Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Time When Free Love No Longer Reigned And Corruption Ruled

Is how Basil Exposition describes 1997 in Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery while predicting the return of Dr. Evil.

1997 was the year that Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister, Diana Princess of Wales died in a car crash, the Hale-Bopp comet reached its closest to Earth and an episode of Pokémon caused seizures in hundreds of Japanese children days after the trading card game was blessed by the Vatican for its lack of "harmful moral side effects."

In 1997, I was in My Fair Lady at school.

These are a few of my favorite things from 1997:

The Ice Storm
This look at suburban escapism and sexual politics in two families has a fascinating tone to it, the seventies period detail is impressive and the visuals of the storm itself are amazing. Here's the trailer.

Tomorrow Never Dies
Pierce Brosnan's second outing as Bond is a brilliant tale of mass media manipulation, which in light of the phone-hacking scandal Rupert Murdoch's News Of The World seems all the more apt now than it did on its first release. Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, Desmond Llewellyn and Vincent Schiavelli are fantastic. The formula is firing on all cylinders: the car, the gadgets, the stunts, the music and the opening theme are all great (although to put it in perspective, the opening theme was nearly this good). Here's the trailer.

Deconstructing Harry
Woody Allen's film about a writer explores his own emotional shortcoming through a series of vignettes is fantastic. Allen, Hazelle Goodman and Bob Balaban are great and hiring Robin Williams at the height of his popularity and then blurring his face is a very funny notion. Here's the trailer.

Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery
One part parody to two parts homage, this film evokes sixties-era James Bond with genuine affection and a peculiarly British sense of humour that it apparently takes a Canadian to realise. Mike Myers is fantastic in both his roles and has created two antithetical characters that are equally appealing and infectious. Mimi Rogers, Mindy Sterling, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Charles Napier and Seth Green are great. The set pieces are great and the aftermath of the henchmen's death scenes are fantastic. Here's the trailer.

Jackie Brown
Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Forster are fantastic in this Blaxploitation-esque film that is better than Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction combined. Here's the trailer.

