Black Mass. Johnny Hits New Depp-ths.

Black-Mass-Poster-2Let’s be honest, the words ‘Johnny’ and ‘Depp’ have in the last few years spelt the kiss of death for any movie. Mr Depp’s quirk ‘n’ dreads heyday appeared to have long passed. So when The Sloth heard he was to star in 1970’s gangster epic Black Mass, we didn’t exactly hold our breath.


Black Mass follows the real life exploits of Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), a small time Boston crook who expanded his empire to that of a full sized crime Kingpin. Jimmy was born in Southy, a rough area of South Boston (no!) where blood was far thicker than water and alliances forged by kids on the streets held fast through later life.


So why should Jimmy be of interest amongst the countless other ne’er do wells history has produced? Well firstly because Jimmy had a successful brother, Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch – clearly the casting director was gunning for matching sibling cheekbones), who broke out of his street kid mould to become the State Senator, no less.  Secondly because Jimmy was recruited as an informant by FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who saw him as an asset in the FBI’s attempts to bring down the local Mafia, who were rivals to Jimmy’s own gang.


You know what you’re getting with ‘70’s crime epics and Black Mass doesn’t disappoint. Grainy visuals – check. 18 foot long cars with spongy suspension – check. Characters called ‘Suitcase’ with faces like pigs bladders stuffed with an assortment of spanners – check. Cuddly old ladies who are delighted to see the local violent nutter back home after a stint in Alcatraz – check.


But what about the million dollar question, does Johnny pull it off? We’re delighted and frankly a bit surprised to say, yes he does. Granted, we spent the first 30 minutes gawping at his enormous prosthetic moon-like forehead and receding hairline,  but his usual penchance for tics and quirks are muted, his energy channelled instead into creating a psychopathic character of blood chilling proportions. A scene where Jimmy calmly torments John’s terrified wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson) had The Sloth squirming in shared fear. Welcome back Johnny. Here’s to a revitalised career in monstrous sociopaths.

UK release 27 November

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The Lady In The Van. Exemplary English Eccentrics.

2BF430BC00000578-0-image-a-238_1441323313262Aww, who doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy on hearing the name ‘Alan Bennett’? Cuddlier than a teddy bear in an Arran jumper, as quintessentially English as a toasted crumpet with marmalade and more wittily self-effacing than Stephen Fry at an apologists’ convention, Mr Bennett defines the term ‘National Treasure’.  So as The Lady In The Van, perhaps the best-loved play from one of our best-loved playwrights hits the big screen, there’s no sense of expectation. None whatsoever.


The Lady In The Van is based on real events in Mr Bennett’s life, for which the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ could well have been coined. In the late 1970’s Alan, starting to enjoy the spoils of moderate success, moved to up-and-coming Camden. He found his neighbours to be a mix of literary and artistic types, who liked to think of themselves as liberal and tolerant. However upon the arrival of a clapped out old camper van, driven erratically by elderly eccentric Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) their tolerance was quickly tested.


Homeless and living in her van, Miss Shepherd hated children, noise, music (the violin in particular) and basically all humanity. She was challenged on the personal hygiene front and the inside of her van resembled less a portable home and more a portable dustbin. Initially intrigued by their new neighbour, the locals brought food and gifts, only to have them thrown back in their faces. So Mr Bennett found himself doing what only someone partially insane would do, he invited Miss Bennett to park her van on his drive. Which is where she lived for the next fifteen years.


It’s impossible to get your head round what an act of humanity that was. Particularly as we see Alan (played by Alex Jennings) stepping in Miss Shepherd’s, erm, ‘human waste’ as he negotiates the steps to his own front door. But in typically analytical Bennett style, this is not seen as an act of humanity. Rather, Alan endlessly questions his own motives. Is it guilt from putting his mother in a home? An attempt to mine her for artistic inspiration? All considered with the wry, acerbic and self deprecating wit synonymous with him.  Add in a typically marvelous performance from Maggie Smith, reprising her role from the stage play, and you have two hours in the company of some of the finest talents the UK has produced. Yes, you know what you’re getting, but that doesn’t stop this being a delight.

