Lance Henriksen

Hard Target (1993, John Woo), the unrated version

There’s nothing spectacularly wrong with Hard Target. It’s a competently executed early nineties action movie. There’s a lot of good stunt work and some amazing pyrotechnics. Lance Henriksen is great as the villain. Wilford Brimley is in it as a Cajun assault archer. Almost everything about it is absurd, but not really out of the ordinary for the genre. It even tries for serious with a little bit of social consciousness–Henriksen is playing the most dangerous game with homeless veterans.

Director Woo is fantastic at making the perfunctory plot points seem sincere. He’ll slow down the close-up, leaving the viewer to inspect the actor’s reaction to something. Usually it’s Butler seeing lead Jean-Claude Van Damme do some amazing feat. One time he’s just standing there and it’s Butler in awe of the standing Van Damme. That scene is an example of something else wrong–but not spectacularly so–with Hard Target. No one’s willing to have any fun. Not even Brimley, when he finally shows up.

There’s no humor in Chuck Pfarrer’s script–at least no successful humor–but Van Damme’s character is particularly thin. He’s a man of mystery. So Woo’s impulse is to go for charming man of mystery and Van Damme botches it. Van Damme can’t even wink. He’ll make these single rapid eye movements towards a character and everyone pretends it’s a wink. He’s without charm.

But Van Damme’s not unbearable. His pseudo-Cajun accent needs work and he looks like a romance cover hero, not a down-on-his-luck street fighting merchant seaman. His stringy mullet is funny, especially once all the stunts start up and you have to wonder if Van Damme had to have the mullet because his mullet-wearing stuntmen aren’t willing to cut theirs off. And Woo’s direction of a couple Van Damme fight scenes is excellent. The fist fight isn’t Woo’s interest though; even when there are fisticuffs in post-first act fight scenes, Woo rushes to get guns in those hands. Van Damme’s not great at the gunfights, but then he starts doing somersaults through the air and seems happy again. Lots of flips in Hard Target. None of them convincing and they get old fast.

Luckily, they’re in the finale so it doesn’t matter. It’s all almost over.

There are some good performances. Henriksen, most of Arnold Vosloo (as Henriksen’s sidekick), Willie C. Carpenter; Kasi Lemmons is okay as the one cop. There’s a strike going on, which seems like it might be a subplot but isn’t. Hard Target doesn’t do subplots.

Leading lady Yancy Butler is pretty slight. Woo wants a lot of emoting. Butler emotes a little less than Van Damme, who’s got the emotional range of a rock pile. Thanks to Bob Murawski’s editing, occasionally Woo can imply something from Butler for a moment or two. It’s not like Chuck Pfarrer’s script gives her any depth either. Thank goodness for Woo.

Nice photography from Russell Carpenter. Nice editing from Murawski. Awful music from Graeme Revell.

Despite Woo’s direction, Henriksen’s villainy, the New Orleans locations, and the strong technical competence, Hard Target doesn’t click. The major action set pieces of the second half disappoint. Because the movie needs a sense of humor. Not Brimley drying gnawing at the scenery.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Chuck Pfarrer; director of photography, Russell Carpenter; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Phil Dagort; produced by Sean Daniel and James Jacks; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (Chance Boudreaux), Lance Henriksen (Fouchon), Yancy Butler (Nat), Arnold Vosloo (Van Cleef), Kasi Lemmons (Mitchell), Willie C. Carpenter (Elijah), and Wilford Brimley (Uncle Douvee).


Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).


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Jennifer Eight (1992, Bruce Robinson)

Jennifer Eight ought to be a lot more tolerable, but writer-director Robinson hinges everything on Andy Garcia being likable. Garcia starts out all right, but he can’t sell–or doesn’t even try to sell–his police detective (or crime lab technician, it’s unclear). Garcia becomes obsessed with a case. It’s his first case at a new job, surrounded by new colleagues. They all think he’s annoying and irrational.

And neither Garcia’s performance, nor Robinson’s script, gives anyone any reason to think otherwise. Robinson just pretends Garcia is going to sell it and he doesn’t.

