DID YOU READ

Starting Small: Ten Notable Shorts That Became Features

Starting Small: Ten Notable Shorts That Became Features (photo)

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While some filmmakers spend their entire careers maximizing the succinct pleasures of the short film, others start out by making shorts that they hope will maximize their chances of becoming a feature film director. This week alone will see the feature debuts of two directors who have turned their short films into full-length one — Neill Blomkamp, whose 2005 socially conscious alien invasion tale “Alive in Joburg” has been turned into the Peter Jackson-produced “District 9,” and Paul Solet, whose 2006 horror short “Grace,” about a mother who refuses to give up on her miscarriage has morphed into a feature of the same name starring Jordan Ladd. Here’s a look at ten other notable shorts that got the full feature treatment.

“Bottle Rocket” (1992)
Directed by Wes Anderson

What’s another $4,000 after paying private school tuition? That was probably the pitch made by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson to their fathers, a year after the two met in a playwriting class at the University of Texas at Austin and decided to pen a script together about a trio of unlikely hoodlums. Similar to the clueless would-be criminals they created — Bob (Robert Musgrave), Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) — Anderson and Wilson scored the initial amount of cash that they asked for from their parents, but only wound up shooting eight minutes of 16mm footage before running out of funds. As a result, the Wilsons’ father contacted family friend and “Paris, Texas” screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson to see if the kids’ work had promise, which led to Carson finding enough money to finance the rest of the 13-minute short, as well as producer Barbara Boyle getting in touch with then-Gracie Films vice president Polly Platt. The short got into Sundance in 1993, and though the unusually rhythmic patter of the characters didn’t make much of an impression on audiences in Park City, it got the attention of Platt’s boss, James L. Brooks, who would ultimately bankroll the feature — which ironically was rejected by Sundance, though there’s no question who got the last laugh.

So What’s Different? Beyond an expansion of the plot, not a whole lot is different except for a jazzier score and that it’s shot in black-and-white.

“Sin City” (2005)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

While it was never technically released as a short, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel never would’ve happened without the film’s opening scene, which was made long before production started on the feature. That was partly because Rodriguez first wanted to get Miller’s blessing on the project, and figured there was no better way to do so than to show him some footage. So Rodriguez called up his “Faculty” star Josh Hartnett to star opposite Marley Shelton in an adaptation of Miller’s “The Customer is Always Right,” in which a monochromatic Hartnett plays an assassin hired to kill Shelton’s woman in red. On the film’s DVD commentary, Miller relates Rodriguez’s invitation to join him in Austin as they shot the scene, saying Rodriguez told him, “We’ll see how it works out. The worst possible thing is we’ll end up with a cool short little film and part ways. And you know, maybe you’ll agree to do this.” Ten hours later, the shoot was complete and Rodriguez got Miller’s yes. Afterward, the pair used the short to recruit actors for the film by listing their name in the accompanying credits, even if they hadn’t agreed to star in it yet.

So What’s Different? Not a thing.

“The Dirk Diggler Story” (1988)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

In the October 2008 issue of Esquire, writer John H. Richardson did a fairly exhaustive job of piecing together how a high school senior named Paul Thomas Anderson corralled his friends and family to make what would become the inspiration for his second feature, “Boogie Nights.” The gist: with his friend Michael Stein in the lead, Anderson was going to make a mockumentary about the well-endowed porn star Dirk Diggler, based on “Exhausted,” the documentary of real-life porn star John Holmes, featuring interviews with Reed Rothchild (later to be played by John C. Reilly) and a pampered porn producer played by character actor Robert Ridgely, who also had a role in the feature. (Ridgely was a friend of Anderson’s dad, Ernie, who had a prolific career as a TV announcer and would also lend his voice to his son’s short). The short so obsessed Anderson that he used a Diggler quote for his high school yearbook — saying “All I ever wanted was a cool ’78 ‘Vette and a house in the country.”

