The Week in Old Entertainment: June 6th, 2013

Phonograph

 

In addition to reading the same books over and over, I’ve come to the realisation that I’m also catching up on older movies that I missed in the theater. These days it takes a true blockbuster like Star Trek or something that’s really in my wheelhouse like Arrested Development for me to see it as soon as it’s released.

So, I’m going to be coming back to this feature I’m calling “The Week in Older Entertainment” to talk about things I’m only now seeing. I’ve got a decent of movies trio to start out with: Jennifer’s Body, Margin Call, and Wimbledon.

Jennifer’s Body was a 2009 release that served as a vehicle for the fresh-outta-Transformers Megan Fox as a girl possessed by a demon that eats boys in her high school. I remember seeing the advertising for this and being intrigued. I can admit being intrigued in a Megan Fox movie the same way that wolves are intrigued with looking at flocks of sheep – and it’s that exact avenue that producers of the movie were hoping to capitalize on  and sell tickets. I didn’t see the movie until this past week. The advertising crew of this movie did their project a serious injustice. It isn’t just some slasher with a hot girl, it’s a fun, geeky, teen comedy wearing a thin, horror-movie veil. Going in, I didn’t even know the main character of the movie is actually a nerded-up Amanda Seyfried, who happens to be the wing-girl for little-town hottie Megan Fox.

The movie is written by Diablo Cody and follows some of the same themes and environment as her hit, Juno. Both are tales of growing up in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, poking fun at the locals, and pointing out the differences between life there and in “the city.” However, Jennifer’s Body has to do with demonic possession where Juno deals with teenage pregnancy. They’re really close. The first half hour of this movie does a great job of doing the creepy horror things that movies do with false anticipation and jumpy scares, but the middle and end of the movie is all teenage snark and really decent jokes. Jennifer’s Body feels like the child of Juno and Carrie, but was baby-sat by Mean Girls and weaned on those few episodes of the X-Files that took place in high schools. Yes, I like watching Megan Fox, but I wanted to see either more of her in this movie with her CG demon-face or more of her with a tired, no make-up face. The movie even has Juno-vet J.K. Simmons as a one-handed high school teacher with a really bad ponytail.  What’s not to love?!?

Jennifer’s Body was way better than expected and deserves a second look by any who missed it. I give it a score of 8 demons in one body.

I missed 2011’s Margin Call because of its limited theater release, and rued missing its star-studded cast of Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci. Margin Call is about a nameless Wall Street company noticing the impending housing market crash of 2008 and off-loading their investments before the shit really hits the fan. The movie shows that, at least it skims the surface of how that event unfolds, but it does a much better job at highlighting the disparity between different levels of management at this Wall Street firm. There are stock guys, then management, then the uber-alles top – all of whom make much more money than anyone that reads this blog could ever make. 😉

Zachary Quinto is totally believable as a MIT-grad number cruncher (actual degree in rocket science), Kevin Spacey does a very good “I don’t understand the numbers, but I can read and relate to people” boss, and Jeremy Irons plays the man at the very top of the pyramid forcing everyone to do very bad things with a louched obliviousness that rides the line of “either believable or not quite oblivious enough.” I like the theme and message of the film – it’s pointing a finger at these companies for several things (awful mass layoffs, apathy for the people they’re affecting, the lack of human responsibility involved in their day-to-day dealings), but its also trying to bring out a human side to Wall Street, especially with the characters that exist at the lower end of the totem pole. It’s showing that the people who do the actual work for the firm are people doing a job – people who have objections to the work put in front of them, people with families and pets, people who tried to care and avoid the situation. Margin Call puts the blame for the 2008 financial crisis squarely on the fat cats of Wall Street.

That’s nice, but I kind of expected more out of this movie. I felt as if the script was too vague. I mean, I don’t know much at all about the financial business, but it seemed to me that not many of the characters in the film did either. Many of them asked for the situation to be explained to them in childish terms, but I don’t know if that was for the audience’s sake or for the script writer’s. And no one dared to mention Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, or Goldman Sachs for fear of libel suits, the characters are forced to meekly mention “this company” in the third-person throughout the movie. I was also waiting for an enormous dramatic moment, some sort of thrill or climax or even a conflict between characters, but never got one. The movie lacks balls, but perhaps that’s a statement of actual human realism on the film-maker’s part. No one really stepped out and tried to stop this from doing what it did, everyone was slowly bought off before losing their job and what’s so dramatic about that?

