A Dance with Dragons Review

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A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I get why people are so mad about nothing actually happening in this book, even though it’s a zillion pages long. I loved it nevertheless.
Firstly, once you are neck-deep into the ASOIAF universe, as everyone past book 3 must be, just reading masterfully written pages about it should keep you interested. Exploring a world you already love, through the eyes of characters you love or love to hate – I don’t see how this can be called “nothing happening”.
Secondly, I do believe this “nothing” advances the story – adding background and more depth to the characters – even if not the plot.

George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones 5-Book Boxed Set (Song of Ice and Fire series): A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons

Spoiler Alert
The Ironborn plot line is important because without it their appearance later would look artificial and made up and too convenient. Furthermore, they are bringing along the red priest Moqorro – it would be very unbelievable if no Red Priest got personally involved with the dragons. If there is fire, there must be some R’hllor champion to claim it, right?.

As for the Dornish prince – I admit that story line was a bit tedious, but it was again necessary. Firstly, it reinstates how not every descendant with as much as a drop of Targaryen blood (or purely Targaryen for that matter – Viserys) is blood of the dragon and can command them. Secondly, Quentyn was necessary to develop the Dornish secret treaty plot line and bring it up-to-date. Otherwise, readers might have started to think that if Daenerys had known of the secret treaty she would have run to Dorne and everything would have been resolved – which would make any alternative events feel artificial. With her being brought to light on the matter we are given a due clarity on her opinion. Also Dany’s devotion and responsibility to her campaign in Slaver’s Bay is brought center-stage. I am starting to wonder if she would ever care enough for the Seven Kingdoms to abandon her people in the East.

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Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Charlie Hunnam in 50 Shades of Gray and Other Polka Dots

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Charlie Hunnam at the ComiCon

Charlie Hunnam at the ComiCon

Long time, no see and yet the world seems to be going just the same. But is it? So many trivia has accumulated over the past months I am not sure I should regret not commenting on it or feel relief of missing a hype or two. In any case, a bit of rambling thoughts on the latest.

Charlie Hunnam will be playing Christian Grey in the movie version of 50 Shades. I  am still deciding if this is tragic or awesome. In my ideal world such alleged books never come to existence, let alone are they called literature, but alas. A movie might not be that bad, though – plenty of erotic flicks have earned their place in the notable cinematic myriad over the years. Hardly anyone expects 50 Shades to become a new 9 1/2 weeks, but they do have a shot.

Back to Charlie. My first reaction – don’t touch Jax, you morons. And judging by the reactions of the die-hard 50 Shades fans, they are not happy with the choice, either, so why is it happening. However violated both sides feel, everything comes to place with a simple Google image search “Charlie Hunnam in a suit”. And then remember – he will be taking it off a lot. So crisis averted and in the meanwhile SOA’s new season is almost upon us. Yey!

SOA comes back on Tuesday, Sept. 10

SOA comes back on Tuesday, Sept. 10

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The Royal Navy celebrates the birth of Prince George of Cambridge

The royal baby has finally made an appearance. He might be in college by the time I finish this post, too, but bear with me. It would have been great if they had called him Edward as was my bet, but the Duchess’s polka dot dress was a charming gesture. The swarm of blog entries on after-birth royal habillement were curious, too. It’s always a good time for a Lady Di gallery in retrospective. It was 16 years since she passed on Saturday and I was reminded of the stinging moment , when the 10-year-old-me realized the only real princess I knew of had died. The tragedy was more complex in the world of grown-ups, but in the end it all boils down to that, doesn’t it. A sad reality check.

