Wednesday, March 29, 2017

T2 Trainspotting (plus a Short Take on The Shack)

           I’ll Take the Profane Over the Sacred

                                               Reviews by Ken Burke

                                  T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
            
A long-awaited sequel to Boyle’s 1996 Trainspotting, this story’s the continuation of the lives of 4 Scottish men who are compromised by heroin and crime, 1 of them ripping off his mates 20 years ago, now come home in an attempt at reconciliation although he’s got to get past their anger, with none of these guys any better now than when last we saw them.
               
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): As in the photo above, we’re reintroduced to characters we last saw in Boyle’s 1996 revered-indie-hit, Trainspotting—from left to right in this production still (there’s no group shot like this in the new film because the guy on the far right’s always trying to attack the others) we have Spud Murphy (a sorrowful loser at just about everything he attempts), Mark Renton (the seemingly-successful-one of the bunch but with considerably more troubles than he initially wants to admit), Simon Williamson (a small-time-pimp/blackmailer with bigger ambitions than his circumstances will allow), and Franco Begbie (who’s probably never awoken to a day that he couldn’t find something grievously wrong with).  At the conclusion of their situations 20 years ago, Mark stole the notable stash of drug money they’d just scored, ran off to Amsterdam trying to construct a more traditional, stable life for himself.  In an attempt to make amends for ripping off his friends, he’s now back in Edinburgh, Scotland looking them up one-by-one.  First, he finds despondent Spud, barely saving him from suicide in response to a life gone perpetually wrong.  Next he reconnects with former-close-friend Simon who’s trying to make a living from secretly videorecording his prostitute-girlfriend having sex with married clients, then shaking them down for hush-money; despite Mark offering Simon reimbursement for long-ago-lost-funds, Simon’s pissed (not drunk, in the British sense of the word, but exceedingly angry) so he arranges for prison-escapee Franco to take their revenge on Mark, an ongoing quest for the rest of the story.

 T2 …’s a dynamic exercise in filmmaking with a wealth of cinematic flourishes to enhance your viewing pleasure, surprise shifts in tone and plot movement to maintain interest throughout, all of it underscored by a serious attitude toward the inevitability of aging while confronting what’s become of lost opportunities along with correspondingly-bleak-outlooks (not that the action here slows down to get philosophical, but there’s more substance than just the focus on funny chaos that characterized the original).  Unless you’re loath to celebrate—even marginally—the lives of heroin addicts, cheap crooks, and desperate-middle-aging-men (I’m sure there’s a lot of profanity as well, but with Scottish idioms delivered in thick accents it’s hard to tell what anyone’s saying a lot of the time anyway), I’m strongly recommending T2 … as a lively alternative to most standard filmic fare.

So, curious readers, if you can abide plot spoilers in order to learn much more about the particular cinematic offering under examination this week please feel free to read on for more of the traditional Two Guys in-depth-explorations in our brilliant (!)-but-lengthy review format.
                
What Happens: It 
all begins back in 1996 with Trainspotting (Boyle) where a small cluster of wacky, wild-boy Scottish friends/ heroin addicts/ petty thieves—(from left in this smaller photo) including raunchy, dyed-blonde-haired “Sick Boy” Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), fuzzy-aspirational “Rent Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor), athletically-inclined-but-eventually-undone-by-drugs Tommy MacKenzie [with a name that will pop up in a different context in the review you'll find much farther below] (Kevin McKidd, an actor I now see regularly as Dr. Owen Hunt in ABC-TV’s Grey’s Anatomy), decent-but-dopey “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremmer), and (missing from the old photo but on the far right in the large, updated one above) dangerously-hot-headed “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle)—collectively go through various episodes of drug highs, thievery, personal problems, and the death of Tommy from HIV-related toxoplasmosis, with a plot resolution of the guys scoring £16,000 from a heroin sale which Renton (now sober) steals with a quiet exit from their mutual hotel room.  (I remember being stunned by the brash, energetic cinematics of this film—as well as the difficulty of understanding much of what’s said due to the characters’ intense accents—but all that’s specifically remained in my mind is a surreal scene of Renton going through a public toilet into a vast sewer to retrieve some opium suppositories he’s excreted.)  In T2 … we jump forward 20 years to find Renton still sober, even athletic himself now (except, in the opening scene he falls off a treadmill), with a wife, children, and a steady job in Amsterdam (except, as we learn later there are no kids, his wife’s leaving him, the job’s also gone) so he’s come back to Edinburgh to make amends with his former friends (except for Begbie, a violent nut case who terrifies all of his mates, 
even though he’s “safely” locked away in prison).  In Boyle's extremely-quick-catch-up-fashion we find Franco’s furious for being denied parole from his lengthy prison sentence so he escapes by having another inmate stab his abdomen, allowing him to break out of the hospital; “Sick Boy” now uses his given name of Simon, hustling what he can with the aid of his prostitute-girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), so that he regularly videorecords her trysts with married clients then blackmails these “family” men afterward, while also presiding over the dingy, dumpy bar—Port Sunshine—left to him by his aunt (it needs of a lot of repair, has few customers, the location reminds me of the quasi-bombed-out-neighborhoods I saw in the Bronx when I lived in NYC [Queens—big, boring, but relatively safe] in 1972-’73); while poor Spud’s life’s so miserable (he keeps missing appointments that lead to the loss of family and job because he’s forgotten about the Daylight Savings-time-change) he’s decided on suicide via asphyxiation.  Renton—also going by his given name, Mark—arrives at Spud’s high-rise-apartment just in time to save him (with a nice visual metaphor of Spud falling backward off the roof, caught below by Mark), which angers Spud as he’s so despondent, thus Renton now makes it his project to redirect his friend’s life via healthy exercise.