So What’s Different? Not as much as you’d think, given that Anderson was only 17 when he made it, though having been shot on video, the short doesn’t have Robert Elswit’s lush cinematography to convey a certain elegance to the otherwise déclassé subject matter. Though it’s crude in other ways as well, the general story remains the same, including Diggler’s drug problems and desire to become a musician, though he doesn’t survive a fatal overdose in the end.

“Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade” (1994)
Directed by George Hickenlooper

According to Billy Bob Thornton, this 1994 short shouldn’t be on this list, since he considers the full-length “Sling Blade” as an extension of a monologue he performed as part of his 1986 one-man play “Swine Before Pearls.” But that’s a bit of revisionist history, since Thornton and “Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade” director George Hickenlooper had a falling out after production wrapped on the short about a simpleton who gets released from prison. Thornton has rarely discussed it since. In a 1997 interview with the L.A. Times, he said, “I would have been glad to have talked about the short if George hadn’t badmouthed me all over town,” shortly after he won an Oscar for best screenplay for the feature and MVP Home Entertainment, a video company looking to capitalize on the feature’s success, decided to release the short as a standalone video. Before all the bad blood set in, Hickenlooper and Thornton met after Thornton’s script for “One False Move” was produced and the director cast Thornton in a small part in the Civil War horror film “Ghost Brigade,” followed by a three-day shoot for “Some Folks” in the same Simi Valley hospital where “Terminator 2” was shot.

So What’s Different? For starters, the use of black-and-white skews the tone of the film and Thornton’s Karl Childers character towards a completely darker tone. Molly Ringwald plays a reporter who interviews the murderer on the day of his release in a role that was later inhabited by Kathy Sue Brown — the idea of the interview proved to be a leaping off point for the feature, which made Childers far more sympathetic.

“Peluca” (2003)
Directed by Jared Hess

Before he became Napoleon Dynamite, Jon Heder was Seth, an eccentric teen who comes to the rescue when his friend’s cousin gets a bad haircut, putting down his ninja books long enough to find the perfect wig. Heder actually was dabbling in animation when his BYU classmate Jared Hess cast him in the short, which was based in part on his childhood exploits in Preston, Idaho. With less than $500 and some black-and-white 16mm film stock, Hess and Heder went back to the land of potatoes to shoot the nine-minute short, which as Hess admits on the commentary track for “Peluca” on the “Napoleon Dynamite” special edition DVD looks especially grainy since he overexposed the film stock by accident. “Peluca” made a splash at Slamdance in 2003, a year before “Dynamite” would hit Sundance in 2004.

So What’s Different? Besides being shot in black and white, Pedro and his cousin Giel would be condensed into simply the Pedro character in the feature and Heder’s Seth would be rechristened “Napoleon Dynamite,” though Heder’s in full-on “Gosh…” mode in the short.

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Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, from Paramount Pictures.

Rotten Apples

10 Rotten Movie Franchises That Need to Stop

Catch the "Too Rotten to Miss" movie Scary Movie 2 tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

We live in the age of the blockbuster movie franchise. If you want a green-light, you better have tights, a light saber and decades worth of backstory and fan love to build on. And while we love some of these franchises, some just keep getting new entries despite horrible reviews, audience indifference and an utter lack of care from even the people making them.

With IFC and Rotten Tomatoes celebrating “too rotten to miss” movies like Scary Movie 2 this month, we thought it high time to point out just a few franchises than should be retired to the bottom of your Netflix queue. Here are 10 “rotten” movies franchise that need to just go away, please.

10. Transformers

Transformers
Dreamworks Pictures

Hollywood execs, we get it. You grew up in the ’80s, and now you want to produce everything you loved as a child, only make it a lot worse. Here’s the thing: while a show like Stranger Things took all the tropes and style of ’80s movies, and created something new, lingerie commercial director Michael Bay went the opposite way, taking a title and basic concept, and creating a pile of garbage made out of robot parts.

