DVD REVIEW: THE LOVE HOTEL

lovehotel

 

It’s not often that documentary filmmakers manage to capture their subject matter in an unobtrusive, fly-on-the-wall style manner. It’s even rarer for the filmmaker to achieve this while talking about sex, baby, and to show some explicit scenes of the deed without it all turning into sleazy voyeurism. But Love Hotel manages to achieve all this and more with its quirky ode to a Japanese phenomenon.

In Japan, public displays of affection are rare and the culture is one that is rather conservative and repressed. It is in this environment (plus one where long work hours are the norm and apartments are tiny, which makes sex at home difficult) that places like the Love Hotel thrive.

There are 37,000 of these establishments in Japan attracting 2.4 million people a day. These pay-by-the-hour guesthouses started in medieval times, but these days they welcome all and sundry. It could be people seeking out escape or anonymity; or a place for quiet or play; an avenue to act out fantasy; somewhere to express love or lust; or even the opportunity for some mindless self-indulgence and more.

Welcome to The Angel Love Hotel where the slogan could be- come one, come all. Here, filmmakers, Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda follow the eccentric hotel management and staff as well as the more interesting group of paying customers. We have a married couple wanting to reignite their sex lives, a lonely 71-year old man who watches porn with a sense of nostalgia, a young couple having an affair and a dominatrix with one of her fetish customers.

Of all the participants, the two most interesting groups of customers would have to be the divorced couple who meet once a week to reminisce and dance and the two gay lawyers. In the case of the latter couple, this is one of the few places that they can express their homosexual love and desire in a safe place.

This film is ultimately a revealing and intimate look at the public and private lives of these people. It is also an honest and sophisticated confessional by some everyday people that is sweet, fascinating and looks poised to breakdown a few barriers surrounding these mysterious establishments. As the Japanese government becomes more conservative and passes more draconian laws (a storyline that is explored in this film) this documentary could also serve as one final reminder of a cultural phenomenon that once was…

 

Originally published on 29 August 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/08/29/film-review-love-hotel-uk-france-japan-2014/

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DVD REVIEW: BETWEEN US

BETWEENUS

 

Between Us first found success as an off-Broadway play but it fails as a film. The story focuses on two key episodes in two pairs of couple’s lives and exposes the flawed relationships between themselves and with each other. It is supposed to be an arty, intense and cerebral drama but instead it feels like four people arguing. For 88 minutes.

The story begins with two friends, Carlo (Taye Diggs) and Joel (David Harbour) who had met and befriended each other while they were studying photography. The former has only recently married, Grace (Julia Stiles) and they appear to be a bright and blissful couple even though Carlo is a struggling artist living in New York. Joel on the other hand has become a commercial artist (read: sell-out) and he has a newborn with Sharyl (Melissa George). These two are more financially well-off and live in a mansion in the suburbs but this doesn’t stop them from fighting and bickering constantly.

It’s then a few years later and Sharyl and Joel decide to visit their former friends at the latter couple’s tiny, city apartment. It seems that the roles have been reversed as Joel has found religion, Sharyl seems happy and it is now Carlo and Grace that fight over money and their own newborn. This character study showing a happier period of a relationship juxtaposed with a more dysfunctional one hints at Blue Valentine, except with more characters.

Between Us does feature the odd flashback but for the most part this is a non-linear, dialogue-driven film that is predominantly set in one of the two main episodes. The characters fight constantly and often this is with a shrill pitch, meaning it is hard to warm and engage with the source material (or it could be that the scenes are a little too dark and real for the audience to truly enjoy).

The film also milks the levels of tension that transpire. This means that the audience are drip-feed what occurred on that previous, fateful evening- which lead to such caustic relationships. Unfortunately, this is then combined with disengaging characters, meaning it does little overall to hook the viewer in.

Director, Dan Mirvish’s adaptation of Between Us is ultimately 88 minutes of tedious verbal sparring. The couples argue over sex, children, careers, money and success but they are often too self-absorbed and hollow for us to really care. Between Us is therefore one difficult film to watch as its relentless acidity feels laboured and it fails to make a strong-enough impact, despite what seemed like promising features.

