MIMIC - CAREER GIRLS - G.I. JANE
STAR MAPS - MASTERMINDS

MIMIC

Man tampers with God's work in "Mimic," the US debut by Mexican writer/director Guillermo del Toro ("Cronos"), starring Mira Sorvino as Dr. Susan Tyler, a brilliant entomologist who teams up with her Center For Disease Control deputy director husband (Jeremy Northan) to face an epidemic in New York City - a disease so potent that, unchecked, it will kill or maim an entire generation of youngsters in the city and beyond. The pair combine their considerable genetic engineering skills to attack the plague, borne by the immense cockroach population creeping through the bowels of the city. Their creature, dubbed The Judas Breed, produces an enzyme that kills the roaches and the parasite and saves tens of thousands of kids from certain death.

Three years later, the price for tampering with nature comes back to haunt the couple, the city, and, maybe, the world, as the remedy they developed takes on a mutant life of its own.

Robin ROBIN:
Susan and hubby, Dr. Peter Mann, are presented with the product of their genetic tampering by two subway-crawling kids. The boys sell them a really big mutant bug they found in the tunnels, which Susan identifies as a baby. (I'm talking about a bug the size of a large sub roll!) The doctors go into detective mode in what becomes a hunt to find and destroy the giant insect lair before the bugs can rise up out of the subway system and destroy man.

The premise of "Mimic," man screwing around with the balance of nature with near catastrophic results, is an old saw that goes all the way back to Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" and has been a staple of science fiction stories and films since. Director Del Toro takes his version of the vision into the New York underground (actually, under the underground), into a mythical place deep beneath the city - a dark and dangerous place that is the home of the Dr. Susan's mimics. Their name is derived from the genetic mutation that allows them, in the darkness of night or a subway tunnel, to assume the image of a human, allowing the creatures to prey upon man.

On the whole, "Mimic" is only a fair science-fiction/horror/monster flick. The main problem with "Mimic" is it is just too darn dark! Once the action goes beneath the streets, the lighting dims to such a state that entire scenes are unwatchable. You get to see provocative glimpses of the the monsters as Dr. Susan, old shoe shine, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini), and subway cop, Leonard (Charles S. Dutton), try to reverse the genetic screwup by finding the Judas Breed colony and eliminating the lone breeder male. These brief looks at the creatures make you want more, but this happens late in the movie, and too late. If things were lighted enought to see a little of the action and the interesting monster F/X, "Mimic" would have been better.

Acting, across the board, from Academy Award-winner Sorvino, to veteran character actor Dutton and cinema icon Giannini, is fair, at best. There is not a lot for the talented cast to do for the duration of the film, other than climbing around the nicely appointed set. F. Murray Abraham, as Susan's mentor, is wasted in a minor role.

Art direction is interesting and fits the brooding mood of the film. Too bad you can't see it much of the time.

"Mimic" is nothing special in its attempt to spin a yarn about man screwing with nature and nature screwing back. Distracting and poorly done photography and lighting techs make me give "Mimic" a C-.

Laura LAURA:
Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro, who won the Cannes Film Festival Critics' Award for the unusual vampire film "Cronos," returns with the science fiction monster thriller "Mimic." Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite," "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion") and Jeremy Northam ("Emma," "The Net") star as a husband and wife scientist team working for the Center for Disease Control. When a new epidemic threatens the lives of scores of children in New York City, Dr. Susan Tyler recombines the DNA of various species, developing a natural enemy for the disease. Won't scientists ever learn that they should never play with nature?

"Mimic" starts off well enough with its sepia toned, creepy visuals helping to create a sense of dread. The opening coda is well handled, as we first see Dr. Tyler visit an eerie hospital ward where dying children, gasping for breath, are cocooned in plastic tents and are then updated through her seemingly heroic creation of a bug that will stamp out the disease-carrying New York cockroaches (maybe New Yorkers would actually welcome "Mimic's" monsters to be rid of their roach motels!).

After the requisite number of 'years later,' Dr. Tyler, now famous as a bug specialist, is presented with a prize capture from the NYC subway system by two young urchins looking to make a buck. As soon as she realizes the rat-sized insect she's been given is but a 'baby' of the Judas Breed she's created, she's determined to crush it out (after hashing through a bunch of logic borrowed from "Jurassic Park").

