Tag Archives: Daniel Craig

“NO TIME TO DIE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Nicola Dove | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios

Goodbye, James Bond.

We live in an age where closure is beginning to become the norm in big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The Dark Knight Rises. Logan. War For The Planet Of The Apes. The Rise of Skywalker. Avengers: Endgame. These movies prove that you can have a definitive end to our heroes’ journeys, and not only will audiences be fine with it, but they quite possibly might love it. That’s because when you take away the lights, the cameras, and the special effects, these larger-than-life heroes are not the immortal cinematic icons they’re portrayed as on-screen. They’re people, and their story deserves an appropriate ending just like anybody else does.

In No Time To Die, Daniel Craig experiences his own ending in his final portrayal of James Bond, a role he’s inhabited so seamlessly ever since his debut in Casino Royale in 2006. In No Time To Die, Bond goes into retirement after defeating Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and saving his lover Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) in Spectre. But like any other 007 movie, James Bond is once again pulled into the spy world when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) asks him for a favor. Now facing yet another potentially world-ending threat, James Bond needs to suit up one last time to defeat a nefarious new foe named Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

Watching No Time To Die was a particularly meaningful experience for me, not just because it signifies the end to an amazing era of James Bond, but also because this was one of the first movies on the chopping block when the COVID-19 pandemic came to our doorstep last year. After delay after delay after delay, it almost seemed like this movie was never going to get released. To finally watch it now after all this time feels like the world is finally turning a corner on this blasted pandemic, though I do kind of find it funny that the big threat in No Time To Die is, ironically enough, a virus.

To say that No Time To Die is a bold undertaking of the James Bond mythos is a severe understatement. It isn’t merely another entry in the James Bond franchise. Like Casino Royale and Skyfall, No Time To Die introduces the character to new and unusual circumstances, circumstances Bond would never have been caught dead in the original Ian Fleming novels. What makes Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond so interesting is that he’s less of a caricature and more of a character. He isn’t a generic movie spy that is used to channel toxic male fantasies of drinking vodka martinis, hooking up with beautiful women and killing bad guys. In many ways, he is an incredibly pained and tragic character, one whose endless cycle of violence and espionage almost seemed predestined to him.

It’s rare for James Bond to be vulnerable, or indeed, even to appear weak in front of not just the movie’s villains and supporting characters, but also in front of the audience. But all of the best movies feature vulnerable moments for the character. In Casino Royale, it was when Bond was getting tortured by Le Chiffre or when he failed to save his first love. In Skyfall, it was when Bond was struggling with post-traumatic stress or when he failed to save M. In No Time To Die, he once again finds himself in a place of vulnerability and weakness in an arc that has been set up ever since the first movie. And like all of the great Craig Bond movies that came before, he fails to save a life that’s very important to him, though I won’t spoil by saying who.

Of course, all of the quintessential Bond elements are prevalent in No Time To Die. The high-stakes and adrenaline-pumping action. The tight and quick editing and the over-the-top and insane shootout and chase scenes. The amazing and mesmerizing score by Hans Zimmer. The haunting yet angelic single by Billie Eilish. And of course, Daniel Craig’s amazing performance, brilliantly contrasted with Rami Malek’s ice-chilling presence as the movie’s villain. All of the elements that made previous Bond movies thrive are just as evident here as they’ve ever been before.

Yet the incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a changing world. Indeed, how he reacts to MI6 keeping up its operations despite his retirement, how new double-Os enter the picture and accomplish the same things that he does, really how people in his life move on without him when he’s no longer in the picture. It all makes him feel so, so obsolete, and that’s what I love so much about this movie: it forces James Bond to evaluate who he is when he isn’t 007. Is he more man than mercenary? Or is he just another number?