Another development – Doris Lessing’s The Grandmothers was made into an Aussie/French drama and a good one, too. Adore, directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel) and starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright and two 20-something hunks tells an uncomfortable and compelling story. The characters are all damaged and in their own ways. They push limits and touch upon the label of perverts, but one cares more about them, than they would about a classic protagonist with ‘permissible’ flaws. The movie keeps you on edge and makes you feel somewhat guilty for watching. Until you start wondering which exactly is the sick part. One thing is certain – if you haven’t read the novella, you will rush running, if only to find a validation for either being repulsed by or rapt with the story.

photo credit: Gage Skidmore via photopin cc
photo credit: 7he Architect via photopincc
photo credit: Royal Navy Media Archive via photopincc

Empress of the Seven Hills – a Review

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Empress of the Seven Hills (Rome, #3)Empress of the Seven Hills by Kate Quinn

Gorgeous book! Thick in action and detail, crowded with rounded characters, who change with time and yet remain true to their nature. The Empress is full of love-and-hate relationships and this is the relationship it invokes in the reader, too. The characters are all both lovable and despicable, maybe with the exception of Titus and of course the honorable Marcus Norbanus.

I loved Vix for his bravado and courage, so closed my eyes to his shortcomings; loved Sabina and vouched for her and hated her at the same time; Loved Mirah, the wife character, who was also daring and sassy in her own way, a match for Vix, unlike Demetra – and yet wished her dead, but then was so glad that she survived. Hadrian was maybe the best of them – good and evil, cunning and sincere, a man of art and subtlety and cold sagacity at the same time – perfect representation of what we know the real Hadrian to have been – a controversy. I was glad that his preference to men, like Trajan's, wasn't central to the depiction of the character, which often happens in ancient period adaptations – really this wasn't that rare or that important as we would have it now. I loved Titus, too – such a great and funny character. Trajan is of course easy to love with all the praise he gets from everyone, as Plotina is easy to despise. I loved the cameo of Marcella and the reference to her scheming in the Daughters. The ending had me hopeful that a sequel is due but then I reread the beginning where Vix laments his killing the best friend he's ever had on the orders of the worst man he's ever known – so I guess he did kill Titus and this kind of makes sense.

The Empress teaches a very comprehensive history lesson with its masterfully unrolling story. It makes you feel at ease ‘walking’ the roads of the Roman Empire and almost eye-witnessing an enthralling period in Ancient history.
The book deserves praise on another account as well – it depicts an age that is often being overlooked. It’s so refreshing to read about someone else besides Caesar. This goes for the whole series by Kate Quinn. I am immensely grateful to her for bringing to life so many interesting historical figures. Somehow the period after August and Nero is easily forgotten. I actually discovered a lot of people thought the roman Empire started to fade after Caesar’s death. Nevermind a Golden Age or two. Maybe because this is the period when Christianity starts to become an important factor and hence the attention of history textbooks shifts towards it. Maybe because Hollywood is firmly settled on filming hardly anything before Spartacus’s revolt and after the burning of Rome (Gladiator being the notable exception).
The Empress turned out much more than the guilty pleasure I thought it would be. Strongly recommended!

All Art Is Quite Changed

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Having kept silent for a while I think it’s the perfect time to post my favorite part of my favorite book – the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. Although it’s an answer to the wide criticism, directed at the morals of the book and the then considered scandalous ‘depravity’ of the author and thus not an integral part of the work itself, I find it very important for the literary and artistic discourse since the 19th century.

I would have every street style blogger, industrial or graphic designer, social platform curator and any other ‘modern artist’ read it aloud and look for themselves. Art has lost it’s identity, we no longer distinguish the artistic from the creative, we look for art everywhere and boast it. Is Wilde’s take on the purpose of art even relevant or is it just a list of aphorisms for us?

I would have the word ‘artsy’ disappear from collective memory, too.The Picture of Dorian Grey's Preface

Cannes Poster – Graphic Design’s Class Act of the Year

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Once a year I get to take a break from looking at over-photoshopped movie posters and oversexualized, sometimes borderline offensive, ad campaigns. Trying to capitalize on the Super Bowl ratings and struggling everyday to win over the clutter by adding some more to it, advertising has long forgotten how to be just plain appealing.

