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The 5 Reasons Ghost in the Shell Bombed At The Box Office

Whitewashing controversies are only the start.

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Results are in for the box office weekend that was, and there’s a few really interesting things that happened financially over the weekend. The Boss Baby grossed $49 million more than it had any right, proving that America’s love of babies in funny outfits is truly an endless resource. Juggernaut Beauty and the Beast continued to thrive in second place, and is on track to easily make over $500 million domestically. And Power Rangers dropped like a rock in its sophomore frame, especially compared to strong holdovers like Logan, Kong: Skull Island, and (still, amazingly) Get-Out.

But the real talk of the box office this week? It has to go to the performance of Ghost in the Shell, the much buzzed about adaptation of the 1995 anime classic. The film has been put under the microscope in the last few weeks, but apparently all that talk didn’t convert to dollars at the multiplexes. Ranking third for the week and making just $19 million, Ghost in the Shell couldn’t measure up to even the most pessimistic of pre-release tracking. And with such a low opening, the film is going to struggle to even get to $60 million in the U.S. With an estimated cost of $110 million, there’s no other way to phrase it: stateside, at least, Ghost in the Shell is a massive bomb.

And you should’t be surprised by that. Ghost in the Shell has had all the makings of a box office bomb since the first time it was an announced, and the tea leaves of its failure were pretty easy to read. From order of least important factor to most important, here are all the reasons I believe that Ghost in the Shell was destined to bomb.


1) Scarlett Johansson was the only “big” actor — and movie stars can’t sell movies on their own anymore

That has been a rotating phrase peppered through every “why did this movie fail?” analysis in the last few years…but that doesn’t make it any less true. Barring the rare exception, movie stars don’t sell movies anymore, not on the strength of their name alone, at least. Having a movie star will never hurt you, and will often times help you, but it isn’t the only step a film needs to have to turn a profit. Gone are the days where Tom Cruise could be in a movie and that would be enough to get people to see it — his own bombs like Rock of Ages, Edge of Tomorrow, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back prove that.


But you know what I think CAN sell a movie? A strong ensemble of actors. Because the stock of a single actor is at the lowest its ever been in Hollywood, most films will cram a bunch of them all together in hopes of getting people’s attention. Look at the Fast and Furious series. Look at The Avengers, or Batman v. Superman. Most films need to be occupied by more than ONE notable name, and Ghost in the Shell frankly fails that.

Which isn’t a slight against Johansson, or even the supporting cast. Without Johansson, the film would have opened even lower, and even the most stacked of supporting casts can led to a box office bomb. But all I know is that I often have to sell movies to friends and family by one famous question: “who is in it?” And in the case of Ghost in the Shell, my answer would be “Scarlett Johansson and, um, well…the guy who played Mason Verger in Hannibal. No, not in Season 3, in Season 2…yes, before he fed his face to dogs.” All I’m saying is that even Lucy, a film primarily sold as a Scarlett Johannson vehicle (and rightly so), featured acting icon Morgan Freeman, and was not afraid to use him liberally in the marketing. There is no actor of Freeman’s stature in Ghost in the Shell, and the film probably could have used it to fill out the bench.

Of course, the obvious rebuttal to all this is that the supporting cast is made up pretty much entirely of Asian people, a decision I am honestly pretty mixed about. It’s great that the whole film isn’t entirely white people going on anime adventures, but doesn’t the Asian cast surrounding famous white person Scarlett Johannson stick out like a sore thumb? Doesn’t it make the whitewashing even more obvious? Also, the majority of the supporting cast being Asian would have been fine box-office wise if we had bigger Asian American stars in Hollywood, but that’s a whole other issue for another, less box office focused article. Let’s just say Hollywood has an institutionalized problem that will take some fundamental changes at the core of the system to fix, and leave it at that.

BUT NOT REALLY, because my next point pretty much goes hand in hand with that last part.


