Tag Archives: review

Silent Running

Silent Running posterThroughout November the Guernsey Museum at Candie Gardens have been showing a series of films to coincide with their rather excellent Engage Warp Drive exhibition of science fiction paraphernalia and the Guernsey Arts Commission‘s exhibition of work by Chris Foss.

Following on from Forbidden Planet from the 50s and The Quatermass Experiment from the 60s, was Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 classic Silent Running – a film that, despite my being an avid wittertainee and it being one of the favourite films of Mark Kermode, I had yet to see.

Made in the wake of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in fact by one of the people responsible for that films special effects, Silent Running exists as a parallel film in several ways.

The most obvious for me is that they are clearly both products of their time, with both strongly connected to the prevalent ‘counter culture’, either intentionally or otherwise.

While 2001 became a favourite for its trippy ‘stargate’ sequence and its ideas of expanded consciousness, Silent Running takes another tack, focusing on ideas of conservation and feeling very much the product of the so-called ‘hippy’ movement.

Bruce Dern and robots - Silent Running

Dern and two of the ‘robots’

Another way is in its visual style. While this is fairly obvious thanks to Trumbull’s involvement in the former, as 2001 presents a dark and stark image of space travel, in many ways, at least at first, Trumbull’s view is far more bright, colourful and comparatively homely, and certainly lighter, both visually and in tone.

The film centres on a performance by Bruce Dern as Freeman Lowell, a member of the crew of the Valley Forge, a ship carrying one of the Earth’s final forests (the earth having apparently undergone a Blade Runner 2049 like ecological disaster in the recent past).

Dern’s performance is a genuine tour de force as he spends most of the film acting alongside a trio of small robots (the clear forerunners to R2-D2) shifting from sympathetic eco-warrior through various stages until the film’s, in hindsight, inevitable climax.

Given the look of the film and the fact that it was made by a ‘special effects man’, Dern’s performance is all the more impressive as it gives the film a heart it could easily not have had and he is remarkably convincing in it.

Silent Running - Valley Forge

The Valley Forge and a sister ship

Credit for some of this must also be given to the actors inside the drone robots as they too manage to imbue near immobile boxes with surprising amounts of character, rather like their counterparts in Interstellar, but somewhat more modestly successful.

My one criticism of the film is that there are moments where it seems to sacrifice internal logic in order to further its thematic cause. While not a major problem as it leads to the film having a coherent feel and tone, there are moments where it jars, particularly for someone more accustomed to the more precise style of mainstream sci-fi that has come to the fore in the last few decades.

Silent Running Bruce Dern

Dern

Even with its generally ‘green’ message Silent Running does reach a climax that rather surprised me but again fits neatly into the post-Altamont-era making for a film that is undeniably great but that I feel will grow in my mind the more I think about it and with now inevitable re-watching.

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Speakeasy – Lost Souls

Speakeasy - Lost Souls album coverMod revival supergroup Speakeasy returned in November 2017 with a third full length album, Lost Souls, on the Heavy Soul Records label.

Following on from Trouble and their self-titled debut the album continues their trend of mixing classic rock ‘n’ roll with elements of mod, punk and soul.

The band is made up of members of The Purple Hearts, The Chords, The Risk and Long Tall Shorty (amongst others) including Simon Stebbing, Mark Le Gallez, Buddy Ascott and Ian Jones.

My review appeared in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 18th November 2017, you can read it below:

Speakeasy - Lost Souls - review - 18/11/17

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Murder On The Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express posterThere’s often talk of tapping into different audiences with films, with one that comes up with fair regularity being the somewhat patronisingly named ‘grey pound’.

On paper Kenneth Branagh’s take on Agatha Christie’s famed mystery, Murder On The Orient Express, falls firmly into this category with its cast of familiar faces, well-known name and the distinctly Sunday night period drama feel of its advertising.

