Beauty and the Best


"Seconds" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

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From the author that brought us Scott Pilgrim, Seconds is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s reset story, in the vain of Groundhog Day and Live Die Repeat. In a reset story there is typically a deus ex machine device that allows the protagonist to reset the day and relive the experience, always with the goal of perfecting it. The problems usually arise when the time space continuum is befouled by such shenanigans, and that’s no different here.

Seconds tells the story of Katie, the executive chef at the restaurant of the same name, and her group of friends. Despite her outward success, at 29 Katie has no ownership in Seconds so she is trying to start a new restaurant that she owns (Lucknow). She’s also trying to get over a relationship and deal with some supernatural going-ons at her residence (which happens to be the upstairs of Seconds).

While things are hectic, they don’t really go bad until an accident occurs one day at Seconds that burns one of the waitresses, the lovely Hazel. Katie is so remorseful about this situation – she partially caused it by fooling around with Andrew, her protégée – that she makes a deal with the devil of sorts. That night when she goes to sleep, she has a strange dream where she finds a red mushroom, a pad and a pen. There’re some instructions which tell Katie to write out her wrong, eat the mushroom, and go to sleep. She does this and the next day when she awakens she is able to play out the same scenario, but without causing the accident.

But other problems crop up. There is a house spirit at Seconds that is rather covetous of the red mushrooms and does not want Katie eating anymore (and for good reason). Also, with each iteration the world becomes more bizarre and uncontrollable for Katie.

The artwork in Seconds is far better than Scott Pilgrim. Katie’s cantankerous personality is humorously conveyed through O’Malley’s drawings, reminiscent of Charles Shultz at times. The colors jump off the page. It is truly a visual delight.

The story itself is likable enough. I get the feeling the movie Coraline had some impact on O’Malley, as you can feel the influence of that movie on this story. But Seconds stands on its own and it’s a real page-turner once it gets going. It also has some nice touches of reality, which are usually missing from O’Malley’s work. For instance, Katie drools when she sleeps. There’s also a great sequence where she meets her ex and gets a case of the runs due to eating a bad hamburger.

I’d give Seconds a strong recommend. It’s an enjoyable story with improved artwork over Scott Pilgrim.

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"Under the Skin" Will Get Under Yours

blogEntryTopper*SPOILERS* “Under the Skin” is a creepy new sci fi offering from “Sexy Beast” director Jonathan Glazer. Not since “Alien” have I seen anything so bizarre on screen. You can’t look away because the movie is so strange and unpredictable, it commands you to keep watching. In short, the film is about a pair of aliens, a woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, and her male counterpart. They harvest human skin and use it to pretend to look like us. Specifically, Johansson’s character lures unsuspecting men back to her unusually dark apartment, and, using nothing more than the promise of sex with her, traps them in a dark, viscous fluid that she can walk on, but they sink into. For the
first couple of trappings we only see the victims slip slowly into the liquid. But in one of the more disturbing encounters, the director gives us the perspective of the victim from inside the pernicious liquid as he watches Scarjo cavalierly walk across it, pick up her clothes, and leave. What he sees while in that gooey substance will chill you to the bone. There isn’t much gore in this movie, but the little there is is used quite effectively.

The other thing that was impressive to me about this movie, in addition to how well it is shot, is how the director does a lot with just suggestions. In one troubling scene, a couple drown at sea while their baby wails on the shore. Johansson’s character surveys the tragedy impassively, paying no mind to the crying baby on the shore.

But Johansson is not without some emotion, and when she falls on the street and is helped by strangers, she starts to reconsider her predatory ways. While on the prowl she encounters a severely deformed man who is very withdrawn. For some reason, Johansson has sympathy for this man and releases him from her trap. But this sets off a chain of events that leads to her being hunted down by the male alien. In her effort to escape, the movie slows down briefly has Johansson falls in with a human who gives her shelter and eventually tries to have sex with her (an unsuccessful endeavor). She flees his home and runs into the woods, only to encounter a human predator of a different flavor. The hunter becomes the hunted. Oddly, I actually had sympathy for this cruel alien by the end.

It’s a fascinating film and one I give a high recommend to, although I understand its art house trappings are not for everyone.

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What Do AGT and Elvira Have in Common? Quite a Lot

blogEntryTopperTwo decades ago - a lifetime to some of y’all - there used to be a campy TV show called “Elvira's Movie Macabre” with a sexy host named, naturally, Elvira aka Cassandra Peterson. This sharp-tongued temptress would dedicate the show to B-grade horror movies. It was on the air for five seasons and developed quite a fan base. The show’s gimmick was simple: no one watched it for the horror movies -- they watched it for the super sexy and somewhat funny host.

Unfortunately, Elvira’s show does not really stand the test of time. It’s a bit corny and boring by today’s fast paced, reality show standards. But no one invents the fire or the wheel. AGT has always been premised on the Elvira formula. So when you see the comments - “This is not about making jeans!” - well, well... they may just be onto something.

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Monica Birkenes
I first took note of Monica Birkenes aka Mr. Little Jeans when I heard the remix of The Rescue Song (not on this CD) in the movie “Celeste & Jesse Forever.” Birkenes has a lilting, wispy voice that is evocative of beautiful things; she sings in a way that reminds you of a modern nursery rhyme (see chorus on “Valentine” ). Her vocals are put to good use on “Pocketknife.” Several of the songs will stick with you long after you get out of the car. But there’s also a superficial element to this music that may limit repeat listens. Want to hear a real guitar or snare drum? Good luck, because it feels to me like most of this album was created on a synthesizer or computer.

Mr. Little Jeans put some of these songs out as singles long before this CD was released, so for those who have been following her only 50% of this album feels truly new. With that said, the songs that caught my attention are as follows: “Good Mistake,” “Haunted,” “Mercy” (reprisal in track 13 is best), “Valentine,” and “Heaven Sent.” Of the songs previously released, I forgot how good “Runaway” is. I’m not crazy about the original release of Rescue Song, but the RAC remix remains my all time favorite Mr. Little Jeans song.