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga (“True Detective,” Beasts of No Nation) has accomplished a rare feat with No Time To Die — he made James Bond fallible and brought him down to our level, a man haunted by his own demons and whose insecurities drive him to make ruinous, self-destructive choices. While some people may be frustrated how the movie deconstructs the larger-than-life myth of James Bond, I for one love that we’re taking away the license to kill and looking at how the man behind it tries to live his life without it. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, yet by the time the end credits rolled, all I could think about was how James Bond lived.

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“CASINO ROYALE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

A new Bond for a new age.

With over 40 years of cinema behind him, James Bond is one of the oldest — and most timeless — action heroes to persevere throughout film history. Why don’t we know more about him? We know all about Dr. Jones and his early crusades that led to him becoming Indiana Jones. We all know the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa, the tragic beginnings of Batman, and Luke Skywalker’s parentage that literally spans the galaxy. But for some reason despite 20 films dedicated to his name, James Bond is a character whose history has always eluded us. Why is that?

I think it’s for several reasons. One may be because it adds to his mystery and intrigue, and keeping his backstory in the dark maybe contributes to the elusiveness of his character. Another may be to allow for multiple interpretations of James Bond. Since we’ve had six actors play the part now, it makes sense to keep his story loose and flexible to allow for overlapping storylines and not convolute different films’ timelines. But the most rational explanation may be that his backstory simply doesn’t matter. James Bond exists in the here and now: in the mission, the objective, the target, the drink, the beautiful women, the pleasures of the instant because tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Whatever the case may be, Casino Royale is the newest reboot of MI6’s favorite secret agent. It is also arguably the most raw and personal James Bond film to date, something I never expected to say about any James Bond movie ever.

In this modern retelling of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale introduces a younger, less robust Bond in Daniel Craig, shortly before he even achieves his double-0 status. All of the usual James Bond elements are here. The fast-paced and exciting action. The high-stakes shoot-em-outs and intensive fight choreography. The sleek vehicles, weapons, and spy gadgets. The over-the-top chase sequences that take you over streets, bridges, buildings, hallways, and skyscrapers. The drop-dead gorgeous Bond girl in Eva Green. The chilling and unsettling villain in Mads Mikkelsen. The twists, the turns, the conspiracies that drive the plot forward. Everything that makes James Bond James Bond is in here and dialed up to pristine shaken-not-stirred detail.

But it’s not the usual Bond elements that impress me: what really impresses me with Casino Royale is the ruggedness, the roughness, the gritty realism that makes this film move and breathe with the authenticity of a top-secret SIS mission report. There are so many nuances to the film that you learn to appreciate and value that I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ll start with the film’s star Daniel Craig, who carries his part with the confidence and collectiveness of a Sean Connery and with the dispassion and coldness of Timothy Dalton. In previous films, James Bond has been portrayed with the suave coolness of a master infiltrator — a man who knows how to get out of every slippery situation, regardless of whether they’re in a secret base or a woman’s chambers. Here, the younger, more inexperienced James Bond is prone to more mistakes and is a lot less calm under pressure. That makes him surprisingly more vulnerable and the action feel a lot more immediate and real.

When he finishes making his first kill, his hand quivers and he breathes sporadically as he processes what he has done. When he makes a startling realization, his eyes pop and he spurs into action, knowing that something horrible will happen if he does not stop a particular outcome from happening. When someone close to him feels a particular pain that he’s familiar with, you feel his empathy as he consoles them and processes their grief with them. When he’s captured and being tortured, he doesn’t experience it like a hardened agent who fears nothing, but as a rookie experiencing this for the first time and is very, very afraid, even if he refuses to break. That level of emotion is a rare quality in a James Bond performance, and it will easily be Craig’s greatest asset the more he establishes his own 007 identity going forward.

But Craig is only half the puzzle. The other half comes in the film’s clever and crafty screenplay, which combines the typical Bond troupes delivered by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade with the style and swagger of a real-world espionage thriller from Academy Award-winning writer Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash). In previous Bond movies, the screenplay may have been given second focus to over-the-top gizmos, gadgets, and camp so silly and obnoxious that it would have made Adam West blush. Not here. In Casino Royale, the larger-than-life spy movie spectacle is traded out for a dense and layered plot that perfectly establishes James Bond and his beginnings as a double-0. Oh, and the dialogue is so sweet and snappy and so perfectly understands James Bond. One of my favorite lines is where Bond comments how the love interest isn’t his type. “Smart?” she asks. He responds “Single.”

