15 April 2015

Don't Trust the B and Undeserved Immediate Hatred of TV Shows

You know what is a great way to gain a lot of followers on the Internet? Continually talk about shows and movies that everybody hates. Sure, I could be talking about Game of Thrones or Daredevil right now (at least in a positive light), but that would just be mindless clickbait, a mere drop in a sea of articles that don't really advance knowledge but simply justify common viewing habits, giving consumers a sense of shared identity, as well as offering some outlet for continued love which never really gets better than the show itself. I don't care about any of that shit. Let's talk about a little show everyone hates called Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.
Not the B's!

Do you remember this thing? It was nuts. It premiered as a mid-season replacement in April, 2011 on ABC's Wednesday Night Shit-O-Rama Block, coming on at 9:30 pm EST, but that was never late enough. It was somehow picked up for the Fall 2011 season and sputtered for nineteen more episodes airing on various days before finally being put to sleep. I still know it mostly for this SNL sketch, which is how I first heard of its cancellation.

I remember being pretty happy watching this sketch, not only because it's nuts, and a total showcase for Bill Hader, who rarely got a chance to shine like this, but also because I learned that Don't Trust the B was cancelled. The joke works because it had this aura of being a ridiculous show that no one of sound mind should be upset was cancelled. That's all sort of a construct in the pop culture mind of the country though, and the B was always dead on arrival, and having never even seen the show myself, I was excited to hear it wouldn't be plaguing our airwaves, even though at the time I didn't even watch ABC. It couldn't have mattered less to the daily function of my life, but I was still pumped to hear it had failed.

Why? Does it come down to its awful title? The stupid attempt to be edgy without really having the nerve to say the word "Bitch"? Using "B----" exclusively was really an exercise in futility - trying so hard to stir controversy while being afraid to actually do it, and no show on television, much less Network television would have a hard swear like that in the title. Other offenders have included $#*! My Dad Says and GCB, which stood for Good Christian Bitches, which is a totally insane premise good for another article, by the way. These TV Titles are hard to write, actually. I had to look up a few times what the exact symbols used for $#*! are each time, and counting out the dashes for B---- is a pain in the ass. No critic wants to write that over and over each week for years and years, so they trash it. That may be a far-fetched theory but it's legitimate.

There's also the matter of how to actually say these shows. Amongst private company do I say "Don't Trust the B" or "Don't Trust the Bitch"? Who knows. It becomes virtually impossible to talk about without drawing attention to how damn awkward the title is. The thing is, it was originally shopped to FOX, and then ABC took it and changed the title briefly to just Apartment 23 (which isn't all that descriptive, either), and then to the original title. It's all just awkwardly specific and limiting for a fairly unique show. Anyway, all my rage and I'm sure the dismissal of the nation was based on its title.

This belies a show doing some pretty weird shit for ABC's Primetime Comedy block. This probably contributed to its downfall, because I'm not sure it gelled with ABC 2011. It's a shame that FOX passed because it could easily be seen on FOX's current Tuesday Shit-O-Rama lineup, which features a lot of similar shows featuring hordes of young people both in the workplace and living life, like New Girl, The Mindy Project, and Weird Loners. It's at least as bad as Weird Loners. I say this because the B was inherently a young peoples' show, starring a sociopath and a fish-out-of-water Indiana girl (something apparently not lost on other show developers) who are flung together, with ensuing hilarity.
Seriously, this show turned
me into a Van Der Beek fan.

There's a bit more to the B than that, although its horrible protagonist should be enough to turn people off entirely. By the end of the pilot there is a mix there that shows that the eponymous B does care about some people, most notably James Van Der Beek. See, before he was widely known for his Power Rangers video, the Dawson actually appeared as a fictionalized version of himself, as a regular on Don't Trust the B. I know, if you're anything like me who didn't know a damned thing about this debacle before a few days ago your interest has just been peaked.

Rounding out the cast is Eric Andre, who has made a series of completely insane career choices, from the irredeemable 2 Broke Girls to the mind-fuckingly insane trip that is The Eric Andre Show. Your interest should be peaked more. Needless to say, these talents aren't totally put to good use, but they deserve more attention than the B ever got. Dawson in particular seems at once at ease riffing on his good looks, his role on Dawson's Creek, and just being a handsome, quasi-has been in New York City who is best friends with the B for some reason. It's all sort of ridiculous, with a pride in its ridiculousness that should have been rewarded instead of reviled.

