BARE BONES: STATEN ISLAND SUMMER (2015)

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STATEN ISLAND SUMMER (2015)

Teen sex and party comedy tells the story of best buds Danny (Graham Phillips) and Frank (Zack Pearlman) who work as lifeguards at the Great Kills Pool Club. It’s the last weekend of summer before both must leave for college and the two plot with the rest of the lifeguard crew to throw one last big bash at the pool, before saying goodbye. Now they have to overcome all kinds of obstacles to get the party going and get laid before it’s off to school.

Directed by Rhys Thomas from a script by Colin Jost, this is a very routine teen comedy with all the clichés and tropes present. There is some amusement to be had, but it would rather be vulgar than clever and sometimes it seems to be a bit of a Staten Island in-joke, so those not familiar with this borough will feel a bit left out. There are jokes about drugs, sex and the usual bodily fluids and if that is enough than one should find this an amusing distraction. Those looking for something fresh and with a bit more wit in with the fart jokes than it probably won’t satisfy. At least there is plenty of eye candy with Ashley Green in a bikini as a love interest, Gina Gershon as a hot-to-trot MILF and the ladies may enjoy John DeLuca’s guido lifeguard Anthony. An OK flick though nothing special.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE APPARITION and THE CHILDREN

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THE APPARITION (2012)

Put equal parts Paranormal Activity, The Ring and Poltergeist in a blender and the result would be The Apparition, a routine supernatural thriller about a young couple battling a supernatural entity. Kelly (Ashley Greene) and Ben (Sebastian Stan) move into her parent’s future retirement home to maintain it and soon start to experience strange occurrences. Before long it is clear there is a malevolent entity in the home and an experiment Ben was involved in might be why.

Director and writer Todd Lincoln helms this very familiar tale pretty much by the numbers, although he does achieve some effective scenes early on before the story starts to get more involved and thus sillier and more convoluted. It would have been better off if it stuck with being a routine haunting flick, but once Ben’s friend, Patrick (Tom Felton), the author of the experiment, shows up and tries to play ghostbuster, things just fall part with all the Star Trek meets Ghost Hunters mumbo jumbo about rifts and predatory entities from other dimensions. Fortunately, the film is barely over 80 minutes, so it moves quickly toward it’s stale climax. At least leading lady Greene is charming enough to allow us to like her character, even when she isn’t parading around wearing only half her clothes. Now only if she had a much better movie built around her scantily clad heroine, it might have been more of an enjoyable guilty pleasure.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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THE CHILDREN (2008)

Kids can be creepy enough as it is, but this chilling and sometimes brutal British horror takes it to a whole new level. Writer/director Tom Shankland’s flick is a very effective and disturbing tale of a Christmas vacation get-together that becomes a nightmare when the children start to exhibit increasingly strange and soon violent behavior. What begins as a possible cold spreading from child to child, soon starts to take on some aggressive then violent characteristics. The young couples are soon faced with a parent’s worst nightmare, as it appears their kids want to kill them.

That’s what makes this horror flick work so well, despite some flaws, is the simple questions it poses… what would YOU do if you had to fight for your life against your own child? Could you? The parents in this film are confronted with that exact dilemma, as their own children become homicidal, with nowhere to run in their secluded country house. A disturbing and well made horror flick from Tom Shankland. Stars Hannah Toiton, Eva Birthistle (Wake Wood) and Jeremy Sheffield.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HOLIDAYS (2016)

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HOLIDAYS (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Holidays is a horror anthology that presents eight short stories, each based on a holiday and adding some kind of supernatural/horror twist. Each tale is written and directed by different filmmakers with somewhat mixed resluts.

The first is Valentines Day, written and directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch (Starry Eyes) and tells the story of  introverted high school girl Maxine (Madeleine Coghlan) who has a crush on her swimming coach (Rick Peters). When she misinterprets a sympathetic Valentine’s Day card from him, she decides to solve her bullying problem and present her object of affection with a special gift, all at the same time. It is an effective story with some very gruesome moments and has a bit of that offbeat, disturbing feel that made Starry Eyes work so well.

Next up is St. Patrick’s Day written and directed by Gary Shore (Dracula Untold). This tells the story of a new little girl (Isolt McCaffrey) at school who gives her teacher (Ruth Bradley) a St. Patrick’s Day wish with disturbing results. This episodes starts out creepy enough, but gets progressively silly till it’s goofy ending.