Meanwhile, an old shoeshiner, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini), is worried when his autistic 8 year old grandson Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), becomes obsessed by shadowy figures who make clicking noises and disappear into a boarded up church. Chuy is gifted at mimicking sounds by playing the spoons and is particularly adept at recreating the sounds made by these odd 'men.' Chuy, of course, soon disappears.

There's the setup for Dr. Tyler, her husband, a crusty NYC transit cop (Charles S. Dutton) and Manny to descend into the bowels of the subway system to bring extermination to a new plateau.

Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Mira Sorvino seemingly has a grand old time being up to her elbows in bug guts, particularly when she slices up a huge bug corpse to use its scent glands as a shield against detection. The rest of the cast is merely bug fodder, with the exception of Josh Brolin, who manages to bring some humor to the proceedings as an assistant to the married scientists.

Special effects are first rate, particularly the human 'mimicking' Judas Breed - they're really creepy when they change from what appears to be a coat-encased human into a flying menace. At the film's climax they recall "The Wizard of Oz's" flying monkeys as they gather to take out the one man who's let trying to destroy them. Set direction is reminscent of the sub-par subway disaster Stallone flick "Daylight."

The film loses its momentum as soon as the cast enters the subway, going so far as to steal a famous scene from "Aliens" as Dr. Tyler confronts a male bug to save a child. The silly denouement would have us believe that it's OK to destroy not only the NYC transit system, but most of the above ground city as well - overkill to say the least. All they needed was a big can of Raid.

C


CAREER GIRLS

English director Mike Leigh, who last year brought us the Oscar-nominated "Secrets and Lies," returns with the smaller-scaled, but no less emotionally intense (and funny) "Career Girls." Two friends first meet as roommates in London in the mid-80's while attending college. Annie (newcomer Lynda Steadman) returns to London from Northern England after not seeing her friend Hannah (Katrin Carltlidge, "Naked," "Before the Rain," "Breaking the Waves") in six years. The two tentatively begin to reinitiate their friendship with new revelations strengthening the bond as they reminisce.

Laura LAURA:
Director Mike Leigh is somewhat famous for his unique approach to filmmaking. He assembles a cast with a vague outline of his intended story and, through a long period of rehearsals with his actors, develops the dialogue before shooting. With Katrin Cartlidge's Oscar calibre performance in "Career Girls," he's found his most inspired collaborator since David Thewlis' breakthrough performance in "Naked."

When the two principle characters first meet, we know they've changed considerably by their appraisals of each other. Soon we're being thrown into the first of many flashbacks and can see the difference ourselves as Annie looks into a roommate situation with Hannah ('Actually, it's Hann-uh, Anya') and Claire (Kate Byers). Annie, dressed in the requisite black of the time, has an unsightly facial rash which she attempts to conceal by keeping her head down with a shock of reddish hair falling over her face. Hannah is obviously intelligent, but delivers her speech in staccato bursts, often delivering cruel barbs ('You look like you've had a tango with a cheese grater') always quickly covered with an 'I'm joking!' The two immediately connect over their favorite band (mid-80's Cure songs punctuate the flashback sequences) and Hannah's ability to foresee the future by randomly choosing passages from Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights."

We meet the two important men in their past. The first, Richard Burton (Mark Benton), has more problems than either of the two girls. He's an overweight, dark and long-haired classmate of Annie's who's so removed from society that he addresses people with his eyes permanently closed. When Annie and Ricky talk, their physical tics and halting speech are so painful, it's almost like listening to Beavis and Butthead. He's attracted to Annie, but oddly it's Hannah who seems to feel more for him in her coldly detached way. Annie's rejection of Ricky sends him into such a tailspin that he disappears and rejects an attempt by the two women to reach out to him.

Later, in present day, as Hannah includes Annie in her quirky habit of looking at London flats far out of her economic reach, we meet real estate agent Adrian (Joe Tucker), a real jerk who remembers neither of them even though he dumped Hannah for Annie during their college years. During another of these fake apartment hunting forays they meet Mr. Evans (Andy Serkis, in a very amusing performance as a wealthy womanizing London bachelor) in a high rise condo worth $500,000, causing Hannah to comment on the view 'I suppose on a clear day you can see the class struggle from here.'