 

Originally published on 29 August 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/08/29/dvd-review-between-us-usa-2012/

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FILM REVIEW: THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW & DISAPPEARED

hundred

 

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann) looks set to divide people. The reason for this is because your enjoyment of the film hinges on whether you warm to the centenarian lead character. Ultimately, this film is full of dark humour (which also won’t appeal to everyone) and while unpretentious, at times it is far too ramshackle, free-wheeling and rambling to really cut through.

The film is an adaptation of Jonas Jonasson’s popular novel and is directed by Felix Herngren (who doubles as the movie’s scriptwriter along with Hans Ingemansson). It also stars comedian and actor, Robert Gustafsson as Allan Karlsson. Gustafsson has been described as “The funniest man in Sweden” (and in real-life is only 50 years old). The story itself is like a poor man’s Forrest Gump, as the main protagonist ruminates about meeting key figures from history (including General Franco, Joseph Stalin and even Albert Einstein’s dim-witted brother, Herbert). This provides the back-story to his crazed, adventurous life that continues to the present day.

The story itself begins with Karlsson being sent to a nursing home after he blew up an animal. He is then faced with the possibility of a sickly-sweet party for his 100th birthday. But rather than stay for the festivities, he goes with his instincts of “It’s never too late to start over”. So he escapes from the window and this triggers a series of increasingly unlikely events.

First Karlsson arrives at a bus station where he buys a ticket to the furthest town he can afford. Before he boards the bus he meets a biker who asks the old man to mind his suitcase. In a predictable scene, Karlsson’s transport arrives too soon so the old man leaves with the biker’s luggage, even though he didn’t realise there was a small fortune inside. This causes a pursuit that was not unlike It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as the gang try to retrieve the lost money while Karlsson befriends a cast of weird characters (including an elephant!) who imagine how to spend the money.

The film is a comedy but some people may find the jokes dated and not that funny. The oddball, main character is also a drunk, dynamite-loving, part-inventor of the atomic bomb and he is difficult to warm too. If anything, the film feels overstuffed and overdone as it jumps around in a series of increasingly clunky flashbacks starring key figures from history (some of the episodes have only tenuous links to the present day) and the scenes occasionally flip between Swedish dialogue and English voiceovers.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window & Disappeared is bold in its parade of deadpan and crazed weirdos and eccentrics. It will also confound every one of your expectations. But ultimately it is too out there, busy and niche to appeal to everyone. In short, this slow, absurdist adventure and bold film is an uneven, over-the-top and wild ride that feels like a series of missed opportunities.

 

Originally published on 26 August 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/08/26/film-review-the-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-disappeared-sweden-croatia-2013/

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FILM REVIEW: UNRAVEL SHORT FILM

unravel

 

Unravel is a short film that lifts the veil on the recycled garment industry. It is produced and directed by Meghna Gupta and travels to the Northern Indian town of Panipat. It is here that over 100,000 tonnes of discarded clothes from the West wind up each year and are subsequently recycled.

The film mainly focuses on the warm and charismatic worker, Reshma. She has been employed by this shop for 15 years and often dreams about travelling as far abroad as the clothes she handles. She also lets her imagination run free while she works and she often thinks about the people who once wore these second-hand but almost unworn clothes. She is also joined by her colleagues who also offer insights and describe the process of transformation.

The clothes arrive by large ships to Kutch in Western India where they are slashed in order to protect them. They then travel 1157 kilometres to Panipat. Here, they are sorted by colour and their buttons, zips, tags and other accoutrements are removed. The material is then chopped and put through large machines for re-threading and will ultimately be made into blankets. The workers joke that Western people (who they only know through the Discovery Channel) either hate washing clothes or there is a water shortage (to explain why so many garments wind up here).