Side note: The subversion of the classic “shaken, not stirred” line is also worthy runner-up.

All of these elements are masterfully brought together by director Martin Campbell, who returns to the director’s chair after bringing us Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of the character in GoldenEye 10 years ago. Whatever your opinions of the previous entries in the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale breathes new life and fresh blood into this everlasting series. The action choreography is so fast, brutal, and impactful that it leaves you dizzy while watching it. David Arnold’s mesmerizing score is so exciting and enthralling, with the snazzy horns and emotional orchestra throwing you back to the classic days of James Bond. And the editing by Stuart Baird is so smart, gradual, and all-encompassing that it allows you to follow all of the threads that are unraveling while never losing track of everything that’s going on. I find it fascinating that one of the most engaging scenes in the entire movie isn’t a fight or a chase scene, but rather a card game between Bond and the movie’s villain. That’s because the film’s astronomically high stakes are set up very well, and you know what will happen if Bond pulls a bad hand.

It’s hard to say which is the best Bond movie, or even who is the best Bond actor, because of how many stories, movies, and portrayals are out there of the double-0 agent. But even amongst the sea of James Bond retellings and reinterpretations, Casino Royale stands out, as does its star. That’s because they both understand that James Bond is more than a gun, a bullet, a bow tie, a license to kill. James Bond is an action. He’s a statement. He’s a man that will do what needs to be done even when the world is collapsing all around him. That’s why when he says his name is James Bond at the end of the movie, we believe him.

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“KNIVES OUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Lionsgate

Sharp in more ways than one. 

When Knives Out begins, we’re provided with the typical murder-mystery setup: Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a famed mystery writer whose popularity is probably equal only to Stephen King, is found dead inside his mansion. His throat is slit, the blood flowed out onto the floor uninterrupted, and there were no signs of intrusion or trespass into his study. The detective working the case, Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) thinks this was just a simple suicide and considers the case closed. Meanwhile, private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects something more sinister had a role in Harlan Thrombey’s death: foul play.

The suspects mostly consist of Harlan’s privileged and wildly dysfunctional family. There’s Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson) and their smug and self-centered son Ransom (Chris Evans). There’s Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon) who manages Harlan’s estate and his son, an alt-right online troll named Jacob (Jaeden Martell). There’s Harlan’s spoiled and greedy daughter Joni (Toni Collette) and her posh liberal arts daughter Meg (Katherine Langford). And then there’s Marta Cabrera (Ana De Armas), Harlan’s personal nurse who tended to his every need prior to his passing. All of these people were a part of Harlan’s life and loved him in one way or another. And, one of them supposedly murdered him. Blanc has eliminated no suspects, but as far as he’s concerned, all of them have something to gain from Harlan’s death.

Writing about movies like Knives Out is particularly challenging, not because there’s isn’t enough to talk about, but rather because there’s too much to talk about. Knives Out is a clever, ingenious, meticulous, observant, and deliciously deceptive movie, but it’s one where the audience benefits most from knowing as little as possible about it. I would argue that even the trailers give too much away for a movie like this. Since this is the case, I’m walking on very thin glass here and I don’t want to give away the enjoyment of the film before you can experience Knives Out for yourself.

I will say this: writer-director Rian Johnson is a mastermind behind this murder-mystery. Manipulating his characters like how a maestro conducts his orchestra or how a puppeteer commands their puppets, Johnson puts his characters through one puzzling scenario after another and giggles mischievously as he waits to spill the next big secret on his unsuspecting audience. I went in expecting Knives Out to go in a certain direction, then 15 minutes in Johnson spins my expectations directly on my head and does almost a complete 180. Then he plays with my mind and emotions for the next two hours until he drops one bombshell reveal on top of another, and then another, and then another, and then another.