2) The whitewashing controversy tainted the film


Yes, this is only number two on this list, simply because most general audiences probably have little idea about the online outrage that has dominated conversation around the movie for us here in the virtual world. I’m not saying it wasn’t a contributing factor to Ghost in the Shell’s failure (it certainly was), but even if the controversy had never existed, and an Asian woman had played the main character instead of Scarlett Johansson, here’s the truth — the film probably wouldn’t have done much better, at least from a box office standpoint. As the other points on this list will address, the film had grander problems in terms of breaking into the mainstream than the race of its main character.

All that being said…the whitewashing debate certainly didn’t help the film along. It was terrible PR, and it made the conversation around the film always skew negative from the get-go. Wired posted an article earlier today claiming that the film never had a chance due to the controversy that surrounded it, and while I think they might give the internet backlash a little too much credit, you also can’t deny that the film was never allowed to be anything BUT a whitewashed anime adaptation. And no matter how many ads Paramount threw at the controversy, they could never outrun it, primarily because…


3) The marketing promised a pretty, but empty experience


Ultimately, I would say the ads for Ghost in the Shell weren’t terrible — they were well edited and memorable enough, with some cool looking shots and effects thrown in for good measure. But what the trailer did so wrong was what so many trailers are guilty of doing nowadays: they don’t actually say what the movie is about. Because, as much as I follow film news and marketing (which is to say a lot), I honestly had no idea what the story of Ghost in the Shell was.

I knew the broad strokes, sure: Scarlett Johansson plays a robot of some sort, and she was investigating…something. Cut to a million shots of slow-mo action scenes, set across a future backdrop. Ghost in the Shell, everyone: as far as the trailers told me, it was a movie about a robot who moves slowly in the future.

It must be a difficult task for trailer creators to strike a good balance between telling too much and not telling enough, but that doesn’t excuse the vagueness that peppered the entirety of GitS’s marketing campaign. Believe it or not, people sometimes need more than promises of pretty visuals to get them into the theater. From the trailers, there was no compelling reason why I NEEDED to see Ghost in the Shell, and if the box office receipts are any indication, the majority of audiences agreed with me.


4) The buzz surrounding the actual film wasn’t strong enough to overwhelm the shortcomings


For a cinephile like myself, this is the deciding faster. I’ll excuse a not very exciting cast for the hope that some unknowns could end up surprising me. I’ll chalk up the vague trailers to marketing not knowing how to sell such a distinct, special film. Hell, I’m even the kind of guy who can power through the taint of a racebending controversy if the finished product itself meets me halfway a little, and convinces me that the whole thing was simply overblown. But Ghost in the Shell, unfortunately, did none of those things.

Yeah, the reviews might not be the worst in the world, but they were still pretty flaccid. And a lot of the film critics and journalists whose opinion I trust pretty much hated the film, leaving me left with the decision that paying $10 to see the movie would be a waste of money and time. And I’m a sci-fi fan who has watched a lot of anime — in theory I’m your target audience here, Paramount, and if the film was actually good, I still would have went to see it, all other niggles be damned. But word-of-mouth said the movie wasn’t good, and that convinced me right way that seeing it in theaters wasn’t worth it. You can bet there are tens of thousands of others that also came to this conclusion.

Yes, bad buzz can kill a film — unless it’s already a well-established, well-liked brand. Which is easily where Ghost in the Shell made the biggest mistake.


5) The Ghost in the Shell franchise isn’t big enough to support a blockbuster franchise (not on its own, at least)


This was the tantamount mistake that happened with the creation of the film: studio executives convinced themselves that there was a large enough “brand awareness” for Ghost in the Shell that they could rely on it solely for success. Like has been the case for video game movies time and time again, Hollywood convinced themselves that they could call upon a niche market, make a movie for said niche market, and suddenly have a massive blockbuster on their hands. It worked for comic book movies, after all, so why not anime?

