Nobel – Norwegian TV Series on Netflix

When you think of things like the US State Department, the CIA, West Asia, the Middle East, and television; it seems likely that you might think I’m referencing the Showtime TV series Homeland. And you’d be right.

Now if I change it up a bit to a Western Europe nation, A Foreign Minister heading up something similar to our own State Department but called The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instead of a CIA let’s toss in a Military Special Forces unit (something similar to our own Army Rangers or Navy Seals, then specifically refer to Afghanistan, and put it on television – what might I be referring to?

The answer is Norwegian TV series that came out in 2016 called Nobel. This series is currently airing on the Netflix streaming service. The series stars Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie as Erling Riiser.  He’s a member of the Norwegian Special Forces and as the series opens, he and his men are stationed at a forward operations base somewhere in Afghanistan.

They are enjoying some downtime, so Erling makes a Skype call to his son who is at home in Oslo. Then they get an alert – intel suggests that there might be a suicide bomber who will enter the town square market the next day.

So the platoon heads for town to set up roof top surveillance with shot lines from all four sides of the square. And that’s your opening.

This is an exciting series and trust me it is not just about the military. For one thing, Erling’s wife Johanne works in the Foreign Ministry. She reports directly to the Foreign Minister.

Norway is trying to do an oil deal with a big land owner in Afghanistan who is called Sharif Zamani. But the Norwegian are facing stiff competition for the rights to the oil from the Chinese.

A friend of Johanne’s has begun a program in Afghanistan called Fruit for Life, but there’s a distinct possibility that this might be a front for contraband drugs operation.

Things get even more complicated when Erling, back in Oslo on a furlough, gets a telephone order which leads to an assassination. In truth this is a complicated political conspiracy thriller. The stakes ratchet up as we get deeper and deeper.

Eventually we are not just talking about Afghanistan. And we will also come to find that we are watching a story that is not just about Erling Riiser. Norway itself must worry about its own future.

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The Good Fight

Just asking…

Did you catch the new series called The Good Fight from Robert and Michelle King who were creators and show runners for the award-winning and money-making CBS-TV series The Good Wife?

The pilot and series premiered on CBS last Sunday. The rest of the series will be exclusive and stream only on CBS All Access. In truth, on our calendars, the series begins takes place 9 months after The Good Wife finale (which aired on May 8th 2016), but one year later in story-time.

So a number of the characters who were important over the last few seasons of The Good Wife are now, or at least in Episode 1, in The Good Fight,

or at least in the series opener. Like Zach Grenier as David Lee, and Jerry Adler as Howard Lyman. Cush Jumbo is also on hand but at another firm.

Sarah Steele, who joined The Good Wife, a few seasons in as Marissa Gold (Eli Gold’s daughter) was not is this first episode of TGF, but she is listed for 9 episodes which would make her be a regular in the cast.

Also on hand is Gary Cole who played Kurt McVeigh, a ballistic expert who became Diane Lockhart’s husband in Season 7 of the TGW.

There’s even a photo of the dear and departed Will Gardner. But there’s no sign of Alicia Florrick.

Yes, CBS All Access is a subscription service like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. At the moment they are offering two versions – the Limited Commercials version that will run you $5.99 a month, and the Commercial Free service which will hit you up at $9.99 a month. The good news is that this service will allow you watch The Good Fight and many other CBS offerings at anytime, anywhere, and on any device. The bad news is that you have to pay CBS for this series. They do offer a free one week trial, in case you’d like to check it out before parting with any cash.

The series is headed up with Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart. As the pilot begins, Diane is about to a) retire and b) buy a villa somewhere in the Provence region of France, but not before her last case concludes. She’s representing the City of Chicago and the Chicago PD in a suit for a brutality at the hands of the police. Lockhart hopes to go out with a win.

Until then, Diane had been a name partner in a law conglomerate that had so many name partners in the firm name – that I don’t have the time to give you that information. Anyway, it doesn’t matter as she has signed off on her retirement documents and is all but out the door.