Margin Call only gets about 5 and a half point investment.

I really like Paul Bettany for some reason. He’s charming and selective about his roles (Legion and Priest notwithstanding), so Wimbledon ended up on the queue. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I usually can’t stand Kirsten Dunst, but once I discovered that Game of Thrones’ Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was in the movie, I had to see it. Wimbledon is surprising, it is less a romantic comedy and much more of a silly British movie about tennis and sex. In fact, the first 30 minutes of the movie can be summed up as tennis and sex, which is great! The last hour of the movie goes by rather predictably, but mostly in a good way with charm and wit.

Wimbledon also sneaks in a fantastic supporting cast with Sam Neill as Kirsten Dunst’s father/coach, James McAvoy as Paul Bettany’s loser brother, and Bernard Hill as Bettany’s loony father living in a tree house in the backyard. Everyone looks good, the actual tennis looks better than most sports movies (I am not a tennis enthusiast, however), and the script hit every joke and tone that I as a viewer wanted it to. I would have called it a guilty pleasure if it hadn’t turned out as funny-sexy as it did.

Wimbledon gets 7 balls that land right on the line.

And that’s the week of June 6th in old entertainment. I won’t be limiting myself to talk about movies, however. This hopefuilly regular feature will stretch beyond movies to television, books, video games, my own geeky game tastes, and other things. And if I run out of old entertainment, I might even refresh a few cat memes from 2009, how does that sound?

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The Honest Re-Read

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It can either be considered unfortunate or it could be considered quirky, but I re-read a lot of the same books.

I’ve professed my love for Dan Abnett here before, but I urge you to read and then re-read the Inquisitor Eisenhorn series. Then the Ravenor books. And then Pariah. There’s a richness to these characters and an ever-rotating motion to the plot that brings me back for another read every year.

The same for his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, some of the Horus Heresy series, the Silmarillion, and some Kurt Vonnegut. Other books get in there, too, but nothing gets repeated the same way as the others.

Then I read George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, AKA the Game of Thrones books. Yes, they’re HBO-show worthy. Yes, they’re far superior to the tv version, as any good book is of its visual self should be. I read and finished the entire series this past summer. The first book and the first season of the show fit perfectly together, it’s an impressive feat as an adaptation. The second season and second book begin to wade away from one another, but carry the main themes and events. This current third season has begun a full-fledged drift away from the source material, but that’s the price paid for quality story-telling when the novels are as deep and lengthy as these.

There are certain things the show cannot hope to achieve that the book carries within it – things like the full version of Dany’s visions within the House of the Undying in book/season 2 or Ned’s visions of the events at the Tower of Joy in the first book. Bran’s dreams and visions, particularly from within his direwolf Summer, aren’t getting the treatment they deserve yet in the show, but this could change as book 3, A Storm of Swords, is going to broken up between seasons 3 and 4 of the show.

It was while discussing all of this with my better half that I decided to do a re-read of the entire series.

George R.R. Martin is a good story-teller, but his writing isn’t as dense as it could be. Where Abnett stretches my vocabulary and writes action worthy (and honestly, better) of the best Hollywood summer film, Martin focuses on the long-view and foreshadowing. His mythos goes deep with prophesies to fulfill, secrets to uncover, and plots that stretch over many volumes. One in particular is the favorite of like-minds to examine – one that I will only refer to as “R+L=J.” If you do not know what that means, I encourage you to first ask if this is knowledge you wish to spoil for yourself, then if so, turn to r/asoiaf for your answers.

PRAOqr0

It was within this lens that I started my re-read. I searched into hidden meanings, I delved into the possibilities of each person who might know, the unsaid words, the tone and timbre of those who reveal things later in the books, and even searched for alternate meanings of “Hodor?

