Archive | Movies

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Watch The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Awhile back, I posted on five reasons you should listen to BBC Radio. Today I’d like to complement that post with some thoughts on why you should also watch BBC television:

1. It has the most amazing mini-series. Back when my husband and I first met, I knew that we were well-suited to one another when we both dove in with two feet to watch the six part BBC mini-series Reckless, about a young man who falls for an older (married) woman. A few years later, we watched State of Play, a contemporary thriller about a political-media scandal (later re-made into a less satisfactory feature film set in America.) Just this past weekend, we finished the trilogy House of Cards, a political drama about Westminster intrigue set in post-Thatcher England. All three series combine superb acting, fine writing and a willingness to explore the messy interface between love and power. Fabulous.

2. It has the most amazing documentaries. I’ve got a 9-year-old son, which means that prying him away from violent computer games is no mean feat. But I can’t tell you how many spellbinding afternoons we’ve spent this year watching the most compelling documentaries about science and nature on the BBC I-player. I’m particularly taken with the series How Earth Made Us. Watch this one entitled Deep Earth to learn why civilizations sprung up along fault lines. Incredible.

3. The presenters look like us. Despite charges of ageism and sexism, the vast majority of the people presenting and reporting the news on the BBC just aren’t all that attractive, at least by American broadcast standards. Rather, they look like – gasp – normal people. At first, I found this shocking and vaguely disconcerting. (What’s up with that guy’s teeth? How can she possibly go on air in that top?) But now that I’ve gotten used to it, I find it quite refreshing. The people who report the news look a lot like the people they’re reporting on. How…appropriate.

4. It Employs Jonathan Ross. At least for now. If you’re *so* over the late night television wars in the United States, I’d urge you to tune in to this weekend staple over here in the UK: Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Yeah, he looks a bit like Leno and – at first glance – acts a bit like him, with his bumptious grin and easy way with the ladies. But make no mistake. Ross is clever and funny and seems to really enjoy what he’s doing. (Even if he occasionally steps over the line.) I’ve never watched late night TV with any regularity in my life until now. I will sorely miss him when he goes.

5. It created The Office. Many Americans don’t realize this, but NBC’s hit comedy, The Office, is actually based on a BBC television show by the same name. (As Ricky Gervais – its star and co-creator – was quick to remind us at The Golden Globes recently. Read here for a terrific comparison of the two.) I love the American version of The Office. But there’s nothing quite like the mixture of humor, pathos and off-beat romance that defined the original series – it’s almost unbearable to watch at times. And Thank Goodness.

*****

For those who are interested, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com today talking about efforts to improve the enfranchisement of overseas American voters.

Image: Empire Awards 2008 by Claire_h via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Up In The Air Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband and I went to see Up In The Air last weekend, which has just been released in the U.K. We really liked it (even if one of us didn’t think Vera Farmiga was all that hot…ahem.) And yet, when we came home and talked about the film with our 17 year-old sitter, I didn’t advise her to go see it. In fact, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone under the age of 30 to see this movie.

Why is this, you ask? It’s not the sex (of which there’s none, and only one shot of nudity) or the violence (ditto). It’s just that for my mind, this is a really grown-up movie that can’t be well appreciated by someone who’s not…well…middle-aged.

So despite the PG-15 rating, here are five reasons why I think this is a movie for grown-ups (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet seen the movie yet, this post contains some revealing information!):

1. It’s about the economy. As my former colleague Michelle Brafman notes, this is a movie where the recession plays a starring role. It’s a movie about downsizing, lay-offs and the way in which technological advances affect office life. I’m not saying that someone in their 20s can’t appreciate those things, but they won’t have quite the bite that they do for people who’ve lived through a few economic booms and busts. Evidence in support of this theory: the most moving parts of the film are all shots of real-life middle-aged or older people whose entire lives have been turned upside down by getting fired.