At the moment she is the recipient and guest of honor at her retirement farewell party. Which included on the guest list is Cush Jumbo as Lucca Quinn, and Bernadette Peters and Paul Guilfoyle as the married couple – Lenore and Henry Lindell.

But it is at this party that Diane has her defining moment, It is all downhill from there. You see, Diane will soon find out that she’s been ‘Rindelled’. Or maybe I should say that the Rindells ran an ‘ investments by invitation only’ Ponzi scheme that left Diane, and some of her friends, some of her colleagues, and even some of her clients, in the same boat as those who were victimized by Bernie Madoff.

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La La Land

 

So the Oscars roll in less than a week from today. La La Land has garnered 14 nominations – the most ever and is tied with Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever.

The most ever wins is 11 for Titanic in 1997, Ben Hur brought home 11 in 1959, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003 walked away with 11.

I am not one to make Oscar predictions, but being as generous as possible, LLL shouldn’t win for Best Original Screenplay, shouldn’t win for Best Costume Design, and shouldn’t win for Best Male Actor – so I think 11 Oscars is the max for La La Land. Doesn’t mean I think they will win 11. Rather that I think the most they could win is 11.

I did not see the film back in December on Christmas Day when it opened, or even in January. It was only a few days ago on Wednesday (the 15th) that I saw La La Land and I was at the Cinemark 12 in Bluffton, South Carolina to do so.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this is a film about Hollywood, and the California lifestyle (maybe work search is a better word) , and it slots nicely and initially into the classic boy meets girl genre.

Mia (Emma Stone) is a late twenties aspiring actress who hasn’t made much of an impact lately. On the side, meaning most of the time, she’s a barista at a local coffee imbibery.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who must pound the ivories at various cocktail emporiums. playing songs he hates, and chafing about having to do so (he’d rather own his own jazz club where he could riff his own musical creations for as long as he wanted). The chafing continued right up to the moment when he could no longer do so; that is – until he was fired by the club owner (portrayed by J.K. Simmons).

It is on the night he’s fired, that Mia happened to be in that very same club. Nothing at all happened between them that night other than Sebastian brushing rudely past Mia on his way out. But that wasn’t even the first time they’d seen each other.

That was during a huge traffic tie-up on the Santa Monica Freeway ramp when 100’s of cars were gridlocked into a traffic standstill. But as things usually go in films – they’d be in the same place at the same time again and again – before they noted that those accidentally crossing of paths ‘might mean something’.

Once they met and began conversation, we didn’t expect it would take that long before a romance would start. And that proved to be the case.

Also expected was a change in their careers. Mia wrote and mounted a one-woman show ( at an L.A. version of an off-off-off Broadway venue)

which was sparsely attended but led to something else. Sebastian ran into an old friend

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(played by John Legend) who already had a successful band. But at the time, he needed a keyboard man.

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Showtime’s Billions – Season Two Episode One – Recap & Review

Mission Control over at Showtime launched Season 2 of Billions back on the 10th of February with an Online and On Demand preview ahead of last night’s, the 19th, broadcast. The episode commences late at night at the deserted Yonkers Raceway, which was originally opened more than 100 years ago as the Empire City Casino. Bobby ‘Axe’ Axelrod is meeting with his attorney Orrin Bach (played by Glenn Fleshler) .

Basically this meeting is a way for Axe to describe how he became successful (he watched the parimutuel board and found that the biggest and best players bet late and bet heavy), a strategy that Axe used in the markets. We also got a clear indication of how he wants Bach to go after Rhoades with an armful of lawsuits. Then after but a few minutes we cut to a scene set three days earlier. Cue the music which begins and ends this episode (called Risk Management) , with Harry Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire.