The course of a weekend visit makes all the difference as the more mature women are able to eventually bare their souls, with Hannah even going so far as to tell Annie that she's the only person who ever appreciated her. Hannah's had to be strong to take care of an alcoholic mother (clearly the cause of Hannah's emotional problems) and admires the strength Annie must have in order to be so vulnerable. Annie in turn is obviously a more together person for having weathered Hannah's abrasiveness.

"Career Girls" could have been a truly terrific little film, but falls down a notch due to a far too coincidental ending where the two not only pass by former roommate Claire jogging, but also encounter Ricky, now a drunken mess clutching a large stuffed teddy bear for a child the mother won't allow him to see, sitting dejectedly in front of the now boarded-up Chinese take-out over which they all used to share a flat. (It's also a bit too pat that a large poster advertising a 1996 Cure release is pasted over the boards.) Still, the film has a lot too offer, showing the importance of place in personal identification (finding apartments being a prominent theme), and even more the value of friendship. I was moved by "Career Girls."

B

Robin ROBIN:
Mike Leigh has gone the lite road in his latest film, "Career Girls," a real departure, mood-wise, from his angst-ridden last feature, "Secrets and Lies," or the sinister "Naked."

Katrin Cartlidge ("Naked," "Breaking the Waves") as Hannah Mills, is outstanding. She is the stronger of the two lead performances, showing her experience and acting talent. In the flashbacks, she is intelligent, witty and strong-willed, yet, vulnerable. Flash forward to the present brings a Hannah that has overcome her vulnerability, but has replaced it with a caustic cynicism that has a certain negativity at its core, with a softness attributed to friend Annie's influence.

Lynda Steadman, as Annie, is overshadowed by the more dynamic and controlled Cartlidge. When you meet the present day Annie, she has overcome many of her post adolescent problems and conditions shown in the flashbacks, such as her nerve-induced face rash and insecure twitching. In the flashback, her performance is mannered to the point where it feels like acting, not a character/person. She looks like a spastic David Bowie at times. The present day Annie fares better, having lost the twitches and rash.

The male supporting cast is amusing and varied with Mark Benton going over the top as the dysfunctional and obese Richard "Ricky" Burton, a guy with more deep-seated problems than you can shake a stick at. In flashback, Ricky's character offers a poignant image of an emotionally disturbed person who might have been different if Annie and Hannah hadn't rejected him. He's the ultimate Sad Sack. His return, in the present day scenes, is forced and unrealistic.

Joe Tucker, as real estate agent Adrian Spinx, knew the women during their mutual past, proving himself to be a self-centered bastard caring only for himself. In the present, he's slicker, but equally shallow and distasteful.

Best of the guys is Andy Serkis as Mr. Evans, the owner of a luxury apartment that's up for sale. Hannah and Annie go to see the apartment as a lark - just to see how the other half live. Evans, apparently just awakening at 2:00 PM, is rowdy and randy and ready to party with the two ladies, if only they will. It's the funniest, goofiest performance and sequence in the movie.

The flashback/forward technique is used well, developing a cadence that allows Leigh to jump back and forth without jolting the viewer in the transition.

Leigh takes a turn away from his usual tragedy-oriented stories with "Career Girls" and gives us a heartfelt view in to the present and past of two friends who, by the film's end, have not only re-established their old relationship, but forged it stronger than ever by the end of their weekend and the film.

"Career Girls" is not for all tastes, but it does give one pause to think about those who affected us during our early adulthood.

Leigh is a craftsman who gives us, in "Career Girls," a craft work that earns a B.


G.I. JANE

"Top Gun" meets "Heartbreak Ridge" in director Ridley Scott's ("Thelma and Louise," "White Squall) latest feature film, "G.I. Jane," starring Demi Moore as the title character.

Moore plays Lt. Jordan O'Neil, an extremely competent, career-driven individual selected as a test case to be the first woman accepted into the Navy's SEAL program, the most grueling combat training in the world. And, if she completes the program, Jordan will be the first combat-trained woman in the history of the U.S. military.

"G.I. Jane" tells the story of O'Neil's personal fight to overcome the prejudice and sexism of the formerly men-only SEAL program and the political intrigues committed by her sponsor, Sen. Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft), to disqualify O'Neil from the SEAL program in order to meet her, the Senator's, own political agenda.