2. It’s about feminism. This is also a movie about feminism – as I define it – by which I mean women making independent – and sometimes shocking – choices about their lives. In this case, that amounts to having an affair (not so shocking) and not wanting to ditch everything for your apparent soul-mate, even if he’s George Clooney (a bit more  shocking). There’s a point in the film where the 20-something, tightly wound, overly professional and overly idealistic colleague of the Clooney character thanks Farmiga’s character for “all her generation has done for feminism.” We’re meant to laugh, because there’s only about 10 years between them. But later on in the film – when Farmiga tells Clooney that she’s a grown-up and that he should call her when he’s ready to play with the big kids (i.e. to accept a sexual friendship with no strings attached) –  we understand that the last laugh’s on us. This lady *is* liberated.

3. It’s about commitment. As many people have already observed, this is also a film about loyalty and commitment. In my own view – and as I’ve written in this space many times before – it’s incredibly hard to stay committed to the same person over the long haul. And that’s just not something young people worry about. They’re off experimenting and having fun and aren’t terribly bothered by what’s coming next or how long anything lasts. And that’s just as it should be.

4. The romantic leads are middle-aged. At one point in the movie, the script (foolishly, IMHO) suggests that Farmiga’s character is 34. She looks more like 38 or 40 but whatever. The point is that while she’s no Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated – (and despite what my husband thinks, Vera Farmiga *is* hot) – nor is she the young, naïve 23 year-old who also co-stars in this film. At one point, I thought they’d write the ending so that Clooney ends up with the younger woman. Thank goodness they didn’t. The whole point of this film is that it’s about what it’s like to fall in love – or “in like” as the case may be – when you’ve already been around the block a few times.

5. It doesn’t have a happy ending. I’ll fess up to having a preference for dark movies and sad endings. This film has neither. But – other than for the 23 year old – nor do things end on a particularly tidy note. Which is – dare I say it – a tad more realistic. And also comforting for those of us who’ve also been around the block.

*****

For those who are interested, please do have a look at my post in PoliticsDaily.com yesterday on whether universities breed terror.

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Middle Aged Desire: Two Scenes and a Moral

Over the weekend, I had two encounters which prompted me to think about desire in middle age. Borrowing a page from the wonderful Formerly Hot, I thought I’d share them with you:

SCENE ONE:

Setting: Grim public library in London on rainy, Saturday afternoon. DELIA stands hunched over computer, desperately searching for CD of first Pirates of the Caribbean movie for son before daughter’s ballet class finishes. She is clad in loose-fitting long, dark Eddie Bauer-style winter parka, which she hasn’t bothered to take off because she is in such a hurry. She looks vaguely like a parking lot attendant, save the over-stuffed cloth bag from Daunt Books, which hangs precariously over one shoulder.

MAN of unknown age, face and ethnicity approaches neighboring computer terminal and also begins typing.

MAN (clearing throat): Um…is this the library catalog?

DELIA (not looking up): Yes.

MAN (noticing her accent): Oh! Are you American?

DELIA (still typing): Yes.

MAN: How long are you visiting for?

DELIA (distracted): I live here.

MAN: With your husband?

DELIA: Yes.

MAN flees.

Analysis:

My First Thought: Yay! I’ve still got it!

My Second Thought: Wait a minute…he never saw my face, I’m wearing a tent, and he basically only approached me because…I’m female.

My Third Thought: Gross.

SCENE TWO:

Setting: Camden Town restaurant where two middle-aged couples pour over the film Up In The Air, which they’ve just seen.

HUSBAND: Call me crazy, but I just don’t think Vera Farmiga is all that hot.

Analysis:

My First Thought: What is he smoking?

My Second Thought: Yay! My husband finds me more attractive than Vera Farmiga.

My Third Thought: What am *I* smoking?
Moral of Both Stories: There’s no accounting for taste.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on why Up In The Air is a really grown-up movie…

Image: Untitled by Jfer via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Signposts of Adulthood: Finding Your "Forever House"

I got a one-line email from a friend the other day. It read: “We’ve found our forever house!” Attached was a photo of a large, stately English country home, with columned entrance and a wrap-around drive.