Once a year I get to simply enjoy and admire a beautiful piece of graphic design – Festival de Cannes’ promotional poster. A work of art in itself, it doesn’t try too hard to get attention or to push a sponsor’s agenda. It is just glamorous and classy – the aristocrat of graphic design among a world of socialites.

I was reluctant to love last year’s installment, because Marilyn Monroe is probably my least favorite Old Hollywood actress. However, the poster was touching as a symbolic gesture honoring the 50th anniversary of her death; and the execution with fading letters around her was as subtle and beautiful as always.
The 2011 poster, however, had me gasping in awe. There is nothing about the Faye Dunaway shot, the geometric layout and the symbolic intertwining that falls short of extraordinary.

Festival de Cannes_Paul_Joanne

Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward, a shot from A New Kind of Love (1963)

And here we are – 2013, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, A New Kind of Love, oblivion and restrained use of negative space. The poster was created by the Paris agency ★ Bronx as an embodiment of the spirit of cinema. “The breathtaking embrace of Newman and Woodward on the poster of the 66th Festival de Cannes conjures up the very spirit of American cinema,” says the official website of the event. And indeed, both the on- and off-screen story of Newman and Woodward is a perfect metaphor of the love for and love within cinema, a frenzy, an irrational bedazzlement that has captivated hearts and elevated spirits for over a century.

photo credits: ★ Bronx (Paris). Picture : Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward 
© 1963 by Paramount Pictures Corporation and Llenroc Productions.

The Tiger’s Wife – a Review

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The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

This book won me over with writing style. However interesting and moving the story, it is the mastery of the author’s voice that captivates. The fact that this is Téa Obreht’s first novel adds to the amazement.
It is so rare nowadays to hold a book, which is written neither in simpleton English, nor in mannerisms, pretending to be high literary style. If you are picky when it comes to the voices you allow in your head and ‘he said – she said’ narrative makes you violent, here comes the new hope for modern fiction.
The story is great and sincere, faithful to the sound of magical realism and conspicuously heartfelt. It constitutes of a myriad of subplots, but there is one unifying theme – war. Everything that happens in any of the temporal realities of the plot does so because of or in spite of a war conflict. This repeating motif is the real connection to the author’s Balkan origins – not the names of the towns or the cultural references, but the positioning of war as a background, as a moving force, as an explanation.
Do not let any negative reviews discourage you from taking up the Tiger’s Wife. It is a superior work of literature and will leave you eagerly waiting for whatever Obrecht has in store next.

Daughters of Rome – a Review

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Daughters of Rome (Rome, #2)Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn

After enjoying immensely Mistress of Rome, I was disappointed. This prequel fell short of providing a continuation to the readable, yet thick and intense narrative. It turns out to be the chick flick I was afraid the Mistress would be – something like the Sex and the City set in Ancient Rome. I loved how the details of the setting, the clothing and the scenery were described with subtlety in the previous book, providing a beautiful and believable stage for the characters, whereas here they are forced in the spotlight. We get lost in a sea of characters, too flat and cliched for anyone to care much about (the respectable, the naughty, the rebellious and the cunning – these are the heroines, and each has a specific, recognizable and easy-to-deduce hair color). I understand the attempt at creating a family epic and it would have been an amazing story but for the Sex and the City approach.
Yet there is much positive to be said, too. The historical facts are masterfully entwined in the plot – Rome itself becomes a character, much more intriguing, rounded and exciting than the human ones. I loved how everything falls into place at the end – Marcella’s fate is the cherry on top – to fit perfectly with the Mistress. Domitian was again the most interesting character for me, although he was secondary for the most part.
There was one historically confusing moment. Throughout the book Christianity is referred to (without being even named) as a hardly familiar and easily dismissed religion. In the context of Nero’s burning of Rome and his blaming and persecuting of the Christians for it, it seems improbable that our socialites/patricians would be unaware of the religion’s notoriety. However, Kate Quinn has proved a thorough researcher, so I guess there is a factual ground for this.
Overall the book was enjoyable and I cannot wait to get my hands on the third one!