Bottom line: Strong Recommend! There’s a lot of hooky, original sounding music here.

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AGT Gets Invited to YouTube Space LA!

So today my business partner and I went through the orientation process for YouTube Los Angeles studios. Once you have 10,000 subscribers (we have nearly 20,000) and go through the orientation process, you are able to use the YouTube facilities to shoot your videos. This is a very big deal because YouTube Studios Los Angeles has enough professional gear to shoot a high quality theatrical release. They have professional sound editing equipment, Mac Pro towers for editing, professional lighting, software for editing, a screening room, and several sound stages to shoot your productions on. The energy there is very cool. Everyone knows this is groundbreaking - there are only three other YouTube studios across the globe and they are all smaller than LA location, which is their flagship. We could literally shoot three AGT videos at this studio in one day.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. In exchange for the top flight facilities, videos shot at the YouTube facilities undergo some pretty exacting review and have more restrictions than a video you’d shoot at your home. For instance, any video shot at the YT studio must first be submitted to Google’s lawyers for legal clearance. So you can’t just grab a remix off Soundcloud for background music now - you need an actual license for the music. You also can’t have any trademark infringements, such as a Coca Cola can sitting in plain view of your camera. Finally, you need insurance to shoot there.

Still, even with these tighter restrictions, I can tell you this is an amazing opportunity. It’s a beautiful, sprawling facility (this is Google money after all) and it is very picturesque. You can easily shoot great looking content there.

Hopefully we’ll have a chance to shoot Olivia Jensen at YouTube Studios Los Angeles soon, and maybe, who knows - Mal Malloy Happy Stay tuned.


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Bob Fingerman's "Minimum Wage" - Mini Review

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While I was out looking at comics today, the cover of Minimum Wage caught my eye (no surprises there, right?) This serial is about Rob Hoffman, an illustrator who is still living at his mom’s place. “Minimum Wage” chronicles Rob’s adventures with his twenty something friends. As of the first issue, he is on the verge of signing divorce papers and is newly single, exploring the online dating market. By the end of issue #1, he’s met May, a super curvy free spirit with body issues (the girl on the cover above). May is also living close to the margins, as illustrated in a funny scene with her landlady.

What struck me as interesting about Rob and May’s relationship is how easily he is able to score with this voluptuous vixen. The first time they make out, she insists on keeping the lights off. Later we learn it’s because she doesn’t feel good about her figure. Now, contrast this to a similarly built woman in the black community. By date number two she’d be taking Rob through the ninth circle of hell, rather than putting out. There would be no confidence issues. Anyway, the story with May is a nice little entree in my sparse oeuvre of curvy girl lit, along with Clowes and Crumb.

“Minimum Wage” features great artwork and surprisingly funny slice-of-life stories about Rob and his crew. His online dating travails are a highlight.

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New Mr Little Jeans - "Good Mistake"

Ever since I heard “The Rescue Song" in Celeste & Jesse Forever I’ve been a fan of Mr Little Jeans aka Monica Birkenes. And it appears that I’m one of a small number. Despite melodic, catchy tunes, Mr Little Jeans just doesn’t seem to have caught on in the mainstream in any significant way. Of course, one of her songs was on the secondary soundtrack for Iron Man 3, so I could be wrong about that *cheese grin*

Little Jeans

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Comedy Central’s James Franco Roast

blogEntryTopperWhile I spent more time smirking than outright laughing, there are some true comedic gems in this Comedy Central special.

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The best of the bunch without question is Bill Hader as a fictional character called The King of Hollywood, who he describes as “an old Jew in a sweat suit.” We learn that King is the behind-the-scenes guru pulling the rabbits out of the hat in Hollywood. All knowing and omnipotent, Hader delivers the King with a deadpan, low bass growl that is in itself comical. Hader roasts everyone, but his lampooning of the man of the hour is hilarious. “You made me like Anne Hathaway, you lazy dick!” he barks about Franco’s infamous Oscar hosting gig. And then, admonishing Franco for his propensity for starring in artsy, unappealing films (which the Kings sees as ungracious) he riffs: “I’ll tell you what I told Richard Greico 20 years ago… Play ball you squinty fuck! Or you will disappear…”

Next in line is Jonah Hill, who has a sweaty desperation to his stand up delivery that is both endearing and sincere (he doesn’t seem too comfortable with all of this to stop trying). His jokes about Aziz Ansari’s desperation to be famous and Jeff Ross’s lack of success (“you’re like the ghost of me and Seth’s future if we never made it” ) are pretty funny.

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Aziz brings a pleasant break from all the jokes about Jews and Franco’s latent homosexuality and shows just how clever and fresh his approach is. He rightfully skewers some unknown female comic named Natasha Leggero after she stooped to some tasteless jokes to get a laugh. He also turns the whole Indian stereotype on its head, commenting that the jokes are dated. “There’s more Indian dudes doing sitcoms than running 7-11’s… My last three roles were Randy, Chip and Tom!”

SNL alum Adam Samberg does an odd number that isn’t actually funny, but is delivered in such a punchy manner - implying we’re all missing out on some inside joke - that it induces smiles.

Weakest of the bunch, interestingly, is James Franco. But by and large, this is an entertaining hour from some of the cream of Hollywood’s current comedic crop.

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A Review of Book “Orange Is The New Black” by Piper Kerman

blogEntryTopperIt’s the first book review for AGT!

I was reluctant to cover the novel “Orange Is The New Black” because the Netflix TV series is so damn trendy right now. But I was curious about Piper  Kerman’s ordeal, and as a lawyer, I had more questions about how she wound up in prison than the TV show could answer. The book satisfied some of my curiosity, but not all of it.

The most surprising element of the book is that it holds up on its own accord. I don’t know what I was expecting -- perhaps some hastily composed outline of a novel that was turned into a TV show because of its sensationalist subject matter -- but this is a full blown, well written book. Kerman has a directness and preciseness to her writing that is very enjoyable. There are no gratuitous big words here, as in so many novels. One of the more impressive passages describes the day a guard took Piper and several other inmates down to a nearby lake. It’s nearly transporting.