Unravel is a quaint and charming documentary that is honest but not preachy. The visuals are colourful as all sorts of clothing from underwear and swimsuits to casual and eveningwear end up in North India. The film also has a warm, Bollywood-inspired soundtrack. In short, it’s a fun and interesting look at one facet of the voracious fashion industry.

 

Originally published on 26 August 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/08/26/environmental-film-festival-review-unravel-uk-india-2012/

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ALBUM REVIEW: FRENTE – MARVIN THE ALBUM 21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION

frente

 

Frente’s Marvin The Album celebrates a significant milestone this year, its 21st birthday. To celebrate, the band have re-released their debut record and made it into a deluxe, remastered two-CD version as well as touring in support.

Marvin is light, sweet and summery and looks poised to win some new fans, while there will be many others who will be listening to it again in order to reminisce (I’m looking at you, Sarah Blasko).

If we cast our minds back to late 1992 and early 1993 we should consider the then-musical landscape. This may not have been a conscious thought in the band’s minds but the music world is full of masculine-sounding rock and grunge. Heavy guitars abound, teen angst is high (despite the mood being low) and the prevailing thought is that anything bigger (volumes, solos, etc) is better. Enter Frente, a girly-sounding, anti-rock group thanks to frontwoman, Angie Hart, and their music, which straddles the line between pop and folk music

The anniversary edition sees the 13-tracks from the original Australian album expanded to 16 to include the extra cuts from the group’s international release. These new tracks include the soft, acoustic cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. It’s a very different beast to the original, and yet on Frente’s very own ‘1.9.0’ they sound a little like the Manchurian group as there is a catchy riff combined with some quietness.Frente achieved their biggest success with their bouncy, summery single, ‘Accidently Kelly Street’. It was written after bassist, Tim O’Connor moved house and mispronounced Kenny as Kelly. It is full of giddy, youthful effervescence and it was largely off the back of this and their other big single, Ordinary Angels’ that the group became an international concern and sold 1.2 million copies of this record.

The members of Frente had varied musical tastes and had strong and assured-enough personalities so that they were able to draw inspiration from other artists and still sound completely like themselves. In lesser hands the sweet, nuanced and fragile ‘Girl’  would not work as the opening track to ‘Accidently Kelly Street’. There is the nice balladry of ‘Pretty Friend’, with the song sounding like yet another facet of their musical personalities. And the group is very good at making twee music as shown on ‘Ordinary Angels’.Depending on your view, this can be endearing and charming or annoying and grating.

Above everything else, Frente are sweet and they sound comfortable in their own skins. Their quirky, acoustic-based songs are full of whimsical flutter, but when you scratch the surface there is more on offer here then light, airy and dismissible pop. Marvin The Album is positive, cute and honest and is peppered with an innocence of youth that shows no signs of mellowing with age.

Originally published on 26 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/frente—marvin-the-album-21st-anniversary-edition-26082014.html

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THEATRE REVIEW: WOLF LULLABY @ NEW THEATRE

wolflullaby

 

Wolf Lullaby is a tragedy that is inspired by real events. In England in 1968 an eleven year old girl was convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of two boys aged four and three. Wolf Lullaby is a dark play that is set in a country town in Tasmania and asks a lot of questions. The most important one being did nine-year old Lizzie Gael kill the toddler, Toby Chester?

The production is an adaptation of Hilary Bell’s play that debuted at Griffin Theatre in 1996. Bell is an accomplished playwright who was the Tennessee Williams Fellow in Creative writing at Tennessee’s University of the South from 2003-2004 and the Patrick White Playwriting Fellow in 2013.Her story is a shocking and absorbing tale that shares themes with Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, as both texts question whether children are born evil or if they’re products of poor upbringings.

Lizzie Gael is played here by relative newcomer, Maryellen George. The actress is an adult but she does a good job in capturing the curiosity and innocence of the nine-year old character. At first glance the golden-haired Lizzie is a spirited child but she does not seem capable of murder. She is however a lonely kid who craves attention and has been neglected by two selfish parents who have divorced but remain amicable.