I'm fairly certain that if this had been on cable or had been an original streaming program, along with a better title, we might still be talking about it today - or at least, in respect to its success rather than failure. There's just that narrow of a gap in the industry between bombshell joke and eternal glory. I'm not saying we shouldn't always immediately judge TV shows, for every B there's a Bad Judge or something out there that can't recover from its trainwreck, but give this thing a shot. It's streaming on Netflix now and if you're not too embarrassed, give it a play. Yes, when your friends are over to watch Archer it's going to suck to have Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 show up in your recently played list, suggesting similar titles. Summing up even the courage to write this article was difficult for me. This show's reputation is so damn toxic it has rendered any positive discussion about it completely embarrassing. Now that's how you gain Blogger followers.

14 April 2015

Daredevil, or as I call it, A Terrible Law & Order Starring Batman but He's Poor and Blind

I want to wade some tricky waters here, because I really think that exporting Daredevil to Netflix was a great move for just about everyone involved except for, apparently, me directly. That is because I really really hated this fucking show. At the same time it's great for Marvel to continue expanding their Universe into the street-level heroes, and shining a light on Marvel Knights is basically as huge of a jump at this point as it was introducing the cosmic sections of the Universe with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
And yes, this is pretty cool.

It's also a great movie for Netflix. It's a confident assertion that they will continue to be an outlet for shows that are unsuitable for broadcast television, which is also kind of bizarre because I'm sure that's the same conversation show producers were having when edgy or niche shows started bolting Network TV for Cable twenty-five years ago. The credibility is still there, though, and although Daredevil could have easily worked on F/X or something, and probably would have succeeded more as a 42-minute show than a 56-minute one, I love all original streaming content mostly for the fact that it exists and is thoroughly shaking up stodgy industry paradigms which is lovely.

People seem to generally like Daredevil as well, for reasons that completely escape me. It's been well-received critically and made a decent impact in our pop culture splash. Take a gander of the gamut, mostly praising the show for its "grittiness" in contrast to the typical splash 'n' flash of Marvel's Cinematic Fare. While watching this, though, I was struck by one thing in particular that knocks this down the middle - Daredevil totally feels like a DC Movie. And The Flash totally feels like a Marvel movie. What the hell is going on.

I have never understood why Warner Bros can't get their act together around a shared DC Movie Universe. Their animated universe went strong for fourteen years, ending with Justice League Unlimited in 2006. There have been other shared animated universes since then, and a loose movie continuity, but it's all greatly surpassed anything Marvel has attempted. Moving more on TV, the interweave between Arrow and The Flash has been nearly seamless. Why do they screw movies up so badly?

For some reason, DC prides its films as "serious art" or something, which is really just a painful relic from Nolan's Batman films, which were too damn good and made too much money for Warner Bros to ever try something different. I may chalk up the relative goofiness inherent to The Flash as being its timeshare on the CW, which makes it constantly feel like a weird mix of teen drama, superhero show, and police procedural. It has recently really started plunging off the deep end with its time travel, speed force, and all that crap, but it only got there by first grounding its characters in a sustainable reality that more often favored rationalizing these goons instead of camping them up. It was a successful measure for a show that's turned as wacky as The Flash.

The Flash isn't afraid to crack a joke, though. Daredevil is. Seriously, Daredevil (2003) was funnier with Ben Affleck at the helm. I like to speak at length why certain big movies fail over others, but one thing I don't quite understand is how Dardevil (Affleck) has been so derided over the years. I really think there is just this total hatred of Ben Affleck, especially 2003 Ben Affleck. Lately the son of a bitch has had a bit of a McConaughey thing going on, in the sense that he's transformed from this douchey, airhead, romantic comedy/trite action hero persona into this lauded, Academy Award-winning guy. And isn't it odd that Affleck has won two Academy Awards but none for acting? I'm curious how people will receive his Batman, which isn't all that much of a leap from Daredevil in the first place.

