000 for her dream program. Confident she can keep her side hustle under wraps, Kristen’s secret unravels and threatens not just her future, but the safety of her family as well.

The Lifetime Channel is known for its movies based on true stories, and some as the Internet will tell you are so outrageous that you won’t believe they are based on real life. There will be more to come.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.




‘THE BOYS IN THE BOAT’ RATED PG-13

When thinking about the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, the American accomplishment that most readily comes to mind is the triumph of African-American track and field gold winner Jesse Owens.

Winning four gold medals in sprints, relay and long jump, Owens was not just a hero of the Games but a symbol that belied the Nazi theory of Aryan superiority, even though Germany won the most gold and total medals.

George Clooney’s “The Boys in the Boat,” based upon the best-selling non-fiction novel of Daniel James Brown published a decade ago, brings to wider public awareness the improbable story of nine working-class college boys becoming champion rowers at the 1936 Olympics.

At the height of the Great Depression, Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) symbolizes the struggle of those on the lower rung of the economic scale.

Abandoned by his father during childhood, Rantz was on his own as a teenager but he overcame the odds to make it to the University of Washington.

Faced with the prospect of losing his place in college unless he could come up with tuition money, the jobless Rantz was attracted to rowing because a spot on the team would offer a place to live and financial support.

It’s one thing to want to join the team, and it’s quite another to qualify for what is truly a team sport where each member of the crew must work in unison and be able to survive the rigorous training and regimen.

Aside from coxswain Bobby Moch (Luke Slattery) and nervous introverted rower Don Hume (Jack Mulhern), Rantz stands out as the heart of the junior varsity team that would soon best the varsity team to compete with more elite schools.

Under the tutelage of head coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), a man almost of few words as his star rower, the JV team beats the better-equipped University of California team in a regional competition.

The bigger challenge comes when the team travels to the East Coast to face Ivy League teams in qualifying for the Olympics. It’s a case of “no money versus old money,” and the underdog Washington Huskies prevail.

When informed by the U.S. Olympics Committee that the Huskies must pay their own way to Berlin, one more challenge is overcome when the community rallies in fundraising. A touching moment arrives when an unexpected donor helps them to meet their financial target.

When it is said that “rowing is more poetry than sport,” that sentiment seems to apply to the crew’s shell builder George Pocock (Peter Guinness) who enlists Rantz’s help in sanding and applying finish to the hull. A bond is formed between the two, adding a grace note to the development of Rantz’s character.

The big moment for the Americans comes in Berlin where the omnipresence of Nazi flags and banners, along with an appearance by Adolf Hitler and a German populace enthralled by the Fuhrer, does not deter them from their mission.

Knowing the outcome, the race itself must have enough drama to be entertaining. As usual, the Huskies get off to a slow start from a disadvantaged position on the water, and eventually prevail in what is as thrilling as a photo finish at the Kentucky Derby.

Cynics may dismiss “The Boys in the Boat” as an underdog sports drama we’ve seen too many times before. A conventional formula works here to deliver a pleasurable old-fashioned inspirational story that is extremely well-crafted.

To the untrained eye, rowing looks like a very mechanical sport with the coxswain and eight rowers propelling the racing shell in a straight line. In the film, the cinematography captures the tension and taxing physical nature of the sport in a very thrilling way.

Above all else, “The Boys in the Boat” is about scrappy team spirit overcoming all odds for the rowers to be heroes to their school as well as the nation. That this film is based on a true story makes it all the more remarkable.

TRIBUTE TO COLUMBIA PICTURES ON TCM CHANNEL

During the month of January, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Columbia Pictures.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz’s month-long showcase of the studio’s films with a different decade from the 1920s and 1930s with “It Happened One Night” all they through to the 2000s.

Other great films from the first night include the classic 1937 screwball comedy “The Awful Truth,” starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, and the 1938 comedy “You Can’t Take It With You,” starring James Stewart and Jean Arthur.

The second night includes Elia Kazan’s masterpiece “On the Waterfront,” starring Marlon Brando and featuring Eva Marie Saint in her film debut.

“On the Waterfront” won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Brando and Best Director for Kazan.

Over other Wednesday nights, the tribute includes “Taxi Driver” with a young Jodie Foster, “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Funny Girl” starring Barbara Streisand, and ending with 2006’s “Marie Antoinette.”

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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