That’s the kind of hubris that many studios have fallen under in this franchise-heavy cinematic landscape, and one that they will continue to fall for again and again. Paramount was hoping that they could rely on the brand name of Ghost in the Shell to get people to watch the movie, even IF the cast wasn’t that well known, and the whitewashing controversy made people mad, and the trailers didn’t really say what the movie was really about, and the pre-release buzz around the entire project was pretty poor — none of that would matter if the brand brought people in. Once again, just look at the release of last week’s Power Rangers — pretty much everything I just wrote about Ghost in the Shell can be applied to that film as well (minus the whitewashing controversy, I suppose). But that movie opened over double this one, because there’s a huge swath of cultural currency to the Power Rangers brand.

Ghost in the Shell has a following, but it’s not a BLOCKBUSTER following, which meant that most of the audience needed to get the film over $100 million would probably be seeing it as an original thing. And, for the sake of argument, let’s say all of my previous reasons for the film’s failure didn’t exist. Lets say the film had an excellent cast, had no whitewashing controversies to speak of, released a ton of captivating trailers, and received widespread critical acclaim across the board. Would the movie, a crazy hard sci-fi actioneer not based on anything, be able to make $150 million in the current Hollywood climate?

The answer to that last question is so depressing, I don’t think I even want to write it out.


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

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The Captain Marvel Teaser Trailer Is Here, And…It’s The First Trailer for A New Marvel Movie, All Right

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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The release of the Captain Marvel teaser trailer has been pretty hotly anticipated, arguably more so than many of the other Marvel movie trailers that have come before it. The primary reason for the excitement is of course due to the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, which I’m going to spoil because come on now, you’re reading this article, I know where your interests lie. Suffice to say, the downer ending of Inifinty War, in which seemingly all of Marvel’s newest characters up and fade away into nothing, has fans buzzing to see what is coming next. And with the trailer for Avengers 4: Titles Are Dumb still many months away, Captain Marvel represents our best shot yet at seeing just what Marvel intends to do with this universe going forward, and how the titular character will ultimately factor into it.

But even removing the snap from the equation, there’s plenty of reason to be eager about Captain Marvel on its own merits. This has been one of those MCU movies that was seemingly announced forever ago, and to paraphrase Marvel’s other big female superhero with her name in the title, it’s about damn time we actually get to see Marvel Studio’s first female-fronted superhero project. It might come as a shock to no one that the trailer shows the answer to that being, well…a Marvel superhero movie. Whether or not that excites you largely depends on your attachment to the brand overall.

Myself? I’m already in the bag for this cinematic universe so, really, this trailer could have been two minutes of Kevin Feige jet-skiing on his bag of money while smoking a very well put together Dollar Bill Blunt™, and I still would have had the movie on my list of most anticipated films of 2019. And with the MCU on a hot streak of, like, ten good-to-great movies in row, I would feel no regrets at all about doing so. As I have written many times in the past, Marvel Studios has earned my trust, in pretty much everything they do.

But to dive into the nitty-gritty of the trailer itself? It’s perfectly fine. It follows the modern blockbuster teaser trailer to a T, with the loud symphonic music playing over a bunch of vague money shots of CGI and action moments, paired with an equally vague but well-delivered monologue about, well, anything really. The fact that said monologue is coming out of the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury (as they so often do in the MCU) is extra points, though. Paired on top of that is the fact that said Nick Fury is looking all young and two-eyed, with disturbingly little uncanny effect to speak of in digitally recreating a mid-90’s Samuel L. Jackson. Which I’m aware is ironic, considering that the Uncanny Effect in and of itself speaks to the idea of something being so photo-realistic that the human mind, in turn, perceives it as unnatural. This is so photo-realistic and natural in the moment that, only upon true reflection, do I get really creeped out. Call it the Uncanny Uncanny Valley Effect Effect.

Like he looks real but he shouldn’t look real, you know? Crazy.