Next up is Easter written and directed by Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact). This tells a really weird and disturbing tale of a little girl (Ava Acres) who accidentally catches the Easter Bunny (Mark Steger) in the act…but he’s not quite what she expected and there is a disturbing price for being the first child to ever see him. This is a weird episode that unsettlingly combines both the Christian doctrine and traditional bunny folklore of Easter. While not totally successful, it gets extra points for being daring enough to ‘go there’.

The next tale is written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith and is called Mother’s Day. It’s an odd story about a woman (Sophie Traub) who is ‘cursed’ by getting pregnant every time she has sex. She is sent to, of all places, a fertility clinic, to solve her problem, one which turns out to be more than it seems. This episode was really strange, yet a bit unsatisfying as it didn’t seem to go anywhere and had a predictable and cliché shock ending.

Father’s Day is one of the best tales. It is written and directed by FX man Anthony Scott Burns (FX for The Last Exorcism Part II). It tells of a young woman (House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue) who receives a recorded message from her long dead father, asking her to meet him at a special place from her childhood. This is a very effective episode that is moody, creepy and heartbreaking, thanks in equal parts to good direction and a very strong performance by Donahue.

The biggest disappointment and worst episode is Kevin Smith’s Halloween. It takes place on Halloween, but has little to do with the holiday as it tells the story of Ian (Harley Mortenstein) the mean owner of a Sex Cam business who has a painful rebellion from three of his employees (Ashley Greene, Olivia Roush and Harley Quinn Smith). It forgoes any attempt at something spooky for more of Smith’s traditional adolescent vulgarity. Boring, crude and has nothing to do with the holiday it represents.

Anthology get’s back on track with Scott Stewart’s (Dark SkiesChristmas. This one tells the tale of a down-on-his-luck dad (Seth Green) who goes to disturbing lengths to get his kid the pair of virtual reality glasses he wants. These glasses, however, reveal a person’s true self and he and his wife (Clare Grant) learn some very unsettling things about each other. This is a fun and chilling episode and Green is entertaining to watch as the desperate dad and Clare Grant is good as the wife with a secret side to her.

Final episode is New Year’s and is is directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer (Some Kind Of Hate) from a script by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch. It tells the story of a serial killer (Andrew Bowen) who has specific plans for his New Year’s Eve date (Lorenza Izzo) who turns out to have far more in common with him than he realizes. This is a twisted and fun episode with a really entertaining psycho  turn by Izzo as Jean. Izzo is showning a talent for these roles, as she was one of the few fun parts of Knock Knock.

Overall, this was a mixed bag, but the good outweighed the bad. There were a few disappointments, especially from Kevin Smith who dropped the ball on delivering something in the Halloween spirit for his tale. We did gets some spooky and effective stories, with the standout being Burn’s Father’s Day which had a sympathetic and strong portrayal from Jocelin Donahue. Definitely worth a watch for the segments that did work and even a couple of the failures had an originality to their telling.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Christmas trees.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: KRISTY (2014)

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KRISTY (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Kristy is a taunt and intense little thriller that finds pretty college student Justine (Haley Bennett) staying behind on campus during the Thanksgiving break. Her weekend of solace, solitude and study is turned into a living nightmare when she has an unsettling encounter with a very strange women (Ashley Greene) at a convenience store. The woman and her masked associates follow Justine back to campus and begin to hunt her like an animal, killing anyone that gets in their way and referring to her as “Kristy”. Whatever their motives or reasons, Justine has no plans to be an easy target and this time, the hunters may have chosen the wrong prey!

Intense thriller is directed by Oliver Blackburn and is a simple story made all the more effective because of it’s simplicity. There is no excess baggage here. Blackburn, from Anthony Jaswinski’s script, establishes from the first frames that these are deranged and dangerous individuals and then quickly establishes Justine as a very likable and hardworking young woman. We like her right away and thus when she is targeted by Greene’s disturbing woman and her associates, we care about her and are rooting for her. Also established is just how alone Justine is, as the campus is all but empty and any possible help are dispatched quickly and brutally. This creates an atmosphere of helplessness and tension as Justine is outnumbered and forced to play a cat and mouse game with these vicious killers. The film never gives us an outright explanation of exactly who they are and why they are doing this…though the opening montage voiceover states that Kristy means ‘flower of Christ’ and to “kill ‘Kristy’ is to kill God”, so this may indicate a Satanic cult. Whatever their origins, we do get just enough to establish that they are serial murderers with an agenda and a purpose and there are vague clues left for us to put together on our own as for the details. Blackburn skillfully combines all this into a tight little movie about a young woman fighting for her life and we like Justine enough and hate these thugs enough that when she does fight back, it evokes strong reaction. If you find yourself cheering out loud for our heroine, you are not alone. It can be brutal at times, but never overdoes it, so the violence has impact.

