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Friday, September 30, 2011

Faith-based movie, Courageous, is done right



Movie: Courageous

Cast: Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Robert Amaya, Kevin Downes, Ben Davies 

Rating: PG-13
As of yesterday, September 29, TriStar Pictures and Sherwood Pictures announced that more that they have made over $2 million in sales for the new picture, Courageous, and it only begins to play in theaters today. These figures are pre-sale ticketing of course, but it looks they have another hit on their hands.

Sherwood Pictures are the brains and brawn behind the Christian-based films, FlywheelFacing the Giants and 2008's Fireproof. Unlike the big movie studios, Sherwood Pictures is a movie-making ministry of Sherwood Church of Albany, Georgia. The ministry is headed up by brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick. Together the pair have co-written the four movies. Stephen also serves as the producer and Alex as director. Maybe what is truly “courageous” is entertaining the idea of producing a full-fledged movie with a spiritual message to compete with the “big guys” on their own playing field. Time and again, the Kendrick brothers have proven that it can be done 

I have to admit, unlike most of the Christian community, I wasn’t a big fan of Fireproof. The story and acting were both uneven. The humor was too “on the nose” and there was a preachy tone to it. The guys seem to have learned from their mistakes and have struck a better balance this time around. Their last film was story that featured firemen, but was really about marriage. This time around, Courageous features police officers but is really about being better husbands and fathers.

Four officers, Adam, Nathan, David and Shane serve together during the week and socialize on the weekends. They give their best while on the job, but their families receive the leftovers when they get home. They are not jerks or bad guys. They are you. They are me.

In addition to writing and directing, Alex Kendrick uses his acting chops as Adam Mitchell, married with a young daughter who only wants to dance with her daddy and teen son who desperately needs some “man” time with his dad. Ken Bevel (also featured in Fireproof) plays Nathan Hayes who struggles being a father without having a role model to follow. Kevin Downes plays Shane Fuller, a divorced dad and Ben Davies plays David Thomson, the youngest of the bunch and single. After a tragic event, all four begin to reaccess their lives.

Courageous is by far the Kendricks best film yet. You can tell the brothers are more confident with their material. As with their previous films, Courageous features professional and non-professional actors. However, this time, they smartly give the better actors the larger roles and leave the volunteers to bit parts. Alex Kendrick does an amazing job with his own material showing true emotion. The Christians featured in this movie are not perfect which is refreshing to see in a faith-based movie. The film also features some incredible stunt work (especially the very first scene which can watch below) and some comedy bits that are actually very funny. In previous films, the crew didn’t seem to know how to deliver a punchline. This time, they get it right. There is even a few surprises. Although, not a perfect film, it certainly can show Hollywood a thing or two.

On the downside, Courageous probably features too many story lines and tries to cover too many themes in one movie (salvation, grief, honesty, integrity, prayer, fatherhood, husbandhood, etc.) Sometimes the music tries to manipulate your emotions making the scene appear false and there is a section where the movies seems to stop completely and a sermon is inserted then the movie resumes. There are also a few “touches” to the sets that could have been left out. Like the chalkboard in one scene that says “Jesus Loves You” for no apparent reason or the woman who stops to help after an accident just happens to be wearing a gold cross around her neck. These are minor annoyances to an otherwise great film. Like Fireproof, bookstores are selling a companion guide to the movie called “The Resolution of Men” to help audience members live out their lives like the men in the film. I am sure that a new wave of “Courageous” small group forming in church across the country cannot be far behind.

Originally posted on Examiner.com.

     

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Website Under Fire for Promoting Gossip