Grosse Pointe Blank
John Cusack and Dan Ackroyd are great as competing assassins in this very funny comedy film. Any fim that contains the line "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?" is all right with me, but the dialogue is witty throughot. The soundtrack of eighties hits is great while the muzak during Blank's visit to the convenience store on the site of his childhood home is one of the best uses of music in the history of cinema. Here's the trailer.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Welcome To The Hellmouth & The Harvest; Witch; Teacher's Pet; Never Kill A Boy On The First Date; The Pack; Angel; I, Robot...You, Jane; The Puppet Show; Nightmares; Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight; Prophecy Girl; When She Was Bad; Some Assembly Required; School Hard; Inca Mummy Girl; Reptile Boy; Halloween; Lie To Me; The Dark Age; What's My Line?; Ted
From the very first scene of Welcome To The Hellmouth spectacularly subverting the expectations of the audience, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is awesome and practically perfect: the trademark dialogue gets a showcase, the characters of Buffy, Xander, Willow, Cordelia and Giles are all fully formed. Ken Lerner is hilarious as Principal Flutie in the scene about Buffy's transcripts, The Master's entrance is suitably impressive. Buffy and her friends attempt to prevent The Harvest, the first of their apocalypses: Brian Thompson gives great evil, Kristine Sutherland is wonderful as Buffy's mother Joyce and The Master's "You've got something in your eye" line is the first sign that the Big Bad has got a sense of humour. An investigation into a series of attacks by a Witch marks Buffy's first use of the supernatural as a metaphor with a parent reliving their through their children and the psychological horror quotient is up with Cordelia's blindness, another girl's enforced muteness and Catherine Madison's imprisonment. Elizabeth Anne Allen and Robin Riker are both great and the 'out of character' dialogue they're both given is a really nice touch. It may be monster-of-the-week, but Teacher's Pet is not throwaway, but instead with Xander's dream and guitar solo, his tongue-tiedness at meeting Miss French and his embarrassment a discovering why she chose him this is Nicholas Brendon's first chance to shine. Never Kill A Boy On The First Date has a brilliant twist ending. An episode about possession by hyenas should be awful, but The Pack is much better than it must have looked on paper and once again Brendon is superb. Angel is the episode that defines the first season and raises the bar to a mythic level. Alyson Hannigan is always fantastic, so it's about time Willow gets a featured episode and I, Robot...You, Jane is great, Robia LaMorte makes an impressive debut as Jenny Calendar and the last scene is very funny. The Puppet Show expertly and repeatedly misdirects the audience and Armin Shimerman is wonderfully sinister and deadpan as Principal Snyder. As Sunnydale's Nightmares become reality Buffy proves it can provide a fresh take on even the most overused ideas and Buffy's nightmare scene with her father is very hard to watch. Teenage isolation causes invisibility in Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight is another example of Buffy dealing with a subject better than the competition, Charisma Carpenter is wonderful in her first opportunity to show that there is more to Cordelia than meets the eye and the last scene is very "cool". The first season ends with the fantastic Prophecy Girl: Xander practicing asking Buffy out on Willow, Buffy's reaction to finding out she will die, Porky Pig showing on a blood spattered television set, Cordy's driving, everybody liking Buffy's dress and Sarah Michelle Gellar is phenomenal.
After a lovely pop-culture referencing teaser, Season Two makes a bold start with When She Was Bad in which Buffy is a real bitca to everyone and only Cordelia will say so to her face, but this episode creates a brooding atmosphere and the last scene with The Anointed One is very funny. Some Assembly Required is Buffy does Frankenstein and does it in style, the grief stricken Mrs Epps is truly terrifying and it's another chance for Carpenter to shine. Spike and Drusilla turn up with a bang in School Hard and both James Marsters and Juliet Landau make a great debut, but it's also another great episode for Shimerman and Sutherland. Xander falls for an Inca Mummy Girl and the scenes of the gang laughing off the preposterousness of the mummy coming to life and then realising that's exactly what has happened, Willow's costume and Oz's attraction to her are all great. Reptile Boy is an ensemble piece with everyone getting a pretty equal share and Xander as a fraternity pledge and Willow wrestling with her conscience are he highlights. Buffy's first Halloween episode is an absolute classic: Hannigan is great as ghostly chaperone to the others, the first signs of Giles' past are intriguing and the concept that Halloween is usually the supernatural's night off is very nice touch. Lie To Me looks fantastic and the visit to The Sunset Club is wonderfully over the top and the last scene between Buffy and Giles is beautiful. Anthony Stewart Head is wonderful in The Dark Age which turns the audience's expectations of Giles on their head. The two-parter What's My Line? feels epic: Willow and Oz's eventual meeting is very cute, Mister Pfister is the most disgusting demon on the series, the cliffhanger is great, Juliet Landau really comes into her own, "I mock you with my monkey pants!" and Spike and Dru's role reversal. John Ritter is great as Ted, Joyce's new boyfriend and Sutherland is wonderful when given a little more to do, but Gellar is phenomenal when Buffy thinks she has killed another human being.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Darkness And The Light; The Begotten; For The Uniform; In Purgatory's Shadow & By Inferno's Light; Doctor Bashir, I Presume?; Business As Usual; Ties Of Blood And Water; Ferengi Love Songs; Soldiers Of The Empire; Children Of Time; Blaze Of Glory; Empok Nor; In The Cards; Call To Arms; A Time To Stand; Rocks And Shoals; Sons And Daughters; Behind The Lines; Favor The Bold & Sacrifice Of Angels; You Are Cordially Invited; Statistical Probabilities; The Magnificent Ferengi
The fifth season continues with The Darkness And The Light which sees a Cardassian taking revenge on Kira and killing off the members of her resistance cell, their debate has fascinating moral ambiguity. Odo's solidity and Kira's pregnancy come to an end in The Begotten and both of them have interesting emotional reactions to their adoptive 'children'. Sisko's pursuit of Eddington pushes him into a very grey moral area in For The Uniform and the allusions to Les Miserables provide an insight into the latter's martyr complex and Kenneth Marshall gives him an unsettling ambiguity. In Purgatory's Shadow & By Inferno's Light are a phenomenal two-parter that shakes up the status quo of interstellar politics once again and features fantastic performances from Michael Dorn, Alexander Siddig, Andrew J. Robinson and J.G. Hertzler. Robert Picardo, Max Grodénchik and Chase Masterson are hilarious in Doctor Bashir, I Presume?, but the episode is by no means a comedy and Siddig is excellent as it takes a darker turn. Quark takes up arms dealing in Business As Usual until his conscience proves to much for him and he sets one side against the other while Steven Berkoff is terrifying and the scene with Kirayoshi in the pit is very funny. Ties Of Blood And Water concerns deathbed confessions and end-of-life care, Kira's speech about Ghemor's final breaths is very emotive and it's gratifying to see Jeffrey Combs back as Weyoun. Armin Shimerman, Wallace Shawn, Cecily Adams, Combs (in his other role as Brunt), Grodenchik and Masterson are all on form in comedy episode Ferengi Love Songs, with powerful men hiding in bedroom closets, Kira correcting Leeta's every complaint about Rom and Quark's joy at seeing his Marauder Mo action figures. Soldiers Of The Empire is like a pilot for an all Klingon Star Trek show and has very sinister air to it until Worf awakens the warrior within Martok and all the scenes between Dorn and Hertzler are fantastic. Children Of Time is one of the most inventive time travel episodes, the ethical dilemma at its core is exactly the sort of thing Star Trek should be about and Rene Auberjonois is wonderful as the older Odo. Marshall is great as Eddington goes down in a Blaze Of Glory and Nog's attempts to gain Martok's respect manage to be funny without being silly. A salvage mission to Empok Nor leads to a psychological thriller that is probably the creepiest episode of any Star Trek series. War is In The Cards while Jake and Nog barter and trade their way around DS9 in an enjoyable and frivolous tale with Weyoun and Winn's treaty negotiations relegated to a B-story and great performances from Brian Markinson, Louise Fletcher and Combs. The season finale, Call To Arms, packs so much into three quarters of an hour that it should probably feel crowded and yet despite the declaration of war, the laying of mines, the signing of the non-aggression pact between Bajor and the Dominion, the various goodbyes, the station's occupation and a news reporter on the front line and it is absolutely spectacular.
The first six episodes of the sixth season form a serial of the events of the Dominon occupation of Deep Space 9 and life during wartime: A Time To Stand shows a bruised and broken Starfleet, a triumphant Dominion aboard DS9 renamed Terok Nor and Sisko and his crew infiltrating enemy territory in a Jem'Hadar ship. Rocks And Shoals sees that ship destroyed and Sisko forced to make a deal with the enemy while the Vedek's protest is very shocking. Sons And Daughters sees Alexander and Ziyal both attempting to live in two worlds and both being failed by fathers Worf and Dukat and getting more from an adoptive parent in Martok or Kira respectively. It's hard to see Sisko's crew on a mission Behind The Lines without him and Odo's malaise is far scarier than any actual hostility. Favor The Bold & Sacrifice Of Angels form a two-parter within a six-parter which draw all the threads together with the most impressive space battle yet and some character moments: Morn the messenger, Quark the liberator, Rom's being too late, the Female Changeling's blasé attitude to the war, Dukat's descent into madness, the baseball and anyone who says the involvement of the prophets is a deus ex machina may have to fight me. The highlights of all six episodes are the scenes set aboard the occupied station and Visitor, Auberjonois, Shimerman, Combs, Alaimo, Grodenchik, Cirroc Lofton, Melanie Smith, Salome Jens and Casey Biggs are all fantastic throughout. You Are Cordially Invited to Worf and Jadzia's wedding and Jadzia's party, Sisko getting her back on track and Bashir and O'Brien's attack are all great. The genetically engineered savants are all fantastic and their predictions on casualty reports based on Statistical Probabilities are cold and dispassionate. Quark puts together The Magnificent Ferengi to rescue Ishka from the Dominion and the prisoner exchange scenes are very, very funny.