As far as I can tell, no one knows anything in A Game of Thrones. The only person that does know for certain reveals very little before his demise – poor, poor Ned. The mysteries of R+L=J are wrapped in conjecture and foreshadow in this first book, nothing more.

However, I developed my own hypothesis for the entire series, something that seems to ring true in Martin’s world and within his ever-struggling power plays. My theory on the entire ASOIAF series is this: every action has an opposite and greater reaction. There are no equal reactions in the world of Westeros (or Essos), things get incrementally greater or worse. Karma is very real and it comes back three-fold.

For examples, I’ll only use situations that have arisen in the show so far (NO SPOILERS IF YOU ARE UP TO DATE WITH THE SHOW).

  • Jaime Lannister pushes the 7-year old Brandon Stark out of a window, arguably starting the entire reason for the story. He loses the hand he pushed Bran with later on.
  • Catelyn Tully ignores the advances of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and watches on as Brandon Stark, Eddard’s older brother, duels Petyr for Cat’s hand in marriage. Brandon Stark humiliates Littlefinger, gifting him with a long scar. Cat convinces Eddard to trust Littlefinger years later while staying in King’s Landing and investigating the Lannisters. Should anyone have been surprised that Littlefinger, a man that had been brooding over that duel for 15 years, betrays the brother of the man that denied him Catelyn Tully?
  • Sansa lies about the circumstances of Joffrey’s fight with her little sister, Arya, and the butcher’s boy, Mycah. Sansa’s lie covers up Joffrey’s cruelty and both Mycah and her dire wolf, Lady, end up dead to “resolve” the incident.
  • Daenerys Targaryen is brought up in the shadow of her older brother, Viserys, and treated as dirt – as an object to be bought, sold, or traded. After achieving independence, Daenerys strives to stamp out slavery in all of its forms wherever she goes. (This is good and natural character development, I know, but it is key to understanding Daenerys and her actions.)
  • This one is complex, but the reactions are incremental. Daenerys puts her faith and trust in a stranger to heal her wounded husband, Khal Drogo. This woman, Mirri Maz Duur, gives Drogo a poultice to heal the wound, but Drogo tears it off. Drogo’s wound festers, nearly killing him. Daenerys begs MMD to save him with blood magic. MMD warns Daenerys that life can only be bought with life. Drogo comes out of the ceremony in a catatonic state and Daenerys’ soon-to-be-born child dies. MMD knew the consequences of the spell, but betrayed Daenerys’ faith because of the attack his tribe had visited upon her home. Daenerys has Mirri Maz Duur burnt alive on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, which serves as a catalyst to the hatching of the petrified dragon eggs.
  • Cersei has the captain of her sons protectors, Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard, dismissed as she perceives him as being too old (more like, too honorable and stiff to go along with her every move). Ser Barristan, still vital, seeks and joins Daenerys Targaryen. He lends her sage advice, his battle acumen, and his knowledge of her deceased family that will become more important as the series progresses. Nice move, Cersei. That’s like giving up Shaq to the Miami Heat in 2004.
  • Robb Stark (oh man…)  breaks his oath to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. Show watchers are all caught up on the events of this, the Red Wedding, and know the evils of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters.

A word, real quick, about the Red Wedding’s portrayal on the show – it was too sudden. The book lays out several key warnings about what is about to happen and that the trip to the Twins was going to be a huge and colossal mistake. Book Robb doesn’t even bring his new wife to the wedding, just in case something like that happened. Show Robb gets to watch the most brutal of gut stabbings in the history of visual entertainment. I’m concerned that the show writers stuck to being brutal and didn’t lay enough hints down – like how Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind, didn’t want to enter the Twins, or how a bunch of Freys disappear during the feast, or how Edmure’s new wife is crying and afraid during the evening, or the weapons that are affixed to the walls of the wedding hall, or how the musicians (crossbowmen) are numerous and couldn’t play their instruments very well…  There were hints there and the show avoided most of them. It escalated quickly, really jumped up a notch, one might say.