 Simon’s none-too-happy to see Mark again either (despite Mark bringing back Simon’s share of the stolen cash, admitting his problems in Amsterdam), with the 2 of them getting into a violent fight at Simon’s bar until they call a truce, although Simon secretly plots some sort of future revenge (another commonality with some of the plot elements  in the review below of The Shack) as he also goes about making plans to convert the bar into a brothel with Veronika as the Madam, which leads to Spud taking charge of the project, something he works on at various times when not writing large-page-prose about the group’s previous antics.  Although Simon feigns friendship with Mark by visiting a pub where they steal ATM cards from the patrons who continue to celebrate the long-ago-Protestant-victories of (King) William of Orange (with easy access to their cash because they all use the “sacred” year of 1690 as their secret code)—but to escape our thieves must perform an impromptu musical number which Mark turns into a smash hit with the constant refrain of “no more Catholics”—Simon’s plan for revenge gets a quick lift when Franco shows up (previously he tried to recruit his college-age-son for a life of family-burglary, but the 1st break-in didn’t go too well, soon 
followed by Frank Jr.’s decline of participating in any further of those nocturnal "outings" with his Dad), so Franco’s put on Mark’s trail which results in a wild chase through a nightclub (with a reference to the earlier film by means of a shot into a restroom stall with a trashcan where the toilet should be), then to a parking garage where Mark finally escapes his pursuer.  Simon calls a truce, though, following on scenes where he and Mark are taken out to the countryside by the local prostitution head-honcho, forced to walk back to town naked (which ends the brothel plan), after which he’s arrested as the result of his blackmail schemes, needs money fast so he and Mark make a pitch to a governmental agency for an urban-renewal-project (although Mark’s traitorous ways emerge again as he begins a secret affair with Veronika).  Franco surprises her and Spud one night but lets them go after taking her phone to set up a midnight rendezvous with Mark and Simon at Port Sunshine where the chase is on once again.  Franco ultimately gets the upper hand when Mark falls from a higher elevation in the building into a cluster of dangling ceiling cables, effectively in the process of hanging himself until the others help him, with the climax coming from Spud who knocks Franco unconscious with yet-another-toilet.  Begbie’s left locked in a car truck (or should I say “boot”) at the local police station while Mark and Simon celebrate their unexpected result of getting the £100,000 grant, not knowing they’ve already lost it as Spud helps Veronika by forging his mates’ names on some transfer documents so she’s able to return to her native Bulgaria with long-needed-financial-help for her family.  Spud begins to reunite with his family as well, as interest grows in his writings about the group’s previous exploits, while Mark and Simon put all former animosities to rest, as Mark moves back into his old home for a comforting reunion with his father (James Cosmo).