If poop jokes mixed with racism, misogyny and incoherent fight scenes are your thing, this is the franchise for you. If you have even the slightest respect for character or basic story logic, you have to admit this franchise has been awful from frame one. Yes, we were alive in the ’80s, but some things are best left in the past. Unfortunately, with a sixth movie, a Bumblebee spin-off and a proposed G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover movie in the works, this franchise will probably outlive us all.


9. Scary Movie

Scary Movie
Dimension Films

True, its been a couple of years since we’ve been subjected to one of these, but you know that Jamie Kennedy or the Epic Movie guys are sitting in a writers room somewhere, pitching jokes on how to merge The Purge with a fart joke. This franchise started out in a mediocre place, a Wayans family knockoff of better movies like Airplane, and things went downhill from there. You shouldn’t be able to spin five movies out of a few Scream jokes and a Carmen Electra cameo.


8. Alvin and the Chipmunks

Alvin and the Chipmunks
20th Century Fox

Designed to appeal to kids who love ’50s novelty albums and pun-y titles, the Chipmunk franchise feels like it was made by a prop comic from the Uncanny Valley. Full of rapping CGI rodents, and a paycheck cashing Jason Lee, 20th Century Fox has somehow made over a billion dollars off a series of diminishing “Squeakquels.” We do secretly sort of hope these movies keep getting made, just so David Cross keeps getting forced to star in them.


7. X-Men

X-Men Oscar Isaac
20th Century Fox

If we can all be honest with ourselves, these movies have been a mixed bag for the past decade. (Even the foul-mouthed spin-off Deadpool made fun of how self-serious the franchise has become.) In an ever expanding quest to turn the series into a dumbed-down version of the moody mutants’ ’90s cartoon, the stories have gotten paper-thin, the performances phoned in and the monster makeup just this side of Grimace cosplay. (We’re looking at you, X-Men: Apocalypse.)

Do we really need to see Hugh Jackman’s take on Wolverine for the ninth time? There is only so much steamed chicken and protein powder this man can eat before this franchise legitimately becomes a form of torture. Fox Studios, there are enough superheroes on the big screen right now. Maybe let this one go, and a decade from now Marvel can reclaim it and make some good movies again.


6. Tarzan

Tarzan
Warner Bros.

There have been over 200 projects starring Tarzan since pictures started motioning at the turn of the last century. 200! This vaguely racist story of a white man taming the, ahem, Dark Continent, has been told ad nauseam. We know Hollywood loves to keep beating iconic characters into the ground, and Tarzan probably has near universal name recognition, but that doesn’t mean that anyone wants to, you know, go and watch a movie about the guy, no matter how ripped Alexander Skarsgard’s abs are.


5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Tarzan
Paramount Pictures

These “heroes in a half shell” were a stretch for movie stardom back at the peak of their popularity, but thanks to some ingenious work by The Jim Henson Company, and Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap,” they were able to have a moment during the early ’90s.

Now, decades later, Michael Bay’s desperate desire to ruin all of our childhoods has found its way to these pizza loving turtles with ‘tude. The CGI monstrosities that have resulted can barely be called movies. Like the Transformers franchise, but with more creepy scenes of an anthropomorphic turtle hitting on Megan Fox, these movies are a nail in the coffin of ’80s nostalgia, and need to be put to bed before Bay starts sniffing around the Thundercats.


4. Now You See Me

Now You See Me
Summit Entertainment

Magic tricks are impressive when you see them performed live. The fun is in wondering how they could possibly do that. When you watch a bunch of Christopher Nolan castoffs performing CGI tricks created in post production, the only thing you’re left wondering is what the point even was.

This is perhaps the strangest movie franchise to come along in awhile, a collection of genres tropes quilted together by a cavalcade of filmdom’s best supporting actors. Take a bit of Ocean’s Eleven, and a touch of The Prestige. Add a pinch of Morgan Freeman and James Franco’s brother, and cross your fingers that audiences will be dumb enough to line up for a sequel to that movie they didn’t totally hate when they saw it on an airplane that time.