The film is full of character actors giving good performances–Lance Henriksen, Kevin Conway, Bob Gunton, Kathy Baker, Graham Beckel. Working actors who bring something to thinly written roles. The outliers are Garcia, leading lady Uma Thurman (as a blind witness he inexplicably romances–they have zero chemistry) and John Malkovich. Thurman’s good too, lack of chemistry aside.

But Garcia doesn’t just bring something to the role. Robinson gives the character all sorts of ticks–playing with his lighter, sniffing liquor since he doesn’t drink anymore–and they all seem intended to distract from Garcia not being able to sell any of the part. He’s not convincing as an obsessed detective, not convincing as a love interest for Thurman. It’d be a mess if there was any enthusiasm.

Sadly, there’s some good production work–great photography from Conrad L. Hall, a nice score from Christopher Young–and not bad composition from Robinson.

It’s just lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Conrad Buff IV; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Gary Lucchesi and David Wimbury; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Andy Garcia (John Berlin), Uma Thurman (Helena), Lance Henriksen (Freddy Ross), Kathy Baker (Margie Ross), Kevin Conway (Citrine), Graham Beckel (John Taylor), Lenny von Dohlen (Blattis), Bob Gunton (Goodridge), Paul Bates (Venables), Perry Lang (Travis), Bryan Larkin (Bobby Rose), Nicholas Love (Bisley), Michael O’Neill (Serato) and John Malkovich (St. Anne).


Aliens (1986, James Cameron), the special edition

I always think of Aliens as a precisely choreographed ballet. Director Cameron moves his large cast–though it does winnow over time–around in these cramped sets and everyone has something to do; Cameron draws the viewer’s attention to one character, but the rest are in motion setting up the next moment in the scene.

Watching the film this time, I noticed how Cameron’s subtle introductions to each character later define them. Sure, there’s a handful of characters who don’t get much focus, but about nine do. It’s like a ballet on wires.

Cameron’s script is also able to keep up its urgency throughout. The titular aliens don’t even appear at the start of the second act; Cameron holds them off as long as possible, which later lets Aliens constantly break expectations. Cameron organically sets up and knocks down various possibilities for the film… all while following some definite horror genre standards.

Aliens is meticulous–Ray Lovejoy’s editing is truly astounding, whether he’s passing time with a fade or perfectly cutting the action scenes. Adrian Biddle’s photography’s excellent–as is the effects work–but Lovejoy’s editing is simply wow.

All of the principals are excellent. Obviously Sigourney Weaver, but Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser are great too. Carrie Henn is fantastic in her difficult, understated scream princess role. I love how the script implies character relationships developing offscreen. It’s wonderful.

Cameron achieves a major success. Aliens is exhilarating. Like most great films, it gets better with every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on a story by Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by James Horner; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt), Michael Biehn (Hicks), Paul Reiser (Burke), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez), William Hope (Lt. Gorman), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), Mark Rolston (Drake), Ricco Ross (Frost) and Paul Maxwell (Van Leuwen).


No Escape (1994, Martin Campbell)

No Escape opens with this lovely piece of music from composer Graeme Revell. It’s sort of the film’s theme music and it doesn’t fit at all with the action or sci-fi elements integral to the plot. The film’s this odd mix of genres and filmmaking approaches. At times it’s anti-climatic to such an incredible point, it’s almost like the point is to keep the viewer uneasy.

Some of the strange plotting might be because it’s from a novel and the screenwriters are keeping as much of that source novel as possible. Or not. I haven’t read the novel.

But it’s an odd type of action film.

Campbell casts No Escape quite well. He gets a great scene out of practically every actor. Lance Henriksen and Jack Shepard do some excellent work here, as do Ernie Hudson and Don Henderson. Stuart Wilson runs hot and cold as the villain. He’s never quite frightening and the more forced lunatic moments fail… but there are occasionally these quiet ones and they work.

Kevin Dillon’s okay; his part is the weakest written. Except Michael Lerner. Though Lerner’s just goofy overall.

As for lead Ray Liotta… Liotta spends most of the film being a disaffected action hero. But it all works out—even though it’s obvious, when he finally does get emotional, there’s a significant resonance.