Our two female leads are very strong. Haley Bennett gives us a very smart, determined and resilient heroine in the very likable Justine. She is obviously terrified, but not going down without a fight and when cornered, she strikes out with a vengeance. Ashley Greene again shows with the right material and project she can impress as she did with her touching performance in Skateland. Here she is a psychotic killer and a very effective one. As the only one of the killers to show her face and speak, it is up to her to establish the menace and lethality of the deranged individuals who hunt Justine and she does so, very well. As for the rest of the supporting players they all do solid work from ill-fated campus security (Mathew St. Patrick) to Justine’s loving boyfriend (Lucas Till) to Greene’s silent companions in murder (Chris Coy, Mike Seal and Lucius Falick).

I liked this movie a lot. Simple and direct, with no unnecessary baggage. Establishes heroine and villains quickly and gets down to the suspense and violence. It gives our bad guys…and girl…menace and yet an air of mystery and creates a strong and very likable heroine to root for. When the violence comes, it’s just enough to give it impact, but not bludgeon us or numb us to it. There is some nail-biting suspense, good atmosphere and Blackburn uses the empty halls and rooms of Kristy‘s college campus setting to maximum effect. Add in an effective 80s-ish electronic score by François-Eudes Chanfrault (High Tension, Inside) and you have got an entertaining and intense night on the couch!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 baseball bats.
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BARE BONES: AREA 51, BURYING THE EX and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROUGUE NATION

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AREA 51 (2015)

After the smash success of Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli returned to the director’s chair for his sophomore effort in 2009…and the movie has since languished in post-production hell for the last six years…now we know why. Found footage flick has a silly plot with three young friends (Darrin Bragg, Reid Warner and Ben Rovner) concocting an absurd scheme to break into the infamous Area 51 military base. They have the help of a former employee’s daughter (Jelena Nik) and succeed where many have failed.

Obviously, they are not happy with what they find…and neither are we. Flick takes a ridiculous 70 minutes for anything interesting to happen and at about 95 minutes long (including it’s slow crawl credits) that’s simply too long to wait. What we do get is amusing, but exactly what you’d expect to get in a flick about Area 51 and it’s fleetingly glimpsed and over far too quickly. There is barely anything resembling scares or suspense and what we do finally encounter is very predictable and been done before, especially in the X-Files…and done better. Area 51’s actual secrets may still be a mystery, but why this flick sat for six years and was quietly dumped onto VOD and home media, isn’t.

 -MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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BURYING THE EX (2014)

Director Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) has made quite a few classic films, which is why it’s disappointing that his latest effort is so sadly mediocre. Story has horror movie fan and slacker Max (Anton Yelchin) dating the hot but extremely bitchy, Evelyn (Ashley Greene), while he could be with the sweet, horror movie-themed-ice-cream-shop owner, Olivia (Alexandra Daddario). The wrong words said in front of the wrong magic item in the shop Max works at, ensures he will be with Evelyn forever…even when she is hit by a bus and killed. Now, as he desperately wants to date Olivia, Max’s girlfriend is back and there’s going to be trouble.

Flick’s problems lie in it’s uninspired and sadly unfunny script by Alan Trezza. Dante tries to give it some life and it is colorful and filled with the horror movie references and imagery Dante excels at, but the script is unimaginative, predictable and let’s Dante down at every turn. The premise has been done before, but still could have made fun use of it’s scenario, instead it is routine and without the wit to really make this a good time. At least Dante get’s good work out of the cast as Yelchin, Greene and Daddario…who is especially endearing as the ultimate horror geek girlfriend fantasy, Olivia…do their best to get something out of their thinly written parts. With a better script this could have been a real treat as it had a great director!

 -MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015)

I originally was not a fan of this series, but to be honest, each installment has been an improvement over the last with this and the previous installment, Ghost Protocol, being a lot of fun. Dare I say this series has finally hit it’s stride with it’s fourth and fifth entries. This chapter finds the IMF being dissolved by the government right in the middle of Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) mission to track down “The Syndicate”, an organization that is the IMF’s equal, yet dedicated to disruption and terrorism. Now considered a rogue agent and being hunted around the world, Hunt must team with Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Luther (Ving Rhames) and mysterious agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to bring the syndicate down.