But people hate, HATE Affleck Daredevil. I remember really digging it in theaters, but I do think that had something to do more with me being a 16-year old who thought it was a slick picture than it being really worthwhile of any merit. I do still like Colin Farrell in that movie (which I know, is something a crazy person would write) and Michael Clarke Duncan is a way better Kingpin than Vincent D'Onofrio. The film had a lot of really "gritty" parts, though, even if a lot of it was melodrama and director, Mark Steven Johnson doesn't really have a clear voice or sense of what he wanted the movie to be.

So here I am, in 2015 arguing against the Daredevil TV show and for the Daredevil movie. Hell yeah. And I should clarify, because I don't think that movie is really good in the sense that it is a life-changing movie or anything, and above all else it serves as a relic to an age where we didn't know what a superhero movie could be (which, if you look at something like The Winter Soldier [2014] or Guardians, the answer is, a superhero movie can be any genre of movie). The TV show is just bad, though.

As I'm watching this thing I'm constantly feeling the budget restrictions, and not really in good ways. There are plenty of excellent shows and films on shoestring budgets, and oftentimes that serves to push creativity but in the case of Daredevil it pins its characters in a room talking about law instead of out there serving it. Daredevil pours on the law heavily, but it's never in a particularly interesting or compromising way, and it always feels like it's detracting from the more interesting scenes of Daredevil kicking ass. And why is Daredevil kicking ass? His motivation other than being a dude seeking vague justice is never totally clear. It doesn't help that Hell's Kitchen has been pretty gentrified since Frank Miller's 80s days.
This is not.

Also to be clear, I don't have a problem with a superhero show being a law show. Hell, let's get a tight Jennifer Walters show going. I also don't really have a problem with maudlin, gritty superheroes, even if that concept has been totally overblown since the success of Nolan's Batman and the idea that these people are out there fighting crime as vigilantes in tights and the whole thing should be taken really seriously and to the letter is nuts. Again, The Dark Knight (2008) actually tackled this idea - one of the many reasons why it's a good flick. But the self-seriousness isn't even that huge of a problem and it's certainly not Daredevil's problem.

Daredevil just isn't interesting. It is completely incapable of holding my attention. Nothing seems to happen after lengthy expository discussions, and barring a few moments of genuine shock (which favors gore over surprise anyway), the proceedings are just so damn boring. So much of it feels like people talking and plotting, which isn't by itself a bad thing, but nothing really happens from all the talk. There should be some subtext, interesting plot progression, irony, or character work going on. All this is absent from Daredevil.

So, what do you think? Are you on Team Hate Daredevil with me? Do you wish for at least one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference? Or do you love this show? If so, please refute me, because I'd really like to join you.

06 April 2015

First Impressions: Furious 7

It's needless to say because it's been repeated ad nauseum, especially now in the fourth film of its most recent resurgence, but the Fast and Furious franchise has risen to become what is likely to be the most improbably movie series success story of all time. In this, the impossible seventh installment, the franchise finds itself shifting genres once again, to morph into a spy thriller. Seriously. This is nuts. Plenty of SPOILERS of like, every Fast movie ever to follow, so skip and catch up if you're clueless.
These are hackers, which is exactly
why these movies are so popular.

I was never a diehard fan of the first couple Fast entries. I had more gearhead friends who were into it, but it always just seemed so stupid to me. I mean, I was right - I still am right - but in recent years this has become an A-list attracting franchise. I didn't even jump in on Fast & Furious (2009) right away, but from about Fast Five (2011) on, I've played catch-up, thanks mostly to daytime USA Network broadcasting. And since then, the improbable has happened - each subsequent film has been more critically acclaimed and grossed more cheddar at the Box Office. Funny how that happens. Seriously, how has that happened?

Fast Five can best be described as a heist movie, that's for sure. It's a bit tougher to categorize Fast & Furious 6 (2013) as anything but an action movie. Maybe crime mystery thriller? Amnesiac revenge tale? But Furious 7 (2015) is totally a spy movie. Jetsetting destinations, secret black-ops missions, even going undercover at fancy parties in lavish clothing. It's wild stuff.