So What? As I noted above, I can’t claim to remember all that much in specific detail about the original Trainspotting (this title's an interesting term, noted briefly in the Irvine Welsh novel [1993] of the same name from which the film’s adapted, referring both to a British curiosity venture of noting specific trains as they come through stations [sort of like how I used to sit on my grandfather’s front porch with him decades ago noting the city buses as they passed by the house at their assigned times] mixed in with the slang use of the term for shooting heroin which leaves “tracks” on the user’s arm so the goal is to look for veins not already occupied by those previous tracks), but I do recall it being a marvelously surprising, energetic film that re-acquainted me with Boyle and McGregor from their equally-intriguing Shallow Grave (1994), although I had no prior awareness of the rest of the cast (nor have I seen all that much of most of them since, except of course for Boyle, McGregor, and McKidd—along with an occasion re-acquaintance with Carlyle, especially in the marvelously-hilarious The Legend of Barney Thomson [also directed by Carlyle, 2015; review in our March 16, 2016 posting]).  But, you don’t need a checklist of impactful events from the earlier film to satisfactorily-enjoy this one, although I’m sure that such reminders would only enhance the pleasure (there are fleeting glimpses of it throughout T2 … to imply some useful context but they don’t leave you confused as to what else you might be missing by not knowing more—along that line, to save rattling off a lot of names of the younger actors who portray our principals in quick flashbacks of their earlier lives [including Tommy] I won’t repeat all of them here; however, you’re most welcome to check this cast list if you care to).

 Assuming you can push your way this time around through those same thick Scottish accents (which, as best I can recall, didn’t leave me as frequently confused as they did in 1996)—Boyle plays with us a bit when we first re-meet Spud as he’s being interrogated by officials about the negative results of his habitual lateness by putting some of Spud's dialogue in various places around the screen with nicely-designed-graphic- “subtitles,” but if you’re hoping for more of that you’ll just have to wait until you get a DVD into your home system and add that text for yourself.  What you don’t need to have explained, though, are the visual dynamics used throughout the film including lots of quick cuts, some very unusual camera angles, constant use of unexplained-but-rhythm-producing-freeze-frames, marvelous little non sequitur-bits such as Spud going to a boxing gym accompanied by an intro parody of Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980), and the frequent-but-exceedingly-brief-reminders of the earlier film, helping us understand (or remember) the loose lives these guys have always led.  There’s also the marvelous “Choose Life” soliloquy from Mark to Veronika when they have dinner together, a riff on a government-run anti-drug-campaign satirized in the earlier film which continues to be done so here with rapid, scathing commentary that compares the upbeat intentions of this “wellness” approach to the soulless, often-physically-destructive choices of so-called “normal” life, making it seem useless to choose anything except nihilism as really nothing much seems to be leading to a fruitful resolution for our quasi-cursed-protagonists until the hopeful final scenes for all but Begbie.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: What could possibly be intriguing concerning the floundering lives of these constant losers?” might be the chief question to ask about this most-unusual, easily-disturbing film where the strongest appeal might be that your life isn’t as unfulfilled as what we witness of these druggies lost in their own constantly-unresolved-schemes (we learn that even Mark’s heartfelt-plea to Spud to “be addicted to something else” than his deadly heroin doesn’t really feel destined for any sort of useful payoff except for each of these guys to just try to fully leave behind everything they’ve known before in some hope that a better array of possible choices might await somehow, somewhere).  In a way, T2 …’s just an honest acknowledgement that life can be brutal, that “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley [Often go awry]” (from the wisdom of another Scotsman, Robert Burns in his poem "Tae a Moose, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough [or “To a Mouse”]" [1785]), especially when viewed in 2016 retrospect with the sense of failure each of our 3 protagonists is feeling here (for me, Franco’s more of an antagonist to his former mates, with his only regret seeming to be that he wasn’t freed from prison sooner in order to commit more crimes, so I don’t see much despondent-introspection from him—or anger from it, as felt by Simon—just a violent continuation of his hostile approach to existence).  These guys aren’t tragic figures in the traditional sense of being undone by fatal hubris, they’re just short-sighted, desperate at times from not being able to rise above the lure of instant gratification—a very relatable condition throughout our modern world—although their cinematically-inventive-miseries have been welcomed, generally well-received by the reviewing community (76% positive critiques at Rotten Tomatoes, average score of 67% at Metacritic; more details found in the links far below).

 T2 Trainspotting’s becoming a growing presence at the box-office too (a smallish $660,000 in the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market so far [but also just 2 weeks in release, only now getting to a mere 59 theaters with likely many more to come] plus substantially more internationally [about $33 million vs. a slim production budget of $18 million]) so prospects are solid for turning a respectable profit.