George RR Martin does his homework. He plots and plots and lays down a concise and twisted plan for each character. Each action of these characters ripples out like a boulder dropped at great height into a heaving bowl of lava. I won’t mention certain events, as the show is not yet there, but the actions of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Tywin, and Jorah Mormont definitely have opposite and rising consequences. I’ve only just finished my re-read of the first book. A Clash of Kings should have some more insights into R+L=J, or if it doesn’t I’ll still comment on that. The evidence is thin, but I remain convinced of its veracity.  We’ll see as the story unfolds. Again and again.

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love ARAM

Love It or Leave It - LOL

League of Legends – AGAIN!!

Ugh. A full month between blog posts has passed. This is the sort of trend that things like “steady employment” does for one’s creative flow.

Honestly, it’s all my own fault. Back on February 19th I wrote about how I sucked at League of Legends. Then I started playing it again. Then a friend started working at Riot Games and I saw the Riot HQ in Santa Monica. With new-found enthusiasm, I’ve flung myself to the wolves of the digital battleground and joined the horde of internet trolls playing League of Legends on an almost daily basis.

I might even say I don’t suck anymore. I wouldn’t say I’m good at the game, but constantly getting better. Like anything, from specific hobbies such as Magic: the Gathering or playing sports or making art, if you do something everyday you get better at it. This probably rings true for things like sports, art, or anything at all: constant exposure and repeated activity in the field leads to more success and building of your skills. This is true for video games.

It all started with one satisfying experience. I’d been playing intermittently and saw some players do great things with a particular champion that looked like fun to play: Hecarim, a ghostly centaur with a tanky-melee play style. He’s still on the newer end of champions available, so I saved up Influence Points (points earned in game by accomplishments that can be used to purchase things like champions and power-up runes) to get this new, shiny toy. The day finally came and I got to play a game with Hecarim.

The usual suck proceeded.

Undeterred by one game, I played a few more. Hecarim gains bonuses to his damage output when he his speed is boosted, so I looked into making him faster with certain items. Then I played one particular game. A game where I moved everywhere I wanted to at super-human speeds, initiated team fights (and survived!), and helped even the odds when my team mates were getting overwhelmed. People were typing things like, “thx Hec” and “nice gank” to me. TO ME.

I think I played Hecarim exclusively for a week. But then I expanded and started finding out what the other champion’s play styles are like. I purchased the champion bundles that Riot offers back in 2010, so I had many champions available to me that I had never played. I learned what Support really is with champions like Janna & Sona where I might get 1-3 kills a game, but 30-40 assists while buffing my team. I found out what it was like to shrug off everyone’s attacks and gank people from behind with Garen or jump out from a bush with Jax to slaughter everyone in sight. I played weird and difficult to learn champions like Karthus, Kassadin, and Zyra (and found that I don’t like those very much, but I did try at least ).

Then the last week of ARAM (all-random, all middle) came along as a part of the Freljord event. You enter a game, get a random champion that’s available to you, and the two teams square off in just one single lane. You can’t choose your champion, so you can’t rely on just knowing the tricks with one. And the whole game is a big team fight, so one person can’t go off on their own – everyone has to work together. It’s genius in that it’s also incredibly basic. It forces players to adjust bad habits. Since the entire enemy team is in the same lane, no singular player can dive out ahead and slay them all – they’ll die and earn ridicule from their own team. ARAM is about poking at the enemies, being patient, and capitalizing on your enemies’ mistakes.

It’s a ton of fun. Two memorable games stuck out for me: one where I was Alistar(roving Minotaur tank, what’s not to love?) and never killed anyone I was aiming for (but put my team on my shoulders for nearly 50 assists), and one where I was Teemo (little rodent scout), a champion I had never played with before, but during the course of the game my own team mates got mad at me. I had never before been accused of being a kill-stealer (never had the opportunity before), nor had I ever heard complaints from my own team about how my champion is OP. I rocked my first-time Teemo and couldn’t even share that with my team – the troll accusations would have flooded the whole of the internet. It is known.

So this, unfortunately, is where a lot of my free time has been going. 😉

I should probably do an Iron Man review, as I have particular views on this “trilogy” as a whole, plus I’ve had some really unique experiences lately with the Tarzana Post Office and being Adam Sandler’s stand-in for Grown Ups 2. For the moment, however, I’m logging back onto LOL for another game.