Adding Jason Statham to the mix only sweetens the deal. The franchise is actually leaning dangerously into Expendables territory, to be honest - with a nice recruitment of action stars young and old, UFC fighters, and dream match-ups like The Rock vs. Statham. The catch of course is that it's far better than any Expendables movie, perhaps because it's actually working things through organically instead of forcing ancient stars from the 80s together. And at least UFC is slightly better than MMA. With the addition of Djimon Hounsou this is basically a big, bald, ethnic version of the expendables. Where is Sam Jackson? LL Cool J? Bruce Willis? Bring 'em on.

The plot of Furious 7 is almost curious. Like Fast Five there's almost two plots interweaving at once. In Fast Five it was The Rock tracking them down and causing a tussle every once in a while - here it's Statham who keeps crashing the party, seemingly anywhere, to lay a bruising on our crew. The irony somewhat is that the Diesel Family is attempting to track down a device that will allow them to find Statham. What they should do is just arm themselves constantly because Statham is everywhere all the time. It actually makes no sense. But it's artfully constructed and the stakes are high enough, given Statham's demonstrable dangerousness that it's still a hell of a lot of fun.

I spent most of this week re-watching various Fast movies. Looking at it again, I'm particularly struck at comparing the planning scenes in Fast Five, mostly in a run-down warehouse with paper maps to the same group of people standing around a super-high tech digital hologram display in Kurt Russell's playhouse here. By the way, Kurt Russell. Mr. Nobody has an awesome presence in this film, even if his action contribution is understandably minimal. You think Stallone will call him for the Expendables soon? He's also the ultimate spy badass, playing a slightly lighter Sam Jackson from xXx (2003). This whole film reeked of xXx to be honest.

All this being said, this isn't an Academy Award-winning movie and it's full of the most ridiculous things imaginable, in good and bad ways. Let's begin with the characters, because throughout everything that's really why people keep tuning in. You don't really want to see giant muscly bros skydive with cars, you want to see Vin Diesel skydive with cars. I actually couldn't stop laughing at every single thing the Diesel said. Not because it was funny, but he just grumbles every single damn line. This was really awful in an otherwise somber theater during Han's funeral.
Roadblock to the rescue!

I was most disappointed by this film's lack of characters, to be weirdly honest. Why relegate Jordanna Brewster's Mia Toretto to childcare for the whole film again? She can drive! And I know that The Rock was most indisposed thanks to Hercules (2014), but damn he was in a lot of promotional material and made a lot of appearances from SNL to Lip Synch Battle hyping this thing up. He barely left a mark. Well, he did have a handful of the coolest scenes, including busting through a cast on his arm by flexing.

After Gina Carano had a fairly substantial role in Fast & Furious 6 I also figured Ronda Rousey would be in for more of the same, but she just got her one girlfight in and called it quits. C'mon, why still have that trope of all the girls fighting each other? Ronda Rousey could beat up the vast majority of that cast. Let's have a Rousey vs. Tyrese battle. Lucas Black, too - hasn't this guy waited patiently enough to be brought on full-time as part of the crew? And shit, they did him no favors when cutting directly from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) footage to nine years later in the same scene. Cat got old. Hate to say it, but they recruited this guy as a poor man's Paul Walker way back when - now's the time, right? Well, we'll get to that later.

Thanks to Gal Gadot's death in 6 and Han's death in Tokyo Drift, the crew is actually looking a bit slim. With the loss of Paul Walker, it's basically now down to Vin, Letty, and the black guys from 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003). And speaking of Han, no one seemed to care this much when Gisele died, or at least that was maybe under different narrative circumstances both in its timing and motivation.

I like how this series keeps pushing a variation on a simple theme - how can you keep innovating heists and raids in cars, making things fast and ridiculous? Drop them out of planes, of course .The best part of that plan was the crew counting on Roman Pearce being useless. What more can they do with cars? I say put them on boats next time. Speed boats. That's awesome - jumping across speed boats on a high-speed chase? Who's writing 8 Fast 8 Furious (2018)?

So much of this is actually meta - like some cameos at Race Wars like Hector, played by Noel Gugliami and Iggy Azalea, a classic homage to this series' long use of terrible rappers as cameos (see also: Rule, Ja). Diesel wielding dual wrenches in his final tussle with Statham is also a great call back his notable off-camera beatdown references in The Fast and the Furious (2001) and Fast Five along with his actual near beatdown of The Rock. He just loves his wrenches.