For the most part that’s what the film delivered, following an elaborate bit of scene setting introducing Branagh as the magnificently moustached but awkwardly OCD detective Hercule Poirot with one of his famed pieces of sleuthing in Jerusalem, before he joins the titular train ride, with the rather impressive list of passengers, one of whom doesn’t last the duration.

Story-wise Branagh and co do a good job of building the sense of mystery and tension on the train even before the murder occurs, and, for the most part, this cranks up nicely throughout until the inevitable final reveal.

Not knowing the story before hand I didn’t feel anything was spoilt as it went along and the mystery was nicely maintained.

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

Branagh as Poirot

While the cast list was impressive including Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Willem Defoe, Penelope Cruz and more, aside from Branagh most didn’t really have a huge amount to do, but they came together to create a nice ensemble of characters centred on Poirot, but each with their own enjoyable idiosyncrasies.

This version of Poirot meanwhile feels a little like a more sedate version of Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, more due to the slightly irreverent and socially awkward feel than the slow motion bare knuckle fighting sense.

Where the film lost its way somewhat was the pace, at times it felt like it wanted to be a very deliberate murder mystery tracing Poirot from clue to clue as he put the pieces together and this is when it was at its best.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

At other times however it gave in to bursts of action that felt a little out-of-place or speedy montage’s that didn’t really sit well with the rest of the film, along with an unfortunate habit of having people telling us how good Poirot is at his job rather than relying on his impressive sleuthing to make that point.

In the end though it balanced out ok and, while the climactic explanation scene was a little clichéd and ridiculous (though I suspect this may be the source of the cliché), it came with a spirit that was, to probably stretch a metaphor to breaking point, like the cherry on top of one of the cakes it seems Poirot is so fond of.

So, what Branagh has created is just that, a nice, enjoyable confection that won’t over stretch the mind or sit especially heavily on the memory, but does a good job of bridging the gap between older and younger audiences and I can see becoming a longstanding Christmas evening favourite once it makes its way to TV.

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The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds by John Higgs

The KLF - Chaos, Magic and The Band Who Burned A Million PoundsWhere does one start with telling the story of The KLF (variously known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The JAMs, The Timelords or The K Foundation)?

That is exactly the question that John Higgs starts with in his 2012 book exploring the story of the musical career of Bill Drummond (King Boy D) and Jimmy Cauty (Rockman Rock) between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s.

What he chooses to do is something rather akin to what the pair did in their careers and ignore any past conventions of their chosen form to create a narrative representative of them and their inspirations while also, it seems, getting to the heart of the matter far more than a basic list of facts might.

The band are intentionally shrouded in mystery and, through an exploration of their work that touches on everything from magic thinking to Discordianism to straight forward journalism, Higgs at once tells the story from their early theatrical and musical endeavours to the titular act of ‘burning a million quid’ via being a chart topping dance act.

John Higgs

John Higgs

While the basic story is fascinating and engrossing, where the book really succeeded for me was in its revealing of things i hadn’t previously been aware of, but now am quite fascinated to explore.

For a start there’s the somewhat confusing back catalogue of The KLF (and their various alter egos). While officially deleted by the band themselves, a lot of it is on YouTube and the like, though even there navigating it feels at best randomly chaotic and you’ll likely find a few songs far more easily than the rest – particularly their unlikely team up with country legend Tammy Wynette.

Then there is Illuminatus! the book that inspired, or was it inspired by, the Discordian movement that itself grew out of the counter-culture movements of the American west coast in a way that, going by accounts here, is fabulously impenetrable to almost the point of not being worth bothering with – which just makes it all the more interesting.

The KLF

The KLF

As well as that it asks far bigger questions about the state of our place in the universe than any other band biography I’ve read before, with a real focus on the act of destroying money and the relationship that has to everything that has happened since and then there’s the introduction of magical thinking…

So, while this book is full of wilful contradiction and what feel like flights of fancy that one suspects are closer to the truth than one might think possible, it also feels like a great evocation of The KLF both in terms of their literal story but also their philosophical outlook.