“A perverse person stirs up conflict and a gossip separates close friends,” states Proverbs 16:28. That biblical statement is so true, that even atheists agree. What used to be passed around in class on small notes of paper or overheard on community phone lines are now broadcasted through text messages or tweeted through Twitter. Whether you call it cyber bullying or spreading an urban legend, gossiping is still trendy.
One website in particular taking heat for its’ part is Topix.com. The site links news from 67,000 sources to 450,000 new topics. It is a privately held company tied with Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune. According to the site, “Topix is the leading news community on the Web, connecting people to the information and discussions that matter to them in every U.S. town and city….By giving everyone access to the tools to talk – and an audience to listen – Topix redefines what it means to make the news.”
However, suspected abuse of these freedoms caused the creation of another website – ToxicTopix.com. They allege “innocent people have repeatedly reported abuse to Topix about harassment, cyber bullying, cyber stalking, anti-Semitism, attacks on personal and business reputations, and other damage.” According to ToxicTopix, despite being mostly owned by leading news organizations, Topix does not investigate, author nor edit any of its news. It allows anyone access to post anonymous comments in their forums as well. Unlike sites like Facebook, Topix does not require users to give their real name and can use multiple names if they so desire.
Topix was one of the topics of the Today Show on September 28, 2011. In a segment called “Talk of the Town,” reporter Kevin Tibbles did a story on a small community in Mountain Grove, MO where 4,000 residents have gotten into the habit of airing their grievances on the website. One resident calls those who post, “cyber terrorists.”
In the new story, Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, says “It is really important, especially in civic discourse in a small town, to be able to put your point of view across without getting punished for it.” He also says that when a complaint is lodged about someone “talking smack” about another, that they “take care of it.”
The Topix website does explain how to get posts removed from the site by sending a direct link to the content through their feedback system. There, the moderators will review the content for violations of the Terms of Service. However, the Terms of Service, also clearly states, “We have no duty to pre-screen your content or the content of others, but we have the right to refuse to post or to edit submitted content. You understand and acknowledge that by using Topix, you may be exposed to content that may be offensive, indecent or objectionable.” It even goes as far to say, “If it upsets you that the free expression of ideas is often headed and offensive, please do not use Topix.”
In the September 19, 2011 edition of The New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger featured Topix in a cover story. In the article, Sulzberger also interviewed Tolles where he admitted that the site at one point tried to remove all negative posts, but stopped after noticing that the commentators had stopped visiting the site. He also went on to say that the site received about 125,000 posts a day in forum for about 5,000 cities and towns. About nine percent are screened out for offensive content (like racial slurs), and another three percent (mostly threat and libel) are removed AFTER people complain. To add insult to injury, the site even charged for the expedited removal of offensive comments but stopped after being challenged by more than 30 state attorneys.
Sulzberger also says in his article “Despite the screening efforts, the site is full of posts that seem to cross lines. Topix, as an Internet forum, is immune from libel suits under federal law, but those who post could be sued, if they are found. The company receives about one subpoena a day for the computer addresses of anonymous commenters as part of law enforcement investigations or civil suits, some of which have resulted in cash verdicts or settlements.”
But what about the innocent bystander who hasn’t posted anything to the site, but is talked about by others? Unless you actually read every post, you may not event know that others are talking about you. To get an idea of the kinds of post commenters are making on the site, the New York Times article gives a few examples where people are called out by name and sin.
Originally posted on Examiner.com 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Website of the Week: New Release Tuesday


Although New Release Tuesday (NRT) went online way back in August of 2002, many are still unaware of this free service. NRT continues to inform members of new releases each week…on Tuesdays. Becoming a member is simple as giving them your email address and creating a password. Each week you are given a number of free songs to download and sample. And if you don’t want to sign up for one more service, you can download the same songs by “liking” NRT on Facebook. (You’ve heard of Facebook, haven’t you?)

On September 27, 2011, the NRT offered these song downloads:
  • “Hold On” by Rapture Ruckus 
  • “Start Over” by Heather Williams 
  • “Coins in the Jar” by Christopher Ames 
  • “One Thing Remains” by Jermey Riddle 
  • “Supernova Sunrise” by We Are Leo 
  • “Mystery of Grace” by Ginny Owens 
By 2007, NRT grew in size creating an online community where members can connect with each other, post their own blogs, add artist and author profiles, music and book reviews, music videos, song lyrics and more.