Those wrenches, while symbolic of Diesel's tortured past straddling lines between honor and brutish violence, it's also totally the weapon of choice of a gearhead like Toretto. From top to bottom that scene is full of incredible imagery. Diesel's car mounts Statham's in a bout of frustrated homoerotic sexuality. "The street wins" hitting the nail on the head in the most obvious way while also cementing Diesel's position of this street fighter winning against the trained British superspy. It's a strong assertion of this franchise's gritty origins triumphing over the more nuanced, established movies out there.

I wonder about a few more things - maybe considering this film's strong attempt at finding international appeal, like every other big movie out there these days. Why is the Dominican Republic the best fortress stronghold they can find for Mia and Jack? Why does Vin Diesel know the President of the Dominican or whatever? And when did Dom and Letty get married? That was actually a nice moment. Again, it's all about character. Which is insane in a film involving a terrorist Predator Drone attack on car-driving hackers in Los Angeles.

But listen, there are not that many scantily-clad women hanging out in Abu Dhabi. Sure there has been some secularization to better suit Western investors but you can't have your sexiest scene set in the Middle East, right? And why were they just lounging around by the beach? Statham WAS there in town trying to kill them. Thank goodness he struck while they were at the part with guns instead of when they were ogling Nathalie Emmanuel. All in all it was a fairly favorable view of Abu Dhabi, by the way, good on them leading up to the World Cup, who cares about their human rights violations. And Diesel lifted a car. When this film just goes into actual superhero territory, it really shines.

I liked how in some sense, these last four Fast films have done what a few other films do, just tracking stages in life, in their own way. It's like the American Pie films. The Fast and The Furious showed Paul Walker and Mia first meeting. Fast & Furious showed them hooking back up after some time separated. Then they were dating, then pregnant, then with a little kid, and now they're totally domesticated. Furious 7 was adapted a little bit to hammer home this notion of Paul Walker moving on from the "bullets" life and into a life of marital bliss. It helps that they have all that money from Fast Five still. Ballin'!
Still doesn't make up for Brick Mansions

I was somewhat surprised they favored retiring Brian O'Connor rather than killing him off, but in its own way, it was a much more fitting tribute. Those last couple minutes were actually some of the more emotional to be featured in a film in recent memory. I'm getting teary-eyed just hearing that track again - somehow over the past fifteen years that connection has become that deep. I know! It's such a stupid movie! It's fairly rare for an actor to get such a send-off in his or her last film. Paul Walker's deeply resonant tribute is due in no small part to his public persona being indelibly wrapped up in Brian O'Connor along with the fact that his good friend, Vin Diesel has an extreme amount of control over the production of Fast movies. Universal Studios was also apparently more than willing to honor the best franchise they've got these days.

For real, though, thinking that O'Connor died in this movie made it so much more nerve-wracking to watch. There was a constant feeling of "This is it!" and "Oh no!" Just seeing Paul Walker defy death at every turn while his conversations with Jordanna Brewster presented this real danger was bone-shuddering. It's an incredibly sad fate to watch Brian O'Connor drive off into retirement in the sunset with his family knowing that Paul Walker faced a much different fate. Furious 7 for all its loud, insane, incoherent action sequences, brash attitudes, and genre riffs, ends on this really elegant and poignant note, and as it claimed that "the street wins," it too wins against more cynical franchises that wouldn't be able to base its love so heavy on characters, family, and true bromance. Maybe we just cracked it. That's why this gang of morons and their cars have lasted so long. That friendship really does show up on screen and when Vin Diesel waves goodbye to Paul Walker, we've all been there and can feel that pain.

I don't think that Furious 7 is the best movie of the year or even the best Fast movie, but those last couple scenes, regardless of Box Office or critical response hit home more than much else I've seen in a long time.

Now go race Nelson Mandela.

03 April 2015

The Long Furious Road to a Blockbuster: Furious Seven

Let's picture 2006 for a second. We were graced with a lot of terrible movies that year, but none were perhaps more laughable then a serious Fast and Furious downgrade called The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Seriously, when this is on your soundtrack, how can you expect any kind of good film. I have spoken at length about this franchise and my complete incredulity at its unlikely rise from a notch above Direct DVD Release to an A-List Commanding Blockbuster.
Wait, what?