As written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation is fast-paced and entertaining with some great camaraderie between Cruise and his team, especially Pegg. There are some fun action sequences and some thrilling escapes with the usual espionage and covert operations mixed in. The only thing holding it back a little, is that the action is nothing out of the ordinary, despite being well-staged and the main villain (Sean Harris) is rather weak. Otherwise this is a fun spy/action flick and Swedish actress Ferguson gets to steal a few scenes from Cruise…which isn’t an easy thing to do. Also stars Alec Baldwin as a CIA thorn in the IMF’s side. Fun!

 -MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: OTIS, SUMMER’S MOON and THIRD PERSON

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OTIS (2008)

Otis is another of the contemporary trend of trying to be hip by mixing a disturbing subject with off-color and sometimes inappropriate humor. The effect here is just dull, off-putting and silly. Flick tells of serial killer Otis Broth (Bostin Christopher) who is a disturbed man-child loosely watched over by his older brother Elmo (Kevin Pollack) and living in his dead parents’ house. He delights in kidnapping girls who he all re-names Kim, keeps them prisoner as part of a girlfriend/prom scenario then eventually kills and dismembers them. When he kidnaps pretty Riley (Ashley Johnson) he messes with the wrong family. Directed by Tony Krantz and written by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz, the film is never disturbing enough to be chilling and not funny enough to be…well, funny. The humor is sophomoric and sometimes just silly and it’s attempts to be shocking fall flat too. Only partial saving grace is a very charming and spunky performance by Johnson (the waitress from The Avengers) as his fifth abductee whose vengeful parents (Daniel Stern and Illeana Douglas) ineptly try to take matters into their own hands when police prove incompetent. I know this flick has it’s fans but, aside from liking Johnson’s resilient Riley, I was just bored.

2 star rating

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SUMMER’S MOON (SUMMER’S BLOOD) (2009)

Despite a good turn by Ashley Greene and a disturbing portrayal by the reliable Stephen McHattie, this is just an epic fail. Greene plays Summer, a young woman who runs away from her drunken mother to find the father she’s never met and winds up the prisoner of a disturbed young man (Peter Mooney) and his mom (Barbara Niven). Three guesses who the patriarch of the house (McHattie) turns out to be. Film is just kind of a mess with none of it seeming to have much purpose and far too many preposterous conveniences occurring to carry the plot forward or be shocking. Director Lee Demarbre helms this very by-the-numbers and with little atmosphere and the script by Christine Conradt and Sean Hogan seems to like being shocking for shocking sake without legitimately trying to tell a story. We get incest, kidnaping and murder without any real reason why and by the end we really don’t see a point to it all. Greene does better than she is usually given credit for but, the film wastes it on just being bad…and at only 90 minutes, kinda boring too.

2 star rating

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THIRD PERSON (2013)

Written and directed by Paul Haggis, this is an interesting and engaging drama with three stories told that we know will connect somehow by the time the credits roll. We have a writer (Liam Neeson) separated from his wife  (Kim Basinger) and with his lover Anna (Olivia Wilde) in Paris, while trying to complete a new book. We have Scott (Adrien Brody) on business in Rome who finds himself in the middle of a situation involving a mysterious and beautiful woman (Moran Atias), money and some shady characters. In New York there is troubled ex-actress Julia (Mila Kunis) who is trying to regain visitation with her young son after being accused of trying to harm him. Her artist ex-husband (James Franco) adamantly refuses to let her see him, while her lawyer (Maria Bello) tries desperately to change the judge’s mind despite Julia’s inability to handle the situation responsibly. The three stories are all well directed and acted and while I did figure things out before the reveal, it is still effectively done. Brody’s story is the weak link but, otherwise an entertaining drama with a fine cast.

3 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SKATELAND and ADVENTURELAND

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SKATELAND (2010)

Drama of a young man coming of age in a suburban Texas town during the 80s is a well written and acted story focusing on teen Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) who’s coping with becoming a man while his parents divorce and his world changes around him. High school is over and it’s time to decide what he wants to do with his life, but Ritchie would be perfectly happy to continuing working at the Skateland roller rink and hanging out with his friends. But times are changing and life has no intention of standing still, even if Ritchie wants it to. Along with him are best friend Brent Burkham (Heath Freeman) and Brent’s beautiful sister Michelle (Ashley Greene), whom Ritchie has feelings for he’s also not ready to deal with.