I was really happy for her. I knew that this was exactly what she wanted. She recently left London with her husband and three children in search of more space, better schools and a better quality of life.

But a tiny voice inside my head asked: “Where’s *my* forever house?”

The truth is, I don’t have one and I’m not sure that I ever will. Unlike most people, for whom home ownership remains a universal aspiration, I’ve never really fantasized about having a dream house.

A lot of that has to do with my own (admittedly odd) psyche. I’ve written before about how I find safety in movement. This means that I actually feel more secure when I know that change is on the horizon, or at least potentially so. It explains why I like to change careers and why I like to change continents (though fortunately – so far, at least – *not* why I like to change husbands.) So committing to anything beyond my family – and especially a place – makes me feel…anxious.

In the extreme, of course, this kind of rootlessness can induce a certain anomie and soullessness. Mike T has a thoughtful review of the new George Clooney movie – Up In The Air – over on his blog A Boat Against The Current. Mike points out that when such mobility becomes a national past time, you get a country full of people who are loyal to plastic (in the form of frequent flyer miles) rather than blood or community.

Quite possibly. In my own case, however,  I prefer to think that I just have a different definition of home than most people do. It’s one that – as Kristen put it so nicely on Motherese awhile back – is rooted more in a state of being than in a place on the map.

Or maybe I just haven’t grown up yet…Gosh, let’s hope not. What on Earth would I blog about?

Follow Delia on Twitter.

Image: Evanston Art Center by beautifulcataya via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Indie Films Worth Renting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a friend the other day at a party. She was on her way out the door to see a movie, but she looked sad. “What’s wrong?” I asked, seeing a scowl upon her face.

“We’re going with another couple,” she explained. “I really like them, but we have totally different tastes in movies. And they *only* like sci-fi.”

I knew exactly what she meant. It’s such a bummer – not to mention expensive! – to go see a movie that you’re not psyched about.

Which is why I ‘m so happy that my husband and I see eye to eye where movies are concerned. Just the other night, we popped Frozen River into the DVD player (you know you’re middle aged when you’re watching *last year’s* Oscar nominees on New Years Eve.) And as the acoustic guitar twanged, the female vocalist kicked in and the camera cut to a bleak close-up of a beleaguered working mom’s face, my husband said, “Yup, it’s our kind of movie.”

So if , like me, you like your films like you like your eggs – e.g. sunny side down, here are five movies worth renting now:

1. Frozen River – The plot – about a single mom struggling to make ends meet who starts smuggling immigrants into the U.S. for cash – is a bit far-fetched. But the rawness in Melissa Leo’s performance – etched into the very folds of her skin – brings new meaning to the word “spare.”

2. Sugar – We got (literally) frozen out of seeing The Hurt Locker in a cinema the other night, or I’m sure I’d be posting about that here. Instead, we came home and watched Sugar. (Note to self: be sure *not* to order the X-rated film by the same name!) Sugar is a small but moving film about a kid from The Dominican Republic who gets drafted for the minor leagues and how he fares when he actually lives the American Dream. Keep an eye on this actor: Algenis Perez Soto. His face speaks volumes even though he is remarkably laconic.

3. Sherry Baby – I don’t know why Maggie Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her performance in this film, which tells the story of a young mother who gets out of rehab and tries to resume her parenting duties. It ‘s painful to watch, but oddly heartening, and reminds you why New Jersey is such a great place to set a film.

4. The Wrestler – In an earlier post this year on why I like movies with a certain “feelbad feeling,” I singled out The Wrestler as exemplary. It tells the story of a down-and-out “has been” pro-wrestler who tries – and fails – to turn his life around by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, falling in love and leaving his profession. What I liked about this movie most was that it wasn’t afraid to have a sad ending.