UK release 13 November

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Trainwreck. Sisters Are Crude-ing It For Themselves.

Trainwreck_posterSo when did you last hear a tampon joke in a mainstream Hollywood movie? Here, The Sloth shall resist all urges to say something along the lines of ‘bet you can’t bloody remember’ for that would be cheap and distasteful. Oops. Sorry. Anyway, prepare to have that taboo broken for Trainwreck, in the now time honoured tradition of Bridesmaids et al, seeks to go where no male scriptwriter dare.


Amy Schumer, writer and star of Trainwreck, is best known for her work on US comedy stalwart Saturday Night Live, a long running sketch show that counts the likes of Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey amongst its alumni.  Amy plays Amy, whose father taught her from a young age that monogamy was unnatural and wrong. Adult Amy now chews through men at a rate of knots, washed down with copious volumes of alcohol and drugs, whilst working as a staff writer at a dubious lad’s magazine.


All is well and good, if rather foggy and dishevelled, in Amy’s world until she is given a work assignment to interview leading sports physician Aaron (Bill Hader).  Amy hates sport but decides she likes Aaron enough for a one night stand. Except nice guy Aaron then upsets Amy’s natural world order by calling her the next day and asking for a second date, the weirdo stalker freak. Even more unsettlingly, after first debating whether she ought to call the police, Amy agrees.


At its core, Trainwreck is essentially a traditional romantic comedy. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and a few hiccups occur along the way before the path of true love can run smooth. But layered on top is a frequently hilarious script that doubtless owes much to Amy Schumer’s sketch show experience. The joy is in set piece scenes that riff on various subjects – talking dirty in bed, the aforementioned tampon joke, racist older people. It also features a cast of rather fabulous supporting characters, from Tilda Swinton as a ball breaking magazine editor to a scene-stealing, if not entire movie-stealing, turn from basketball legend LeBron James playing a penny-pinching version of himself with tremendous, dead pan comic aplomb. Overall, it’s not quite as ground-breaking as Bridesmaids, but it’s certainly a quality addition to the burgeoning female-raunch genre.

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Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Warp Speed, Scotty.

MI 5Love him or loathe him, Tom Cruise is box office Teflon, shrugging off sticky questions about his private life with a blinding white grin as the tills keep ringing. His latest, MI5, shows no sign of bucking the trend.


You know the drill. Tom is Ethan Hunt – so named long before a certain Tory Culture Secretary became the nemesis of BBC news presenters. Can you imagine John Humphries covering the MI5 red carpet? The Sloth would gladly pay to see the ensuing Wrath of Scientology reign down. But we digress.


Ethan pops up in London, specifically in a vintage record store (Kids, people used to buy music in flat black plastic circles. Yes, really), to receive details of his latest mission. Except he’s been duped. Instead, he’s been lured there in an assassination attempt by The Syndicate, a rogue terrorist organisation intent on destroying both Ethan and the IMF. But he escapes, because he can’t get killed in the first scenes, vowing to hunt down and destroy The Syndicate.


Back in the US, IMF boss Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is embroiled in a battle with head of the CIA, Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who tries and succeeds to get the IMF shut down. So Ethan has no choice but to Go Rogue himself, taking trusty Scotty, sorry, Benji (Simon Pegg) with him in his pursuit of The Syndicate. So ensues a non-stop, all action romp that takes in Europe, Morocco and the US, a ton of proper, Old Skool stunts which Mr Cruise, looking remarkably spritely for his 53 years, did the majority of himself, including hanging for dear life onto the side of an airborne plane and an epic underwater scene where either his acting skills are superlative or he really was on the brink of drowning.