Or maybe it really isn’t…

Either way it’s a great read mixing pop philosophy with the tone of an extended article from the NME in a way I’ve never previously encountered and if you’ve any interest in either the band or pop music on any level, I’d heartily recommend diving in and seeing where you end up.

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Octoberflame IX: Night Two – The Observatory, Santa Ana – 27/10/17

Tiger Army and guests

Tiger Army and guests

Arriving at The Observatory in Santa Ana, Orange County, a little before doors for the second night of Tiger Army’s ninth Octoberflame Halloween weekend spectacular, there was a real sense of community spirit amongst the crowd, reminiscent of when I last saw The Wildhearts when they were touring their PHUQ album.

It was clear talking with just those around me that these feel like more than just regular gigs, even though the band have been back to a regular touring schedule for the last two years, with people travelling from as close as minutes away to those from nearby cities, other states or, like in my case, considerably further.

It was also clear their was a strong contingent there to catch the opening band, Las Vegas based, So Cal regulars, The Delta Bombers.

Combining a little bit of country with a lot of rock ‘n’ roll and a raw rockabilly kind of energy the quartet blasted out from the off and had the crowd with them all the way.

The Delta Bombers

The Delta Bombers

Dressed for the night as The Hives as their choice of Halloween attire, they were reminiscent of the Swedish garage rockers in terms of energy but with more grit thrown into the mix.

Their big presence and big sound, highlighted by the huge voice of frontman Chris Moinchen, that stood out even in an a capella moment, and the brilliant work of drummer Kirk Highberger, meant that as their thirty minute set came to an end it was clear many wanted more, myself included.

As with my past Octoberflame experience, Tiger Army have curated each night to feature a varied line up, so after the sizzling rockabilly of The Delta Bombers it was time for some pure vintage So Cal punk rock from Channel 3.

While they may have a looked a little like the teacher from The Breakfast Club fronting a punk band, it was clear right away the image didn’t really match the attitude.

Being one of the lesser elder statesmen bands of Californian punk rock they played a brand of fairly standard but highly enjoyable skate punk that was a little lose around the edges in places.

Mike Magrann of Channel 3

Mike Magrann of Channel 3

Given the welcome received by The Delta Bombers it was hard to escape the fact that there weren’t as many here for CH3, so they had a bit of a struggle winning over the audience, but, by the half way mark people were getting into it.

By the final track of the set they got a pit going and seemed to have won over many fans, not surprising given frontman Mike Magrann’s charm and energetic presence.

After a slightly protracted break, and it felt like the air conditioning being switched off, Tiger Army stepped onto the stage to a huge reaction and the mosh pit kicked off in earnest from opener Ghost Tigers Rise, onwards.

With a different set on each of the three nights of Octoberflame, it felt like this one was maybe a little on the harder and faster, more punk and psychobilly, side of the ban’ds repertoire, but it featured enough variation to keep everyone happy.

While the band were a little sloppy on some of the lesser played songs, playing to this, metaphorically if not entirely geographically, hometown crowd meant this was all taken in stride and every song was greeted like a hit single and the pit never let up, save for a brief waltz to the slowest of numbers.

Tiger Army and their crowd

Tiger Army and their crowd

The standard trio of Nick 13 (guitar, vocals), Djordje Stijepovic (bass, vocals) and Mike Fasano (drums) were joined by two guests to augment their live sound, allowing for more rarely heard album tracks to be realised.

First was backing vocalist Savi who’s astonishing voice made sounds I would otherwise have assumed might be a very well controlled theremin adding at points a suitably spooky atmosphere but also adding to the bands more recent noirish vintage tendencies.

Also joining the band, on keyboards, was TSOL’s Greg Kuehn adding to the Southern California punk community feel and again helping out on both some of the newer tracks and a few of Tiger Army’s older more country tinged moments.