The story begins rather ominously with dark and atmospheric sounds that are like a cross between thunder and a heartbeat. At other points in the story, children playing and chanting are used as sound effects. At times these can be taken to have sinister undertones while at other moments they appear at least on the surface to be carefree and fun.

In this rural Tasmanian town, Lizzie and her friends discover the body of Toby Chester, a toddler that was suffocated and mutilated. The children don’t go immediately to tell the police about the body and instead wait until a few days later. When the authorities start investigating the matter it seems that the wounds on the body indicate that the murderer was a kid.

Lizzie’s parents, Angela (Lucy Miller) and Warren (David Woodland) are brought in for questioning by Sergeant Ray Armstrong (Peter Mcallum). This is not the first time that Lizzie has had a run-in with the police, she had previously been busted for shoplifting and wagging school. Her parents are initially dismissive of her capacity to perform such an evil act but then her mother starts to find clues that could indicate Lizzie’s guilt in the murder case.

This play is a suspenseful one that will force the audience to ask as many questions as Lizzie’s parents. It is frightening and explores things like responsibility, the truth, lies, neglect, innocence, brutality and love. The story is a dark one that is scary and spine-tingling thanks to a great cast putting in superb and realistic performances, as well as its being inspired by real-life events.

Wolf Lullaby uses many different facets of the set and like the story itself, boasts lots of different layers and dimensions. It is a sad tale that questions what impacts us most, nature or nurture, as well as the power and responsibilities parents face in having to love and protect their children. Ultimately, this tense drama and mystery will stay and challenge you long after you’ve left the theatre.

 

Originally published on 24 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/wolf-lullaby-new-theatre-newtown-performances-until-september-13

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FILM REVIEW: THREAD OF LIES (ELEGANT LIES) (우아한 거짓말)

threadoflies

 

Death is often tragic. But it’s even sadder when a young person has died from their own hand. Korean film, Thread Of Lies (우아한 거짓말) deals with this taboo issue in a soft and tender way. It also slowly reveals the tragic set of circumstances surrounding the lead character’s passing and does so with a great sense of emotion and feeling.

The film is directed by Lee Han (Punch) and is based on a novel by Kim Ryeo-ryung called Elegant Lies. The story follows Hyeon-sook (Kim Hee-ae), a widowed mother of two teenage girls. As a single mum, she works at a supermarket and often struggles to make ends meet. But she does find comfort in her youngest daughter, 14-year old Cheon-ji (Kim Hyang-gi).

Cheon-ji is a bookish girl who is studious and rarely complains or asks for anything. She is the opposite to her cool and popular elder sister, Man-ji (Ko Ah-sung). On a seemingly normal school day, Cheon-ji commits suicide and doesn’t leave a note behind. This sends her mother and sister reeling into a tidal wave of emotions like grief and anger, as they question if they could have saved her by doing things differently like being nicer to her or paying her more attention.

The mother and daughter are soon forced to move to a rundown apartment where they meet Choo Sang-park (Yoo Ah-in) who knew Cheon-ji and she confided in him. He also doubles as the butt of a running joke about his long, rocker hair style. Man-ji, meanwhile, grapples with her loss by attempting to learn more about her younger sister.

Man-Ji discovers that the youngster was depressed. She was also bullied and manipulated by her only friend, a popular girl named Hwa-yeon (Kim Yoo-jung). In one heart-wrenching scene, Hwa-yeon deliberately contributes to Cheon-ji’s alienation from their schoolmates as the former invites the outcast to her birthday party, but makes her arrive late and then picks on her with the other girls via text message. The saving grace in this sad situation is that a series of notes from Cheon-ji are eventually found hidden in five different balls of wool (knitting had always been her favourite hobby).

Thread Of lies slowly reveals its story through a series of non-linear flashbacks and episodes. It remains impartial as it shows how a number of the characters were complicit in Cheon-ji’s death. It is subtle and a very realistic portrayal of high-school friendships and while tragic, it also resonates and is engaging. The performances from the strong, predominantly female cast are solid and low key as they add to the emotion, tension and mystery of this tale.