The most interesting and compelling section of the book is Chapter Two, entitled “It All Changed in an Instant.” This chapter describes how Piper’s life was turned upside down by a visit from federal agents to her new home in New York, years after she had put her life of crime behind her. It turns out Kerman didn’t go to jail for several years after she entered a plea-bargain for money laundering (rather than conspiracy, which is what she was originally charged with). Instead, she had to meet once a month with a Pretrial Services case worker while federal prosecutors tried to extradite the West African kingpin at the helm of a drug scheme of which Piper played only an infinitesimal part.

What is not answered in “Orange” is why Piper was brought up on federal drug charges rather than state charges. I suspect it had something to do with the international element of the drug ring she was a part of. Piper also does not indulge the dirty details of prison confinement, such as how one goes about having the privacy of a good bowel movement or masterbation. (We’ve all seen those prison cells that house several inmates with just one toilet.)

There are some notable differences between the novel and the TV series. “Red” is really named “Pop” and she does not starve Piper out because of a careless insult on their initial meeting. Instead, the two are practically best buddies. Alex is actually named Nora Jansen, and her sister, Hester, is also involved in her drug endeavors (even though Hester is nowhere to be found in the TV show). Piper is not imprisoned with Nora/Alex for the majority of her sentence; they only run into each other in the very last month of Piper’s prison term. Nora/Alex claims the feds already knew about Piper’s involvement and only asked her to confirm certain facts. In other words, she didn’t rat Kerman out. We never learn if this is true or not, just as Piper never knows. Pensatucky really exists, but there is no mortal conflict between her and Piper. They are perfectly social with each other.

In fact, that’s the biggest difference between the book and the TV show: nothing dramatic really happens to Piper Kerman in prison (with the exception of the iceberg lettuce imbroglio in chapter nine). Most of the prisoners like Piper and she helps most of them with legal matters and other things involving reading and writing (obtaining a GED). Because of this, the book gets boring in the middle and the reader starts to feel like they’re serving that time out with Piper. But it picks up again, if only briefly, during the last couple chapters right before Piper is released and is transported via Con Air to facilities in Oklahoma and Chicago.

Let me preface my next comment by saying Piper Kerman is one of the good ones. Very few people would take the time to understand the other inmates of different ethnic backgrounds to the extent she did, let alone assist them. She has large reserves of empathy for her fellow female prisoners. That said, her constant self-congratulatory remarks are grating after a while. She remarks again and again that the other prisoners did not have the same support network that she did of family and friends, lacked the top notch legal counsel she could afford, didn’t have the bright future waiting for them outside that she did, etc. She also talks about how her blond hair and blue eyes constantly accorded her the benefit of the doubt. All true, no doubt, but quite unpleasant to hear repeatedly.

Truth be told, if Piper had never gone to prison, she probably would have been quite average in terms of her accomplishments. And that’s the real irony – the most tragic thing that ever happened to her is also the most exceptional and distinguishing.

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AGT Host Carol Seleme

Just a reminder to check out her reviews:

Wreck It Ralph
The Artist


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"Blackfish" Film Review

You know how people always say, “Read the book, it’s SO much better than the movie?” Well, get ready to hear that again. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary about the plight of killer whales at theme parks, and particularly SeaWorld, is interesting in parts. However, it is not nearly as compelling as the two pieces written by Ted Zimmerman (who is the editor of “Blackfish” ) for Outside Magazine about the deaths of trainers Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque in the Canary Islands and Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld San Diego.

The movie features several interviews with ex-SeaWorld employees about the misinformation they were given about the killer whales from SeaWorld and how, in hindsight, they were foolish to think what they were doing was safe or morally sound. Some of these employees are more compelling than others.  Samantha Berg, Jeff Ventre, Carol Ray and Dave Duffus from OSHA are especially good. Some of the others come off as self righteous and overly dramatic.

What you are not going to see in this movie is some shocking, hidden footage of killer whales tearing people apart, which you might expect from the hyperbolic film reviews. If you are interested in the details of how Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau or Keto killed Martinez, read Zimmerman’s bone chilling articles. The background on what might have led these majestic creatures to act in this way - which is what I find interesting – is spelled out in great detail in Zimmerman’s articles.

There are a few ghoulish accounts in “Blackfish,” most notably the 1991 death of Keltie Byrne at a rundown, smaller park in British Columbia called Sealand. Keltie was a 20-year-old research assistant who would feed Tilikum (and two other orcas) fish to get them to jump out of the water for guests. To the credit of Cowperthwaite, she tracked down two eye witnesses to this horrific event who detail exactly what happened on that overcast day. The witnesses describe the park as dilapidated -- essentially a couple big swimming pools with captive Orcas -- nothing approaching the professionalism of SeaWorld. Perhaps adding to the moroseness of the interview is the fact that one witness is clearly still somewhat traumatized by the event and awkwardly smiles during the whole recount, even as she describes how Keltie’s eyes went wide once she realized no one could save her (although lots of people were watching). Once again, reality trumps even the most expertly done horror films.

Overall, this is a good film definitely worth a watch. When you really think about it, the real miracle is that these six ton whales (the largest members of the dolphin family) have rarely attacked a human in the wild and for the most part, do not exhibit aggression to humans even in captivity.

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A Few Thoughts on Comic Con 2013

Here are some tips based on having attending the 2013 (and 2012) San Diego Comic-Con…

1. Know What You Want Upfront: Figure out exactly what you want here *beforehand* so you don't wind up walking around aimlessly. Find out which panels you wanna go to, the vendors you want to visit, etc. It still won't change all the waiting, but at least it will be worthwhile.

2. Be Prepared to Wait and for Crowds: There is a lot of waiting around to get into stuff, lines everywhere, people stacked on top of each other, slow moving crowds. It wears you out. Two hours of walking the floor and you're ready to sit down somewhere.

3. Women: There is a tremendous diversity of non-mainstream curvy women at Comic Con, as well as a bevy of traditional type beauties. Bring a wing man and be prepared before you go to the Con (get in shape, buy some nice clothes to wear)… I get the feeling there are a lot of Comic Con babies out there.