5. I’ve Loved You So Long – Yep. You guessed it. Here’s another film about one person’s (often doomed) efforts to overcome the odds and turn their life around. But this one’s French (bonus) and it stars Kristin Scott Thomas (double bonus). It’s about a woman who struggles to re-connect with her family and find her place in society after spending fifteen years in prison.

Well, bet you’re all feeling chipper after that round up. Anything I’m missing?

Image: Zim Eggs by World Megan via flicker under a Creative Commons License.

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Networking in Adulthood: Dating For Friends…Online

One of the great things about blogging is that you get to read all this stuff you’d never come into contact with normally, simply because you are now paying attention to – say – adulthood. This past week, for example, I can’t tell you how many wonderful reviews I’ve read of the movie, Where The Wild Things Are, all of which talked about its appeal for grown-ups.

Another great thing about blogging is that you get to know (ok, e-know) all different kinds of people whom you’d never meet in real life. That connection might come about because they left a comment on your blog or started following you on Twitter. Or because you saw them interviewed on someone else’s blog and you decided to get in touch. Whatever the source, the social side of blogging is one if its many wonderful attractions.

It was through a combination of these two channels that I came to discover my new e-BFF, Sharon Hyman. I was scrolling through one of the many “search alerts” I routinely send out on topics like “adulthood” and “middle age,” when I came across an article in the Canadian National Post entitled Imposter Adults. Intrigued, I read on. It was all about Sharon’s reflections on the process of growing up. It read:

I always thought that being a grownup meant you had the external trappings of adulthood: marriage, kids, a mortgage, maybe even a driver’s licence! Of course, having none of these, I presumed I couldn’t possibly be seen as a proper adult in this society. I also figured that being a grown-up meant that you had conquered the hopeless insecurities and fears that derailed you in high school –again, something I have yet to achieve. With these thoughts in mind, I set out to discover if anyone really feels like a grown-up on the inside, and what the concept of grown-uphood really means.

Sound familiar?

I immediately went to Sharon’s website, Neverbloomers (subtitle: The Search For GrownUphood), where I found out that she’s actually making a movie about said topic. I watched the hysterically funny video on the front page of the website, which includes clips from some of her interviews for the film.

And then – because who am I to turn down a personality test when proferred? – I took the Neverbloomer “Have You Found Your Inner Adult Quiz?” (Needless to say, I haven’t, though I did receive the result “grown up in training” which sounded about right to me).

I promptly emailed Sharon to express my delight and appreciation at having found her website. The rest is history. We’re now “friends” on Facebook.

I once wrote a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about the elusive search for female friends in adulthood. The thrust of the piece was to illustrate – by example – what a nightmare it is to have to “date” for friends once you grow up and have kids. But in this brave new world where most community-building takes place online, that’s all gone now. And so, like millions of men and women before me – I’m now discovering the joys of online “dating”…for friends.

And what a joy it is.

*****

Speaking of e-friendships, follow me on Twitter.


Image: 42/365 Meet My Best Friend II by Leah Mancl via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tangible Signs That You're Middle Aged

“Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.”

–Bob Hope


Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Yesterday, I talked about middle age as a set of attitudes. Today I’d like to complement that idea with five concrete signs that you’re middle aged:

1.You start re-reading classics. I’m a big believer in the value of re-reading. But while in Waterstone’s the other day (UK equivalent of Borders), I saw a bookmark entitled “50 Books To Read Before You Die.” And suddenly I had this panic attack that I hadn’t read every single book on the list.  As it happened, I was already re-reading Wuthering Heights for my book group. But as soon as I saw that bookmark, I ran back to embrace Heathcliff with reckless abandon!

2.You leave Parties Before Midnight. I remember once taking this personality test which asked “Do you leave parties before or after midnight?” I dismissed the question entirely because at that point in my life, I didn’t show up to parties until after midnight. Boy, how times have changed. And it’s not just that I now have to pay a sitter when I go out. I actually find myself craving the solitude of…well, Heathcliff.