All in all, it flies along at a rollicking pace and is great, popcorn fun. Not least due to being backed up by a smart, supporting cast including Rebecca Ferguson as kick-ass agent Ilsa Faust (at which point forgive us for getting on our high horse but, having given us a strong female character, the producers totally let themselves down by including a completely gratuitous arse-shot. Come on, you’re better than that) and the marvellous Tom Hollander as the UK PM with Simon McBurney as Atlee, his advisor. Yes, UK TV ‘Rev’ viewers, that’s Rev and The Archdeacon together in a Hollywood movie!  Obvs we were waiting with bated breath for Atlee to announce he “can’t stop, I’m late for brunch at The Wolseley with Melyvn Bragg” and were most disappointed when it didn’t happen. Maybe keep it in mind for MI6?

UK release 30 July

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Kingsman: The Secret Service. We go behind the action scenes with Matthew Vaughn, Colin Firth and Taron Egerton

KSS_JB_D07_00960.tifForgive The Sloth for a touch of heresy but CGI-heavy action films can be more than a touch generic. We’re surely not the first person to yawn and wonder what to have for tea as the n’th building / helicopter / rampaging alien is blown to smithereens. Kingsman instead takes an old-skool, lo-fi, analogue approach to its action sequences and is all the better for it. The Sloth got the lowdown from director Matthew Vaughn and stars Colin Firth and Taron Egerton into what went on behind the scenes.


Matthew Vaughn on his approach to the action sequences:
I think action can be the dullest part of movies ironically nowadays. And I love action movies, but when you see generic quick cutting, I switch, I actually fast forward now. I just tried watching a movie, which made a billion dollars last year, and it didn’t do it for me, the bigger the sequence the more bored I was which is I think quite an achievement in a weird way. I try to do things differently and keep the audience on their toes.


Taron Egerton on the action sequences of the film:
It was the great unknown for me. I had done action of sorts but it’s the stylized nature of action in ‘Kingsman’ that makes it extraordinary and that makes it really demanding. The fighting for example requires a real discipline and very specific choreography. It wasn’t always easy, you know there were times when I really didn’t feel I was getting things, and there were times when I was just so exhausted that you think, “My word, I really don’t know how am I going to get through this, you know?” But I worked with the most extraordinary team of men. One of them built my body with me and the other taught me how to move. They kind of have as much responsibility for what Eggsy is in the film as I do really.


Colin Firth on Matthew Vaughn’s inspiration for creating the character:
Matthew’s preference was always David Niven, saying that he wanted to revert to a kind of original Ian Fleming notion of a rather traditional gentleman spy. One of the reasons he was interested in me was because I was precisely the last person you would ever imagine being able to do any of this, and that’s part of the fun he has, because he loves to subvert people’s expectations. You know because if he had said to me, I want to hire you for your innate butchness, it might have been a very short conversation.


Colin Firth on his training for the film:
It was pretty rough at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was in for because these guys all have incredibly advanced skills obviously, they are the best in their field. And I think they wondered whether, well, how much ability I would have. You know they knew what my age was, I have no real history of athleticism. I think they gave me points for effort and willingness, which helped us get going. So it started with let’s see if we can get his lower body animated. You know oil some of the hinges and do some squats and lunges and agonizing things, which I just don’t think anybody in the world wants to do, because we didn’t have the choreography for months. That was quite late. In the meantime it was months and months and months of doing the kinds of moves that I was going to have to do just to make sure I was capable of doing them And if you do that, and if you’ve got a team like that, and if you persist and are willing to take a bit of pain, inevitably some progress will be made. So I went from this place of feeling entirely out of my depth, to getting really quite exhilarated to the point where I thought, “This is what I want to do.” And actually I have to confess, going back to doing the routine acting scenes, were a bit of a comedown. You know I just thought, after everything I’ve done, you can just send my suit into work and have exactly the same effect.


Colin Firth on the process of filming the church scene:
Well that’s where the choreography had to be studied and learned… it’s a dance really. Most of the time, wherever I was, I had about five opponents, plus the camera operator who is one of the dancers. When someone’s on their left foot instead of their right, even when you’re dancing conventionally, that can be a problem, but we were also working with heavy objects, and you know all kinds of bizarre props that were being used in that sequence.. And one of the things that was educational about the rules of this, was that you have to act it as well. So if you just learn it very, very fast, it will look mechanical and it will actually loose energy because of that. You know we’ve all seen fast action sequences, which are boring as anything. What’s going on had to be built in as a part of it. And that’s actually what made it so alive.