Films like Knives Out are truly in rare quantity these days. Johnson put a lot of thought into this screenplay, into its characters and their actions, quirks, personalities, conflicts, wants, desires, disagreements, frustrations, and insecurities and then toys with them like he’s playing with silly putty. In many ways, Knives Out is very similar to his most recent film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which as you may remember divided the Star Wars fan base more sharply than the 2016 Presidential elections divided the nation. Both films pull you in with a sense of anticipation and expectation, then it goes in a completely different direction and just leaves you with a stunned feeling of “what just happened?”

The difference is that Star Wars is an iconic blockbuster franchise, and fans are very passionate when drastic changes are made to characters they deeply care about. Knives Out is more primed for this sort of treatment because A) It is not part of an established franchise, B) The setup is original, and C) There’s much more freedom for Johnson to do whatever he wants with this premise. Part of the joy of this movie is that you have no idea which direction it’s going to go, and figuring it out along the way is just one of its many surprises.

The cast in this film is exceptional. Nobody is wasted in their role, nobody phones it in, and everybody plays their part exactly the way they need to. Granted, with this large of an ensemble cast, that inevitably means some characters will get shelved while others will get more screen time. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to put any of these actor’s names forward for awards season. They all played their parts to the letter, and I would argue their efforts even deserve the Outstanding Cast accolade at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. And no, I’m not talking about a nomination: I’m talking about a win.

I don’t want to talk much about the cast because again, this movie benefits most from you knowing as little about them as possible. Two names I will bring up as being among the most entertaining performances are Daniel Craig’s and Chris Evans. These guys were hilarious, quirky, sardonic, and gleefully cunning in their own unique way. Craig’s talents as an actor don’t need much elaboration, as he can flip on a dime from being a slick spy action hero in Casino Royale and Skyfall to a mentally unhinged murderer in Infamous. Here he’s playing an old-fashioned Kentucky-fried fellow that would have Foghorn Leghorn laughing his feathers off at his accent. Chris Evans is especially surprising. For a guy who is known for playing such a genuine and good-hearted spirit as Captain America in the most recent Avengers movies, here he comes off as egotistical, condescending, and very full of himself. It’s hilarious watching him tell his entire family off in a pointed, matter-of-fact fashion, especially when you’re so not used to him playing the asshole in a movie.

I can’t sing enough praise about Knives Out. Go and see it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime movie that is rarely done with this much thought, care, and attention to detail paid to it. If he wanted to, Rian Johnson could have taken the pages of his screenplay and turned them into his own mystery novel. Harlan Thrombey would be proud.

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“SPECTRE” Review (✫✫✫)

Back to Bond, baby.

The opening tracking shot in Spectre is masterfully filmed and beautifully consistent, following our subjects smoothly through the chaos of a celebratory crowd like an artist’s hand running down his sculpture. What follows after that is a film less consistent, less smooth, and less artistic, but to hell with being artistic. This is a fun movie.

Following up a few months after Skyfall, Spectre places our hero, James Bond, a.k.a. 007 (Once again portrayed by Daniel Craig) in the middle of a hidden conspiracy of overthrowing the world government and taking over the planet. We can’t go a few decades without Bond dealing with one of those every once in a while, now can’t we?

This time, Bond is after the villainous organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which we’re never told what it stands for in the film (Although in Dr. No, it stood for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). At first, Bond doesn’t know exactly what he’s looking for, only having a clue by the deceased M (Judi Dench) to go by. But as he continues to investigate the organization further and further, he finds deeper connections to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in his enemies from the past, until finally, he finds the deepest connection to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of all: himself.