3. You decline alcohol because you need to exercise the next day. OK, in truth I don’t do this all that much. But I do restrain myself far more than I once did. For heaven’s sake, I used to smoke a cigarette *after* returning from a run. Or go running…to escape a hangover. Now my aging body does the mental calculation of how that morning run will feel after just one glass of wine and I find myself re-considering it.

4. You Start Renting BBC Mini-Series. It’s one of those sad truths of parenting that once you have kids, you never go out to movies anymore. My husband and I thought we’d be different than everyone else on this score but, of course, we’re not. Sure, we go to see a few of the big hits every year. I’m too much of an Oscar fan to skip those. But most of the time we rent movies about six months behind their release date. Lately, however, we have found ourselves renting assorted BBC mini-series that ran – gasp – in like the 80’s. Worse, we find them bizarrely addictive. Don’t believe me? Check out House of Cards. Tell me if you’re not hooked after Episode One.

5. You buy that Joni Mitchell album. You know that one – Both Sides Now – where she goes back and sings…Both Sides Now, except that her tone’s a little more plaintive, a little more somber, a little more…middle-aged. Worse, you buy it because you saw it featured in Love, Actually in that scene with Emma Thompson crying in the bedroom. And it’s haunted you ever since. Admit it. It has.

*****

Check out my response to the latest study showing the costs of unsafe abortions worldwide.

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Image: Joni Mitchell self-portrait by Jenny J via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Way We Are: What Barbra Streisand Teaches Us About Adulthood

I woke up Friday morning in a very good mood. For I knew that at 9 pm that evening, Barbra Streisand was going to be interviewed and then perform live on the Jonathan Ross show here in London.

Let me to preface all of this by saying that I’m not a huge Streisand fan by any standard measure. I don’t own any of her albums, and I’ve only seen a handful of her movies. But I still find her tremendously inspiring.

And she’s inspiring in precisely the same way that author Frank McCourt – who passed away recently – was inspiring. In McCourt’s case – and as I wrote about when he died – he reminded us that 66 isn’t too old to pursue your childhood dreams. That’s the year he published his break-out hit, Angela’s Ashes. In Streisand’s case, she reminds us that 67 isn’t too old to keep on pursuing your childhood dreams. She just released her latest album, “Love Is The Answer,” and performed live at the Village Vanguard two weekends ago for the first time in 40 some years.

I know that some people aren’t wild about Barbra. They don’t like her politics. They don’t like her personality. Fair enough. But here are just a few things to remember about Streisand before you diss her:

1. She is the top female recording artist in American history. Wow. I had no idea.

2. She doesn’t read music and can’t really be bothered to do warm-ups or vocal exercises.

3. She’s the only person to receive an Oscar for both acting (Funny Girl) and song-writing (A Star is Born).

4. She’s got star power. Even Stevie Wonder was obliged to do the standard Jonathan Ross show where he appeared alongside two other guests. Barbra got a solo interview. Unheard of.

Me? I could watch The Way We Were every weekend of my life. The way it ends with that bittersweet reunion between Streisand and Redford’s characters on a busy New York street and all the longing, regret and acceptance built into that scene? In a word: adulthood. And I also loved The Prince of Tides – which Streisand directed. (Dysfunctional family, decline of American South, personal journey towards self-hood, plus Jewish New York Therapist all rolled into one? What’s not to love?)

If you’re still wondering how you feel about Streisand, listen to this You Tube clip of her performing Send in The Clowns. Devastating.

Oh yes. And stay tuned for Wednesday’s post for more life lessons from Barbra…

*****

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, do check out my post on PoliticsDaily.com about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s newest secret…he’s Jewish!

Follow me on Twitter.

Image: Barbra Streisand by Nadwork via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Changes to the Oscars: Have We Lost That "Feelbad" Feeling?

For those of us who follow the Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped two bombshells recently.

First, they’re going to democratize the membership of the Academy to include the likes of Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis. To which I say: Good.