Mistress of Rome – a Review

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Mistress of Rome (Rome, #1)Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

This book was a great and splendid surprise. I really took it up as a light read and was afraid it would turn out an annoying poorly written chick-flick. It did not – instead I was impressed by the storytelling – quick-paced but layered; by the tone – light and unpretentious enough to engage the modern reader and even crack them up at times; and most of all – by the multidimensional, evolving and believable characters. I was most impressed with how the Emperor was not instantly pointed out as the monstrous villain, but shown gradually, in different contexts, to the end of exposing his true and yet dubious nature – the effect of this methodical depiction is much stronger. The love story is at times a bit cheesy, but it adds to the appeal of the main protagonists. And after all no one should expect from a love story to not be about love. To sum up – this book is a treat for every fan of historical fiction and Ancient Rome in particular and a rare occasion to enjoy modern literature where captivating story and great writing actually co-exist. (I would have given it 4.5 if that was possible).

The D is Silent, Django Is Not

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Django UnchainedJamie Foxx Christopher Waltz Django UnchainedDjango Unchained is Tarantino at his best. Of course he could take a spaghetti western and turn it into the most entertaining and controversial adventure of swagger, mockery and gore, what did you think? Add superb acting by Jamie Foxx, DiCaprio and Christopher Waltz and a virtuoso contribution by Samuel L. Jackson and you get cross-eyed and tongue-tangled in attempts to spell out your content.

There are so many cool-looking movies you would like to say you like, because they are so deep and require above average understanding of the cinematic art. But they are boring. They are silent. So instead of wasting time, a sensible person eventually decides to hate the haters hating mass culture, who pretend to be liking this quiet three-hour-long ordeal, shot in all shades of greenish grey. Here comes Django, the movie to deliver the Holy Grail of us self-proclaimed snobby critics – something with cool factor of a zillion but easy enough to digest. The movie has stirred debate about historical correctness, so you can pick a side and argue to your heart’s content. You also get to say Tarantino this, Tarantino that – a lot.

Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

Besides the Tarantino coolness, what else multiplies a spaghetti’s western swag? Some serious dirty rap bangers of course! However awesome the rest of the production, the soundtrack got me from an approving eye to a devoted fan. Maybe you have never considered how Rick Ross’s husky rhyming would sound, mixed with western tunes and some real-life horses instead of the May-bach-music. 100 Black Coffins (written by Jamie Foxx) is your chance. Playing this while a bunch of tough guys is riding and looking ominous could have made the most impressive moment had the final shoot-em-all scene not been set on Tupac. You also get to hear John Legend’s nice and easy devil-may-care Who Did That to You. The subtitles roll on RZA’s Ode To Django (The D Is Silent), which tells you outright that you just watched a real badass western. I still cannot decide on a favorite among these four, the slower Freedom and Lo Chiamavano King, and the obligatory Ennio Morricone pieces, also included in the official soundtrack. No, Django, is definitely not silent.

photo credit: Physical Flaws via photopin cc

photo credit: Physical Flaws via photopin cc

photo credit: Pink Cow Photography via photopin cc

Silver Linings Playbook: Silver Lining for the Genre

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Silver Linings PlaybookAfter watching this obviously very high-profile movie I gave it an IMDB rating of nine – for reference, as the app reminded me, I have rated suit The Intouchables, The Flowers of War and Last Night and the only 10 I’ve given was for Seven Pounds.

I remember watching the Jessi J video and wondering what the movie was. It looked like a nice rom com/dance flick to cozy up with so I added it as to-watch. Later on I a review mentioned it as a drama with some complexity to it. And then it got Oscar-nominated like crazy so here I am – praising for the win.