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Europa Report - Signs of Intelligent Life?

Imagine landing your spacecraft on the icy surface of Europa, the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 67 moons, 390,400,000 miles from earth. You’re now completely cut off from human contact other than your fellow crew members, most of whom are dead. To make matters worse, your ship has malfunctioned, the ice surrounding it is fracturing, and you are slipping into the depths of the frigidly cold waters beneath Europa’s surface. But there’s a catch: there is a massive organism down there too that no one has ever seen or even thought could exist . If you really let your imagination go there, it’s a pretty scary proposition, and that’s the proposition the filmmakers of “Europa Report” are asserting with a matter-of-fact, intelligent and often thought provoking clarity. This is a film backed by science; it was written with the cooperation and input of some of the brightest minds in astronomy. This is not an action packed, explosion laden roller coaster movie. Instead what you get is a ponderous, somewhat talky and moderately paced found-footage sci-fi horror flick.
“Europa Report” tells the story of five astronauts who actually make it to Europa. Problems landing the exploratory pod lead the crew to veer off mission to collect data, and as they venture out onto Europa’s odd terrain, a bioluminescent organism beneath the ice stalks their movements. The ice cracks beneath one of the astronauts and as she slips into Eurpoa’s icy waters, the reflection of her attacker appears in her retina.

Time to go! But when the remaining members try to get blast back to the main pod, Europa’s gravitational pull proves deadly and they go crashing back into the surface. At this point the ship is so badly damaged escape seems unlikely. Of the three remaining members, one of whom is a woman, the two men have to go outside to repair the ship. I’ll let the movie take it from there. If you have a chance to rent this one, and you like intelligent sci fi, you’ll enjoy Europa Report. As an added bonus, Bear McCreary’s soundtrack is excellent.

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Pitt’s “World War Z” Reinvigorates the Zombie Genre

"World War Z" (WWZ) is one of those movies that is so well produced and directed, you may not notice how much it gets right, including a refreshingly vanity free performance by Brad Pitt. This film makes the "Resident Evil" franchise look like a flipbook by comparison.

WWZ jumps right into a zombie outbreak in Pitt's hometown of Philadelphia that is rapidly spreading across the globe. Not a moment is wasted with nonsense backstories no one cares about - before we know it, zombies are moving at lighting speed in ways we've never seen, overrunning the streets of Philly. Pitt's Gerry Lane is an ex-United Nations investigator whose family is only saved because the government needs him to help solve the pandemic.

Other reviews have noted that the "who, what, where and why" of the zombies isn't very well fleshed out in WWZ, and that's true. But zombie lore is so much a part of the current zeitgeist, we don't need superfluous history. We know the drill.

Here's what I liked about "World War Z":

  • Brad Pitt gives an ego free, convincing performance as a normal guy caught in an exceptionally bad situation. There are no gratuitous vanity shots of Pitt shirtless. Everything that's there serves the story.

  • The movie is brisk – there's not a dull moment.

  • There is no excess of emotion, no unwarranted tears, funerals, or other contrived gravitas. WWZ is emotionally pragmatic.

  • The zombie special effects are outstanding. There is a particular emphasis on the biting element, but the zombies are not inexplicably able to surgically tear human's open like a soggy bag. One victim is chomped on and only the halo of inflamed tooth impressions remain, just like a real human bite.

  • The solution to a defense mechanism against the zombies is gruesomely believable. Much like chemotherapy, it kills you before it cures you.

WWZ isn't especially scary and the ending feels a bit tacked on and anti-climactic, but I haven't seen a zombie movie this interesting since Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of Dead." It's the thinking man's zombie flick, and that's worth the price of admission.

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A Few Thoughts on "Man of Steel" - It's Good

I just walked out of a 7 pm showing of “Man of Steel” and I have to say I was impressed. You really can’t trust critics or Rotten Tomatoes all the time to give movies a fair evaluation. Maybe Zack Snyder is still trying to live down “Sucker Punch,” or maybe due to its previous problematic filmic adaptations, “Superman” is viewed with a skeptical eye from the start. But the fact is, this was an exceptionally well made film with some great performances, including the notably restrained Henry Cavill.

The story is based roughly on the 2006 DC Comics General Zod arc. Zod is a warrior Kryptonion whose sole purpose is to protect their race. Surprisingly, Zod and Jor-El, Superman’s father, played with incredible charisma by Russell Crowe, see eye to on the problematic aspects of Kyrpton’s oppressive government. They just don’t agree on how to fix it. Zod wants to destroy the current regime and start from scratch. For that he needs genetic code for the race, which Jor-El has cleverly hidden with his son, who he sends to earth right before Krypton is destroyed in a jaw dropping opening sequence.

Once on earth, we start with Superman as an adult and his backstory is told via flashbacks, which gets us to the action faster. Some of it is standard Superman-saves-the-day sort action, but it is very well shot and choreographed by Snyder. And the story about Superman’s relationship with his earth father (another excellent casting choice in Kevin Costner), who does not believe society is ready for him to reveal his true identity, reaches a fantastic and awe inspiring denouement. Within 30 minutes of watching this film I knew it was well worth the price of admission. The movie could have used some trimming, yes, but there are so many things that are right with this movie, this complaint is trivial by comparison. So let’s mention some of the rights.

1. Superman is actually believable as an alien-in-human-guise with other worldly strengths. It’s through a combination of Cavill’s physical build, amazing special effects and excellent direction that this feat is achieved, but I haven’t been this convinced of the physical capabilities of a super hero in a long while.

2. Casting is superb. From Cavill’s notable and well utilized reserve to Michael Shannon as Zod to Fishburne as the hot head chief of the Daily Planet, just about every role is spot on. Amy Adams looks great, as usual, and is appealing, but hers is the only role that seemed fungible.

3. Music - Hans Zimmer is a great composer and he soars on this soundtrack. You will be going to iTunes later to look up some of these tracks.