I mention Tokyo Drift because it's generally seen as a low point for the series, but when you're reexamining the franchise it somehow morphs into one of the best. It's stupid, sure, but it's a hell of a lot less obnoxious than the first two films that came before it. Yes, despite the heavy presence of Far East Movement on the soundtrack (that track also gave us this cool jam by the way), the film actually deals with real fish-out-of-water friendship, drama, and revenge that transcends the epic Paul Walker / Vin Diesel will they/won't they bromance nearly every other film trades in, even with Lucas Black standing in for the poor man's Paul Walker.

The insane thing is that Tokyo Drift has become the linchpin in this multi-billion dollar franchise. See, the proper order of the film franchise is 1,2,4,5,6,3,7. Got that? Every resurgence we've seen in the past six years was all pre-Tokyo Drift. That makes Furious 7 (2015) a really exciting movie - it's the culmination of the past nine years of fast-driving car/heist movies. That's also something I never thought I'd type.

This is the seventh Fast and Furious movie, folks. That's so nuts. The Fast and the Furious (2001) was such a fringe movie that focused mostly on gearheads along with the kind of anti-authorianism at the turn of the century that also inspired everything from Jackass to xXx (2002). Around the time of Fast & Furious (2009, always pay attention to definite articles, folks) the franchise traded in its penchant for cars and nitrous for a more compelling crime thriller, and by Fast Five (2011) we had a full-blown heist on our hands that was simultaneously more palatable to the average viewer (No, I didn't give a shit about cars in 2001) at the expense of its rugged edge.

So, how can this franchise keep building on itself? It has undergone a pretty wild ascension, with each film since 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003) arguably better than the last (Fast & Furious is notably divisive, some actually considering it weaker than Tokyo Drift, others loving it). It wins over other franchises by its brilliant combination of nostalgia, the sense of teaming up (I still posit that Fast Five's core conceit of getting all these characters from different movies together cannily preceded The Avengers [2012] doing the exact same thing), its absolute badassery, giant muscles, hot chicks, fast cars, and exceedingly ridiculous stunts. Through it all, though, it hammers home this concept of family, loyalty, friendship over professional obligations, and fighting for each other. Plus it has the most racially mixed cast ever. What other franchise can boast ???'s among half their cast. Plus "I'ma choke you!"

This the seventh Fast and Furious movie. I...I know I've said that already but I really want that to sink in. It's amazing. And there's no real reason why this shouldn't keep making a ton of money. It helps that these films have been really good instead of complete insane excuses for car races like the first couple installments were. Fast Five notably only had a single race, and that was just a bunch of stolen cop cars through Rio. Furious 7 will do splendid. Probably win the Academy Award for Best Picture next year. But let's talk about the uncertain future of this franchise.
2 Fast 2 Soon.

The elephant in the room of course, when bringing this up, is the untimely death of Paul Walker. You can still check out my Paul Walker / Nelson Mandela fan fiction at a site full of more prose topics. Fate or not, the franchise has finally brought Lucas Black back in the fold, who can be our poor man's Paul Walker once again. But really, did anyone tune in to these films because of Paul Walker? Remember that huge sequence in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) when Paul Walker risks everything to track down Braga in the United States and is gone for a huge chunk of the movie and then comes back and finds out everyone else found the information another way? It's just a huge waste of time, but that's only because there's nothing else for Brian to do. His law-straddling was interesting, and somehow sustained as the central plot of like, three movies.

I hate saying it, but he's totally unnecessary to this franchise. And I love Paul Walker, clearly. I wrote an entire fan fiction about him. But will there be an 8 Fast 8 Furious (2017)? The short answer is yes, but I'd rather not show you a link because it's full of casual Vin Diesel spoilers. At some point this becomes difficult - why clutch our seats when we know that they'll be back again in a few years doing the same shit? How many riffs on the same story can we tell? Why drill this brilliant franchise to exhaustion instead of going out on top with the heavily borrowed time you've already established? Hollywood, that's why. Who am I kidding, I'll turn out.

Furious 7 drops today.

Okay fine, let's rank 'em, best to worst:

1. Fast & Furious 6
2. Fast Five
3. The Fast and the Furious
4. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
5. Fast & Furious
6. 2 Fast 2 Furious
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