If you are of a certain age, you may remember that song which was released by RCA Records all the way back in November 1971. From the lyrics –

You can climb a mountain, you can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire but you’ll never be free
You can shake me up or I can break you down…

Now imagine two cavemen (I’d have preferred to use ‘Neanderthals’ but the New York Times already has done so) garbed in bearskins, and armed with clubs going after each other. Alas, all we can do is imagine because back in those days, no one walked about with cell phones with built in cameras or had the ability to tweet about what they just watched. There was no media – which meant there wasn’t any fake media either. Now update that idea and replace the original ‘cavemen’ with a more modern pair  –

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti)  and Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis), the Hedge Fund King, have become the warriors in our new visual image. They’re struggling for dominance as the supremo of a new kind of man cave – aka the financial world that serves as a virtual Ground Zero in the TV series Billions.

Aside from the differences in clothing of the two sets of combatants, what you will come away with is the thought that the two sets of images are conceptually the same picture. Or said in as few words as possible – same, same.

Last season, Rhoades was willing to go to any lengths to see Axe behind bars. And Axe with his billions of dollars was able withstand Rhoades and his billions of words that were gathered in the volumes of the Federal Law Codes or his blizzard of legal briefs. As you may recall,

Axe virtually tore down his office building up in Greenwich, or was it Stamford, searching for listening devices which proved to be a fruitless effort. So Axe never found the bugs, Rhoades never proved his case – and his suits against Axe were dropped. But not before –

at the Rhoades domicile, Chuck had committed the unpardonable sin of searching his wife’s computer looking for dirt on Axe.

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The Missing: Season 2 on Starz Network

I just finished the second season of The Missing which has aired on the Starz Network here in the USA. Season One was the tale of a small boy who went missing in a small French City. You can find my review of the first episode of The Missing here. 

Season Two brings back only the general theme (missing child) and the French Detective Julien Baptiste (played by Tcheky Karyo). Besides him we have a completely new story with different actors, characters, and settings.

As the second season begins, it is 2014. The girl in the poster above wanders into a town called Eckhausen, Germany. It is a smaller city hidden away in the Northern Rhine -Westphalian section of Germany – just 33 klicks from Dusseldorf. Upon reaching the center of town the girl collapses in the street.

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We will come to find out that she was in serious need of an appendectomy, and her name is Alice Webster (she’s played by Abigail Hardingham). She was abducted 11 years ago.

Her parents, Sam (David Morrissey) and Gemma Webster (Keeley Hawes) live in Eckhausen as Sam is in the military. He’s been posted to a UK base (likely a part of NATO) in the area. There’s also a younger brother Matthew.

One would think the re-appearance of a girl who went missing 11 years ago would be a good thing. But as the poster at the top of this review states: The Search Ends. The Mystery Begins.

Two years later, bringing us to the present day, French Detective Julien Baptiste arrives in Eckhausen. He is working on a different case involving another missing girl.

As the story plays out, we will find ourselves shuttling between France, the Kurdish section of Iraq, Germany, and even Switzerland. As well as the geographical dislocation, we are also in different years – 1991, 2008, 2014, as well as the present time.

I can state that the transfers (flashbacks and flash forwards) are often a tad confusing. They will give you a visual graphic to tell you where we are and a date reference, but it might be of value for you if you keep in mind the look of the three main characters – Sam is either free of visible and severe scarring on his face or not.

Gemma has longer hair or shorter hair.

And Baptiste still has his limp and most of the time is unshaven, but he is also almost fully bald in the present.

There’s another character, Eve Stone, (played by Laura Fraser) a military police officer, who is either pregnant or not. As I stated, it will require an effort on the part of the viewer.

The mystery of the missing girl takes its time to reveal some of the key particulars. There’s other stuff going on as well – a life threatening illness, an extra-marital affair, high tension action sequences in Iraq, and a pair of suicides.

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Riphagen: The Untouchable

 

This film, entitled Riphagen: The Untouchable is the story of one Andries Riphagen. As the film begins we met Dries, as he is called by some, accompanied by another man. They arrive at a home in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is some time in 1944.