Silver Linings Playbook is about love and about relationships. It’s about the hard times more than about the good, but while watching it you somehow feel optimistic and hopeful, even though the main characters seem lost and broken.
The movie in a way calls out the fake rosy romantic cliché. It feels more realistic in its absurdities and more beautiful in its awkward moments, than a typical romantic drama. The protagonist is not perfect, he acts out and is hard and easy to love at the same time. The movie gives an almost intuitive explanation of his behavior and makes it easy to put oneself in his shoes. Tiffany is even more likable, she is like every woman who has suffered and been broken by love and then tried to repair herself through giving too much to others, hoping, without even realizing it, to get something in return.

Silver Linings Playbook suffers from a weakness, familiar to modern cinema, a plague that has made us skeptical about well-marketed movies and even more so about indie ones. The action in non-action movies lately (especially when it comes to Oscar nominees) has become a bit slow; like nobody cares about the plot, as if making up an entertaining story was an unworthy cause. Seems like everybody is worked up creating multidimensional tortured characters and showing them off through long dialogue and even longer quiet nothing-happens staring-through-a-window moments.
Director David O’Russel made the rom com/drama genre a huge favor, coming up with a movie that is funny, touching and not cheesy; one that even guys might actually like.

I read some negative reviews of Silver Linings Playbook (very few, most people are ecstatic), pointing out the movie created inaccurate image of bipolar disorders. That might be true, I am not familiar with the matter. However, my impression was that the craziness of the characters was more of a metaphor of love and what it could turn us into – both romantic love and the one we have for our families, however dysfunctional they might be.

I hope this movie gets all of the Oscars it has been nominated for. Of course, I would love Hugh Jackman to get the Actor in a Leading Role one for Les Miz (still haven’t seen it), so I will remain neutral there. I don’t believe Jennifer Lawrence is bringing the statuette home, either, although she totally erased the memory of the flat uninteresting Hunger-Games girl-with-a-bow.
It would be very refreshing to have a more ‘normal’ movie (funny, but the crazy-people drama feels closer to home than the typical nominees) win for Best Motion Picture, rather than the longest, darkest, mutest and most politically relevant one as is often the case. And do I need to mention – Robert De Niro was brilliant!

photo credit: moviesinla via photopin cc

New Year’s Resolution-ing

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make a wIsh.. ahh, list I mean

make a wish.. ahh, list I mean

Hate it or love it, New Year’s resolutions make for the number one topic to flood the Internet after the red-and-mistletoe-y Christmas uproar and before the red-and-heart-shape-y Valentine’s cheesiness. The imposing shadow of the matter is thick, but short, so I am not postponing it anymore, lest I need to invent First Day of Spring’s Resolutions.

My strategy to making achievable NYRs was to not refrain myself with the list as long as I keep it in my mind only. Then I stuck with the ones I hadn’t forgotten when the hour struck – figured the rest were unimportant (or so unattainable my brain decided to subconsciously delete them from any records). So here is the surviving minority – just three very simple little tiny rules (no fitness hours included) to make me happier this year.

Number 1: Less Facebook. Totally failing on this one for now, but the intention stands. First of all it is time-consuming, life is short, we are young only for so long, etc. I am easily distracted and I will need my remaining attention span to finish reading that book I started months ago. I love reading and I haven’t finished anything longer than a three-page article since the summer.
Also there are things I don’t want to know about people and they are right there on my Home page, shoved in my face, commented, liked and tagged plenty.
The worst part is the twisted reality Facebook creates out of bits and pieces of communication that mean nothing in particular when out of context, which by default they always are. If you have a problem with over-thinking (read, if you are a woman) out-of-context is very bad for you. Next thing you know you will be creating contexts of your own, while someone is devising a disorder acronym.

Number 2: Put Myself First. Turns out this is a well-known must for happy people. Sounds like a good advise if you often feel spread too thin and giving too much. Giving is good and fulfilling but you won’t bribe people into caring about you. Trying to please everyone usually ends with people holding you accountable for everything that didn’t work out.