More than anything, I just felt “Man of Steel” was a very good movie going experience. Don’t listen to the critics on this one. The audience applauded at the end - that should tell you something. (The movie is already headed toward a $100 million box office opening weekend.)

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Exclusive Interview With "V/H/S" Writer Nick Tecosky

I realize “V/H/S2” just came out, but having seen and thoroughly enjoyed both the sequel and the original “V/H/S,” I can honestly say you are unlikely to find anything as disconcerting between the two of them as “Amateur Hour,” which was written by Nick Tecosky and David Brucker. It is no secret that “Amateur Night” is one of the most popular entries from the horror anthology “V/H/S.” Indiewire called it “the standout of the bunch”; “First and best is ‘Amateur Night’ …” boasts Variety; and the Boston Globe states: “ ‘Amateur Night’…is the compilation’s nonpareil.” Equally frightening and revulsive, “Amateur Night” is the first film that has scared me in a long time. In fact, I had that same reaction watching it that I did when I saw the chestbuster scene in “Alien” as a kid: “Who the hell thinks of this stuff!?”

Enter Nicholas Tecosky, co-writer of “Amateur Night” (along with David Bruckner). Nicholas was nice enough to grant an exclusive interview to to talk about the project.

Q: So how did “Amateur Night” come about - e.g., how did you guys come up with this story? Take it back to the very beginning if you would and tell us how you guys decided on the plot. On the Blu-ray commentary, Bruckner mentions the concept of the male gaze being an inspiration; can you expand on that? I suppose this question also encompasses the mechanics of your writing partnership with Bruckner and how guys crank out a script (e.g., do you alternate writing scenes?)

A: When we were first approached about submitting a story, we did what we usually do, which is to camp out in the office or someone's living room for a few days eating poorly and throwing ideas at each other until something sticks. We'd been interested for a while in the way we interact with media, and how it changes our minds and expectations-- particularly in the area of sexuality. And so we kept coming back to this story about Spring Break culture, and the damaging-- even toxic-- ideals that "reality porn" has instilled on a generation of young men. And the story grew out of that. Once we had the idea solidified, we spent two days grinding out an initial treatment to send out to the producers. It's a touchy subject, and more than a few times we found ourselves stopping and looking at each other, asking if maybe we were pushing it a little too far, if maybe the satire we were trying to layer in was too subtle, if the image of a man's naked body being torn apart was a bit heavy-handed... I guess it's obvious where we landed on that one. And once we were given the go ahead, we got to the real writing.

We tend to do the heaviest lifting during the outlining process. We don't like to write pages until all of the structure problems have been answered. There's nothing worse than getting to the third act of a screenplay and realizing that you have no idea how to tie all of the threads together. At that point, you have to take it back to outlining anyway, so why not do the footwork up front? Once that's done, we tend to split up scenes and work separately, and then passing them back and forth, refining each other's work, until we're both happy with what we've done. "Amateur Night" was a little different for us, in that- once we had a draft of the script and everything was cast- we ended up tossing it aside in rehearsals and instead working with the cast on tightly structured improvisation. Certain lines and salient points were kept in, but we gave the cast a lot of latitude to discover moments on their own. I think that with found footage, it's hard to keep the performances realistic unless the performers are allowed the leeway to explore and spontaneously discover moments. It was daunting as a writer, but ultimately, between our structure and their performance, we came up with something very dynamic.

Q: How much of Lily’s character was already on the page as opposed to being developed subsequent to Hannah Fierman being brought on? For instance, was the line “I like you…” in the original script or was that something that came about later, after Fierman was hired. Other baffling Lily quirks include her crouching down immediately after leaving the club and wanting to perform fellatio on Drew Sawyer’s character after making meatloaf out of his friends. One of the questions I hear repeatedly and I’ll ask you here is: “If [Drew’s character] had reciprocated Lily’s affections, would she have let him live?” (I suppose it's possible she did let him live, although it seems doubtful.)

A: The casting on this was really strange: We had a solid picture of each one of the characters in our heads when we started seeing actors, and in the case of Hannah Fierman, it was sort of like hitting the jackpot. We'd thought that casting the role of Lily was going to be the hardest aspect, and then she walked in and gave us exactly what we were looking for. And then some. And "I like you" was in the original script, but it certainly didn't have the weight on the page that Hannah endowed it with. I think that I was a little scared of her the first time she said it aloud. In other cases of casting-- most notably with Joe Sykes, we were surprised to find that there was a completely different take on the character than the one we'd first imagined. In the original script, his character is described as a sort of creepy, brooding ex-high school football player who'd let himself go, and just skulks around in the shadows. He was a predator. A clear threat. And then Sykes walks in and plays him as this manic, affable guy, and when he leaves, we can't see the character any other way. Joe lends the proceedings a levity that wouldn't have been there had we gone with our original take on Patrick.

As far as our protagonist's fate, we like to think that maybe she brought him back to the nest. Introduced him to mom and dad. Maybe domesticated him. Settled down and had a family. I really do believe that Lily liked him, despite obvious issues with his friends. But I think a lot of relationships work that way.

Q: How did “Amateur Night” come to be selected for “V/H/S” by the producers and how were notes given by them? In the Blu-ray commentary Bruckner said that he was given notes that Fierman’s leap onto Joe Sykes needed to be amped up. Were you guys given notes on the screenplay as well before shooting?

A: This was sort of an atypical experience, in that- once they'd approved of our story- we were given a tremendous amount of freedom in how we executed it. And the whole process moved at such a breakneck pace that most notes weren't given until we were in post. And by that point, many of the notes were about tightening things, and pumping up the tension. We were very lucky to be given that kind of trust to make what we wanted to make.

Q: Tell me a little about your background as a writer, such as prior projects and how you decided on writing as a career. Do you see yourself sticking to the horror genre or are you looking to write other genres?