Robin ROBIN:
I had not read much about "G.I. Jane" before attending the screening. I vaguely recalled it's a Ridley Scott film starring Demi Moore. I'm not a Demi fan, but, I am a sucker for military movies, so, despite Moore, I was interested in seeing this film.

High marks to the talented Ridley Scott for creating a good looking film that provides a very driveable star vehicle for Demi Moore, who, after the silly "Striptease," needs a success film. Moore does an exemplary job with the physical aspect of her role. She is totally buff and looks like she could chew nails with the best that the SEAL program has to offer. I can't think of another actress, on Moores star level at least, who could physically match her in the role. Moore's acting takes a back seat to the action performance. She's not bad here, but, she's still no thespian. She does look great.

Viggo Mortensen, as Master Chief John Urgayle, is pretty darn convincing as the SEAL drill instructor. He gives the role the commanding quality one would expect from a high ranking enlisted man tasked with training his superior officers. He conveys his respect for the men/woman (if they deserve it) in his care, not their rank. He's a man who does not suffer fools well and you know he will do his best (or, worst) to weed out those who can't cut the mustard for his beloved Navy.

The rest of the cast, probably because they're all shave-headed and without individual distinction, are generic jock types. None of these other SEAL recruits rises above the group as distinct characters.

The story, written by novelist Danielle Alexander and David Twohy, is a clich of other films of the same ilk - "Top Gun," as I mentioned, comes to mind. The depiction of SEAL training is perfunctory, with the makers, apparently, using a checklist to make sure they tick off all the appropriate scenes of SEAL exercises - coming out of the water in SCUBA gear to show they're SCUBA-trained, crawling through the mud to exhibit that they're crawling-through-the-mud-trained, jumping out of a plane to prove they're jumping-out-of-a-perfectly-safe-airplane-trained, and, so on. Most of these scenes also involve getting the recruits really, really wet, leading me to believe that the Navy, in the film, takes the word SEAL too literally. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the real U.S. Navy refused to cooperate in the making of "G.I. Jane."

The photographic look of "G.I. Jane" is what one expects in a Ridley Scott film. Long-time Scott cinematographer, Hugh Johnson (who also shot Scott's beautiful looking film, "White Squall") does a marvelous job of giving the film a Spartan quality that fits the military theme of the story. Action scenes are framed nicely, providing a crisp, photo-like imagery, overall.

Other tech aspects of "G.I. Jane," costume, set, location, etc., are all first quality.

I would have preferred the story to focus on what I consider the important idea and controversy: women in combat and what that means to our society. The film might have taken on a less cliched quality if the story simply covered Lt. O'Neil confronting and overcoming the trials and tribulations of the toughest military training in the world - not a bad story idea. Instead, a formulaic, but known-to-make-money, plot is plugged in, with the predictable results.

For me, "G.I. Jane" is a mixed bag of a movie. I give it a B-

Laura LAURA:
"G.I. Jane" had two major hurdles to overcome - a string of box-office flops for its star, Demi Moore ("The Scarlet Letter," "Striptease," "Now and Then") and a constantly shifting release date and rumors of reshoots (usually not a good sign). What a surprise, then, to find a solid entertainment with a determined (if not stellar) performance from its buff leading lady. Think of it as a feminist version of "An Officer and a Gentleman" with an inappropriately comic book title (which also refers to the Army, rather than the Navy which is this film's arena).

Anne Bancroft delivers a great performance as tough Texan Senator DeHaven, who uses Jordan O'Neil (Moore) as a political pawn. O'Neil rejects the symbolic nature of being the first woman admitted to Navy SEAL training (the most arduous combat training in the Armed Forces), but embraces the opportunity and fights to maintain equal footing with the men. Vigo Mortensen ("The Indian Runner," "Prophecy") is the most complex character in the film - he's the Master Chief drill instructor who intends to weed out the weak and deliver only the most qualified SEALs. He TRIES to get the trainees to quit. On the flip side, he has a penchant for poetry and has weighted training scores to give O'Neil a handicap. He's quite picqued when she goes behind his back and demands and gets equal treatment. His character is even more significantly revealed, when, during a truly hellish training exercise simulating a POW camp, he and Moore engage in a brutal physical one-on-one battle where she manages to best him. His diagnosis? "She's not the problem - we are." (It should also be noted that O'Neil's macho taunt screamed at him as she overcomes, while not printable here, should become an audience-pleasing, if profane, catch phrase.)