Number 3: Take a stand. I used to be this opinionated girl, who would always hold her ground. I was aware a lot of kids didn’t love me for that but they voiced their opinions, too and somehow we always worked it out. You would expect this decision-making process to be optimized in an adult context. Not in my world. At some point I started hearing others’ opinions before voicing mine – not because I was afraid to differ, but because I was trying to find the path of least resistance and weigh towards it. If you’ve been doing the same, chances are things never work out exactly the way you would like them to, it takes ages to reach a consensus and at the end everyone makes jokes about you being manipulative, always having things your way. So I have decided to go back to the opinionated girl, she had a better fun to hard work ratio.

And the most important one, which I always to hold on too, New Year or not – show the people who matter you love them. Happy New Year!

photo credit: Shandi-lee via photopin cc

The Diminishing Importance of News

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Browsing the News

Social media, Facebook in particular, has changed dramatically the way we  understand news and the world, the way we seek, get and, most importantly  interpret information. At the beginning it seemed genius to have everything that interests you and you only – your own customized live feed to provide plenty of immediate, diverse information. An added benefit was the ability to share it with friends, to see who endorses it and to subconsciously engage in a discussion with them while still reading the news for the first time. Now however, this way of not seeking but having the news delivered to us through different channels and in random order comes to the detriment of our civil society.

It is only logical that apathy and hate are dominating the social media discourse to the disadvantage of constructive discussion and cooperation. This sounds a lot more preachy than I meant it to, but it still holds true. First of all, consider the everyday trends, that trigger waves of shares, fits of annoyance by those who have seen the shared post one too many times already and then, of course, a post-wave of memes mocking the whole craze. It happens when celebrities die, when Obama is elected, when the weather sucks, either because of Sandy or just due to a trivial snowfall. There always is one to ten extremely fashionable items/news of the day that we all at some point get sick of seeing. The bigger problem however is that it is easy to forget these ten ‘freshies’ are not necessarily the most important thing happening around us. Maybe there is something going on in the office next door, which matters to you much more than the fake Facebook privacy notice that you have been seeing reappear at the top of your feed throughout the day. There sure are much more important things going on in the world – politically, economically and culturally. Once upon a time newspapers would have all the information and they would sort it out from most to least important; they would make sure to leave something fun for the last pages; something new and trendy for the fashion pages – everything will be there for us to browse.

Now the information is endless and so are the channels. This makes it hard for ascribing importance and at some point you start paying the same attention to a stupid meme as to the news of a cease-fire in Gaza or the budget drama in the EU. Of course young people are apathetic – they have one flat  - that is not ascribing importance - channel of information, comprised of hundreds, even thousands smaller and still flat ones. At one point you go to a news channel, a reliable one, like BBC or The New York Times and you see the leading news, the scoop – at present it is Kate Middleton and Prince William expecting their first child. This is important international news, maybe not as economically crucial as the price of petrol and the crisis of the euro, but still diplomatically important. It is also a happy news for a couple we somehow have grown to like and sympathize with – for their amiable characters, for their fairy tale romance and for her fabulous style. And my first emotion was of neither happiness for them, nor excitement of witnessing history in the making (a future queen or king is about to be born). No, instead, I felt tired and overwhelmed of what was about to happen on the white and blue online front – a zillion re-posts, updates and salutations going on and on and on – and then the baby e-zine features, how-to articles, tables of possible names, etc.

I don’t need or want this negative and apathetic emotion. I want to be able to see the news as such, not to fear being drowned by their constant repetition.

And let’s be honest  Even though you realize the importance of certain matters, your personal life will always ring closer to home; the fun things will always stick longer in your memory. So when you are scrolling down the feed, from international news through your friend’s wedding pictures to a funny 9gag re-post it is likely that you ascribe equal importance to them at that moment. But the pictures you will most likely remember; the meme you will probably share. And in the company of other creatures, whose awareness of the world comes mainly from Facebook, which of those three is most likely to be mentioned in a real, face-to-face conversation  I bet on the 9gag meme. Unless the friend with the wedding is present.

photo credit: Mike Bailey-Gates via photopin cc

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