As the story unfolds, more and more layers are revealed like an onion to show a complex person who was depressed, troubled and treated cruelly. Ultimately, this is an excellent film that is beautifully shot. It’s also a detailed human drama that acts like a punch to the heart and will leave you sitting on the edge of your seats, wanting to know exactly what happened to Cheon-ji. In short, it’s magnificent.

 

Originally published on 22 August 2014 at the following websites: http://www.theaureview.com/asia/film/thread-of-lies-%EC%9A%B0%EC%95%84%ED%95%9C-%EA%B1%B0%EC%A7%93%EB%A7%90-south-korea-2014

 

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ARTS REVIEW: INTERFACE: PEOPLE, MACHINES, DESIGN @ THE POWERHOUSE MUSEUM SYDNEY

sydney-design-interface1

 

Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum are no strangers to exhibiting information technology (IT) items and computers, as their permanent exhibition, Cyberworld proves. This collection has been joined by a temporary exhibition, Interface: People, Machines, Design. The latter looks at how computers and other IT products have been designed. It’s interesting to see how a handful of companies made complicated technology both easy-to-use and appealing to everyone.

The exhibition is a small one that shows part of the Museum’s collection (including newly acquired pieces) as well as other priceless things that are on loan from various sources. It is divided into three parts: enthusiast, professional and consumer. These are the three phases of technology adoption- from a niche group of experts who are interested in new things to the adoption of products within industries as a standard and finally to everyday products embraced by everyone. The exhibition looks at how the visionaries from companies like Apple, Braun, Olivetti and others were influenced by early design pioneers and artists in creating their own inventions/works of art.

After World War II, Dieter Rams wanted to make his designs at Braun mobile, accessible, simple and affordable. Quite a few examples of his work are shown here, including: a radio receiver and radio. The next important group of people were the ones working at Olivetti, a family-owned company who saw design as a question of substance, not just form. Apple designer, Ken Campbell once said that the late Steve Jobs not only strove to be the best in the computer industry, but that he also wanted Apple to be in the eighties what Olivetti had been in the seventies, the undisputed leader in industrial design.

Olivetti’s designers would be involved in futurism (part of the avant-garde movement) and they embraced new materials and celebrated modernity. Their typewriter design prevails to this day because the standard is the QWERTY keyboard (designed so that the typebars wouldn’t jam). The company also designed early desktop computers like the Programma 101, which is part of the exhibition. This computer was modelled on a desk-top calculator and sold well thanks to its ease-of-use and robust construction.

The seeds of modern technology were sewn once the mouse was designed by Doug Engelbart in the late sixties and graphical user interfaces were designed by Xerox PARC in the early seventies. When Steve Jobs saw these inventions he imagined that this could make non-computer users interact with a computer. His first invention with Steve Wozniak, the Blue Box (which allows the user to make free telephone calls) is exhibited here, as well as an Apple 1 (this is one of less than 50 surviving models) and a video about Jobs and Apple.

The Apple iPod is also shown and described in detail. Its designer, Sir Jonathan Ive was influenced by Dieter Rams’design of the T3 transistor radio for Braun. Rams was the Chief Designer at Braun from 1965-1995. Both of these objects are well-ordered and show both a harmony and economy of form. It’s a similar principle that was offered in Jobs’ final invention, the iPad.

Interface: People, Machines, Design is a short but fascinating look at how information technology has evolved from a world where computers were used by specialised people in certain areas to become an essential, everyday commodity. This exhibition shows that while computers may be a modern phenomenon, the brilliant ideas behind it were all influenced by the great designs that had preceded them. It is also through this intelligent design that the rates of adoption increased meaning computers are used by everyone, not just specialists and enthusiasts. This exhibition is a good one and essential viewing for anyone interested in computers, design and how these two disciplines have influenced contemporary life.