3. God’s Not Dead

Pure Flix Entertainment
Pure Flix Entertainment

The Christian movie genre has blown-up over the last decade. God’s Not Dead, and its sequel, were beneficiaries of this expanding audience, raking in tens of millions of dollars at the box office. But, despite connecting with an audience, all is not well in God’s Not Dead-land.

These insipid movies, that never met a straw man they didn’t hate, tell laughable stories about the evils of college campuses and the ACLU, full of cartoonish villains whose sole purpose in life is to crush good Christian souls. With a “who’s who” of “Remember Them??” in the cast, including TV’s Superman Dean Cain and TV’s Hercules Kevin Sorbo, these movies are as poorly produced as the message they’re espousing. God may not be dead, but the careers of the filmmakers behind these movies should be.


2. Bridget Jones

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

It’s been more than a decade since the last Bridget Jones movie was foisted on us, and in that time young Bridget has remained the same self-involved, unrealistically clumsy mess. With pacing that makes each movie feel 10 hours long, sub-par slapstick and an unlikeable lead, the Bridget Jones trilogy too often feels like Sex and the City without the sex or the city.

Just because the book series your franchise is based on churns out another entry doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get the gang back together. Well, some of the gang, considering Hugh Grant wisely let Dr. McDreamy himself Patrick Dempsey fill in for him this go around. Remember when Renee Zellweger was an acclaimed, Oscar-winning actress? Yeah, that was a long time ago…


1. Avatar

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

Seriously, is anyone really excited for the four sequels that James Cameron has promised us to this box office breaking blockbuster from 2009? Yes, at the time the 3D wonderland of CGI planets and tail sex was a revelation, making us overlook the fact that we were watching a hokey Dances With Wolves knockoff starring an actor with the approximate charisma of a broken toaster. But over the last few years, Avatar has slipped from the public consciousness. When’s the last time you popped in your Blu-ray of it, or saw someone cosplaying a Na’vi, or even mentioned it in casual conversation? If Cameron were making one sequel, okay, but four? FOUR? Maybe it’s best to just remember Avatar for what it was — a blue-hued fluke, and move on.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” flick Scary Movie 2 this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Grub Club

How “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken” Nails Foodie Culture

Watch "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken" anytime on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app.

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We’ve all seen those delicious food documentaries that turn dinner into porn one slow motion shot at a time. Well, the boys behind Documentary Now! have too, and this week they’ve aimed their eye for spot-on homage at foodie docs with their latest episode, “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken.”

Here are a few of the ways “Juan,” which you can watch now on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app, nails the absurdity of those Instagramming hipsters who treat food like fine art.

Foodies Will Go Anywhere for a Trendy Restaurant…Even Up a Mountain

“Juan” knows that foodies will hit up the latest hot restaurant, even if they have to march miles through the jungle without any water just for a taste of Three Michelin star-awarded chicken. And what if Juan doesn’t catch the bird and decides fate has determined there will be no chicken on the menu that day? Well, if you’re anything like the food chasing freaks that populate “Juan,” you muster a smile and tell yourself it was all worth it, as long as one Facebook friend is jealous of your trip.

They Obsess Over Celebrity Chefs

Juan Cast

Chefs used to be anonymous. They were the faceless folks back in the kitchen, doing the grunt work so you could enjoy a nice meal with friends and family. Nowadays, they are the Beyoncés of cuisine, attracting fans from around the world, dropping new restaurants like pop stars drop albums, and showing up on cooking shows more than pinches of salt. The monosyllabic Juan of “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” is no different, despite the fact that he hasn’t left his jungle hideaway for decades. Once you start making waves in the food world, there’s no turning back. If you don’t come to the fame, the fame comes to you.