Star Trek: Voyager: Fair Trade; Coda; Blood Fever; Unity; Before And After; Real Life; Distant Origin; Displaced; Worst Case Scenario; Scorpion; The Gift; Day Of Honor; Revulsion; The Raven; Scientific Method; Year Of Hell; Concerning Flight; Mortal Coil
The third season continues with an end of an era for Neelix in Fair Trade, Ethan Phillips is wonderful as the torn Talaxian fearing his usefulness has come to an end he makes some questionable decisions to extend it. The twists and turns of Coda are great as it switches from genre to genre. Blood Fever is more than just a riff on Amok Time, Voyager's Pon Farr episode looks great, feels claustrophobic, features brilliant performances from Roxann Biggs-Dawson and Robert Duncan McNeill and ends on captivating cliffhanger. Unity takes an intriguing view of the Borg and skilfully takes another step toward reintroducing them. Before And After uses time travel in a very innovative way to tell the story of a life lived backwards and Jennifer Lien gives a wonderful performance. Picardo and Wendy Schaal are fantastic as the Doctor experiments with a perfect holofamily in Real Life. As an allegory of Galileo's 'heresy' following Gegen's point of view in his search for Voyager with its pointed dialogue and impressive depiction of Voth culture, Distant Origin is fantastic. Voyager's crew are Displaced one by one in an episode with nice SF ideas and a great twist. Worst Case Scenario is great as an alternative view to life aboard ship and once again Martha Hackett is fantastic. After what is probably the best teaser in all of Star Trek, the season ends with the first part of Scorpion, the Borg pile is a very disturbing image, the realisation of Species 8472 is very impressive and the cliffhanger ending is great.
The fourth season begins with the second part and Jeri Ryan makes a fantastic debut as Seven of Nine, the arguments between Janeway and Chakotay are great, the space battles, the collision of the Borg Cube with the bioship and the Borg drones blown out of Voyager's airlock are stunning uses of CGI. The transitional episode The Gift features great performances from Kate Mulgrew, Ryan and Lien, but watching it is a bittersweet experience as although Jennifer Lien has always given great performances she has had more to do in her last three episode than she has in the last three seasons. Day Of Honor gives the relationship between Torres and Paris a shot in the arm and continues Seven's integration. Leland Orser's portrayal of a hologram's Revulsion is fantastic and Ryan is great in Seven's unexpected comedy scenes. The Raven delves into Seven's past and begins to show her potential. Seven's point-of-view shots in Scientific Method are some of the creepiest images in Star Trek and the competitive maladies conversation of Chakotay and Neelix is very funny. Mulgrew and Kurtwood Smith are wonderful in the phenomenal and epic two-parter Year Of Hell. Concerning Flight is very enjoyable, Mulgrew and John Rhys Davies are great and the realisation of Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine is very impressive. Neelix is resurrected after shuffling off this Mortal Coil and Ethan Phillips' portrayal of his ensuing crisis of faith is fantastic and asking big questions about the afterlife makes for good Star Trek.