They ask the homeowners if they are hiding any Jews. When an older woman is discovered behind a false wall, Riphagen (played by Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) tells her can help her. She will have to turn over all her valuables in exchange for a safe passage out of Amsterdam. She says she has no valuables.

But Riphagen finds a packet of diamonds hidden in her hair. He promises to return all of her jewels and diamonds after the war. He will need to take about 10 of the diamonds to satisfy the Germans who think that he is indeed working for them.

He tells this woman and other Jews that he is working with the Dutch Resistance and he can get them safely out of Amsterdam.

So, we are faced with this question: Is Riphagen a hero, or is he a traitor to his fellow Dutch people. Said another way is Riphagen an Oscar Schindler or is he something else?

This film was originally a three-part tv mini-series. Netflix thought that these three parts could be merged and made into a film. So you can see it with a Netflix streaming account.

I watched this film for the premise seemed intriguing. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and loved the place; so seeing it again was an idea I couldn’t resist. Of course Amsterdam in 1944 would not be the same as the Amsterdam where I spent some time in 2015.

Obviously, the Amsterdam in the film is not the one I remember from a year and half ago. In fact I watched for about 45 minutes before seeing even a hint of a canal. Maybe that is because a good portion of the film was shot in the Dutch city Utrecht which has an older and more historical look to it whereas Amsterdam has a much more modern look. Having said that, I can state that the topic of the film is a familiar topic – The Holocaust – albeit this story is told from a different angle and from a different perspective.

I must say that Jeroen van Koningsbrugge about whom you might say appears in this film as a version of the 70″s and 80’s actor Telly Savalas in appearance, gives a more than credible performance as the anti-Schindler.

As for the rest of the cast, I knew none of them, but found most them excellent with one exception – the character of Wim Sanders as played by Michel Sluysmans.

The two-hour plus film has a good crisp look to it. There’s not a preponderance of night scenes, or rain-drenched, or foggy scenes either.

The costume designer has done a wonderful job in recreating both the men and women suits and dresses of the time.

Also for the record, the automobiles used gave the definite sense of Europe in the 40’s as we saw both German and French cars.

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Lion

I’m not saying that the timing in my seeing the film Lion, and the announcement of the BAFTA Awards has any kind of deep meaning. What I am saying is the fact that I liked the film and I am decidedly ratified that the British Academy of Film and Television also liked the film.

Lion walked away with two BAFTAs which are Britain’s Oscar-equivalents. Dev Patel won for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (film) and Luke Davies won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film Lion is up for six Oscars and both Patel and Davies have been nominated in the same categories that they won their BAFTAs.

Lion is a film based on a true story (Mild spoilers ahead) . Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) is a small child of five living in a very poor neighborhood called Ganesha Talai located in the vicinity of the city of Kwandha in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His mother is a day laborer and Saroo helps his older brother to steal coal from rail trains which they can then sell in the neighborhood.

On a particular day, Saroo’s older brother Guddu decides that he will head off to a bigger place to do laborer work that pays more. Saroo begs to go with him, and despite the fact that little Saroo is really too small for the work, Guddu takes his little brother with him.

At a rail station, Saroo is instructed to wait for his brother, who promises to return. The small boy falls asleep. When he awakes there’s no sign of Guddu, so the small boy climbs aboard a parked train to look for his brother. Again he falls asleep. This train happens to be a newly de-commissioned train and will be driven empty to Calcutta which is 1600 kilometers away.

When the train finally arrives at Calcutta, 1600 kilometers and two days later, Saroo is not only without his brother, but is literally as lost as one can be. He does not speak Bengali, the local language, he doesn’t know his own surname, his mother’s name, nor can he accurately describe the name of his neighborhood.

After a few days of hanging with a group of homeless street kids, and then being taken in by a woman called Noor, he is eventually ‘captured’ or maybe collected is a better word. He is taken to an orphanage that is described by other kids there as ‘a very bad place’.

That’s basically the first half of the film. Saroo will ultimately be adopted by a Tasmanian couple – the Brierley’s.