Ending the main set on Santa Carla Twilight (a particular favourite of mine) and their anthem Never Die the band were soon back for an encore that left the hot (in both senses) crowd satisfied, at least until the next night for those doing the Octoberflame marathon, and backed up the feeling that, in this setting, Tiger Army’s fan base feels as much like a movement as that I’ve seen with The Wildhearts and My Chemical Romance in their prime.

You can see more of my photos from the show over on Facebook by clicking here

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Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 posterEver since the announcement of Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-if movie of the early 80s, there was a sense of worry, for two reasons.

First was wondering could a sequel heading back into this world after such a long break live up to its predecessor and not just spoil it, and secondly, given it took about three watches for me to properly appreciate the original, would I be left cold and/or more confused than satisfied after a first watch.

As the film begins and we are introduced to Ryan Gosling’s new Blade Runner, K, initially appearing very similar to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, as he speeds across a future California under a grey sky and over a vast ‘farm’ to track down a renegade replicant.

Through this encounter we learn that K is also a more modern form of replicant and what at first appears rather routine sets in motion a series of events that build on the themes, mysteries and story of the original film in a wider context.

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049

Gosling as K

What really makes Blade Runner 2049 work so well is how it expands what we already know of this world; from the thirty years between the settings, to showing us more of this ruined future Earth, but all with purpose and not just to show off some impressive special effects (though it does have impressive special effects).

Added to this is the attention to detail in this being a future of the world Scott created rather than just a future version of now.

I won’t go into too much detail of the plot, but as it goes on it raises some pretty big questions for a major blockbuster level film, particularly focussing on what it means to be human.

While this is the same question raised in the original here it is developed further, both through the advancements in the technology of the replicants and with the introduction of holographic life forms.

Blade Runner 2049 Los Angeles

Los Angeles 2049

This is then balanced with a good dose of noir styled dialogue, some very well handled and never gratuitous action that actually moves the story forward and a pace that echoes the original and stands out from current blockbuster cinema by being very measured and deliberate – in less talented hands it could be called slow but it never feels that, rather crediting the audience with patience and intelligence.

As the film ends with enough sense of mystery maintained to not spoil the original and with enough story told to leave new questions, Blade Runner 2049 is a great movie that has everything in place it might need to become a longstanding classic of the genre, and based on this I’m now even more excited by the rumoured prospect of Denis Villeneuve directing a new version of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

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Dinosaur Jr and Easy Action – Regency Ballroom, San Francisco – 20/10/17

Dinosaur Jr

Dinosaur Jr

Heading into the rather grand looking surroundings of the Regency Ballroom on Van Ness I didn’t know entirely what to expect. While opening band Easy Action were a total mystery to me, Dinosaur Jr came with a formidable reputation and, while I’d not heard much, I very much liked what I had.

Detroit four piece, Easy Action, kicked things off in suitably loud fashion echoing their geographical forebears by combining something of the Raw Power of The Stooges with something of the righteous anger of the MC5, though it was less clear where this ferocity was being directed as the vocals were an incomprehensible wall of distortion throughout.

The power trio set up of the band were impressive with the rhythm section highly effective in a no-frills kind of way, while the guitarist switched from locking into the rhythms to riding waves of swirling feedback and bringing out some garage rock solo work very nicely.

Easy Action

Easy Action

Unfortunately, as it went on, the distorted raging vocals became a bit too repetitive losing any dynamic the band were creating, but it was all appreciated politely if not hugely enthusiastically by the audience – and it was nice to hear a fuzzed up cover of Cheap Trick’s ELO Kiddies.

Then, with more gear on stage than looks generally sensible for three men (including two drum kits along with J Mascis’ trademark wall of amplifier and a similar amount for bass player Lou Barlow), Dinosaur Jr eased into an 18 song set, including encores, that lasted for the better part of two hours.

From the start the sound they created was truly immense easily filling the not quite packed venue, but not in a way that became overbearing, something I was surprised at given their reputation for volume.

Dinosaur Jr

Dinosaur Jr

While its undeniable that Mascis’ guitar is the star of the show in Dinosaur Jr, here there were points where it was all we could hear, with the drums and bass at times getting lost and at no point did Mascis’ or Barlows’ vocals come across at all – to the extent that there were points where you could see them singing but hear nothing of it.