What do you think of when you think of James Bond? When I think of Bond, I think of a movie icon who is the penultimate vision of the masculine fantasy. He’s physically astute and sexually appealing. He’s smooth, suave, and has a way with words that is both comforting and edgy. He drinks a lot, but he can hold his liquor. He can fire a gun better than any marksman, throw a punch better than most fighters. He dresses up in nice suits and bow ties, although he does a great job at mucking them up on missions. When I think of Bond, I think of a character that women secretly desire and men not-so-secretly idolize. If he were any more larger than life, he would be a superhero.

Spectre continues the trend of Bond being a stylish action hero, and it continues the trend well. I mentioned in my lead that the film isn’t very artistic. That’s because it doesn’t need to be. After the impressive tracking shot at the beginning, Bond gets into a firefight, dodges a falling building, chases a suspect through the streets, gets into a fist fight, then highjacks a helicopter after it flips over on its axis in the air. And it’s not even the first 15 minutes.

This is something I’m impressed by in a lot of Bond movies, which is the action sequences. Minus the mediocrity of Quantum of Solace, the most recent Bond films have always found new ways to make old conventions interesting. For instance, how many times have you seen Bond take a sip of a martini? How many times have we seen him charm a young woman into the bedroom? How many times have we seen him get into chase, fighting, and action sequences involving all sorts of weaponry and vehicular manslaughter? You think we’d get sick of it by now, and yet, the series has lasted past 24 films. The series is doing something right.

I think part of it is because of how well Craig inherits the role of of James Bond. Sean Connery is always going to be regarded as the most significant Bond actor, because he was the first to take on the role and the one to exemplify most of Bond’s characteristics. Yet, Craig is nearly equal in iconic status because he too portrays Bond with multiple layers, and he does all of those layers well. He’s charming and sincere when he needs to be, manipulative and deceptive when otherwise.

Most impressive to me is that, even in the action sequences, the biggest thing I notice is Craig’s mannerisms. Not the explosions. Not the gunfire. Not the people he’s punching in the face. I’m noticing Craig. Why? Because I’m buying him as a character, not as an actor. I see the anger in his face when someone hits him and he’s getting ready to hit back. I see the cold calculation in his eyes as he’s deciding which targets to shoot first. I’m noticing the surprise on his face as his eyes widen, the panic that sets in when he’s discovered, and the fear piercing through his body when someone he loves is in danger. It’s hard to notice someone’s performance in the middle of an action sequence. Craig makes it seem like a cakewalk.

Of course, director Sam Mendes is also credited for the style of the film as well, with the action and the incredible set pieces making up for most of the excitement of the film. Yet, I’m a little disappointed that, after making one of the most definitive Bond films ever in Skyfall, Mendes reverted to a few conventions of the franchise that worked against it.

Take the characters as a primary example. Who do we have here? A secretive baddie hiding in the shadows, a big, burly baddie that walks and fights like a tank, a figure from Bond’s past that ushers him a profound warning, and the Bond girl, who is as beautiful and striking as ever. Their actors deliver just what is expected of them and what has been delivered before. The secretive baddie hides in the shadows, the big, burly baddie beats up Bond before he is killed, the figure from his past dies, and the girl hooks up with Bond. Not very original, now is it?

And this isn’t a criticism so much as it is a notice. Casino Royale and Skyfall were significant entries to the series because they saw Bond not as an action hero, but as a human being, dealing with his own hurts and pains by taking it out on the mission and his enemies. Here, Bond goes back to hero mode while we just tag along for the ride. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re used to seeing one thing, it’s a little bit of a let down to see the franchise take a step back on itself.

In the end, Spectre is like Bond’s rebuilt Ashton Martin after it blew up in Skyfall: It may have the same frame, but it doesn’t have the same ride.

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“SKYFALL” Review (✫✫✫✫)

United Artists Corporation/PA Wire

Old dog: new tricks.  

You’re not gonna see this one coming.  No matter what you expect to get from Skyfall, I promise you it isn’t what you expect it to be.  Yeah, its a high-adrenaline action film featuring Daniel Craig, yet again, as the double-daring, martini-sipping secret agent known as James Bond. I think we all pretty much understood that from the film’s trailer.  But oh, is the experience much more than just being a simple action film.  Much more.