Oh Mad Men, What are you Doing?

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Mad Men’s sixth season two-hour premiere was Sunday night.

I fell asleep twice. It was boring, stilted, and over-indulging itself, ladies and gentlemen. My better half and I turned to each other several times during the premiere and said out loud, “What is going on with that? This is bad.”

Season Five came out with a bang! Zou Bisou Bisou!

Season Six? Not so much.

Don Draper seems medicated with the way he interacts with his world. They’ve changed the self-introspective star into an indifferent sot who half the time doesn’t answer direct questions. I counted three distinct moments in which Don was asked a question and instead of replying, he just ignored it completely. That’s not great writing, as the show wants us to think, that’s sloppy! It’s drek! I know the show’s creator wants me to think, “Ooo, Don Draper is ignoring the concerns of lesser people around him and he’s still struggling with the issues of his past.” NO! If he’s struggling with his issues, make him interesting and fire witty comebacks or snarky remarks at people. His silence isn’t interesting. It makes you look like you forgot how to write your main character.

Betty Draper is back on the creepy-wagon. I’m not exactly sure why we’re watching her. Betty’s fallen in love with another lost adolescent now and I wish that revealed something about her character or Don or her current relationship, or was even mildly interesting, but it’s not. Watching Betty talk to drifters and squatters while searching for some lost girl was predictable and dull.

Roger Sterling is keeping things sharp and snappy, at least. I like his therapy sessions, they remind me of Tony Soprano sharpening his mental teeth. But Roger’s reactions to events like his mother’s funeral are growing unbelievable. Did anyone buy his fake over-the-top rage at seeing his ex-wife’s husband? We all know he just wants to sleep with Mona again, that’s been true at every point in the show about every woman Roger’s ever met. His mother’s funeral isn’t a realistic time to dwell on that again, is it?. Plus, there was the crying scene. Everyone watching called out how he’d break down as soon as he was alone in his office with his former shoe shiner’s kit. Too predictable again, guys.

Is it me, or was the dialogue repetitive? Megan tells Don to get some sleep, she has to go out and be an actress, Don – get some sleep, she loves her job, Don – get some sleep, tell Roger I’m sorry I couldn’t be at the funeral, and Don, get some goddamn sleep.

In addition to the dialogue woes, did everyone on the cast visit the January Jones seminar on line delivery during their time off? It’s all well and good if we have just one person on the cast who regularly reacts within a scene like this: “Um,     well,      I’m going to say my line now.” Think about Betty saying exactly that, then think about the premiere. Yeah, I thought so.

Really, Mad Men’s main problem is this (and I’m stealing this from the greatest morning show ever, the Tony Kornheiser Show), show creator Matthew Weiner would like to stand atop the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and shout to the world, “See, David Chase! I’m smarter than youuuuuuuu!” He’d like to invade your home and say that to all of us, too, and Mad Men is his vehicle for doing so. It’s great!

But after five seasons the show is leaving some of its best and integral stuff behind: the office. Mad Men is about Madison Avenue, advertising, and the men that ran that world. It needs to stay on Madison Avenue to keep its heart and soul. I want to see less of Betty and her husband and hear more pitches and people working on ideas. It’s fine that they’re trying to push Peggy as the new Don Draper. We all see it, we all like Peggy, we know what you’re doing with her, but she’s going to be Don Draper Lite until she steals a client out from under him with an amazing idea. I don’t care about Don’s Hawaiian revelations about giving a bride away to a fellow GI, let’s see his next brilliant counter to a client’s short-sighted demands.

What I am trying to say really comes down to this:

Stay in the office, Mad Men, that is only place where the show remains interesting.

Heroes vs. Monsters Duel Deck Speculation

Heroes vs. Monsters, eh?

The announcement of the next Magic: the Gathering Duel Deck product in September comes on the heels of the next block, Theros, which lands exactly 3 weeks later. Theros, we have learned, is Greek & Roman inspired, so the Heroes vs. Monsters theme is only natural with all the stories, legends, and mythology that comes from those cultures. Also, we can expect to see 6 cards from the Theros block in Heroes vs. Monsters, which is neat. I expect the tone of the decks to match that of Knights vs. Dragons prettyclosely, but at the same time trying to define and differentiate itself from that product.