In addition to this extensive site, NRT posts a podcast every Tuesday as well. As of September 27, 2011, NRT released their 211th episode of this podcast Featuring Exclusive Interviews with Switchfoot, Rush Of Fools and Big Daddy Weave. The NRT podcast can be downloaded from their site or subscribed for free on itunes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Doing Church on Gilligan's Island


It was announced in March of 2010 that Warner Brothers would be bringing a big screen version of the 60’s sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, to theaters. However, at this time, the project is still “in the works” with no stars attached to the project. Whether or not we actually need another GI is to be debated. For some, the original show brings back fond memories. For others, it was a wonder it stayed on TV as long as it did. For me, it’s a study in sociology.

I have a theory that all the personalities marooned on that desert isle known as Gilligan, can be found in our local churches as well. Think about it. Seven distinct personalities all stuck together creating community. See if any of these sound familiar to you:
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Skipper
Skippers are known for their strong leadership skills, but hide behind others. The natural leader of the original castaways should have been the Skipper, but he relinquished his role to the Professor over and over again. Skippers serve as a small group leaders or Sunday School teachers who secretly know that they would do a better job as the pastor. Skippers always have a smile on their face when a member of the church staff walks by. They pride themselves  on always looking their best and are horrified if their children or “Gilligans” are ever out of line. Sometimes Gilligans are confused. One minute they are a “little buddy” and the next, they are getting whacked in the head.
Professor
Professors can seen as the senior pastor or some other leadership position. Just like on the island, while the rest are making coconut cream pies, Professors have their noses in their books. (How many did he pack anyway?) They can quote the Bible frontward and backward. They are very intelligent and are great at public speaking. However, they tend to fail at one-on-one friendships. Just as the Professor didn’t understand Ginger’s advances on the show, Professors tend to be oblivious when others are hurting.

Mister Howell the Millionaire

You don’t need to have a million dollars to be a Mr. Howell. You just need to like money…a lot. Mr. Howell’s reluctantly give up their tithes every week but not a penny more. Mr. Howell’s get upset over every new purchase a church makes and doesn’t understand what was wrong with the old pews. On the flip side, if they see a need for something new, they are very vocal about it and threaten to leave the island if they don’t get their way. (Most others realize that they aren’t capable of leaving if they tried.) They tend to be out of touch with the younger generation or those with collars of blue. They attend church every week but often forget why.
Mrs. Howell, the Millionaire’s Wife

You’ll find Mrs. Howells at every women’s social event, weddings and funerals. She will often scold others for not attending, but will rarely be seen lifting a finger to help. She often feels that she is too old to serve. Although she acts as if she is above the atrocity, she gossips freely about others on the island. When confronted on such sins, she will pretend she knows nothing about which you speak. If she apologizes, it is that she is sorry that you were offended, not that she did any of the offending. She believes wholeheartedly with her husband’s position about finances and wishes that she had the stamina of a Mary Ann.
Ginger, the Movie Star

Gingers are essentially younger versions of Mrs. Howells, except that they still have their looks. Despite what is seen on the show, Gingers can be male or female. Just as it is amazing how many outfits that movie star took on a three hour tour, Gingers’ wardrobes are full of the latest trends and an endless supply of shoes. They help serve at various functions with one eye on their work and the other on the singles in the group. Like Skippers, they tend to go Sunday services with a smile on their face even if they are in pain on the inside. Even though they know it’s wrong, they tend to worry about how they look rather than how they act.
Mary Ann

Mary Anns are those who do 80% of the work and receive only 20% of the credit. If others try to help, Mary Anns wave them off. Mary Anns are very talented. They can do anything from milking a cow (she was raised on a farm you know), to whipping up a coconut cream pie. They are happy to serve but are disappointed that others don’t value their serving. Mary Anns are very dedicated. They read their Bible and have a “quiet time” every day. They tend to say things like, “So, what is the Lord telling you today?” fully expecting an answer. Mary Anns are at the core, incredibly nice people but wish that they were born a Ginger.
Gilligans
Gilligans are the leftovers at church. They tend to stand out, not because of some special gift or ability, but because they tend to lack that special gift or ability. They try out and quickly quit many ministry programs. If they find their niche, they do very well. If they don’t, they tend to have their heads whacked by the Skippers. Gilligans are very honest and that sometimes gets them in trouble. Their hearts are in the right place but sometimes at the wrong time. They may know the perfect solution to a problem but are overshadowed by Gingers, Skippers or Professors. Gilligans love easily but find themselves lonely. Their best friends are Mary Anns.
Originally posted at Examiner.com

          

Friday, September 23, 2011

Surprise! Dolphin Tale is actually good!