Despite that the playing was impeccable showing why they have the reputation they do, Mascis in particular.

Unfortunately the momentum they built up in each song was often lost soon after as Mascis stopped to tune, change guitars and tune again between most songs, along with points where a second guitarist, synth player or second drummer would shoehorn themselves onto stage.

All this made it hard to properly get into the performance and that seemed to be felt across the crowd with everything being clearly appreciated and much polite applause being heard, but little more.

Dinosaur Jr and Necros

Mascis and Barlow with Swalla and Sakowski

Once the band did the traditional vanishing act before the encore, the energy and atmosphere picked up a bit as they welcomed Todd Swalla of hardcore band Necros to the stage along with Easy Action bass player Ron Sakowski (also formerly of Necros) for a blasting run at that band’s Reject with Barlow on vocals.

This was all rounded off with Easy Action frontman John Brannon joining Dinosaur Jr for a noisy version of The Stooges’ TV Eye to close the night on a raucous note.

While I found it hard to entirely engage with Dinosaur Jr, and they weren’t as loud as I was expecting (which was slightly disappointing) this was still an impressive show and the trio did an excellent job of being an internationally known name while maintaining something of the edge you find when seeing a new band in a small venue.

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Mindhorn

Mindhorn posterComing from the same group of people that created Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Christmas rock opera AD/BC and The Mighty Boosh, there was a fairly solid set of expectations going into Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby’s Mindhorn.

To say it didn’t disappoint in these is an understatement as the story, in an echo of Darkplace, focusses on a less than successful vintage television show.

Here though, rather than just showing that programme, Mindhorn takes this and, through a murder mystery maguffin on the Isle of Man, brings the character into the real world, through the prism of now washed up actor Richard Thorncroft (Barratt).

Really, the plot is a bit of a sideshow to creating a series of scenes that see Thorncroft do his best to reboot his career with the aid (or lack there of) of a series of side characters from the relatively normal, former love interest and co-star turned local TV journalist Patricia Deville (Essie Davis), to the twisted caricature PR emprasario Geoffrey Moncrief (Richard McCabe) and the apparent villain to Mindhorn’s super heroic detective, The Kestrel (Russel Tovey on excellently bizarre form).

Julian Barratt as Thorncroft/Mindhorn

Barratt as Thorncroft/Mindhorn

This all runs very close to the line of not working at all, but, in the hands of so many performers and creators well versed in this kind of flight of fancy, it is a hilarious ride of a film.

Barratt in particular puts in a great turn as Thorncroft/Mindhorn that makes what could be a genuinely horrible character engaging and entertaining, even if we never really care too much if he ends up rebooting his career – but then I’m not sure that’s ever the intention.

The rest of the supporting cast all do an admirable job too, giving their all despite some impressively bizarre scenes that you feel some actors might not be able to deliver with enough of a straight face.

The setting and references may be where the film hits a roadblock in its appeal. While similar in some ways to the likes of The Naked Gun, which had a universal appeal, this relies on references to standards of 80s British TV maybe a little too much.

To me, comments about Bergerac, John Nettles, Wogan and more, make perfect sense, but I can only imagine that on an audience younger or outside the UK they may be lost.

Simon Farnaby as Clive Parnevik

Simon Farnaby as Clive Parnevik

The setting of the Isle of Man may also cause the same problem. While it’s easy to recognise the caricature of the place presented in Mindhorn, it is a very British feeling locale I’d expect to find in a television sitcom rather than a film (though that didn’t harm Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz).

In the end though Mindhorn is a great fun film that, while it’s unlikely to bec e to modern classic, features a couple of great performances and comes with a sense of uncynical fun in its ridiculousness that is hard to fault.

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Foo Fighters – Concrete And Gold

Foo Fighters - Concrete And Gold - album coverFor the past two decades Foo Fighters have been gradually transforming from pop-grunge pioneers to stadium rock titans.