 

Originally published on 19 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/sydney/interface-people-machines-design-exhibition-powerhouse-museum-october-11

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SINGLE REVIEW: THE VINES – METAL ZONE

vines

 

The Vines is a loaded name that can mean anything from the early successes of their debut album, Highly Evolved, all the way through to front-man and mainstay, Craig Nicholls’ tortured past. If we can set aside the bullshit and listen to ‘Metal Zone’, the debut single from their forthcoming, crowd-funded and independent record, Wicked Nature, I think everyone will be happy. Okay?

The song is supposed to be a homage to the band’s favourite distortion pedal. Like many Vines hits, it toys with different tones and dynamics, skipping through both loudness and softness like they were each going out of fashion. The first 30 seconds are a hazy jangle (the radio edit only goes for 2:24) before things become even more freewheeling and hyper.

A few years older and it seems Nicholls is still convincing as a snot-nosed punk but equally as good at playing a haunted choir boy. Ultimately this means the song packs a punch, is energetic and rip-snorting, but it does throw up the question of whether it is enough of a career progression in terms of sound. Overall, the jury’s not yet out.

Originally published on 14 August 2014 at the following website: http://sfmedia.com.au/the-vines-metal-zone-single-review/

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE SUNNYBOYS – OUR BEST OF

Sunnyboys-Our-Best-Of

 

SunnyboysOur Best Of sees 17 tracks hand-picked and remastered by the band and released in one tidy set. It is not the group’s first greatest hits and thanks to the quality of the music, it is also unlikely to be their last. The songs are the closest thing you’ll hear to guitar pop perfection and show the genius that is Jeremy Oxley.This album was actually remastered by Jeremy’s brother and Sunnyboys’ bassist, Peter Oxley. It draws together cuts from the band’s three studio albums, The Sunnyboys,Individuals and Get Some Fun, plus a number of singles and EPs.

It should come as no surprise that most of the songs here come from their debut and undoubtedly, best record. This collection also includes the group’s biggest singles,’Happy Man’ and ‘Alone With You Tonight’. The set is a good one overall, because the big hits sit easily alongside more obscure fan favourites. There is also unreleased material and alternative rough mixes to keep things interesting.

‘Love To Rule’ opens the set and features twin solos by Jeremy and Richard Burgman. Their guitar playing was a driving force for the band. Their overall sound was influenced by a number of noteworthy guitar groups including: MC5, Radio Birdman, The Beatles, Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop & The Stooges. It means that The Sunnyboys flit between being poppy, punky, new wave and even a kind of underground rock.For ‘The Seeker’ Jeremy said he wanted the song to sound like Garry Glitter’s ‘Rock & Roll’ while ‘You Need A Friend’ was inspired by Talking Heads. The former was about finding out that a girl doesn’t reciprocate your affections and how you have to move on to find a new love. The idea of looking for love and trying to find the right girl is a recurrent theme in Oxley’s work and no doubt a reflection of his headspace and situation at the time, it can’t have been easy to have a relationship in amongst a relentless work schedule.

The 1981 demo for ‘Tomorrow Will Be Fine’ is a quick and energetic ditty. It sounds like a typical Sunnyboys song but is actually a stark contrast to the latter, ‘Comes As No Surprise’. During this later period, Jeremy was battling his own demons and felt like he was traveling in a dark tunnel towards despair. Thankfully the group did manage to overcome this (albeit many years later) when they returned triumphantly and played an awesome reunion show at the Sydney Opera House in 2013 where album track, ‘Let You Go’ was recorded.

The SunnyboysOur Best Of is a great introduction to this band. Their music is melodic, bright, clever, emotionally charged and for the most part, fun. It will get you dancing in the street to its cool rhythms and it boasts an everyman relatability, which will have you thinking that Jeremy wrote this song especially for you. Fans will also marvel at how four men managed to achieve such great sounds, flourishes and textures at such a young age and with such limited equipment. But that just adds more mystery to the talent, power and mystique that is The Sunnyboys.

Originally published on 14 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/sunnyboys—our-best-of-14082014.html

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