Comfort Foods Become High Cuisine

Juan Rice

Hot dogs. Dumplings. Donuts. Croissants. Croissant Donuts. Foodies love nothing more than discovering a new twist on a comfort food favorite. Except this common, everyday food isn’t like how mom made — it’s prepared by acclaimed chefs and often requires a second mortgage to taste. Juan’s cuisine couldn’t be simpler — a cup of coffee, a banana sliced in half, rice with a bit of butter and (on most days) chicken. But thanks to endorsements from chef David Chang and food critic Jonathan Gold, food geeks can’t wait to taste Juan’s take on a dish they could easily whip up at home.

Every Bite Is a Sensual Experience

Juan Rice

There is nothing a good food documentarian loves more than the slow motion shot. A fire exploding from a BBQ pit. Hands running through a barrel of coffee beans. Dew dripping from freshly picked parsley or a hand running through rice. “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken” knows that the trick to making foodies care about the seemingly bland items being prepared is to film them in slow motion. All of a sudden, a pile of nuts becomes a delight for the senses.

Offbeat Cooking Methods? Foodies Love ‘Em

Juan Cannon

It’s not enough to grill some chicken. Much like a famous Portlandia sketch, foodies want to know if it’s local, and will go to the ends of the Earth to find out. We want to believe that the best way to prepare chicken is to wrestle the bird to the ground, and if it bests us, it gets to live for another day. That’s why foodies flock to Juan, with his extensive list of “dos and don’ts” when it comes to food preparation. Of course you should shoot raw chicken through an air cannon. Why haven’t we thought of that???

A Foodie’s Dark Secret? They Love Bad Food

Diego Fun Restaurant

Here’s another secret of foodie culture that “Juan” understands: We secretly love crap food. Sure, we’ll trudge miles off course for the supposedly perfect chicken Juan prepares, but we also love to sneak away to Fuddruckers, or Juan’s son Diego’s “Fun Restaurant,” where you can write on the menu and have Skittles on your chicken. Now that’s worth Snapchatting!

Watch Documentary Now!’s take on foodie culture now on IFC.com, Apple TV and the IFC app
.

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Scary Movie 2 cast

Wrong Wayans

10 Rotten Wayans Brothers Movies

Catch the Certified Rotten comedy Scary Movie 2 Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Dimension Films/Everett Collection

There was a time, not so long ago, that the Wayans family was synonymous with hilariously biting satire. With movies like I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and the classic sketch series In Living Color, the Wayans clan dominated culturally relevant comedy. But on the heels of those early successes, the Wayans began pumping out comedies filled cheap jokes and lazy spoofs that failed to match the incisive, message-driven works that the family produced in the late-’80s and early-’90s. Still, while all the movies on the list below are “Certified Rotten,” some are more dire than others.

Before you catch Scary Movie 2 on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, here are 10 movies that show the Wayans at their most (and slightly less) “rotten.”

1. A Low Down Dirty Shame (Tomatometer: 0%)

Surprisingly, the lowest rated Wayans movie on Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t contain a single Scream mask or CGI-faced toddler. Instead, it’s a poorly executed action-comedy written, directed by and starring Wayans elder Keenen Ivory. A far cry from his earlier acclaimed work, A Low Down Dirty Shame is a forgettable collection of mediocre stunts and jokes that can’t sustain itself either as an action or a comedy movie — and “forgettable” is the death knell for purveyors of outrageousness.


2. Fifty Shades of Black (7%)

The most recent entry in the Wayans’ oeuvre, Fifty Shades of Black is a spoof of a book whose parodies were exhausted five years ago. Rather than search for a new comedic angle to the novel’s corny BDSM meets Twilight fan fiction story, star Marlon Wayans (who also co-wrote and co-produced the movie) opts for the surface-level sight gags that always seem to anchor his family’s projects. Overuse of slapstick violence? Check. Cheap jokes at the expense of obese individuals? Check. A Kim Kardashian joke? Check and mate. Fifty Shades of Black isn’t so much a movie as it is an extended trailer from a different Wayans movie.