The movie smartly tackles the melodramatics and clichés usually associated with these type of flicks in a way that makes them feel fresh and keeps them quite effective. We’ve seen certain story elements before, but director Anthony Burns turns them back from clichés into life experiences we can all identify with, by weaving them into the story and not presenting them as set pieces as many films like this do. The film really captures that moment in time between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of your life, the one you wish could last forever, but life moves you forward whether you like it or not, as Ritchie finds out.

And as Ritchie, lead Fernandez shows some really nice acting chops here and that he has a lot of potential with a subtle but emotion filled performance. Leading lady Ashley Greene shows far more range than her supporting part in the Twilight films allows and proves with a good script and director, she is more than just a pretty face. Heath Freeman is also a hoot as the rambunctious Brent, who dreams of being a famous dirt-bike racer and has to face that this dream may not come true. And Haley Ramm is impressive as Ritchie’s younger sister, Mary a headstrong and very mature teen trying to help keep her already fractured family from falling any further apart. The dynamic between Ritchie and little sister Mary is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Ramm and Fernandez are gold in their scenes together. The supporting cast of relative unknowns also give strong performances that help give the story it’s weight and sense of realism and come across as people and not characters.

Add to all this, there is a great 80s soundtrack and that is one cliché that’s always welcome with these movies. Having come of age in the 80s, I am a sucker for these kind of flicks and Skateland is one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite a while. I highly recommend it. Also stars James Le Gros as Brent and Michelle’s dad, Clive and Brett Cullin and Melinda McGraw as Ritchie’s mom and dad, David and Debbie Wheeler.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Rubik’s Cubes!

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ADVENTURELAND (2009)

Adventureland tells the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg) a recent college grad whose plans to spend the summer in Europe and then go to New York to grad school to study journalism, are dashed when his dad is demoted at work. To earn the money he needs to go to the Big Apple, James is forced to get a job at Adventureland, a third rate amusement park in Pittsburg. But there he meets an eccentric group of characters and the pretty Em (Kristen Stewart), a young girl with her own issues and dreams. As James struggles to figure out how to get his life back on track, the two bond, finding solace from their perspective woes with each other.

More drama than comedy, flick has grown on me a bit since first viewed, but overall, nothing we haven’t seen before. Yet despite it’s familiarity, it’s easy to identify with the story, and it’s characters are somewhat endearing even though I wanted to throttle Frigo (Matt Bush). The cast give some very eclectic yet, down to earth performances. They seem exactly like the kind of people you’d expect to find working in a place like Adventureland and they grow on you as the film progresses. As for the leads, Stewart is not nearly as wooden as she was in Twilight, though still doing her disassociated thing. Eisenberg is fine, if not a little bland, as James, a young man who seems to be having a hard time accepting that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to and that, occasionally, you have to take life’s lemons and figure out how to make lemonade. James needs to grow up and take control of his life. Sometimes you want to slap James out of his self pity, but that is part of his character and not the fault of the actor. Ryan Reynolds plays the park repairman, a musician wannabe named Mike Connell who is married yet likes to sample the park’s young female employees. He creates a guy whom you understand why people like, yet is obviously, in reality, a phony douche. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader add some comic relief as the clueless husband/wife operators of the park and Martin Starr plays Joel, another intelligent college student who seems fine with wasting his life away as a pipe smoking slacker, but ironically, seems to support James’ not giving up on his dream.

Superbad writer/director Greg Mottola gives us some nice moments and there are some fun bits, too, but sometimes there is just too much melodrama for it’s own good. It does poignantly portray love at that period of time in life when you are just becoming an adult, but still haven’t fully matured. That first relationship when you start to think a bit more seriously about the person you’re with, yet are still hesitant to give up your freedom to commit to something more meaningful. And it also nails the sense of having a dream and the frustration of not knowing how to reach it, especially when things don’t work out as you planned. Add to that a great soundtrack of 80s tunes that really helps add a lot of atmosphere.

So, things even out a bit when you add it all up and having graduated high school in the early 80s, this film is nonetheless nostalgic for me, so I cut it a bit of slack for some of it’s flaws. At the very least Mottola shows some versatility, as this is quite different than his raunchy Superbad.

Rated 3 (out of 4) Rubik’s Cubes!

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