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Tag Archive: Edward Hopper


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fathom Events has done it again, bringing a film classic back to theaters for older fans to enjoy again and new generations to experience on the big screen for the first time.  Although I’d seen the 1968 action thriller Bullitt dozens of times, this was my first viewing on the big screen.  It’s no exaggeration that the ten-minute chase scene the film is known so well for becomes a roller coaster ride in the theater.  I must confess–maybe it was the tint on my own television, or because of the posters showed the Bullitt 1968 Ford Mustang in black, but I never noticed how bright green it was before–the car is unmistakably a vivid green (technically “Dark Highland Green”) when viewed on a 30-foot instead of a 2-feet-high screen–literally an eye-opening difference.

As expected my favorite scenes stood out–Steve McQueen‘s mannerisms in every scene as Frank Bullitt establish that of what was likely the average, real police officer in 1968, far from the angry, distant San Francisco cop Clint Eastwood would make famous three years later.  Bullitt was friendly, considerate, compassionate, even sensitive toward those strangers of San Francisco he encounters throughout the film, like the doctor being bad-mouthed by Robert Vaughn‘s Senator Chalmers not quite out of hearing range, like Bullitt as grateful to a night nurse who brings him a meal in the hospital hallway, when he tips the cabbie played by a young Robert Duvall, and as he hangs out and makes eyes with his girlfriend (Jacqueline Bisset) at what was probably an actual, trendy Haight-Ashbury jazz club.  McQueen is seen waking up, buying groceries, buying a paper–normal life scenes spliced into an action movie with the best-ever car chase.

I’m not sure opening credits were ever carried out as in Bullitt either before or since, with the letters of the credits smoothly coming at the audience almost in 3D, converting into an unusual transition into the next camera shot (backed by a jazzy opening theme).  Yes, that opening is even more effective in the theater, and it ties into director Peter Yates and cinematographer William A. Fraker‘s nearly comic book-inspired camera angles found throughout the movie.  A shot upward from the passenger side of the pursued hitmen’s car.  Two shots where the cameraman looks like he was taken out by the racing classic cars (the Charger actually hit the camera in one edited sequence).  The first-person driver’s seat view of so many modern video games.  Several scenes also fade to and from reflections in windows, blurred crowds from behind planters, like from an Edward Hopper painting.  Do you need a reference for late 1960s clothing?  Yates loiters a bit on several crowd and restaurant scenes where the audience can examine styles from all social classes.  Best of all?  The thousands of classic cars and trucks from the 1960s, 1950s, and 1940s.  Every scene incorporates beautiful imagery as a preserved photo album of the best vintage cars to the left or right of the center of action.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many have asked:  Why make another Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?  You could just as easily ask: Why adapt another Shakespeare play?  Or Why make another Sherlock Holmes series?  When your story is great, and becomes as classic as Agatha Christie’s famous, timeless 1934 novel, it’s sort of the point of cinema, isn’t it?  From an actor standpoint, being in one of the film versions of Murder on the Orient Express, and portraying such iconic roles, is something like being cast as King Lear.  And who better than Kenneth Branagh to inject his own vision of the story into a new snapshot of acting greats for a new era of audience members?  Of Branagh’s twenty directorial pursuits, you must go back to the early era of Dead Again and Peter’s Friends to find Branagh not serving as puppetmaster of someone else’s well-known world, whether it’s Shakespeare in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (and the list goes on), or adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marvel Comics’ Thor, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Branagh is the king of directing adaptations and remakes.  Add Murder on the Orient Express to that list, a faithful adaptation of the book, stylishly filmed with lavish, sweeping sets and landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh’s choice cameraman on four of his past films.

The year’s casting award goes to Lucy Bevan for bring filmgoers back to the age of the all-star cast, where you’d look to 1970s disaster movies (Airport ’76, Towering Inferno, Earthquake) or the odd comedy (think It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) for a pantheon of stars like that found in Orient Express.  Branagh as Hercule Poirot sports that classic era moustache with confidence (Christie herself called Poirot’s moustache “magnificent” and “immense”) and he adds his own quirks and humor to Christie’s legendary greatest detective, providing a new twist on the Holmes/Monk/House, M.D. frustrated genius detective archetype.  So many of the cast members appear every bit like Golden Age film stars here, including Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Leslie Odom, Jr., with a particularly engaging performance by Tom Bateman as Poirot’s friend Bouc, in what will no doubt be seen as a great breakout role for the actor.

The film will be best for those unfamiliar with the story.  A famous detective receives a message requiring him to squeeze onto a full train at the last minute with a little more than a dozen passengers aboard.  When one passenger who fears for his life and requests assistance from the detective winds up dead in a brutal, bloody murder, the whodunit begins.  Once a snowy avalanche blocks the path of the train, the game is afoot as the delay provides enough time for Detective Poirot to begin interviewing the passengers.  The mystery is laid out with several clues, including just enough to allow the viewer to figure out who killed the victim if he/she is paying close attention.  And Branagh stages the investigation like a game of Clue/Cluedo–including overhead angles that at times make the viewer feel like Murder on the Orient Express is indeed a virtual reality version of the board game.  We know the murder weapons and the location, but who is responsible for the death and why?