Red Dwarf: Tikka To Ride, Blue
Largely single camera and studio audienceless, Red Dwarf VII is often stylistically closer to a comedy drama than a sitcom. Picking up where Series VI left off, Tikka To Ride sees the time-travelling boys from the Dwarf embroiled in the assassination of JFK, the mock up of the Zapruder footage is phenomenal, Michael J. Shannon is great as Kennedy and plot hole paradoxes aside the episode is very enjoyable. The Rimmer Experience and the accompanying Munchkin song from Blue are great.

I'm Alan Partridge: A Room With An Alan; Alan Attraction; Watership Alan; Basic Alan; To Kill A Mocking Alan; Towering Alan
Steve Coogan, Felicity Montagu, Barbara Durkin, Simon Greenall and Sally Phillips are fantastic throughout as Alan Partridge holes up in a Linton Travel Tavern whilst working for Radio Norwich and awaiting news of a second series of Knowing Me, Knowing You in A Room With An Alan, David Schneider is great as Tony Hayers Alan's bizarre Hayers flashbacks are inspired and the strangest thing is that most of the oddest of Alan's TV show pitch ideas all feel like they've been made in the intervening years. Alan's financial situation worsens in Alan Attraction and highlights include Alan sabotaging Lynn's efforts to economise, a visit to "a cracking owl sanctuary" and a great performance from Julia Deakin. Alan's promotional video for canal barge holidays and his agricultural radio debate in Watership Alan are brilliant, and Chris Morris is wonderful. Alan's zombie costume and cone theft are among the highlights of Basic Alan. Featuring a cringeworthy meeting with Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews as Irish TV executives, an Afternoon With Alan Partridge and Alan's biggest fan, To Kill A Mocking Alan is brilliant. Towering Alan sees our hero bounce back, albeit briefly, Kevin Eldon is great, Tony Hayer's wake is hilarious and Alan's triumphant cry of "Jurassic Park!" is genius.