So, let’s just cut to the chase. I didn’t have my hopes set high with Dolphin Tale. The story sounded intriguing enough, but trailer looked trite. What a surprise. Not that the film doesn’t have its flaws, it does, but it is a solid family movie.

While not completely based on a true story, Dolphin Tale is inspired by one. The dolphin’s story is true, the human characters’ stories are not. The blending of fact and fiction actually melds into an engaging story. It is sort of like Lassie in fish form.

Kyle (Austin Stowell) is a award-wining swimmer with his sights on the Olympics. Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) is his cousin and biggest fan. But first, Kyle needs to join the service to earn the money he needs for professional training. Sawyer is sad with his cousin’s leaving and the fact that he has to spend his summer at summer school. While walking by the beach, Sawyer spots a young dolphin tangled and stuck in a crab trap and helps to release her. Later, Sawyer decides to check in on the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and forms an instant bond with Winter, (the name given to the mammal)  as well as Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), the daughter of the aquarium’s leading vet, Clay (Harry Connick Jr.)

Clay sees the value of the boy/dolphin connection and encourages to the boy to visit her often while they treat her injured trail. Unfortunately, the tail needs to be amputated and the fate of the Winter is quesionable at best. Meanwhile, Kyle is injured in service and is sent back home in a wheelchair. His physical therapist is Dr, McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) who likes a challenge. Sawyer talks McCarthy into creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin’s tale. The rest is history.


The film starts out a little rocky. Stowell is good looking, happy and the BEST cousin EVER to little Sawyer. Zuehlsdorff is engaging as Hazel, but says almost every line with a smile that shows every one of her teeth. Gamble is the polar opposite with a sad sack personality. It’s all a little too perfect to be believeable, but the story improves quite rapidly.

Harry Connick Jr. wouldn’t have been my first choice for this story, but he does surprisingly well with the role and Ashley Judd as Sawyer’s mother doesn’t disappoint either. Morgan is featured promintely in the trailer and is always a pleasure to watch, but is only in the second half of the movie. But the film really relies on the strength of child actors and their interactions with the real Winter, playing herself. (Footage of the actual events is shown at the end of the film and you see just how tiny Winter was when the event happened.)

Despite already knowing the ending, the movie effectively creates tension but it all wraps up neatly at the end. This isn’t Oscar bait, but a movie parents will be happy to take their children to as it features no language, sex or violence. Although there is some dolphin nudity.

          

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Website of the Week: You Are Not a Photograher

If you were faced with your home burning down and had just five minutes to grab just one thing inside, what would get? (Besides your spouse and children!) Many would say that they would grab their photo albums, or that shoebox full of photos they’ve been meaning to put in that special scrapbook for years. What an incredible invention photography is. Each photo can “freeze” a special, even sacred moment in time to enjoy for years to come. For that very reason, many of us will spend some of our hard-earned money and trust some professionals for these treasures.


But photography is an art and shouldn’t be left to just anyone as this Website of the Week can attest. YouAreNotaPhotographer will introduce to you to a new term, “fauxtography” and makes the case that “just because you own a camera, you are not a photographer” and what may have seemed like a good idea at the time, clearly wasn’t.




Take the delightful sample photo. It features a quite striking picture of a female who is apparently pregnant and has a thing for swords and “Beanie Babies.” The website is full of similar examples of questionable creativity. Some even explain what the photographer or the client was thinking, but not always. The site also features some great videography examples like the simply titled. “Awesome Russian Wedding Videography” which features some “special” effects. That video is sampled on this page and it would be a shame for you to skip it.
For more wonderful surprises, click here to see more.
Continue reading on Examiner.com 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Gospel according to The Lion King

One of Disney’s most successful and popular animated movies, The Lion King, has made its way from its den to theaters. For two weeks, the classic film will be shown in a 3D version.