Oh right, the Captain Marvel trailer! So yeah, it’s one of those things where the most noteworthy aspect of the trailer lies in how unnoteworthy it is. Really it’s hard for me to gauge what exactly this movie will be, with the two-minute teaser doing little to fill in the tone or mood of the piece outside of “new superhero movie.” There’s some weird stuff going on timeline wise which, in the movie, might be really cool and unique. In the trailer, however, it’s kind of so jumbled up in editing that I’m not entirely sure what’s going down (so Carol Danvers has amnesia, or…?) Even more disappointing is the lack of a real “trailer moment,” something big and memorable ala Thor’s reaction to Hulk’s arrival in the Thor: Ragnarok tease, or Black Panther’s car flip, or even the lie that was the Avengers running together in the Infinity War trailer. The closest this trailer comes to a noteworthy shot is Carol Danvers sucker punching an old lady which, really, is only memorable for the “WTFness?” alone. I did like the brief image of Captain Marvel running up the side of the train, though, and some of the rotation shots at least point to an interesting style that directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden could be employing. That’s really the only hint of a unique approach or style in this trailer, though.

Lack of style isn’t exaclty bad, really, but not exactly fodder for overwhelming excitement either. Compared to something like Guardians of the Galaxy’s first trailer (where the “Hooked on a Feeling” scored edit made clear just exactly what kind of film we were dealing with) or Avengers: Age of Ultron’s first trailer (which wowed through pure mood and imagery alone), Captain Marvel falls short. Not bad, just short.

But, seriously, how amazing is it that this scene made it into the trailer? As a Marvel person I get the old lady is probably a Skrull or whatever, but to general audiences, this just represents their newest superhero punching a nice old lady FOR NO GODDAMN REASON. Glorious.

All that being said, it’s not like being merely “good” puts Captain Marvel significantly behind the first looks of other MCU films. In fact, I would say the majority of first trailers for Marvel Studios films have only been good, with only a few really strong ones being truly excellent in my mind. And with all but a handful of those films being great at the end of the day, I have no doubt Captain Marvel has the goods to keep Marvel’s winning streak going. We’ll find out when the film hits theaters March 8, 2019.


Also published on Medium.

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James Gunn Fired From Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Over Offensive Tweets…And Fuck If I Know How To Feel About It

Is it the right thing? Is it the wrong thing? Does it even matter? Who the fuck knows.

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Ever since Weinstein (or longer, really, with the Film Twitter outing of people like Devin Faraci and Harry Knowles feeling like the true kick-off in my mind,) I’ve become accustomed to seeing people I admire be suddenly and without much warning outed as bad people, and dropped like a hot potato from Hollywood at large. For a while there, it almost became something of a daily ritual: wake up, take a shit, find out someone I love is shit, put out a shitty response on a shitty certain network (you know the one), and continue with my day. It might hurt for a while, but ultimately I’ve viewed this entire #MeToo thing as a necessary pain for both the industry and our culture: bad people being outed and shamed for doing bad things, from Louis C.K. to Roseanne, was a necessary step in the betterment of our society. Even if things debatably went “too far,” (which I would argue was rarer than the alternative), I was pretty resolute in my opinion that everything going on was “right.”

I still feel this way, in regards to #MeToo. But today’s piece of Hollywood shaming is not about #MeToo, at least not directly. This isn’t an example of a person mentally or physically abusing someone, and getting away with it for years. Nor is it an example of a person saying something offensive or reprehensible, and facing swift punishment for it. No, James Gunn getting fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 comes in the form of tweets….really bad tweets…from over a decade ago.

The background, just in case you need it: James Gunn has been the writer/director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise thus far, a task he has handled with aplomb. They are critical hits, audience hits, and box office hits. And perhaps more than any other current MCU series (give or take a Thor: Ragnarok), Gunn’s unique voice is clear throughout both films, in the musical choices (all his) to the jokes and gags (mostly his.) He puts one hell of a unique stamp on the MCU, and even if the Guardians movies aren’t my absolute favorite of the franchise overall (hint: you can see where they both rank here), they are dependably great in large part because of him. So regardless of the reasons for his firing, this would be a damn shame, and a massive blow to the future of the MCU post Avengers 4. 