Soul Music
On the face of it, Cosgrove Hall's seven-part animated adaptation of Terry Pratchett's sixteenth Discworld novel seems a tad juvenile in its interpretation, but the music-with-rocks-in soundtrack is nothing less than a work of genius as it makes its way expertly through the history of our own planet's rock music emulating era after era perfectly taking in The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Blues Brothers and more. The voices of Christopher Lee, Debra Gillett and Graham Crowden are great.

Brass Eye: Animals; Drugs; Science; Sex; Crime; Decline
This provocative news satire gives us opinions presented as fact, pointless bombastic graphics and celebrities purporting to be experts to sensationalise and create moral panic. The anatomically impossible plight of Karla the Elephant mobilises an army of well-meaning famous fools in Animals. Morris takes on Drugs and brazenly walks the streets of London asking for Triple-sod, Yellow Bentines and Clarky Cat, the drugs even the dealers aren't aware of, meanwhile David Amess MP asks a question in parliament about made-up drug, Cake. Science asks to believe in invisible lead soup, the 0836 whimper and the braintanglia of rudemath, which Jenny Powell, Nick Owen and Steven Berkoff (even more terrifyingly than in DS9, above) duly do. The introduction to Sex is very stark, the good AIDs/bad AIDs debate works very well and the Naval spin on the odd practices aboard HMS Watford. Crime gives us an acting masterclass from Vanessa Feltz as the unnamed victim, Ted Maul's description of Cowsick as "Dante meets Bosch in a crack lounge" with its overly literal visual accompaniment and astonishingly Rhodes Boyson MP's endorsement the deployment of Batman to fight crime. The season finale looks at the state of Britain and asks if it is in Decline, citing 'Me Oh Myra' by Blouse, the murder of Clive Anderson by Noel Edmunds and a jam-making company which encourages the use of illegal drugs to enhance performance as examples. Chris Morris, Mark Heap, Gina McKee, Kevin Eldon, Doon Mackichan and David Cann. Morris was right all along, TV news has become Brass Eye.

On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen: A Guest At The Dentons; Death By Mau Mau; Go To Joan Glover; Gunpowder, Treason And Plot; A Kind Of Loving; God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
The radio series features much of the same material as the first television series, but without the local shop or new road storyline and some brilliant audio exclusives in their place. A Guest At The Dentons introduces an unsuspecting listening public to Spent. The nun, Bernice as a DJ, Ingleby, Spent 4726's answer machine. Meanwhile the twin mayors, "You ever done bird, mate?" and the funrun are brilliant elements that are unique to Death By Mau Mau. Mr McHunt and Ms Plummer at Spent's school are fantastic additions in Go To Joan Glover. Gunpowder, Treason And Plot has the wonderful blacksmith scenes, "I look like Hamble" and Mark Gatiss as Miss Radcliffe Denton. Ingleby's date with Barbara and Bernice's disease in focus are great in A Kind Of Loving. The last episode shows us Spent at Christmas and two French Hens, Bernice's childhood radio show, Barbara's altered voice, Chinnery's apocalyptic handwashing and the A Christmsa Carol coda are all fantastic in God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Blur: Blur
The eponymous fifth album is an accomplished piece of work carrying the same lyrical prowess away from Britpop and towards a more lo-fi sound with raw guitars. The thought-provoking 'Beetlebum', the gleeful shoutiness of 'Song 2, the beat of 'M.O.R.' willfully plays against its name, 'On Your Own' is singalong pop, 'Death Of A Party' is a languid ballad, 'Look Inside America' is lo-fi at its absolute lo-est and is all the better for it, while 'Essex Dogs' is such a complex composition that has practically everything but the kitchen sink in it. The variety of this album is extraordinary and yet somehow consistent.
Stand Out Tracks: 'Beetlebum', 'Song 2', 'M.O.R.', 'On Your Own', 'Death Of A Party', 'I'm Just A Killer For Your Love', 'Look Inside America', 'Strange News From Another Star', 'Movin' On', 'Essex Dogs', 'Interlude'