A: I'd studied theater originally, and out of school, my first job was actually writing children's theater for a large company that owns theme parks across the nation. So for years, I was writing about finding the true meaning of Christmas, adapting fairy tales for a very young audience. In the meantime, I was spending nights adapting William S. Burroughs pieces to stage or writing horror with Bruckner. Looking back, it felt a bit like living a double life, but when it comes down to it, there's a surprisingly thin line between children's theater and horror. It's all couched in the fantastic. In a world that exists just beyond the border of our mundane lives. I grew up reading fantasy and horror, and always had a strong desire to see that world. I knew it was there, if I looked hard enough or did the right things. As I got older, I realized that maybe I had to make that world for myself.

But I enjoy writing horror. It's an excellent way to explore the very real anxiety we feel about our lives and the world we move around in. We live in troubling times. Everyone's nervous about the future. Or maybe I'm just really neurotic. Maybe everything's okay. I don't know.

Q: Bruckner notes in the Blu-ray commentary that you guys had an entire backstory worked out for Lily. (He also said that it was something you guys plan to never reveal.) That said, is it possible to get a little more about her origins? I’m sure lots of fans would like to know what type of creature you had in mind – I see succubus bandied around a lot on the net.

A: We did work out a backstory for her, though it was done mostly so that we would understand fully what we were working with. We never saw her as an evil creature. There is a real tenderness there. In order to really have that play naturally, you've got to have context. We worked with the idea of the foreign exchange student, or the anthropologist coming to study a culture alien to them and getting too close. We did, obviously, look at the succubus as something of a model-- we named her Lily, after all. As for the specific details of where she came from, I'll leave that up to the audience's imagination. I really do believe that the more information given about your antagonist, the more you demystify her, the less scary she is. That's why the first season of American Horror Story stops being scary after a few episodes, and just ends up being a particularly engaging soap opera about dead people.

If anybody absolutely, desperately needs to know Lily's backstory, find me and get me drunk. I'm a talker when I've had a few.

Q: What are three of your favorite horror movies and why briefly.

A: The Haunting (the original version) is one of the coolest haunted house films out there. It's a great character study, and considering that you never actually see the specter that wanders the place, or have any idea of what it wants, builds tension incredibly. The scene wherein Julie Harris wakes up to her roommate too tightly squeezing her hand unnerved the shit out of me the first time I saw it. And on top of that, it's just a beautiful old film, and shows how much a simple story with minimal effects can shake an audience. The remake went in the other direction. You couldn't go three minutes without some statue jumping out and trying to murder somebody. It sort of killed the magic of the original.

I'm also a fan of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, which is a great story about madness in a girl marginalized by everyone around her. She's beautiful and quiet and strange, and people simply imprint on her what they need of her. And then, she snaps, and it is horrible and unsettling, and despite the fact that she is becoming violent, you spend the entire film rooting for her anyway. I've watched this one a lot, and can't help feeling gross every time.

And I only recently saw Inside, the French stalker film that was maybe the hardest thing I've ever sat through. It is bloody and visceral from the first scene and really doesn't let up for more than a few minutes after that. And Beatrice Dalle is one of the most terrifying antagonists I've seen-- largely because she is so singlemindedly obsessed with attaining her goal. And the directors do a brilliant thing with her: They practically force you to empathize with her after she's brutally murdered people. It's very troubling. I had a little bit of a panic attack watching it. Though the same thing happened to me watching Melancholia, and that wasn't horror, just a sort of existential dread.

Q: What’s next for you project wise? Is there anything you would really like to do, like write an episode of The Walking Dead season 3?

A: I'm working on a couple of stories right now- one is actually a pilot for a series about people being forced into untenable situations and having to do horrible things to survive in the current economy. I'd like to think of it as a comedy. And I run a monthly show and companion podcast called WRITE CLUB Atlanta, wherein we take local writers and pair them up with opposing topics and then make them battle it out in front of a live audience. It's a loud, drunken time, and has been surprisingly successful. People like watching conflict play out in front of them. It's satisfying to watch. And yeah, I'd love to get a gig on something like the Walking Dead. It's shot here in Atlanta, and many of my friends get to go to work on it in various capacities. One of my good friends is a stuntman and a regular on the series, though you'd never recognize him under the make-up. He's been shot in the head on every other episode.

It's a living.

--> Artwork by Carol Seleme… See the image come to life here

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Review - Phoenix's "Bankrupt!" - Bourgeois!

For those of you longing to hear Phoenix's signature style after their extended absence, you will not be disappointed with "Bankrupt." While not as consistent as "Wolfgang Amadeus" (maybe their most consistent CD) or "United," this album has some good stuff. For example, you can easily listen to Bourgeois - the best song on the CD in my opinion - 50 times the first time you hear it and not get tired it. It's quintessential Phoenix. Nevertheless, I found myself having to chase the catchy hooks a little more this time around. It's a somewhat noisy outing with songs that contain some very interesting melodies and sounds, but they are often interspersed with other things that are not so interesting. For instance, at least two songs on the album - Entertainment and Trying to be Cool - are fantastic in the first 2/3s, but have finishes that don’t measure up to the rest of the song.The Real Thing is strong, with its addictive drum beat, evocative of Prince circa "When Doves Fly.” There is a strange Asian influence with these songs. I say strange because it's not true music from the Orient, but rather those cliched sounds we heard on 80's songs like The Vapors "Turning Japanese." And that's what it is - a reference to those type of pop songs.

Anyway, when you get to 1:13 in The Real Thing or 1:53 on Entertainment my qualms with an otherwise excellent CD will quickly disappear from your memory. This album gets a definite thumbs up from AGT.

Background: Phoenix is a French alternative rock band from Versailles, France, consisting of Thomas Mars (vocals), Deck d’Arcy (bass), Laurent Brancowitz (guitars) and Christian Mazzalai (guitars). In this author’s opinion, their best songs of all time are (not in order): 1) If I Ever Feel Better (I literally listened to this song for a year straight every time I got in my car), 2) Too Young, 3) Consolation Prizes, 4) Rally, 5) Lisztomania, 6) 1901, 7) Everything is Everything.