This is one of the most intriguing aspects of "G.I. Jane" - should women be in combat? We're told that Israeli soldiers who fought alongside female soldiers lost their lives in greater numbers trying to save women who were beyond saving in warfare - exactly what Mortensen was referring to, and what almost undoes him in a climatic real-life combat situation.

Director Ridley Scott ("Thelma and Louise") is a fine craftsman who delivers a taut and good looking, if by-the-numbers, film. The initial training sequences are almost surrealistic - watery blue shots of men (and one woman) enduring extreme physical and psychological battering. On the downside, Scott can't resist MTVish shots of O'Neil's oiled bod going through Rockyish workout routines and an obvious finale.

B-


STAR MAPS

Carlos (newcomer Douglas Spain), who in a protective move by his mother has been living with his grandparents in Mexico, rejoins his family in Hollywood at the age of eighteen with dreams of becoming a movie star. He hopes that his Pepe (Efrain Figueroa), who pimps young boys under the cover of selling maps to the stars' homes, will help him achieve his dream because of the contacts his dad has made. When a nymphomaniac nighttime soap opera star promises Carlos a small role in her series, Carlos comes to understand that his father has a different agenda.

Laura LAURA:
First time writer-director Miguel Areta had a minor sensation on his hands at this year's Sundance Film Festival with "Star Maps," which, in light of 1997's shortage of truly terrific independent films, isn't saying very much.

"Star Maps" is an odd little film - a story of a tremendously dsyfunctional family with some good performances, a weird hint of the fantastical and an overall feeling of "What's the point?"

Carlos' mother (Martha Velez) lives in a dream world after not having recovered from a nervous breakdown. She converses with Mexican star Cantinflas and literally yearns for the moon, yet affectingly, is still able to shake her reverie enough to try and protect her children. His sister Maria (Lysa Flores) is trying to keep a normal household in spite of Pepe, sacrificing a normal life to take care of her mother. (Her disastroush attempt to invite a nice young man home to dinner is alternately funny, sad, and shocking). Overweight brother Jancito (Vincent Chandler) clearly isn't operating with a full deck which we can surmise is caused by having previously been put to work by dear old dad. Pepe himself, in the film's best performance, is a horror created by an age old tradition of passing down abuse from previous generations. Pepe's mistress Letti (Annette Murphy, in another worthwhile characterization) attempts to give some maternal guidance to Carlos (even while turning tricks with him), only to be met with scorn until Carlos sees his father's rage almost destroy her as well.

I believe the creator of "Star Maps" was trying to present a Hispanic viewpoint on achieving the American Dream. All the 'successful' Hollywood types Carlos encounters, most notably his benefactor Jennifer (Kandeyce Jordan, an actress who looks like you've seen her before, but you probably haven't) are as lost as the members of his own family. The only payoff we get from "Star Maps,", though, is to see that Carlos finally realizes that his father will do nothing but attempt to keep him down. I never got any clear impression of what Carlos would do with his life after the climatical confrontation.

C

Robin ROBIN:
"Star Maps," by first-time writer-director Miguel Arteta, is an amateur effort with several pro aspects helping a confused story. Some of the acting, one performance in particular, is appealing. The film looks better than its obvious small budget should allow. And, some of the secondary humor lends an oddball quality to the film. It is, otherwise - screenplay, character development, much of the acting - an amateur, but heartfelt, production.

Making "Star Maps" interesting is a striking performance by Efrain Figueroa as Pepe, the pimp father of lead character Carlos (Douglas Spain). Pepe is a violent enigma. On one hand, he cares about the well-being of his family, making sure they have everything they need. On the other, his violent nature and chosen profession (which are, apparently, the cause of his wife's nervous breakdown) portray him as a vicious and selfish being. Figueroa has screen charisma that may well propel his career.