 As for the usual tactic of concluding each of my reviews with a Musical Metaphor that takes a final look at the subject now under consideration—but from the varied-perspective of another art formI’ve decided this time to use Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train” (from his 1975 album Old No. 1) which can be found waiting eagerly for your listening pleasure at https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=er OGYbUc1VU (a live 1990 performance taken from a broadcast of the long-running [since January 1976]-PBS-music-series Austin City Limits, which I have fond memories of having attended a few of the initial taping sessions in the huge Studio 6A in Communications Building B of my Radio-TV-Film Dept. at the Univ. of Texas while finishing up my Ph.D. work there) as its lyrics about “an old school man of the world [who] taught me how to drive his car when he was too drunk to […] Like desperados waitin’ for a train” evokes for me an event I’ve read about in the novel (no, as usual, I haven’t actually read the book) in which Rent Boy and Begbie are in an abandoned train station when they meet an old drunk—Begbie’s father—who asks them if they’re “trainspottin’” (not sure which meaning of the word he’s referring to; maybe an ironic combo of both).  The song also conjures up for me a flash-forward in the lives of these guys finding themselves on the same path as the song’s “drifter and a driller of oil wells” who runs “his fingers through seventy years of livin’ [… wondering] “'Lord, has every well I’ve drilled gone dry?’” unless they—except Franco, who seems hopeless—can find a way to keep turning from the chaos they’ve previously embraced, their lives "like some old western movie Like desperados waitin’ for a train.”  

 Maybe Boyle and company will return in another 20 years so we can find out more.  Meanwhile, there’s another desperado of sorts waiting just below so let's shift into more sanctified territory.
             
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                     
                                      The Shack (Stuart Hazeldine)
               
A family man has serious questions about the goodness of God (based on abuse he suffered as a child from his father, along with the horrid death of his little daughter by a serial killer) goes back to the woods where his girl was killed hoping to confront the murderer but instead finds himself in the company of the Christian Trinity, hoping to give him a new perspective.
                  
 Based on a best-selling-novel of the same name authored by William P. Young (2007), this is the story of how anguished-man Mackenzie—“Mack”—Phillips (played by Sam Worthington), originally a Midwestern boy who’s the son of an abusive, alcoholic, hypocritical (he functions on Sundays as an elder in his local church) father whom he seems to kill in an early scene, putting strychnine in his whiskey bottles (although, oddly enough, nothing further’s made of this except for a quick, oblique comment toward the end).  Years later, Mack’s in Oregon happily married with 3 kids, but on a camping trip tragedy strikes again when oldest daughter Kate (Megan Charpentier) tries to show off in a canoe, tipping it over so that teenage son Josh (Gage Munroe) almost drowns, only to be saved by Dad, giving the chance for a serial killer to snatch young daughter Missy (Amelie Eve); neither the girl’s body nor her abductor is ever found, but her dress and splotches of blood on the floor of a rundown shack in the woods give a clear indication of what happened.  A few years more pass, as we find Mack at odds with Kate (we learn at the end she blames herself for her sister’s demise, the root of her now-surly-attitude) while Mack’s attempted-balanced-demeanor's always on edge because of his anger at God for Missy’s death; then, a mysterious letter from Papa (wife Nan’s [Radha Mitchell] name for the Creator) arrives, encouraging Mack to return to the shack.  He goes alone (with a gun), hoping it’s a taunt from the killer; instead he finds, in an adjoining patch of the woods (flowers in bloom despite wintertime at the deserted shack), the God of the Christian Trinity manifested as a female Papa (Octavia Spenser)—who didn’t think Mack wanted to see a father figure just now—Jesus (Aviv Alush)—as a Middle-Eastern-Semite (no surprised comments on how he doesn’t resemble centuries of European depictions, but he does teach Mack to walk on water)—and Sarayu (Sumire), a young Asian woman whose name means “breath of wind” as the Holy Spirit.

 With their encouragement—and Mack’s mysterious journey into a mountain where he encounters another mystical being, Sophia (Alice Braga), the avatar of Wisdom—our protagonist learns the lessons of not being judgmental nor assuming he understands the will and works of God.  This allows him to find Missy’s body buried in the rocks (aided by Papa as a Native American “father” [Graham Greene]) so she can be given a proper funeral in Sarayu’s lush garden.  Mack also meets the spirit of his biological father for a hug of mutual forgiveness before returning home, at which point we find he was hit by a truck on the highway in an earlier scene (despite seeming to miss the collision as we saw it) so he’s actually been in the hospital this entire weekend.    All of the family tensions are resolved  but with no indication that Missy’s remains nor her murderer were ever found.