Supergrass: In It For The Money
This album is no less energetic than the first, but focuses that energy into an absolute bloody masterpiece. The explosive tracks are still present with the likes of 'Richard III', 'Tonight' and 'Sun His The Sky', but the contemplative 'Late In The Day', 'It's Not Me' and 'Hollow Little Reign' reveal a wisdom that make those explosions all the brighter.
Stand Out Tracks: 'In It For The Money', 'Richard III', 'Tonight', 'Late In The Day', 'G-Song', 'Sun Hits The Sky', 'Going Out', 'It's Not Me', 'Cheapskate', 'You Can See Me', 'Hollow Little Reign', 'Sometimes I Make You Sad'

Cornershop: When I Was Born For The 7th Time
The band's third album takes the Indian sound and tinges it with Indie, Country and all sorts culminating with a Punjabi cover of 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)'
Stand Out Tracks: 'Sleep On The Left Side', 'Brimful Of Asha', 'Butter The Soul', 'We're In Yr Corner', 'Funky Days Are Back Again', 'Good To Be On The Road Back Home', 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)'

The Seahorses: Do It Yourself
Great guitars and strong absurd lyrics abound on what criminally transpired to be the only album from The Seahorses.
Stand Out Tracks: 'I Want You To Know', 'Blinded By The Sun', 'Suicide Drive', 'The Boy In The Picture', 'Love Is The Law', 'Happiness Is Eggshaped', 'Love Me And Leave Me', 'Round The Universe', '1999', 'Hello'

Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Ankh-Morpork goes to war in the twenty-first Discworld novel. The novel deals with the motivations and is filled with pithy comment on the futility of its subject matter, not least Vimes' great speech about "Them". It's very difficult not to like a novel with this level of common sense, comedy and pieces of prose like "Give a man a fire and he's warm for a day, but set fire to him and he's warm for the rest of his life."

Book by Whoopi Goldberg (and Daniel Paisner)
A very funny collection of stories and insights. Whoopi Goldberg is honest about having had this ghost written (although she saves the revelation until the last chapter).

Where's Wally? The Wonder Book by Martin Handford
Wally, Wizard Whitebeard, Wenda, Woof and Odlaw lose themselves among twelve fantasy worlds, including The Game of Games, The Cake Factory, The Odlaw Swamp, Clown Town, The Corridors of Time and the Land of Woofs.

Ghost World: October
The finale of Daniel Clowes' most famous comic ends with a beautifully poignant whimper.

Doctor Who: Endgame 4; The Keep; A Matter Of Life And Death; Fire And Brimstone; By Hook Or By Crook; Tooth And Claw 1-3
The last part of the Eighth Doctor's first strip, Endgame, is the most barmy and shows signs of things to come as the strip becomes brasher and more playful. The Doctor and Izzy visit The Keep in a strip that ties in nicely with the TV stories The Ark In Space and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang and has a truly shocking epilogue that shows there will be consequences. A Matter Of Life And Death sees the return of scores of the Doctor's enemies and allies as a celebration of the strip for Doctor Who Magazine's 250th issue. Picking up two hundred years after The Keep, Fire And Brimstone takes the strip into a complex story arc with an exciting Daleks versus Threshold strip. By Hook Or By Crook is a very odd one shot that nicely develops the relationship between Izzy and Doctor. The first three parts of Tooth And Claw are very different in tone, but Fey Truscott-Sade is a great addition, the syringe wielding monkeys are terrifying and Part Three ends on a great cliffhanger.

Recommendations welcome.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Deep Space Nine seems even longer ago than that now.

Dave said...

I agree. Looking at this, 1997 seems more than fifteen years ago. Somehow DS9 has lost none of its relevance.

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