Campbell’s direction is excellent. Phil Meheux’s photography and Terry Rawlings’s editing are essential.

No Escape sort of takes itself too seriously. And that sincerity makes it work.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross, based on a novel by Richard Herley; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Savoy Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Robbins), Lance Henriksen (The Father), Stuart Wilson (Marek), Kevin Dillon (Casey), Kevin J. O’Connor (Stephano), Don Henderson (Killian), Ian McNeice (King), Jack Shepherd (Dysart), Michael Lerner (The Warden) and Ernie Hudson (Hawkins).


Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)

Besides Al Pacino, there are other actors in Dog Day Afternoon. Some of them give fantastic performances too. But, even with those fantastic performances, every time Pacino is alone on screen, whether closeup or not, monologue or not, it feels like there’s no one else in the film besides him. He doesn’t command it or walk away with it… the film’s his performance and his performance is the film, right down to the last scene.

Some of the other particularly fantastic performances are, in no particular order, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, James Broderick, Charles Durning and Chris Sarandon. Okay, maybe I saved Sarandon for last so I don’t forget to mention the specifics. I had no idea it was Sarandon in the film. Never would I have imaged he could have given such a good performance (it was his first major film work).

Cazale’s sturdy. He’s great without being exceptional–the performance isn’t a surprise. Pacino, as good as he can be, is still a surprise here. He’s not in a movie star role and Pacino almost always does those (or has been since Dog Day); I’d forgotten the greatness of his performance here. It’s been… maybe fifteen years since I last saw the film. Since then, he’s been in a lot of lousy movies to cloud my memory.

I think this time is the first I’ve seen Dog Day Afternoon in its original aspect ratio. Lumet’s direction is so sublimely perfect, I can’t believe he doesn’t have more admirers.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sidney Lumet; screenplay by Frank Pierson, based on the Life magazine article by P.F. Kluge and Thomas Moore; director of photography, Victor J. Kemper; edited by Dede Allen; production designer, Charles Bailey; produced by Martin Bregman and Martin Elfand; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Al Pacino (Sonny Wortzik), John Cazale (Sal), Charles Durning (Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti), Chris Sarandon (Leon Shermer), Sully Boyar (Mulvaney), Penelope Allen (Sylvia), James Broderick (Sheldon), Carol Kane (Jenny), Beulah Garrick (Margaret), Sandra Kazan (Deborah), Marcia Jean Kurtz (Miriam), Amy Levitt (Maria), John Marriott (Howard), Estelle Omens (Edna), Gary Springer (Stevie) and Lance Henriksen (Murphy).


Near Dark (1987, Kathryn Bigelow)

The last time I tried to watch Near Dark, I failed miserably. This time I suppose I made it through the running time–I think that still image at the end is supposed to be some profound statement–but not all of my brain cells made it with me. They abandoned ship as the film progressed.

The only conceivable reason I can come up with for Near Dark‘s popularity is its mid-1990s rarity. It was a reuniting of memorable Aliens cast members and it wasn’t readily available on video–there was an old HBO Home Video release and I’m not sure it got another release until DVD. There was a laserdisc too, I believe, and it went for a lot on eBay (even pan and scan).

Bigelow doesn’t direct it poorly. She’s definitely mediocre, but her direction is far more competent than her script. Apparently she and Eric Red were going for a modern Western. They fail miserably, sort of because Bigelow–as a director–lets that analog be so quiet. Tim Thomerson searching for his “abducted” son is a Western, but it’s not if the main character is the son (a trying really hard Adrian Pasdar).

Lance Henriksen, Jenny Wright and Thomerson are good. Bill Paxton’s bad, like he’s Hudson doing a hick vampire impression. Jenette Goldstein and Joshua John Miller are both atrocious.

Near Dark‘s one of Tangerine Dream’s better scores and it does have great special effects.

But those don’t save it from being incredibly stupid.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Bigelow and Eric Red; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Stephen Altman; produced by Steven-Charles Jaffe; released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group.