Back before home video devices were invented, Disney used to re-release their animated movies into theaters about every seven years. It was a brilliant plan. Disney would spend a small amount of advertising for a movie that had already been paid for and had already made a profit, only to do it again for the next generation of viewers. Now that nearly every home owns a Blue-ray or DVD player, movie companies have to come up with new gimmicks to find a reason to re-release their films. Last year, Disney tried this new plan out with a double bill of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in the 3D format in preparation for the release of Toy Story 3. Next up - Beauty and the Beast. With today’s new technology, 3D home versions can’t be far behind. It’s the circle of life I guess.

It's interesting to see how Disney markets a story said to be inspired by biblical stories and Shakespeare’s Hamlet,  to various audiences. I recently saw a promo on the Cartoon Network that features all and funny and cute scenes of the movie but none of the scary stuff. Parents of small ones that want to see this film (and haven’t seen the film themselves) should note that even with its G rating, the film has some dark moments. At one point, we see two lion cubs singing about how they “Can’t Wait to Be King” in a bright technicolor background and the next we’re taken to a dark cave where hyenas are chomping on parts of a zebra. You would never find THAT in a Winnie the Pooh movie.
Since the original version of The Lion King came out in 1994, this isn’t actually a review of the movie itself but rather  a commentary on biblical truths (intentional or unintentional) that can be found in it. Some will argue that the film embraces reincarnation or new age thinking and that can be valid as well if you choose to look at it that way. The film also had its share of controversies over the years including a cut of the original VHS and LaserDisc release of the film. In it, it appears as if the word “SEX” might have been embedded into the dust flying in the sky when Simba flops down. This made headlines as some activists alleged that the this was a subliminal message intended to promote sexual promiscuity (as if sex needed any help promoting itself). Disney animators stated that the letters spelled “SFX” a common abbreviation of “special effects.” At any rate, read into to movie what you will, but the following are some similarities found in the Bible that one might share with their family members:

The Birth of Christ
The opening sequence, it appears to be a re-telling of the nativity story. It’s a beautiful scene that still brings tears to my eyes. The music, (written by Elton John and musical score by Hans Zimmer), starts out calm as the images show the early morning in Africa with animals awakened to the news that a new lion prince has been born. All animals great and small make their way to Pride Rock for a ceremony. Mufasa, the reigning king, is standing there alongside his mate Sarabi, the Joseph and Mary of the story. The mammals on land represent the shepherds, the birds or the air represent angels. Rafiki, the wise baboon, represents the wise men. Rafiki blesses the cub and lifts Simba up for all to see and worship. The music swells. The crowd bows down in obedience and honor. Black out. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

God and Man
The relationship between Mufasa and his son Simba can be seen as a representation of our relationship with God. In this sense, we are Simba, Mufasa is God. Like Simba, we tend to follow the rules of our father one minute, and then go down the Elephant Graveyard on our own the next. We know that we are born of royalty but struggle with the boundaries that keep us in line. Whenever Simba wanders off the “straight and narrow path,” his father finds him and leads him back home. 
Later in the film, Simba find himself in the middle of a stampeded of wildebeest. Just like Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins, Mufasa risks his own life to save his son. Even later, an older Simba feels that he is all alone, but the voice of Musfasa again speaks to him through the stars above. He tells Simba to look at his reflection in the water. As he does so, he realizes, for the first time, that he looks like his father just as Bible tells us that we too were made in the image of God. Simba is also assured by Mufasa, that even though he cannot see him, he is still with his son. We are never alone and God speaks to us with a still small voice.

Satan
Scar, Mufasa’s jealous brother, is much like Lucifer, the former archangel in the bible before being tossed into hell. Scar hates Mufasa and his “little brat.” Like Satan, Scar befriends the friendless and speaks lies to them. He makes promises he has no intention of keeping. His is evil through and through. Shenzi, Banzai, Ed and the other hyenas represent Satan’s demons who do much of his dirty work.
In the scene where Mufasa risks his life to save Simba, it is revealed that Scar is responsible (spoiler alert) for Mufasa’s death, much like Satan is said to have rejoiced when Jesus died on the cross. Mufasa also convinces Simba that it is the cub’s fault that his father is dead and that he should run away. But at the end of the movie, Mufasa is attacked by his own henchmen and is thrown into his own hell.