 I attended The Shack because my wife, Nina, always has an especially-keen-interest in anything that's starring either Worthington or Spencer (good choices, I agree; here she's able to double her pleasure), plus she was hoping to encounter an approach in this movie that would have been much more focused on an overarching sense of spirituality than the very Christian specifics we actually get in this script (clearly, neither of us read the book this one's based on either or we might have reconsidered seeing what this movie has to offer; we were both raised Catholic but have no adherence to that brand of theology any longer).  While neither of us cared much for this message of salvation to be attained through a specific understanding of the D(d?)ivine, we found that we could appreciate the non-judgmental-advocacy as well as the emphasis on love and forgiveness over anger, despair, and vengeance.  Still, the melodramatic preachiness of this movie (along with its sense of recycling elements [in a not-very-original-manner] of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol [1843] and Phil Alden Robinson‘s Field of Dreams [1989]) doesn’t give me much incentive to advocate for it, except for those who’d find solace in its overtly Christian response to human suffering.  (But even there, you’ll find some Christians warning would-be-viewers away from Young’s book/Hazeldine’s adapted movie because they feel the presented theology isn’t appropriately Biblical.  You can go here if you like for a 1:19:03 documentary disputing this story’s explanations of the Almighty and/or watch this rebuttal [1:11:21] from equally-God-embracing-Young; I’ve also included a short video as the 3rd link to this movie down below that takes a bit more balanced approach, although the speakers still defer to the Bible for what they consider to be the definitive understanding of the issues involved.)

 Having given this moviehouse-experience as much energy as I care to (considering its 21% response at RT, 32% at MC, along with a relatively-limited-worldwide-gross of about $49.9 million after a month in release), I’ll wrap up with my Musical Metaphor, which could be a music video based on the movie's soundtrack such as "Heaven Knows", "Stars", or "Keep Your Eyes on Me" but for my own tastes I’ll pick Hank William’s “I Saw the Light” (1948) at https://www.you tube.com/watch?v=xtolv9kM1qk which on the surface of his lyrics is about another troubled soul finding heavenly-inspiration, but it comes from the life of a guy I can better appreciate with all his conflicts that eventually led to death from heart failure brought on by pills and booze rather than the constructed-uplift I witnessed with The Shack’s Mackenzie Phillips (not to be confused with the actor/singer of the same name, daughter of John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, who’s had her own traumatic life of drug addiction, along with bitter claims about years of incest with her father).
              
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
                
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

AND … at least until the Oscars for 2016’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 26, 2017 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2016 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards 
and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2016 along with the Oscar nominees and winners for 2016 films.

Here’s more information about T2 Trainspotting:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AdgBq2Mp2Q (9:14 interview with director Danny Boyle and actors Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremmer)



Here’s more information about The Shack:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTWZk1VFnYI (10:26 video from a couple of Christian guys who warn you away from the theology presented in this movie despite having some positive things to say about it; I offer this for the benefit of those with Christian beliefs who might have concerns about seeing The Shack or not, but I have no investment with anything that’s being presented here as I don’t consider myself Christian any longer despite having being raised Catholic [with apologies to my old friends who still profess some version of that particular faith or any other worldview like it])



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*Please note that YouTube keeps taking down various versions of this majestic Eagles performance at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so I have to keep putting in newer links (of the same damn material) to retrieve it; this “Hotel California” link was active when I did this posting but the song won’t be available in all of our previous ones done before 2/16/2017.  Sorry, but there are too many postings to go back and re-link every one.  The corporate overlords triumph again.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
                     
UNLESS YOU’RE READING THIS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.1 YOU MAY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (Google Chrome 57.0.2987.110 meets our layout design; hopefully all other options will look decent also).  OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE CAN’T CONTROL.
                 
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 20,883; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


2 comments:

  1. Another great set of reviews. T2 Trainspotting was certainty worth the time even without benefit of the original. Clever cinematography combined with excellent direction and acting made for a far better than expected experience. Made me look for the predecessor (streams on Amazon or on cable in April), but T2 stands alone well. The “Choose Life” soliloquy is worth the price of admission in itself. The film and the soliloquy are probably more effective and easier to digest anti-drug statements than decades of government funded "Just Say No" and "Choose Life" campaigns, all of which have clearly failed given the current Heroin and Opiate epidemics.

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  2. Hi rj, Thanks for the feedback, well appreciated as always; T1's on my Netflix queue but with a "long wait" modifier. I agree that the new "Choose Life" speech was darkly-hilarious but effective in intent (glad it led me to YouTube to find the original, another aspect of that film that I'd forgotten over the years). Ken

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