Starring Adrian Pasdar (Caleb Colton), Jenny Wright (Mae), Lance Henriksen (Jesse Hooker), Bill Paxton (Severen), Jenette Goldstein (Diamondback), Tim Thomerson (Loy Colton), Joshua John Miller (Homer) and Marcie Leeds (Sarah Colton).


Screamers: The Hunting (2009, Sheldon Wilson)

If it weren’t for the painfully Canadian cast–I’m thinking mostly of Greg Byrk and Gina Holden, Holden because a recognizable, down on her luck American actress would be playing her character and Byrk because he’s so bland he’s got to be Canadian–Screamers: The Hunting would probably be a little better. There are some decent actors in it–Jana Pallaske is so good it’s strange to see her in this one, like she was paying off a swimming pool or something, and Stephen Amell is pretty good (even if he too looks bland enough to be Canadian). When Lance Henriksen shows up, the movie almost gets classy for a few minutes.

The Hunting does something really simple–it rips off Aliens (and Alien, but in a different way) as an approach to a direct-to-DVD sequel making. I can’t believe no one else has done it before and it kind of works. Being shot on DV and poorly lighted–John P. Tarver is a horrible cinematographer, I’ve seen better DV lighting on student films–it looks cheap, but it’s generally solid at the base. With a bigger budget, a better cast and a good rewrite, Screamers: The Hunting would probably be better than the first one.

It’s the first direct-to-DVD movie I’ve seen on the level of filmmaking competence of low budget genre pictures of yesteryear, which, I suppose, is a good sign. It’s taken a long time, since everyone relies so much on cheap CG.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sheldon Wilson; screenplay by Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a story by Tom Berry and inspired by a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, John P. Tarver; edited by Isabelle Levesque; music by Benoit Grey; production designer, James McAteer; produced by Stefan Wodoslawsky and Paul Pope; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Starring Gina Holden (Bronte), Jana Pallaske (Schwartz), Lance Henriksen (Orsow), Greg Bryk (Sexton), Christopher Redman (Danielli), Tim Rozon (Madden), Dave Lapommeray (Romulo), Jody Richardson (Soderquist), Stephen Amell (Guy) and Holly O’Brien (Hannah).


The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

I remember The Terminator being a lot better. Even as it started–I think during the first chase sequence (Michael Biehn in the department store)–I thought about the great highway chase sequence at the end. Then, as things went sour during, I kept waiting for that sequence, sure it would bring things around.

But it doesn’t bring things around. It’s short and loud–maybe the only time in the movie Brad Fiedel’s score doesn’t work. The disappointment might also be because Linda Hamilton, during this sequence, goes from waitress who gets picked on by little kids (I guess her restaurant does not reserve the right to refuse service) to the full-on James Cameron super-woman. It’s an inexplicable character change, sort of like her romantic clinging to future stalker Biehn. Where Terminator has the most opportunity for real character development (does Hamilton cling to Biehn because of her previous and frequent rejections?), it doesn’t seem to notice them. It does try to show Biehn’s incapable of having a regular conversation, emotion scarring from the future, but Biehn’s terrible during these scenes. Actually, he’s terrible once he meets up with Hamilton. Before them meeting up, he’s fine… even if he only has two lines.

The first three-quarters (or half) of the movie–before the police station shoot out–is great. It’s some of Cameron’s finest work, just because it shows he can show people walking down the street or going to work. Even if Hamilton and Bess Motta give bad performances, them getting ready for their dates is a good scene. There’s a texture to the film, even if there isn’t one to the screenplay. Cameron’s become so enamored with the fantastic, he seems to have forgotten the effectiveness of the uncanny. It doesn’t take him five or ten years though, by the second half of The Terminator he’s made the transition.

The second part has all the stupid future stuff, the terrible romantic stuff and the unexciting ending (the movie’s really Biehn’s and the protagonist transition to Hamilton fails).

The movie starts so strong–down to Bill Paxton’s moron punk–and doesn’t let up for a long time. Most of the credit goes to Fiedel, the sound designer (The Terminator‘s most interesting, technically, for how Cameron uses sound and music to create mood) and Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. Winfield and Henriksen’s bickering cops brings a human element to the film–and real characters, something sorely missing with Hamilton and Biehn–and once they’re out of the story, it’s just a bunch of sci-fi tripe. The reality is gone.