While their last album, the geographically conceptual Sonic Highways (that came with an accompanying series of documentary films about the cities where each track was recorded) had some interesting moments, its hard to argue that the band have slipped comfortably into fairly middle of the road territory of late, with their reputation relying on the big songs from their first four or five albums.

So, onto new release Concrete And Gold and, unfortunately, it doesn’t really buck this trend.

While its hard to find any major standout moments, even several listens in, there’s still a lot to like here as Dave Grohl and co seemingly go on a journey through their influences, all with their own flavour added in.

Across the record things switch from Led Zeppelin aping to Fleetwood Mac like passages through The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd and no doubt more.

While it still sounds like a Foo Fighters record, with various parts harking back to their post-grunge heyday, its hard to escape the fact that all those other bands do their thing better than the Foos do – though I’ve no doubt it will all sound immense in a live environment.

Foo Fighters 2017

Foo Fighters

As well as the proud influence displaying, this is the first time I can remember Foo Fighters (and by definition, Grohl) being so obviously political.

La Dee Da is the most obvious example, but it does permeate the record as a whole, giving it a slightly odd place in the Foo’s cannon but fitting in perfectly with the current zeitgeist of American (and wider western) society that is hugely politically charged – though I want to make it clear this is nothing compared to the likes of the recent release from Prophets of Rage.

The album also sees Foo Fighters move away from producer Butch Vig who across their last couple of records had come across as almost an extra member of the band. Here though production duties go to Greg Kurstin and, whether its down to production or not I can’t entirely say, the final product sounds far more muddled than the band’s past output.

Foo Fighters live 2017

Foo Fighters live

In the end then, Concrete And Gold sees Foo Fighters continuing on their path to span the gap between genuine credibility and out-and-out pop, and they once again do an admirable job and will no doubt sell out arenas and stadiums the world over.

However, I doubt that in 15 or 20 years anyone will be talking about any of these songs the way they do today about My Hero, Everlong, Breakout, All My Life or Times Like These.

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Granite Wolf and SugarSlam – The Vault – 13/10/17

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

Following Brunt at The Golden Lion a couple of weeks ago and WaterColour Matchbox at The Vault last weekend the loud, heavy end of Guernsey’s music scene continued to be represented in St Peter Port on Friday 13th October 2017 as hardcore riff machine Granite Wolf and hard power pop quartet SugarSlam rocked the venue on the seafront.

After a bit of time away Granite Wolf launched into their set in tight, punchy and intense form with their brand of hardcore with hints of heavy metal making a refreshing blast to the senses.

While its hard to pin down visually quite why, the five-piece presented a united, gang like, front on stage and this was infectious with the audience at the front feeling like part of the process of the energy flowing through the room.

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

With riffs and beatdowns aplenty they did get a couple of modest mosh pits going but it seemed many in the crowd were more worried about spilling their pints than really letting go on the dancefloor, but nonetheless they got into the heavy sounds.

With a good mix of fast, speed metal, heavy head banging stuff and powerful hardcore, Granite Wolf once again set out their stall as one of the bands to watch in the island – I just hope they get to gigging a little more regularly now they seem to be back to their more solid, original, line up.

After something of a protracted break to set up and sound check, SugarSlam hit the stage in slightly heavier mode than usual, no doubt to try to match the earlier band, however, less than two songs in they ran into trouble with a blown amplifier.

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

With that hastily fixed they were back on form and racing through a set mixing covers and originals new and old, but by this time the audience had sadly diminished to quite a degree.

Undeterred the band blasted on and those who remained clearly had a great time with songs by Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age going down just as well as the band’s own – Jackals being a particular, immense sounding, highlight that isn’t heard as much these days.

Given the time and an under the weather drummer the band cut their set short, wrapping up with their take on Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Rockin’ In The Free World, before the audience convinced them back for a super speed blast of Ace Of Spades to close the night on sweaty and exhausted high.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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