Sue Brierley is played by Nicole Kidman, and John Brierley by David Wenham. We see a bit of little Saroo settling in with Brierleys until the screen goes black for a longish 3-4 seconds before we see a graphic that says ’20 years later’.

Saroo Brierley is now played by Dev Patel. This begins the second half of the film, and at its core, it replicates the first half. Whereas little Saroo was a small uneducated child lost in a, to him, foreign city, Dev Patel’s Saroo has none of the disadvantages that his younger self faced.

But he will want the same thing, to return to his roots and find his original family.

The differences between the first half of the film and the second half come down to conventionality. For the viewer, we know as little as the young Saroo. We have none of the information that is asked of him. So for us , we are as lost as the onscreen child. Also as viewers we know that Saroo will survive. But despite that, the first half is more involving and interesting.

The second half is less involving and less interesting. The older Saroo is more than capable of acting on his dreams and remembrances. Plus he has the support of his adoptive parents as well as a girl friend (Lucy is played by Rooney Mara). He is going to distance himself from his supportive family and friends as he works through his dilemma of researching.

What I am getting to is that the child Saroo’s separation from his brother and mother is an external fact and that he has no tools at hand to work things through. But the older and adult Saroo’s problem is mostly internal. Yes it is a struggle for him, but he still has a roof, and food, and safety and security; so his way of dealing with it will be to work things out internally and then using his memory and a terrific computer tool – Google Earth – to solve his problem which is to finds his roots.

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The Young Pope – New HBO Limited Series

HBO rolled out its new limited series The Young Pope on Sunday night (January 15th). Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the series opening episode is nothing if not shocking.

Sorrentino, as we saw in both The Great Beauty (2013) and Youth (2015), is a master of both the beautiful as well as the grotesque. His compositional skills have produced some of the most visually arresting and stunning scenes in both of the above named films. Be sure and confident that this will continue in this limited TV series.

To simplify the story we have Lenny Belardo (played by Jude Law) as the just elected new Pope, and the first ever American Pope and is about to be introduced to the world. Or as the Italian press and media must have gushed out again and again – Habemus Papam – which is Latin for We Have a Pope. This is usually uttered by the Cardinal Protodeacon, who is the most senior of the Cardinal Deacons. This is announced from the Central Balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and what follows is the new Pope gives his Urbi et Orbi – To the City [of Rome] and to the World address.

While that may be how a new Pope is introduced to the world, along with the white smoke. it is not how the series begins. Rather we see Judy Law emerging from under a huge pile of sleeping babies. But it is only a dream.

Law, as Pius XIII, then proceeds to shower and dress (yes, there’s a back view quick shot of a nude Pope about to enter his shower). What follows is a long sequence of the Pope heading to the Central Balcony. Think of Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas scene when Henry Hill and his date make their way through the underbelly of New York’s Copacabana Club. Only this time it is not a continuous or single tracking take. We have a number of cuts to the reactions of the Cardinals, and Monsignors, and other Vatican staff, as well as the faces of many in the huge throng below in St. Peter’s Square who blissfully await their first view of the new Pope.

To be certain as well as specific,  it was splendidly shot and edited.

Sorrentino still has more than a few cards left to play. The day of the new Pope’s introduction is  in the midst of a rain shower. We see literally thousands of umbrellas in the huge crowd. Before saying even a single word, Lenny opens his arms wide and leans back gazing to the heavens – and, as if on cue, the rains stop.

He then launches his Urbi et Orbi speech, and for a while it sounds like the standard Pope speak (aside from the English). But then midway, Sorrentino turns the speech inside out, and instead of papal good wishes and niceties, we get the complete opposite.

This Pope is winging it, and making it up as he goes. He has no intention of following the rules or traditions. He’s like no other Pope of all that came before him.

He’s a conservative and he is going to bring the Church into line with what he wants rather than the way it has always been. He will later say, And this is only the beginning.