What can we expect to see, then, in Heroes vs. Monsters?

THEROS

Theros Block – coming September, 2013

I think it’s way too soon to know, really, and my baseless speculation on the Sorin vs. Tibalt Duel Decks at least came after knowing what those two planeswalkers looked like. What I have to present to you, then, are some awesome and nearly essential cards for a Heroes vs. Monsters duel.

To at least get things started, I think the Heroes deck contains the traditional white and green colors to represent law, bravery, and strength, while the Monsters deck will be Jund colors (green, red, black) to represent nature, destruction, and malice. The Heroes deck could open all the way to Bant to include blue in the color pie, too.

First off, I’ll be rather disappointed if we don’t see both of these:

Intrepid Hero

Intrepid Hero – For the Heroes

Hero's Demise

Hero’s Demise – For the Monsters

Those are perfect starters. Intrepid Hero takes down any big monsters and then Hero’s Demise immediately destroys any jumped-up joe making a name for himself slaying monsters. The Heroes deck is going to need some equipment. What tale doesn’t involve some hero who has to seek out some magic weapon before facing the dreaded beast of so-and-so? A helmet, a shield, and a sword should do.

Helm of Champions, Accorder's Shield, Sword of Vengeance - for the Heroes

Helm of Champions, Accorder’s Shield, Sword of Vengeance – for the Heroes

There should be some fitting support, too. Equipment enablers like Brass Squire or Kor Outfitter belong in the deck, but also some green buffs and anti-flying like an Oakenform or Hurricane. Like the Knights deck, the Heroes will have to get a strong start and curve out ahead of the Monsters using equipment to match their power – if the run of the mill Hero looks like a 2/2 Glory Seeker, expect the average Monster to be a 3/3 Canyon Minotaur. Also expect a legendary creature or two, since these are supposed to be Heroes and all. Maybe Crovax, Ascendant Hero or Tolsimir Wolfblood?

And, as fitting for a Greek & Roman themed mythos, there need to be appropriate foes for the Heroes to face. How about these?

Xathrid Gorgon, Conquering Manticore, Protean Hydra, Madrush Cyclops - for the Monsters

Xathrid Gorgon, Conquering Manticore, Protean Hydra, Madrush Cyclops – for the Monsters

It would be fun to see some other Jund staples from Alara block slip in to the Monsters deck like Sprouting Thrinax, Putrid Leech, or possibly some Blightnings! I mean, Jund was/is kinda a monster we all face, isn’t it? If it’s not a Jund kind of deck, then look for some punchy creatures of myth like Gorgon Recluse, Stone Giant, Fiery Hellhounds, and maybe even another Thragtusk (jk).

Mark Rosewater let slip that Theros will contain a returning mechanic. That got some pulses excited for a moment, but what possible mechanic could that be? And better yet, does that tell us what to expect or what is coming in Theros block or Heroes vs. Monsters?

Looking back, the Zendikar block got Kicker from the Invasion block,  Scars of Mirrodin got Poison counters from as far back as 1994’s Legends block and the Imprint mechanic from the original Mirrodin, and Innistrad got Flashback from Odyssey block. While the popular answer on some forums has been that we’ll see the Level-Up cards from Rise of the Eldrazi again, I say that’s too soon. My best guess would be that we’ll either see Cycling again or the Champion mechanic.

Changeling Champion - for Theros?

Changeling Champion – for Theros?

Now, the Changeling itself has no bearing on the Theros block, but I sense some important tribal vibes coming on here (Innistrad’s tribal themes weren’t implicit, so a Tribal block could rise again). With the Greco-Roman theme come lots of Centaurs & Dryads(green),  Minotaurs(red), Gorgons, Hapries, & Witches(black), Seers & Sphinxes(blue), and Humans, Eagles, & Pegasi(white). Champion is a perfect mechanic to fit into all of that, plus it’s not half-bad.

This is all baseless speculation at this point, but it’s fun and this is the internet.

Hey – I might even get one right! RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!

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