But the circumstances of his firing turn things into, frankly, a clusterfuck of political and ethical and moral quandaries that I’m far figuring out my exact position on. I will make one thing completely clear though: the tweets in question that lead to Gunn’s firing are UNACCEPTABLE. They are in incredibly poor taste, stink of someone trying way too hard to be “edgy” (one of my least favorite character traits in a person, really), and are not even the slightest bit funny. Even just putting the morality of the tweets aside, everything about the ethos behind the tweets represents someone I would never want to encounter, nor want to support. Not just because the subject matter is bad, but because the sentiment behind it (SHOCKING and IN YOUR FACE and NOT AFRAID TO GO THERE humor) is so unbearable.

All that being said…this is a lot more complicated than simply being about bad tweets. The timetable for one is important, as pretty much all the tweets are from nearly a decade ago, and Gunn hasn’t exhibited the same penchant for that type of “humor” in the years since joining Disney and Marvel. Gunn also seems to be expressing remorse about the jokes, lauching a Twitter thread owning the horrid nature of the jokes, while still trying to explain how he has moved forward as a person and changed in the years since making them:

He was equally as remorseful in a written statement he released following Disney’s official decision to cut ties with him:

My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time.”

“Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions taken today. Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then. All I can do now, beyond offering my sincere and heartfelt regret, is to be the best human being I can be: accepting, understanding, committed to equality, and far more thoughtful about my public statements and my obligations to our public discourse. To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies. Love to all.”

So yeah: the tweets were bad then, are bad now, and everybody involved is aware of this. But is Gunn’s stupid jokes from a decade ago enough to take everything away from him? Furthermore, the tweets were a matter of pubic record for years: did Disney really not search Gunn’s history to see examples of his past public behavior? Did Gunn really not consider, in his years of reflection, that these tweets were terrible and should be purged before they got him in trouble? Apparently not, although I’m sure both parties will consider that a high priority moving forward. We’ve seen people get in trouble for bad tweets, even ones that were many years old (I remember Trevor Noah’s sexist “controversy,” do you?), but this is the first time I can remember that a studio actually had to respond to it in such a strong manner. Like with Roseanne before him, Disney has shown they are willing to cut ties with people they deem to be even a little bit controversial…for better or worse, really.

Of course, I can’t ignore the political angle of this, which adds just another shit nugget to the entirety of the proceedings. The main reason these tweets came to light in the first place was due to a concentrated effort of right-wing trolls (led by human diarrhea bag Mike Cernovich) to basically knock Gunn down a peg, and show that the outspoken director was guilty of his own bad behavior in the past. I want to make it clear: nothing that Cernovich or his ilk do, in my mind, is “right.” But the unfortunate, ugly truth of the matter is that this outcry had the desired effect — Gunn lost his job, and has been Publically Shamed on the Internet™. This counts as a gross win for them, but should we just pretend this is better than it is, because it benefits a bunch of people who are awful?

While there’s certainly a part of me that wants to rally against the forces that conspired to take down Gunn, it’s a lot harder to do that when actually looking at some of the tweets that he made. Would it not be hypocritical of me to cheer on the collapse of Roseanne Barr, while at the same time trying to defend Gunn and his actions? One of my least favorite things in the whole goddamn world is hypocrisy, and there’s plenty of that all-over today. Case in point: the alt-right cheering on the public shaming of an “enemy” over the “jokes” he made, when the same fuckers probably would be bemoaning about policial correctness and “social justice warriors” if it was someone they viewed to be on their side. Equally as hypocritical is some of the response I’ve seen from more left-leaning people: now they are the ones using the tactics of “it was a long time ago!” and “they were just jokes!” and a myriad of other ways of rationalizing Gunn’s behavior. That shit hasn’t excused past people celebrities who were Publically Shamed on the Internet™, and I don’t think it’s right to give Gunn the benefit of the doubt just because we like him.