Kingsman: The Secret Service is out on Digital HD on May 24th and on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 8th from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Top Five. Stand Up And Be Counted.

top-five.33979What do you think when you hear ‘Chris Rock’? Shouty, fast talking, boggle-eyed, profane American comic and probably not much else? Top Five, written, directed by and starring the man himself, might start to change that.

Chris plays Andre Allen, a stand up comic who found widespread fame as Hammy the bear in a low-brow movie franchise. Fed up with people shouting ‘Hammy’ at him in public, he wants to be taken seriously so has written and starred in a suitably serious movie.  About, err, black people revolting and overthrowing white people. To add to his ‘credibility’, in Kimye stylee he’s engaged to blingy reality TV star Erica (Gabrielle Union) and their every move is documented by a film crew.

To drum up publicity for the impending release of his movie Andre has agreed to be interviewed by reporter and single mother Chelsea (Rosario Dawson). Through the course of a few days they wander the streets together, chewing the fat and slowly bonding. Interspersed, naturally, with a few bawdy comedy set pieces such as the eye-wateringly crude, if admittedly hilarious, scene involving Chris, two prostitutes and that bastion of tasteless US comedy, Cedric The Entertainer.

On paper, the premise of Top Five might sound somewhat dubious. It might also sound very US-centric. But don’t be fooled. It’s smart, thoughtful, funny and has a really rather British sense of satirical self-awareness. It’s also brilliantly acted with Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson playing marvellously off each other in a way that feels utterly naturally and more than a bit improvised. Ironically, the one thing that didn’t particularly zing was a scene when Andre takes to the stage for a bit of stand up.

Mr Rock previously demonstrated stellar straight-man acting skills of a remarkably subtle nature in Francophile Julie Delpy’s Two Days In New York, so The Sloth has a sneaking suspicion he’s actually a closet Europhile itching to broaden his horizons. Someone give the man a role at The Old Vic already. He’s gagging for it.

UK release 8 May 2015

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The Voices. Talking Dirty.

voiceGive The Sloth a daft premise and we’re all over it like a cheap suit. So The Voices could have been written with us in mind. It features a talking dog – yes please. A psychopathic cat – like it. And a delusional serial killer – could it get any better? Let’s find out.

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a factory worker.  On the surface he’s sweet and earnest, singing irritatingly cheerful songs  on the production line and contributing ideas for the office Christmas party. But all is not entirely well in Jerry’s world, for Jerry is not entirely well. In fact he’s seeing a psychiatrist and is delusional, convinced his pet dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers (both voiced by Ryan) are talking to him. Bosco, in the manner of dogs the world over, is dopey, loving and supportive. Mr Whiskers, in the manner of cats the world over, is evil, vindictive and fond of rude turns of phrase involving back passages. And randomly speaks with a (slightly ropey) Scottish accent.

Fighting these virtual extensions of his good and bad conscience, Jerry unfortunately finds Mr Whiskers becoming more persuasive. Particularly unfortunate for Fiona (Gemma Arterton) the office hottie and distant object of Jerry’s affections. Chancing upon Fiona alone one night, one thing leads to another and Jerry, completely unintentionally, stabs her to death. Oops.  But that’s OK for he salvages her head, stores it in the fridge and lo and behold, Fiona’s head starts talking to him too, demanding Jerry kill again to provide her with a fridge-friend. Can Jerry resist the voices’ demands?.

The Voices is dark. Very dark and often very funny, shot through with a large dose of Little Shop Of Horrors style surreal kitsch and hitting just the right, slightly ‘off’ tone. The Sloths’ good, liberal, Guardian-reading left wing conscience felt bad laughing at the antics of the hapless and naively endearing Jerry. But then our evil, hedonistic, vodka and tonic swilling bad conscience told us to get a ****ing life and stop being so anally uptight. Leave your good conscience at home and enjoy.