He has a one on one conference with Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando above) who is in charge of Finances, Politics, and almost everything that isn’t theological. When he tells the new Pope that he is basically going to run the business and political side of the Church, the new Pope demurs and announces that his Senior Advisor will be Sister Mary, who rescued the young Lenny from an orphanage in California when he was just a boy. Diane Keaton has the role.

Humbled and despondent, Cardinal Voiello has been placed in a position of having to slink away. Lenny has already pressed the secret and silent buzzer beneath the desk that will summon a nun who will spin a lie (example – your 2:30 appointment is waiting in the anteroom).  How obliterating for this Cardinal to be dismissed so easily, and this is only their first meeting.

This new Pope is going shake things up, change the rules as he sees fit, and he could not care less about traditions of being nice to the staff. There was a terrific scene when Cardinal Voiello attempts to challenge the new Pope.

Voiello: Pardon me Holy Father, but you may not smoke in this room.

Belardo: Who made that rule?

Voielle: Your predecessor…

Belardo: Well, there’s a new Pope in town.

That’s our boy Lenny Belardo. He’s not concerned about being nice to anyone for any reason. He doesn’t tweet – he says it right to someone’s face. He doesn’t say it, but you can see the similarities between this Pope and the new President Elect.

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Taboo – New Series on FX Begins January 10th

While Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the brand new TV Series on cable channel FX called Taboo are both set in 19th Century London, they are in different time frames. But they do share a similar foundation.

In Sweeney Todd, a judge sentences a man, who is innocent of a crime to a penal colony in Australia in the mid 1840’s. 15 years later the man returns and he is revenge-minded.

Taboo begins with a man, long thought to have perished in the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Africa years ago, now returns to London after apparently 10 years. He is James Keziah Delaney. He is played by Tom Hardy, and the series is set in the era of Regency London of 1814.

The entire story of Taboo has already been hinted at strongly in the first hour. But I’ll label the four numbered paragraphs below with the term MILD SPOILERS.

1) James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) likely had sex with his half-sister who is married and known as Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) – which may be why he was forced to ship off to Africa years back. We see no flash backs (at least not in Episode One) to make it a certainty, so I am going off the title of the series plus the contents of a letter she penned to Hardy’s Delaney in which she asks that the past remain the past.

2) The East India Company headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and his partners want that parcel of land (a part of Vancouver Island) bequeathed to Delaney by his recently departed Dad. They obviously know prime real estate when they see it. They even call it the gateway to China.

3) Delaney will seek revenge (against some one as yet still undisclosed) as he’s learned (after arranging an illegal post-burial autopsy) that his Dad was poisoned.

4) The first guy to die could be the half sister’s husband. His name is Thorne Geary – a vile name if there ever was one. He is played by Jefferson Hall.  He’s already displayed a strong temper, he’s maltreated his wife (I again am assuming) and he ‘s already threatened to kill Delaney. Again for reasons not made clear.

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Yes this is London circa 1814. Dark and gloomy all over town. The rich had many more candles than did the poor, who mostly are dirty with rotted teeth, and are candle poor. Hardy’s Delaney strides about in a top hat and black long coat.

Delaney arrives at Dad's Funeral

Delaney arrives at Dad’s Funeral

He’s more than a bit shadowy and things that go on a round him are often strange and inexplicable. For example, somehow, there an elegant white horse waiting for him (maybe a rental) when he makes land from the ship that came in from Africa. He buries something or is he digging something up – it is hard to tell.

He’s a man of mystery, who is more than intriguing, and you can tell that he’s got stuff swirling around within him, that will make the entire East India Company Board of Directors wish they hadn’t antagonized him. Delaney never even opened the envelope that contained what the EIC considered a fair price for the pile of rocks – that parcel of land off Nootka Channel now owned by Delaney.

I don’t think I am wrong to expect that what we will see in the upcoming episode will be more violent and bloody. After all the show is rated as MA (Mature), L (Language) and V (Violent).

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