The Good Samaritans
Convinced that he caused Mufas’s death, Simba takes flight and meets Timon, a meerkat, and Pumba, a warthog. Seeing that Simba is still a small cub and not able to take care of himself, the two embrace their enemy and take care of his needs, much like the Good Samaritan story in the Bible. Unfortunately, the well-meaning fiends teach Simba the phrase, "Hakuna Matata" which is interpreted as "no worries” and stretched to mean “no responsibilities.” When Simba’s childhood friend, Nala, finds him and tells him how the Pride Lands are falling apart under Scar’s leadership, Simba chooses to follow the new mantra and not get involved.

The Apostle
Rafiki can also be seen as the apostle Paul, who warns the Christian churches where they were going wrong in their ministries and allowing sin in their congregations. Rafiki, like iron sharpening iron, reminds Simba whose child he is and what his true responsibilities are. Between the words of Nala, Rafiki and Mufasa himself, Simba realizes his true calling and comes back to the Pride Lands to assume responsibility for his father’s tribe, much like we are called to do.





Monday, September 12, 2011

Artist Profile: Hawk Nelson

The guys of Hawk Nelson
Credits: 
Hawk Nelson


 Many music bands have interesting stories on how they came up with their band’s name. This is not one of those stories. Beginning in 2002, three musicians from Ontario, Canada, (Jason Dunn, Davin Clark and Matt Paige), formed a pop punk band called SWISH. A little later they changed it to Reason Being briefly before landing on the name, Hawk Nelson. To the un-initiated, one would think that with a name like that, someone in the band would actually be named, “Hawk” or “Nelson.” But you would be wrong. Turns out, frontman Dunn was playing a video game and he named his avatar character, Hawk Nelson and the name just sort of stuck. So, if you’re trying to find a spiritual meaning behind the name, look no further.


This isn’t to say that the group itself isn’t spiritual. They are. And after a little shuffling of the deck (Clark and Paige moved on while Jonathan Steingard, Daniel Biro and Justin Benner signed on), and  nine years of playing together, they still have a lot to say. Recently, the band released its 5th album, Crazy Love.
Crazy Love focuses on the living and the need for truth. “Part of this truth talk is about growing older and us wanting to sing about what’s real to us,” says bassist Biro on the band’s website. “The truth topics make Crazy Love the most different from past records; we are definitely more overt about our faith this time. It’s satisfying to be real like that.”

Even if you are unfamiliar with the band, you might know them better than you think. A few years ago, the squeaky-clean-looking band got the chance to portray the legendary group, The Who, in an episode of American Dreams television show for NBC. Asked how the band got that gig, Dunn explains that the group was still young at the time. Many of the other bands who tried out for the role, were more seasoned and polished. Dunn thinks they got the job because they appeared more fresh and excited to play music. From there, their music has been featured in television shows, movies and even a video game including SmallvilleYours, Mine and OursMelrose Place and an album featuring music inspired by the movie Charlotte’s Web of all things.

While the group has been nominated many times in America for the GMA Dove Awards, Grammy Awards and Juno Awards, they have achieved more actual “wins” in their native country’s GMA Canada Covenant Awards including “Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year” 2006 and “Modern Rock/Alternative Song of Year” in 2009 for “Live Life Loud,” “Modern Rock/Alternative Album of the Year” in 2010 for “Live Life Loud” and “Song of the Year” in 2010 for “Never Enough.” The song, “Live Life Loud” is currently being featured as part of the promotion for Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play 2011 which will be held on Saturday, September 24th in Washington D.C.

Crazy Love, inspired by Francis Chan’s book of the same name, Hawk Nelson continues the call for action heard on the band’s last studio album Live Life Loud. “This record has got some old-school punk rock feel to it, as well as some songs my mom would appreciate. Overall it is one of our most well-rounded albums dealing with truth,” says frontman Jason Dunn. “Sometimes submerged in a Christian environment, we lose perspective of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We need to wake up and grasp the meaning of what he did; Jesus made something completely unattainable, attainable, and we are called to live in and practice that same ‘crazy’ love.”

Continue reading on Examiner.com 



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