Second, they’re going to expand the number of best picture nominees from five to ten. To which I say: Bad. Very, very bad.

The idea behind the second reform is to drum up better ratings for the broadcast. But it’s also designed to give pride of place to the sorts of commercial movies – comedies, animated films, blockbusters – that have played second fiddle to more serious, downbeat, artsy films that have tended to dominate the awards in recent years.

I, for one, am saddened by the change. I love these small, iconoclastic Indy films. I fear that if we dilute their influence at the Oscars, we will only further dilute their influence at the cinemas, which is already waning. And that’s a real loss.

Two movies I saw in the past week confirm this feeling. The first, The Wrestler, tells the story of a down-and-out “has been” pro-wrestler who tries to turn his life around by reconnecting with his estranged daughter, falling in love and leaving his profession. The second, Rachel Getting Married, is about a drug addict who takes a weekend off of rehab to attend her sister’s wedding and all the guilt, anger, resentment and pathological family dynamics that ensue.

These are both small, fairly dark character-driven movies about deeply flawed people who are trying to change their lives in ways both small and large, and run up against how hard that is to do in practice. Not surprisingly – and I give nothing away here – neither has a particularly happy ending.

And I find that sort of grim realism…refreshing. Movies can’t be there just to allow an escape. (Though if you’re looking to be cheered up, be sure to watch the interview with Mickey Rourke in the DVD commentary about how he turned his life around as an actor.) As Jon Canter writes in yesterday’s Guardian, the “feelbad” factor is under-rated:

Feelbad confronts you with the darkness, futility and awfulness of existence, but does it with such imagination, bravado, soul and wit that you find yourself exhilarated.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

*****

Speaking of addiction, there’s a thoughtful essay on alcoholism and addiction by Clancy Martin in this week’s London Review of Books.

Image: 1:6 Oscar Statuette by Shaun Wong via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Can I Groom You?: The Importance of Female Friendships in Adulthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.

It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda Rosenfeld focusing on female friendship. At first, this struck me as a rather “girlie” topic for this particular women’s magazine. And then I thought, why not? Rosenfeld is absolutely right that most women spend far more time talking about other women than they do about their boyfriends/husbands/partners.

Then I saw The Duchess, a period drama in which the bond between two women is so strong that it survives one of them becoming the mistress of the other’s husband…even sharing a house!

Finally, I read about this new study out of UCLA arguing that baboons whose mothers have stronger female ties are much more likely to survive into adulthood. Interestingly, it’s not about the number of social ties – but their intensity – that seems to matter for the reproductive success of their offspring.

As someone who’s been likened to a rhesus monkey on more than one occasion, perhaps I was unduly drawn to this particular line of research.

But I also think it’s true. I’m not sure if close female friendships make me (or anyone) a better mother, but I am convinced that they are an essential part of a happy adulthood.

I regularly exchange emails with two friends of mine from Chicago, even though I haven’t seen either of them in three years and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever live in the same place again. But we met when we were all new mothers. And the intensity of that bond has kept us emailing about politics…parenting…literature – you name it – on a regular basis to this very day.

Ditto for my older friends from college and graduate school.

I have one historian friend who felt so close to another colleague that they decided to write a novel together. They each took one of the two main characters and then lobbed the plot back and forth to one another over email like a tennis game. She told me that it was an absolute blast and I’m sure it was also one of the most gratifying things she’s done professionally.

I wish I had better insight into what makes adult female friendships so essential. There’s the obvious bond of motherhood and all the agony and ecstasy that giving birth and raising a kid implies. But I find that these bonds are just as important for my friends who don’t have children.

One clue may come from the baboon study, which says that there’s something about the grooming process between females which lowers the release of hormones that induce stress.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to carry a hairbrush with me to my next ladies night out…

*****

Further to Monday’s post about freelancing during a recession, I came across this humorous and thoughtful blog – pink slip – about the travails of being a freelancer.

Image: Baboon Concentrating by patries71 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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