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Micronauts banner

I have been a fan of Edward Hopper since the first time I saw his artwork.  I view a print of his Automat every day at home.  In college a wall of every other dorm room had either Hopper’s Nighthawks or the Helnwein pop culture adaptation Boulevard of Broken Dreams with Hopper’s characters swapped for Elvis Presley, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe.  A few years ago I made a special side trip to visit the original in Chicago, housed just across America’s most famous artwork, Grant Wood’s American Gothic.  Nighthawks means many things to many people.  For me it’s about nostalgia.

I always have an eye open for new adaptations of Nighthawks.  Some of the best adaptations have been created as variant covers for comic books.  It’s a rare find, but it happens, oftentimes in places you wouldn’t expect it.  The best comic book cover adaptation of Nighthawks is available this summer, and it’s our pick for the best comic book cover we’ve seen so far this year.

Nighthawks Hopper

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

It’s J.K. Woodward’s variant cover to Micronauts, Issue #5.  Innovative, futuristic, inventive, thought-provoking, and evocative of adventure for fans of the 1980s toys.  I have been a fan of Woodward since his brilliant and beautiful watercolor work on his cover-to-cover Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who crossover series Assimilation².  At first glance you might not even realize this fantastic future world is something familiar to you.  Is it the alien behind the counter that cinches the Hopper homage?  Maybe the yellow hue color choices in the background?  The commercial coffee pot?  Or just the overall design?  Check out his artwork in full and decide for yourself:

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Edward Hopper original sketch night scene

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

We’ve talked about horror movies before on borg.com, and in my discussion, a common theme of creepy girls and the supernatural emerged.  The thing is, these things aren’t scary on their own.  “Thor” isn’t scary. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” isn’t scary.  What gives them the ability to scare me comes not as much from their intrinsic natures, but from the images that come from the masters of horror combined with my imagination.

My imagination is the key.  The supernatural have no rules and no limits.  They can do whatever you dream them to do.  Once you start down that road, then anything can trigger those pieces of the mind that start the skin crawling and the sweat to run cold.  The rustling of leaves outside my tent?  Probably the wind.  But, then maybe it’s a mouse.  Maybe it’s a snake.  Maybe it’s a softly moving wolf.  Maybe someone is in my camp.  Before I know it, an army of undead, animals, and adderall-crazed ankle biters have amassed on the other side of the thin sheets of nylon.

Those are two other keys to fear: removing senses and being alone.  If my tent was clear material and I could see the leaves drifting along the ground, my fear would be gone.  If I can hear the voices of friends still up around the campfire, I can feel safe.  If I have a friend telling me to go back to sleep after a late night trip behind a tree, I can rejoin his or her slumber.

Original sketch Edward Hopper Nighthawks

Arthur C. Clarke hits me perfectly again with the short story, “A Walk in the Dark” from the same collection as “The Wall of Darkness.”  The opening is innocuous.  The first paragraph introduces Robert Armstrong as a man who has walked two miles and his flashlight just went bad.  It give you those two pieces of information and depending on your imagination, it might be perfectly safe as you think of a two-mile round-trip hike.  Maybe you just finished trick-or-treating and you can use the streetlights on the rest of the way home.  Maybe your friend has a flashlight.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Jason McClain is a big fan of Ed Brubaker’s writing.  He’s mentioned his appreciation for Brubaker’s Sleeper books here at borg.com more than once.  So when I saw the enticing noir cover art on the first issues of the new series Fatale, I figured this was a good place to start.  I picked up Issues 1 and 3-5 and it took me awhile to track down #2 so I only this week could read the first story arc straight through.  The new story arc starts with the next issue, coming out soon.

Based on the noir covers I was looking forward to what I have found in my favorite film noir–Otto Preminger’s Laura, Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Dial “M” for Murder and Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart in Call Northside 777, also Sorry, Wrong Number, Elizabeth C. Bunce’s fantasy noir Liar’s Moon, and in a strange way, even the voiceover version of Blade Runner.  For the most part these are all crime noir stories.  A dangerous damsel–the Femme Fatale as in Double Indemnity–plus a Dana Andrews-looking character in a gray fedora who is usually a cop or newspaper reporter, and a dangerous city full of secrets and dark, wet streets–all of this is the stuff of noir.  But I was thinking about this all wrong.  I had no idea Ed Brubaker and artist partner Sean Phillips were creating a supernatural 1950s pulp horror/thriller, not a noir pulp crime novel.  None of my favorite film noir has anything supernatural so from only a few pages in I was thrown a bit.  Fatale is noir, but it is just as much supernatural horror.  So I read the story once and was confused a bit.  Then I figured out what genre I was reading and read it again.