UK release 20 March

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Maps To The Stars – John Cusack Interview

MTTS_BR_3DHe’s been a Hollywood star since his teens and now John Cusack stars in David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Starsa cutting satire about Hollywood players, wannabes and has-beens. Cusack plays Stafford Weiss, a self-help guru who peddles his therapies to the narcissistic and weak-minded and who is also father to the foul Benjie (Evan Bird), a rehab-hopping teen star. But just how like Stafford is he? The Sloth got the lowdown:

Q: You were a young star in your teens like Benjie. Did you relate to him?
A: I was older than him [when I started acting], and I wasn’t in a huge Hollywood franchise. I just got to work as an actor. But just the idea of being that young and having that much pressure on you, and being at the very height of Hollywood, would be terrible to think about.

Q: Do you see a relationship between therapy and acting?
A: I think a lot of actors feel that the act of doing those things is somehow therapeutic for them. You obviously have some things you need to release. So it’s an intuitive thing, to go towards the flame – so we must know that there’s stuff we better get out.

Q: How would you describe Stafford – a charlatan?
A: Yeah, sure – an exploitative charlatan of Biblical proportions!

Q: But are these types very prevalent in LA?
A: Sure. You talk about the California of the Fifties and Sixties; Joan Didion says there is a Chekhovian sense of loss and uneasiness in the air – and this is a loose quote and I’m probably getting it wrong – as if all the people there thought we better make it here, because if not, we’ve run out of continent! So I think that environment leads to all sorts of free, original thinking, but also desert crazies! And all the people that prey on those people. We were just noticing in LA that there were these things – agents and managers. Then I realised there were these things called ‘life coaches’.

Q: Did you know much about them?
A: Well, I knew about Tony Robbins. I loved the ‘personal power’ things. I don’t know much about Tony, but it seems like he has this act of will – like Scientology. These evangelising shrink coaches…it’s got to be only in LA, right? It’s the place where the guy who ran The Source – a health food restaurant – started a cult in the Seventies and they were called the Source Family and he proclaimed himself a divine being and he had followers. It was a cult! So LA’s got something special!

Q: Your character seems very cynical…
A: That’s what Bruce writes. The first thing he writes is, ‘Say what you want about the Dalai Lama but the man’s a pro.’ He’s not even considering that he might mean it or not. There’s an element that every human interaction is a transaction. It’s all currency. What am I going to get? What’s my angle? And that’s connected to showbiz.

Q: Were you worried about biting the hand that feeds?
A: No! I don’t care about any of that!

Q: You’re very active on Twitter. What do you like about it?
A: What I think is interesting is the idea that you can curate content. If I like somebody’s stuff, I can say, ‘If you think I’m interesting, I’ll tell you who I think is interesting’, and you trust me. And also, it’s impossible to kill art. You can’t do it. You can’t bury anything. So, yeah, I like it – it’s fun!

Q: Doesn’t your publicist tell you to hold back?
A: No, and that’s good. The other thing is, it’s changed the way movies are distributed, it’s changed the way movies are marketed. People are going to have their opinion from the screenings. Critics will do what they want to do, and they’ll sway people, but people are going to listen more to each other than they listen to authority – so it’s kinda cool.

Q: Do you ever re-watch your old films?
A: No. Well, sometimes on TV, I might stop and watch for a while until it gets too painful. I remember one time, The Grifters was on. I’ve worked with Stephen Frears, who is such a great director, twice. And I remember stopping and watching it – it was Annette [Bening] and Angelica [Huston], and I started to watch the story a little bit, and then I came on, and I saw myself differently. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s good.’

Q: How do you choose your films? 
A: I’m up to do anything if it’s with a good filmmaker and a good script. I think that movies are like dreams; you can play any role in the dream, and there are lots of different dreams. I like to play any version, any role in the drama – it doesn’t matter.