One other performance, that of Letti (Annette Murphy), Pepe's girlfriend, rises above the rest of the supporting cast. Letti is an ambitious young woman who, gullibly or hopefully, believes Pepe's lie that he will marry her. Murphy lends a complexity to what is normally a two dimensional role.

Douglas Spain, as Carlos, is a good looking kid, but needs to learn to act.

The rest of the cast are fair, at best, with femme fatale, Jennifer (Kandeyce Jorden), reminding me, at various times, of Cindy Crawford or Jennifer O'Neil ("Summer of '42").

The screenplay, by Arteta, is an ambitious mess. It jumps between Carlos' desire for fame, his role as a male prostitute, familial ups and downs, mental illness, unrequited love, power struggle between father and son, the moral issue of prostitution in the Chicano community, and more. Plus, on the level beneath all this angst and drama, is some offbeat humor - out of place, but, sometimes, funny.

"Star Maps" has something, but it's not in this picture. I give it a C-.


MASTERMINDS

Ozzie Paxton is a 16-year old underachieving genius thrown out of the prestigious Shady Glen School for his bad behavior and, now, faces the prospect of being sent off to military school by his discipline-minded dad. Ozzie tries to toe the line and agrees to take his stepsister, Melissa (Katie Stuart), to school every day - the same school that expelled him.

Ozzie's visit to the school for billionaires' kids coincides with the hatching of a plot by the Shady Glen's head of security, Rafe Bentley (Patrick Stewart), to hold the 10 richest kids in the school hostage for a ransom of $650 million dollars. As Butler and his henchmen take over the fortress-like institution, Ozzie becomes the wrench in the works as he ferrets around the hidden bi-ways of the school he knows so well.

It's intellect against intellect as Ozzie does all he can to thwart Bentley's scheme and save the kids.

Robin ROBIN:
"Masterminds" is a shallow imitation of the far more entertaining 1991 film "Toy Soldiers," starring Sean Astin and Lou Gossett, Jr. Both films are about terrorists taking over a school. "Toy Soldiers" has an ensemble cast of young actors, coupled with a story of political intrigue and global terrorism. "Masterminds" is another disgruntled employee seeking revenge by extorting a bunch of money. The difference between the two is the former is a fast paced, fun, well-crafted little film. The latter, "Masterminds," is a bloated, formulaic, piece of junk that has near zero entertainment value.

Having nothing original to offer to the mix, "Masterminds" rehashes such films, or pieces of films, as the above mentioned "Toy Soldiers," "Sneakers," "Terminator 2" and "War Games," without the imagination or craft of these other films. With the exception of a plucky effort by Patrick Stewart, there is nothing of interest in this film.

Stewart, the evil bad guy - well, not really evil, since his orders are "nobody gets hurt," plus he's suave, witty and urbane - does a yeoman's job in trying to breath some life into his character, Rafe Bentley. Unfortunately, he's saddled with the task of being duped and outwitted at every turn by a kid scurrying through the bowels of the school. Bentley, the designer of the school's security system, can't seem to match Ozzie's cleverness, despite the fact that he designed the stupid system and, supposedly, is a genius, too!

Vincent Kartheiser, as Ozzie, is an attractive young actor who gives a fair performance, He is not experienced enough to be the action hero character the film needs. Some other supporting characters may have helped flesh out Kartheiser's Ozzie. The bloated 106 minute run time could have easily accomodated the addition of other characters. The only side kick is a friend of Ozzie's who helps by crawling through the sewers of the school. Yuck.

Brenda Fricker, God love her, as the principal of the school, gives a strong-willed character performance you expect from the lady. You get the additional benefit of having her become an action figure as she goes head to head with the bad guys. Silly, yes, but I admire Fricker's spunk. (No Oscar nom, here, I fear.)

Production values are, all around, sound as can be. There's just not a story to go with them.

Watching the film, you are also saddled with the ubiquitous problem of the dreaded Hollywood double ending - once again, the climax where the criminals are thwarted is not enough. There also has to be the now-traditional coda of the big chase scene. Here, Bentley, in a final, last ditch effort to flee, takes Ozzie's stepsister captive as he escapes through the tunnels beneath the school in a dune buggy contraption, with Ozzie taking chase. The outcome is certain, so what's the point?

Another piece of Hollywood drivel. Despite Stewart's efforts, "Masterminds" gets only a D.


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