If you like supernatural horror and you like the 1950s underworld as your setting, Fatale is a very interesting read–almost like revisiting a lost story type.  The supernatural bits remind me of the TV series Medium, which often contained surprisingly dark and gory crime moments juxtaposed with the lives of good, caring people.  Same goes here.  Like the movie Skeleton Key, where a man and woman use voodoo to switch bodies and live forever, and like Rosemary’s Baby and The OthersFatale’s characters are sucked into shocking and frightening situations and as readers we aren’t supposed to know all that is going on until the end.

Fatale has the requisite fascination of an otherwise boring man with an attractive, inaccessible, mysterious woman.  Nicolas Lash meets Josephine at the funeral of his godfather, Hank Raines.  Raines once knew Josephine back in the 1950s.  She’s blackmailed by a detective in the 1950s world of the story, Walt Booker, and both Josephine and Walt have this unnatural power over each other.  Is Josephine a “pusher” in the X-Files sense or does she just bring out something in others innocently?  What are these occult priestly fellows in red showing up dead everywhere and this fanged beast who kills Raines’ wife?  I’d need a few more re-reads to really catch the complexity of what happened here.  Each issue from #2 on has a lead-in paragraph at the beginning to explain what happened in the prior issue.  I found myself puzzled by these summaries, as in “oh, is that what happened last issue?”  Since I read these through in one sitting, I’d think I shouldn’t be surprised by a summary of what I just read, yet I was.  Usually if stories suffer it’s through too much “telling” and not enough “showing.”  Here I think this story has the reverse problem, but only a bit, and could stand to explain a little more plainly what the heck is going on with the mass suicide, magic dagger, old novel script and some pile of papers that need translating.  At times I felt I was totally in sync with the story–there was a 1960s James Bond aura at different points along the way that created a cool vibe.  Then with the symbology and strange beast who was also a leader that looked like Hitler, I was out of sync again.

Without question, the best part of Fatale is Sean Phillips’ 1950s style art.  If I wasn’t following a scene from the dialogue then I could usually get there with the visual storytelling.  Fatale looks like the noir I’d expect to see, for most of the scenes.  Dave Stewart’s coloring creates a world familiar to fans of Edward Hopper’s paintings.  I think the storytelling has some jarring moments, however.  Things like expletives that seem out-of-place and -time bothered me here.  It could be because, even if people used expletives in the real 1950s, 1950s movies never did, and so the aura of 1950s drama seems more accessible to me than what might have been real-life lingo (although I refuse to believe folks in 1950s swear as much as, and with the exact same colorful metaphors as, we have today as this work reflects).  So I love the look of Fatale, but am not sure of how much I like the story and whether I would recommend it to others not familiar with this genre.  The “voiceover” parts were quite good (the “it was a dark night in the city when I first met her” kind of thing).  Are Brubaker and Phillips’ other works supernatural horror like this?  I’d be willing to try more of their works to find out.

Fatale did make me think a lot about characterization, mood, and what makes something a crime novel vs a horror novel vs a supernatural thriller.  In a different kind of way, it made me think about complexity of story much as I did reading and watching the Watchmen graphic novel and film adaptation.  Anything that makes you think like that is probably a good thing.

Fatale is available at Amazon.com for pre-order in a trade edition titled Death Chases Me.

By C.J. Bunce

When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not.  I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band).  And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun.  And some things have been done already, but not quite right.  Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly?  A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast).  The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating.  We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.

A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue.  I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York.  Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That BirdYou can’t know everything.

For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material.  I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios.  But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.

    

From the comic books:  DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes

At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over.  Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type.  In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist.  In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl.  Probably too late now.  Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine:  Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?

I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.”  Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle.  Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord.  Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy.  Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck.  And harpies.  And encountering a religious cult.  And more harpies.

I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far.  OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends.  Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.

From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works.  For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange DaysRemake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.

In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions.  A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark.  How about John Wayne?  How about Humphrey Bogart?  Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers?  What other movies would be fun to manipulate?  This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins.  OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.

The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel.  The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen.  And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole.  Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?

I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.

From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov

When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization.  He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story).  The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine.  In its day it was a good effort.  With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision.  The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone.  A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.

In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body.  Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body.  Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells.  Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.

From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper

How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting?  And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting?  New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story.  Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.

Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before.  House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven.  Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red.  Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.

Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks.  But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know?  That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.

From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten

I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here.  The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C.  He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen.  In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk.  Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record.  Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic.  Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after.  Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film.  Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist.  A stunning wife.  How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental?  As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.”  How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film?  A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that?  But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot?  This all would be incredible to depict.

From fantasy opera:  Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung

I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung.  A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him.  But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point.  Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera.  We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces?  The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.

Other operas due for a good movie?  The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.

More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen.  A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out.  And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.

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