As for Schwarzenegger, he’s fine. Though he’s interchangeable with a model head and a stop motion robot, so I’m not sure the performance is particularly successful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron with Gale Anne Hurd, with acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Brad Fiedel; produced by Hurd; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich), Bess Motta (Ginger Ventura), Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman), Rick Rossovich (Matt Buchanan), Dick Miller (Pawnshop Clerk), Shawn Schepps (Nancy), Bruce M. Kerner (Desk Sergeant), Franco Columbu (Future Terminator), Bill Paxton (Punk Leader), Brad Rearden (Punk) and Brian Thompson (Punk).


Alien vs. Predator (2004, Paul W.S. Anderson), the director’s cut

Now, who exactly thought a film entitled Alien vs. Predator could be good? I mean… just from the title, it’s obvious there’s a fairly low potential for the film. As such, Alien vs. Predator is fine. It’s wholly watchable. It’s stupid and there are some enormous plot holes–not just in the established Alien or Predator canon, but in what the film itself has already established–but it’s called Alien vs. Predator. Any film with “vs.” in the title is automatically exempt from certain critical reasoning. Those plot holes in Alien vs. Predator shouldn’t bother anyone because the point of the film is not the understand it, rather to see it. I’ve seen Alien vs. Predator before (there was a review up on The Stop Button over a year ago, in the pre-archive) and when I was actually able to rent the monumental director’s cut (it adds eight minutes and I noticed maybe one new scene, but it isn’t like I had the film committed to memory).

In a few ways, Alien vs. Predator reminded me of Superman Returns, as I got to see some things I didn’t expect. Had any filmmaker of any merit made another Alien sequel or another Predator sequel, he or she would never have glazed on some of Alien vs. Predator’s enjoyable stupidity. No one with any artistic ability would ever have an Alien Queen chasing someone like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park (or so visibly lift the opening to Jurassic Park for another über-mainstream film), but that lack of creativity is Paul W.S. Anderson’s strongest filmmaking virtue. Anderson makes a pseudo-scientific argument, which struck me as a goof on some film I can’t quite remember, some occasionally witty dialogue, a handful of lame characters (played, usually, by good actors), and let loose. The result was a film with some decent action (though the Alien and Predator fights could have been more dynamic) and some decent visuals. Anderson litters the film with references to the other Alien and Predator films, but he never really has any good money shots. It might be–this example being the only significant inconsistency I couldn’t let go–because the Predators are all short. They’re short and stocky and they don’t look right. They were designed to be lean and tall and Anderson doesn’t redesign the look in a way not to make them look like runts. Interestingly, the guy who played all the Predator roles was 7’1”, so Anderson did something wrong.

With the casting, however, Anderson did all right. Lance Henriksen is boring in his glorified cameo and Sanaa Latham is only acceptable when she’s got speaking actors to act off, but otherwise there’s some decent performances. Maybe I’m being a little rough on Latham, but she spends the last twenty minutes or so with no one to talk to and it messes up her performance, making Alien vs. Predator, for the first time, seem like something not even the actors could take seriously. Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, and Tommy Flanagan are all good, with Bremner and Flanagan even really acting in their scenes together.

I just realized how long this post is getting, but Alien vs. Predator is one of the more known films I’ve written up (I can always easily rant on a discussed topic). I’m unable to get over the negative response to this film. If you want a good movie, you don’t see one called Alien vs. Predator–nothing with a title like this one has any promise of being good. Unfortunately, I imagine the Alien vs. Predator movie the fans “wanted” would be even worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on a story by Anderson, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, and characters created by O’Bannon, Shusett, Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Alexander Berner; music by Harald Kloser; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by John Davis, Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sanaa Lathan (Alexa Woods), Raoul Bova (Sebastian De Rosa), Lance Henriksen (Charles Bishop Weyland), Ewen Bremner (Graeme Miller), Colin Salmon (Maxwell Stafford) and Tommy Flanagan (Mark Verheiden).


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