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“Evil Dead” – Enteraining But Not Scary - *Spoilers*

The Evil Dead is not scary. But it is a good time, and due to that alone it will likely do well financially. That’s not to say Evil Dead doesn’t have a couple scary moments. It does - it has exactly two. One is when Elizabeth Blackmore’s character is struggling with whether to cut off her arm with an electric knife and Mia pops up from the basement and simply stares at her. Doesn’t say a word – just looks at her, real long like. The other is when Mia is being buried with a plastic bag over her head, face enshrined in dirt, and starts speaking to her would-be executioner through the plastic bag. Highly effective.

The basic story of the
Evil Dead is that a group of young folks stay at a cabin in the woods and unearth a book of evil spells that releases all manner of spooks and ghouls, which slowly inhabit the souls of each character. Oh, and speaking of Cabin in the Woods, Fede Alvarez, the director of ED, was asked whether he was nervous making his movie in the wake of Joss Whedon’s ultimate meta horror flick. Basically, he said he wasn’t and that Whedon’s film was more a love letter to the genre than anything. Yeah… um, the problem there is that Whedon and Drew Goddard authored a making-of book wherein they essentially said that Cabin in the Woods sprang from their distaste for the long line of not-so-good horror movies released in the last decade (and that Cabin tried, on some level, to account for the inexplicable behavior of the inhabitants of such flicks). Unfortunately, ED might be such a movie. People go into darkened basements they shouldn’t; pull back shower curtains with demonic gamines waiting behind them, and generally act illogically.

A few notes about the filmmaking. Alvarez will definitely work again. Despite the ED’s lack of true chills, it is well shot. In fact, it feels very much like a more intense version of Drag Me to Hell (one of my favs), right down to “The Book of the Dead,” which could easily be volume two of whatever book chronicled the Lamia. The end of ED, where Mia faces off with the demon in a torrential downpour of blood, is visually epic. Unfortunately, the acting is pretty wooden (Jessica Lucas better not ever stop being hot, because when she does it’s over), and the script was just basic. There were lots of unintentional laughs with the hipster crowd I saw this with a day before the opening.

As you know, the theme of AllGoodThings is that we don’t review stinkers. If you see it here, it’s comes pre-approved. And that’s case with Evil Dead. It’s a solid movie that is pretty entertaining. It’s just not scary.

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Resolution - Movie Review & Filmmaker Interview

*SPOILER ALERT* The best horror films always have a good, believable story at their core. Resolution is about two friends who’ve become estranged because one of them, Chris, played by Vinny Curran, is now a meth addict and is squatting in the California Mountains stoned out of his mind. Meanwhile, the other, Michael (Peter Cilella) has a beautiful girlfriend and has moved on to greener pastures. But he hasn’t given up on his friend and decides to trek into the hills one weekend in a last ditch effort to save him from inevitable death.

After Michael arrives and assesses the situation, he tazes Chris, handcuffs him to a pipe in an exposed wall, and dares him to make it a week without any drugs. That’s the basic set up for
Resolution, and that alone would make for an interesting movie. But there are crazy happenings up in “dem dar hills.” Things that would scare the heck out of someone who wasn’t getting high 24/7. Oh, and did I mention the house Chris is squatting in happens to be on a Native American reservation?

As a horror aficionado, I was pleasantly surprised at the slow burn pacing of Resolution. By that end of that movie, directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have ensconced the audience in such a believable, crazy setting that you get the feeling anything could happen - and you really cannot tell where Resolution is going in those last 15 minutes. That’s exciting in a time when scaring people in the movies is becoming more and more difficult against a backdrop of everyday horrors that are worse than the best Stephen King novel.

There are some funny lines in
Resolution and a consistent humor that is surprising. I also liked the way the two main characters behaved believably when the danger set in. They didn’t do those things that make you shout at the movie screen, and yet, they still meet an untimely demise. It’s much scarier that way. Bravo to all in involved with Resolution. I sense good things on the horizon for Moorhead and Benson.

Check out Resolution on In Demand


Congratulations on getting your film out there and
100% with Rotten Tomatoes. Horror films usually have a tough time with the critics, so that is kind of a big deal.

Q: It seems that these days, the means to filmmaking are more readily available than ever. With advent of the Canon 5D Mark II, just about anybody can go out and shoot a film that blows away the look of indies of the early late 90’s and early 00s. But distribution and securing a place within the Hollywood system is harder than ever. Perfect example: Edward Burns got more/better post film opportunities from Brother McMullen than he did Newlyweds (digital distribution only) How did you guys go about securing distribution for Resolution and where do you see it taking you in terms of a future in Hollywood? Are the big studios calling because of the critical success of the movie?

A: (Justin & Aaron) Distribution through Tribeca Film is a dream. The world of distribution is changing, especially in indie film, where it's all being distributed through online channels (although we were fortunate enough to have a theatrical release as well). What's cool about it is that if anyone in the USA wants to see Resolution, the only barrier between them and it is five bucks or so. Anyone with an internet connection can watch it, you don't even have to drive to the store.

As far as our future goes,
Resolution's primary benefit for us has definitely been the exposure and the doors we now get to walk through. But most important to us in our next step is being able to make our next movie with enough control that we aren't going to be forced to add in a pet raccoon or something. So, no matter who knocks, we're willing to play ball but we're not pushovers.

Q: I know you guys have probably gotten this question a dozen times, but where did the inspiration for Resolution come from?

A: Aaron: Justin developed the script and I think he just plain nailed it. But why make the movie itself? Simple. If you want to be a filmmaker, go make films. Resolution was ready to go, and it was awesome, there was no downside to doing it and all upsides.

Justin: It's fun to see if you can actually frighten people by making them actually care about realistic characters. And it was written for me, Aaron, Peter and Vinny to make. Through working on short films and commercials together we really honed in on what works. 

Q: Ok, the girl that comes to the window that one night… She is just a junky from the halfway house, right? I can sleep at night if I know that’s all she was, but if there was some supernatural element involved with that spooky woman, you guys owe me an Ambien or three.

A: Aaron: I'd just say let's go with whatever gives you nightmares. Everyone in the movie has been affected by the antagonist in one way or another, so it's not a straightforward answer.