3. A Haunted House (10%) and A Haunted House 2 (8%)

Returning to the horror-comedy well for a double-dose of eye rolls and heavy sighs, writer-producer-star Marlon Wayans peddles the very same jokes that hit their middling apex with the first Scary Movie. From unseen poltergeists to dead-eyed dolls, Marlon proves there’s no overused horror trope that he can’t scream at and hit with a breakaway chair. But seeing as how both A Haunted House movies made substantial profits based on rock-bottom production costs, there will always be a market for lazy, easily recognizable parodies.


4. Little Man (12%)

For anyone who was dying to see Marlon Wayans’ face rotoscoped onto a horny toddler, your prayers were answered in 2006 with Little Man. A comprehensive argument against the advancement of CGI, the Marlon-baby hybrid sexually harasses woman and screams in homophobic panic when Shawn joins him in a bubble bath for a farting contest. (We wish we were kidding.) And you’ll never guess how Little Man reacts when he’s given a rectal thermometer! Wait, maybe you could.


5. Mo’ Money (13%)

After the world witnessed what the Wayans were capable of in recent years, this loose adaptation of an In Living Color sketch seems downright quaint and watchable. Written by Damon (who stars alongside Marlon), 1992’s Mo’ Money contains an actual plot with actual characters who have believable motivations — which is a huge departure from the family’s later work — but it still fails to maintain much interest. Gay jokes and broad impressions of mental disorders abound while the two brothers commit credit card fraud and grand larceny. In other words, it’s not the Wayans’ worst movie.


6. Blankman (13%)

To the Wayans’ credit, they were trying their hand at the “average person fights crime as a superhero” movie years before the genre was played out with Kick-Ass, Super, Mystery Men, et al. (Not that this 1994 film is very good, but at least they were exploring relatively new territory.) Blankman stars and was written by Damon, who plays a nerdy, effeminate repairman who takes on the crime world with homemade gadgetry and undiagnosed autism. There are a few decent laughs in the movie, and the concept isn’t wholly terrible, but the 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is definitely earned.


7. Scary Movie 2 (15%)

The second and final entry in the Scary Movie franchise to involve a Wayans, the sequel to the hit horror spoof features a surprisingly high amount of comedy talent (Chris Elliott, David Cross and Andy Richter also appear) and contains parody set pieces that were still effective in the early years of the Wayans spoof factory. Keenen Ivory directs while Shawn and Marlon write and star, and the whole affair manages to coast on the appeal of its predecessor. While we didn’t realize it then, Scary Movie 2 represents a more refined Wayans work.


8. White Chicks (15%)

Look, we’re not made of stone. The sight of Shawn and Marlon as white women elicits a snicker or two, and the stars mumbling through a Vanessa Carlton singalong is a solid gag. But the movie itself never rises above the level of “men in drag” cliches like falsie fumbling and keeping clueless male suitors at bay. Once again serving as director and co-writer, Keenen Ivory reins in his younger brothers’ performances and penchant for gross-out gags, maintaining a storyline that can serve as a tangible plot. It ain’t Tootsie, but it ain’t Norbit either.


9. Dance Flick (18%)

Written by a quintet of Wayans (including nephews Craig and Damien Dante), this 2009 dance spoof has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to source material. Critically panned — but not to the degree of other Wayans parodies — the movie features New Girl’s Damon Wayans, Jr. as the trainer to hopeless prancer Shoshana Bush and has more than a few laughs. (Call us morbid, but a real-life baby peeking through the slots of a closed school locker makes us chuckle.)


10. Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (29%)

Winning over both audiences and more than a few critics, Don’t Be a Menace kicked off the slew of wordy spoofs we’ve all come to regret. But in 1996, Shawn and Marlon’s rapid-fire references hadn’t yet overstayed their welcome and kept viewers entertained. Skewering John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers and the urban dramas of the time, the movie succeeds in eking out comedy from the stark subject matter it chooses to parody. How well the movie has aged is debatable, but to the Wayans’ credit: They know a reliably profitable formula when they see one.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Wayans spoof Scary Movie 2 this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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