On the same token…they were tweets. From a decade ago. And I’m not comfortably completely crucifying the man over them. But if it was someone I disliked…would I be? Would we all be? This matter is complicated as hell, and I’m not sure who is right or wrong here, or even if there is a true right or wrong. This kind of situation requires more nuance than I, or probably anyone sounding off on Twitter and the rest of the internet, can probably muster. All I know is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is going to suffer big time for this, and that Marvel is going to have to work hard on restoring the damage to the brand. I return to the business and fanboy matters because, honestly, that’s all I can rationalize without feeling like I am wrong in some way. Because when it comes to the mortality and ethics of what happened here today, I’ll reiterate:

Fuck if I know.


Also published on Medium.

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10 Other Members of The Americans Cast Who Should Be Put In A Star War (And The Roles That They Could Play)

Keri Russell should just be the start of alum from FX’s hit spy drama joining the Star Wars universe.

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The talk of the fanboy town this weekend was Keri Russell, a frequent J.J. Abrams cohort, joining the cast of Star Wars: Episode IX (or whatever it might end up being titled.) The think pieces came fast and furious from nearly the moment the casting was first announced, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: when any new detail drops about one of these Star Wars films, people will inevitably spend way too much time theorizing about what is to come, for better or (mostly) worse. But when it comes to my initial reaction to the casting, I only had two thoughts: 1) oh my god what is J.J. Abrams going to do to Keri Russell’s hair this time and 2) it’s so damn great to see The Americans cast get work.

Coming off of five years of being perhaps the best dramatic ensemble on television, I truly would be happy to see all of the cast members of The Americans land roles in huge films following the conclusion of the show. And not just huge films, mind you — I’m talking Star Wars huge films. Truly The Americans cast is versatile enough to land any role they could want in the galaxy far, far away, and with Russell’s casting, all I could think about (aside from how amazing she’s going to end up being in the movie, of course) was what her fellow cast members could also bring to the extended franchise.

And I’m a silly person who happens to have a blog so, sorry, you have to be present for my ramblings on such niche, unasked subjects! So here are 10 other members of The Americans cast who deserve a shot at a Star Wars gig and, for the hell of it, the character archetypes they would be great for in the universe. Thank me later, Kathleen Kennedy!


Matthew Rhys (Philip Jennings):

I’ll let my first post-Keri Russell casting tweet speak for itself here:


Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings):

Rey’s previously unmentioned bestie/roommate back home on Jakku. They stay up all night chowing down on dehydrated bread and talking about desert problems, as you do.


Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman):

Maybe it’s recency bias, but I can’t help but imagine Emmerich playing a tough bounty hunter character. That being said, it will be pretty tragic when he realizes his co-pilot and best friend was his target the whole time. What a dramatic scene they will end up having in the Star Wars equivalent of a parking garage, though.


Brandon J. Dirden (Dennis Aderholt):

Brandon J. Dirden holds himself up with such calm and levelheaded prestige as an actor…making him a perfect choice to play a hapless senator trying to do the right thing, but missing the fact that OOPS an electric wizard is in control now. Bummer!


Costa Ronin (Oleg Burov):

I can definitely see Costa Ronin playing the cool, confident gangster type. He’ll also have a robot arm, for some reason. And he should keep his Season 6 beard, because DAMN does he rock the hell out of it.


Alison Wright (Martha):

Padme in a set of prequel remakes. Because if anyone could sell the anguish of being betrayed by someone they deeply loved for years, only for them to end up being a completely different person than who they thought they were, it would be her. Poor Martha…


Margo Martindale (Claudia):

It’s Character Actress Margot Martindale! Let her be whatever she wants! A Jedi master, a Sith Lord, a crime boss, a droid, a wookie, a gungan — she can do it all, dang it!


Frank Langella (Gabriel):

Let him be the kindest Jedi master ever. OR the most evil Sith Lord to ever exist. Frank Langella is somehow capable of channeling both.


Mail Robot (Mail Robot):

The new official droid mascot of Star Wars, duh! NEXT.


Keidrich Sellati (Henry Jennings):

…He can also be present.


Also published on Medium.

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