Justin: She is a patient from a low security mental/drug rehab place down the road, but since she is in an altered state (crazy), let's just say she's not exactly staring at Mike or Chris from that window. This is something she has in common with the UFO cult, Byron, etc... She's a bit more tuned into our unseen antagonist. 

Q: What are three of your favorite horror movies and why?

A: Aaron: I'm not going to say The Exorcist because I know Justin will. But Wake In Fright might be my favorite. It's a horror movie with no supernatural element although you keep waiting for everyone to announce they're in a cult or something, and anything that can ACTUALLY be real seems more frightening to me. A spiral into drinking hell. It kinda sounds like our film festival run, to be honest.

The Descent for fooling us all that it might just be a movie about claustrophobia, then throwing it back at us in the most horrifying way possible. Also, LOVELY, DARING cinematography like The Descent's is rare.

Alien, for merging techno-scifi and horror perfectly, and for having a monster that's actually scary to look at.

Justin: Agreed, and The Exorcist, Alien, The Devil's Backbone, Cabin in the Woods, The House with the Laughing Windows, Who Can Kill a Child, The Ring is pretty good until the 3rd act... I recently saw Lovely Molly and found that pretty impressive... Ah! And Citadel and American Mary.

Q: What type of camera was Resolution shot on?

A: (Justin & Aaron) The Red Mx, a 4k digital camera, mounted on something called the Easyrig but operated in such a way that it was kind of halfway between steadicam and handheld.

Q: What’s next for you guys? Do you intend on doing more horror (hopefully so)?

We have three completed scripts we're shopping (and it's going really well), as well as a few projects in development around town. We just finished a short film that should be back on the festival circuit this year, and a music video we did just had its MTV premiere! As far as what genre we'll do next, it'll likely have some kind of horror or fantastical element one way or another (we seem to be drawn to it), but we honestly just like making movies that we think are good, no matter what the genre.

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"Zero Dark Thirty" is Gripping - Movie Review

Anyone who saw The Hurt Locker knows that Kathryn Bigelow is a no-nonsense director, and Zero Dark Thirty proves this to be true yet again. ZD30 tells the story of how the CIA tracked down and eventually killed Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The movie’s focus is on a female CIA analyst named “Maya,” who relentlessly pursued Bin Laden, even when the trail had gone cold.

This is not a fast paced movie. In fact, at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, it has a plodding and deliberate pace which, intentionally or not, serves to underscore the single-minded purposefulness of its heroine. If we’re fidgeting seeing the story unfold over three hours, imagine how tough it was to stay the course over a decade. This is especially true after you consider that politics, the death of team members, and hopelessness nearly brought the entire operation crumbling down. We see just how close Bin Laden, code named “Geronimo,” was to slipping away forever.

It turns out that finding Bin Laden came down to tracking down one of his top level couriers, Abu Ahmed, who was hidden away in Pakistan and believed to be dead due to misinformation. Of course, after all the research and intense, closed-door meetings, the movie comes down to the 30 minutes that recounts the night the SEAL team infiltrated Bin Laden’s compound. Interestingly, that part of the film is especially restrained and feels near documentary like. There are very few theatrics to the SEAL team’s mission, which was executed with cold, ruthless precision (note how each person killed was “engaged” multiple times, just to be sure). Having watched the fascinating 60-Minutes interview with SEAL team leader Mark Bissonette, I was especially interested to see this play out in the film. Honestly, I think his retelling might have been more gripping.

I really enjoyed this movie. I have a great admiration for the men and women who serve in the US military and this story was of interest to me. I’m also highly opposed to bullshit at this stage in my life, and this movie had a no-frills, matter-of-fact storytelling that was like a salve to my weary, reality TV embattled psyche. Having said that, the prosaic narrative eventually betrayed Bigelow’s efforts to make Maya, austerely portrayed by Jessica Chastain, seem like a bad ass. Lines like “I'm the motherfucker that found him” seem particularly corny after you’ve just shown us a brutal 10-minute segment of a suspect being broken down through water boarding torture. Chris Pratt, who plays the the commander of the SEAL team, seems to be good in just about everything he does, but his innate likability undermines his credibility as a stone cold killer. Jason Clarke as one of the lead CIA ops is highly compelling and, for me, was the real stand out in the movie.

Overall, thumbs up. I think Chastain’s performance is being overrated (although look out for her confrontation scene with Kyle Chandler - it has Oscar written all over it), but in the end ZD30 caps off an extremely good year for movies with a figurative and literal BANG.

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Gareth Edward's "Godzilla": "Monsters" on Steroids



Gareth Edwards is a visionary. That’s not hyperbole due to "in the moment" excitement of having seen Godzilla on opening night. That’s just the plain truth. In film school they taught us that only actors and directors have monopoly power because when you want that Gareth Edwards look to a film, or that Brad Pitt California cool, they are the only ones who can deliver. While that’s mainly true, there are certainly actors and directors who are fungible, but Gareth Edwards is not one of them.

Godzilla’s story is nothing new. Grief stricken Bryan Cranston thinks something is not as it seems at a nuclear power reactor in Japan. For years he’s been living with that feeling. When his son comes out to visit him after years of estrangement, Cranston’s suspicions are confirmed in the first of several mind blowing scenes. Something (the MUTO) has been feeding off the radiation at the nuclear site and it is ancient and unhappy. Its radiation source is dwindling and it needs more. It also needs to mate.

When the MUTO is finally unleashed it throws off the earth’s ecological balance and Godzilla enters the picture to keep things in check. MUTOs eat radiation and Godzilla eats MUTOs (well not really, but the big guy definitely doesn’t like them).

There are several jaw dropping scenes in Godzilla, but maybe the most haunting happens when the military air drops into the city where Godzilla and the MUTO are battling it out and we get a first person view of the action through the perspective of one of the jumpers. You really have to think about where Mr. Edwards chooses to put the camera, because that’s the genius to his directing. Note the scene where the MUTO discovers a couple characters hiding out on a deserted railroad track in a misty forest at night. The dread built into that scene is palpable. We know the MUTO don’t eat people, but that still doesn’t stop this scene from being scary.

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