Maps To The Stars is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on 2nd February, courtesy of Entertainment One.

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Son Of A Gun. Use (A Lot Of) The Force.

son_of_a_gun_posterThe Sloth has been a big fan of Ewan McGregor since he first burst onto our screens in Shallow Grave and the magnificent Trainspotting. Since then he’s not always made the best role choices, in our humble opinion, so we were very excited by the prospect of him returning to ‘edgy’ and ‘Scottish’ in Son Of A Gun.

JR (Brenton Thwaites) is entering an Australian prison for a minor crime. Young, smart and a first time offender, he’s prime meat for the assorted Neanderthals and sexual predators that come with prison territory. Finding himself cornered in the showers in an attempted rape, help fortunately comes to hand from Brendan (Ewan McGregor, in his natural Scottish accent for once), an intelligent master criminal who is alpha dog in the prison pecking order. Realising JR also shares his love for chess, Brendan takes him under his protective wing.

But not for long. Being an intelligent master criminal type, Brendan is planning a jailbreak. A properly good one, with guns and helicopters and suchlike. Wooo! And being a newly paid up member of Brendan’s gang, lucky JR gets to bust out with him. Now you’d presume, once you’re back on the outside, you’d be more than happy with a trip to the pub, but no. Once a master criminal, always a master criminal, so Brendan is soon planning another, final heist to which JR will be getting involved.

Son of A Gun isn’t subtle. It’s full of macho, breast beating characters with tattoos and steroid-pumped muscles doubtless called things like Johnny Five Knuckles. There are obligatory Russian gangsters and ten foot high literal references to chess games / making moves / checkmates etc. But it doesn’t pretend to be subtle. It crashes erratically across the screen in a violent flurry of bullets, veers off temporarily to explore a love interest (Alice Vikander) for JR, then twists through a myriad of double crossings. With decent performances across the board and Ewan transferring his obligatory charisma to The Dark Side, if you’re in the mood for an immoral, blood and guts action thriller, you could do a lot worse.

UK release 30 January 2015

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Inherent Vice. Just What The Doctor Ordered.

309431id1h_InherentVice_Teaser_27x40_1Sheet_6C.inddThank the lord for the smoking ban. Watching Inherent Vice took us back to the days when you returned from the pub and dumped all your clothes, right down to your pants, straight in the washing basket, such was their reek.

It’s Los Angeles, 1970. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private eye in a groovy, whiskered, 1970’s LA kind of way. He receives clients at a local medical clinic (hence the ‘Doc’ – geddit?) while smoking dope, chills on his couch with kooky girls in bikinis while smoking dope, drives his car around a bit while smoking dope. Frankly, how he even ties his shoelaces let alone solves cases after smoking all that dope is quite beyond The Sloth, but we are naive in such matters.

Doc’s hazy fug is rudely interrupted with a visit from ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who is worried a plot is afoot to wrongly inter her current squeeze, rich (married) real estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) into a looney bin. Still holding a candle for Shasta Doc agrees to investigate but, before he can even spark up another joint, both Mickey and Shasta herself disappear.

What follows is a rambling, psychedelic, shaggy dog story that meanders merrily through random plot lines, red herrings and dead ends with the shambolic laissez faire of Doc himself. A tip off from a local prostitute that the ‘Golden Fang’ is involved could refer to a consortium of cocaine snorting, tax-dodging dentists, a Chinese sailing boat or a drugs cartel. A dead musician may still be alive and may or may not be a police informant or student activist. Doc himself is being tailed by angry, chocolate dipped banana munching, flat topped cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin – a comic delight) whose ire towards Doc may be concealing deeper feelings.

Inherent Vice is an inherently strange thing – a crime thriller with an utterly nonsensical plot, a noir that is baked in California sunshine (and just baked). We suggest you don’t even attempt to make sense of it, instead just sit back and savour the trippy kaleidoscope of surreal and wonderfully comic characters. Groovy baby.

UK release 30 January 2015

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