Skyfall takes place a few years after the events of Quantum of Solace.  After a bomb threat has been declared on the headquarters of MI6, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to find and apprehend the ex-MI6 operative known as Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyberterrorist who has some deepening grudges with Bond’s superior officer.  As Bond begins to follow the trail and find out who Silva really is, he uncovers a secret in his past so haunting that it will impact the entire nation of Britain and shake the foundations of MI6 forever.

Here is a Bond movie lived to the fullest potential, an action movie that begins with a sensational chase sequence and refuses to let up on the excitement as the movie progresses.  Written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai) and directed by Sam Mendes (Jarhead, 1999 best picture winner American Beauty), Skyfall is a full-blooded action film, a spy movie that completely embodies everything great about Bond, from the lively, exotic locations to the pulse-pounding action that overflows you by the minute.

But this film doesn’t just succeed as another action movie: it also brilliantly serves its purpose as a drama piece.  Being one of the more personal and more deeper Bond films to date, Skyfall is a profoundly mature film that has a deeper introspective into Bond than what we were expecting.  Unlike other Bond movies (including the dreary Quantam Of Solace), where Bond is just an emotionless action hero that goes through the motions, Bond actually has an arc in this movie when compared to other ones.  In the film, Bond struggles with both his morality and past, and both of these conflicts come into full circle in ways nobody expects nearing the end of the film.

The film remembers something important that Quantum Of Solace has forgotten: that James Bond isn’t just an action hero.  He’s a movie character that holds a popularity entirely in his own bracket, a character who holds an iconic presence similar to how Indiana Jones does in his own series.  Daniel Craig inhabits the role well in Skyfall, and shows us the truth about James Bond: that he’s at a level of character fascination entirely in his own caliber.

At the same time though, it isn’t just the hero that makes the film what it is: the villain must be equally as motivated, and interesting, as the main character is.

Enter Javier Bardem as Silva, a villain who is as imposing and daunting as the action itself is.  Bardem is brilliant and chilling as Silva, a man whose past and pains haunt him, M, and Bond through the history that he remembers.  This shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  He did, after all, portray Felix in 2002’s Collateral and Anton Chigurh in his Oscar-winning performance for No Country For Old Men.  Here, he’s just as chilling as ever as a villain who is as deceitful, conniving, and crafty as Silva.  He’s one of the more memorable Bond villains to date, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the top five for IGN’s top 25 Bond Villains list.

This is a great movie.  The cast is great, the plot is fresh, the action is refined and thrilling, and the story is told through the lens of cinema master Roger Deakins as he flows from one beautiful shot to another.  There is much to love about this movie.

The only weakness, if there is one, is that the film doesn’t go deep enough.  The idea of Skyfall is great, the idea being that Bond is mortal and vulnerable and, like all of the other characters and villains in the Bond series, has a history where his issues have not been resolved.  Writer John Logan was brilliant for making this idea, and Mendes was smart in heading into this great direction.

The problem is that he doesn’t go deep enough.  The film dominates as an action movie, and granted, its a great action movie.  Still though.  Hasn’t there been other action movies that have been as deep and profound as they were exciting and fun?  Inception, for instance.  The Dark Knight.  The Terminator.  The Bourne Identity.  Movies like these succeed not only as action movies, but as compelling dramas.  Skyfall has a tint of that “drama” category, but it could have gone deeper.  It might seem like a small thing, but that’s all it takes.  One small thing would have turned Skyfall from just another great action movie into an instant classic.

This is a weakness on the film’s part, but am I really going to hold it against Bond?  No.  I am not.  Despite the supposed weaknesses, Skyfall is a fantastic thriller.  It revives Bond in ways similar to how Batman was revived in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and it assures us that not only will Bond survive throughout the years as cinema progresses: it will also thrive on its success and its legacy.

P.S.: You will never guess what Skyfall actually is in the movie.  Seriously.  You will never guess.

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