Saturday, May 17, 2014

Stubs – (500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer (2009) Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel Directed by Marc Webb. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber. Produced by Mason Novick, Jessica Tuchinsky, Mark Waters, Steven J. Wolfe, Scott G. Hyman  Run time 95 minutes. US. Color. Comedy. Drama, Romance

For the 500th review on Trophy Unlocked, we were looking for a film with that number in its title, the same way 300 (2007) was used for the 300th and The 400 Blows (1959) was for the 400th. There are not a lot of films with 500 in the title and there are none more deserving of praise than (500) Days of Summer.

One of the best films of 2009, (500) Days of Summer is the closest thing to a complimentary Woody Allen film about Los Angeles that we’re likely to ever get. While like most people in America, and the rest of the world for that matter, I grew up with Los Angeles as the backdrop for so many of the stories I’d see on television and in the movies. And before production flight to tax heavens, parts of the city were most likely to stand in for Louisiana rather than the other way around as is sometimes now the case (Battle for Los Angeles was shot in the postal state code LA, but not in the city.)

(500) Days is told in a non-linear fashion as it jumps around between days in the relationship between Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). If you have never seen the film and intend to do so, then you might want to do yourself a favor and skip down about 3000 words. I don’t want to ruin the film (and you should see this film). If this is you, then hit Ctrl+F and search for the words START HERE. But if you’re like me and have seen and loved this film, there is no harm in reading more about how the film unfolds.

The film opens on Day (488). Summer and Tom are shown talking. She is wearing a ring and he is looking somewhat wistful, rather than happy.

Then we’re back to Day (1), the day Tom first sees Summer and due to his own misguided beliefs about love, feels that she’s the one for him. We’re told it’s January 8th. There is a narrator (Richard McGonagle) who sets our expectations up front that this may be a boy meets girl story, but it is not a love story.

After the opening credits, we flash forward to Day (290). Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz) is summoned by Tom’s best friends, Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), whom he’s known for years, and McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend), his co-worker, to talk to her older brother. He recounts his break up with Summer over a dinner of pancakes at a favorite diner. 

While they were waiting for their food to arrive, Summer says, "I think we should stop seeing each other." Tom is surprised by this, but Summer insists all they do is argue, to which Tom disagrees. Summer compares their relationship to that of Sid and Nancy (referring, of course to the doomed partnership of Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols' bassist, and one-time groupie Nancy Spungen, whom Sid stabbed to death and was the subject of the 1986 film Sid and Nancy). To make things worse, Summer declares she's the Sid in this relationship. Tom can't eat and pretend nothing is wrong and gets up to leave. Summer pleads with him not to go, saying that he's her best friend, but Tom still leaves. Rachel offers Tom vodka and advice, but he insists,"There are no other fish.This was my fish."
McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) (l) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) call in the
 heavy gun, Tom's younger sister Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz) to
 counsel and console Tom on Day (290).

Back to Day (1), Tom is in a meeting at New Hampshire Greetings, the Hallmark-style company where he works. McKenzie is pitching the idea for a new day to celebrate the new American family dynamic, which he calls Other Mother’s Day, when Vance (Clark Gregg), Tom’s boss, introduces everyone to his new assistant, Summer Finn, fresh from Michigan. It is easy to tell that Tom is attracted to her, but she is harder to read. We learn, through narration, that she may be an average girl, but there is something about her that attracts men. As an example, she is given rent at below market value. The film calls it the Summer Effect. Tom thinks it must be fate that brought her to his office.

Day (3) and McKenzie tells him that he’s heard she’s a bitch, because she wouldn’t talk to someone. But on Day (4) Tom finds himself on the same elevator with her. She hears The Smith’s bleeding through his earphones and tells him that she loves The Smiths. It is obvious that he’s back under her spell and he knows it.

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) make a connection
 over The Smiths' "There's a Light that Never Goes Out"
Day (8), Millie’s (Patricia Belcher) engagement party, Tom starts talking to Summer again. He tells her that he studied to be an architect and she encourages him to pursue that dream. He even sits down and sketches something, though he can’t keep his mind on anything but her.

Fast forward to Day (154) and Tom is head over heels in love. He describes to Paul all of her wonderful qualities. “I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.”  Paul’s reaction: “This is not good.”

Day (11) and Paul is already talking up Summer’s qualities and how much they have in common to Rachel while they play a game on a Wii. Rachel’s reply is priceless,Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate.”

Day (22) and Tom is telling McKenzie and Paul that his never-started romance with Summer is off, because he thinks she had sex over the weekend and therefore is not interested in him. He recounts his feeble attempts to woo her, making sexual innuendos and playing Smiths music loud around her.

Tom: "How was your weekend?" Summer: "It was good."

But his feelings don’t last, as on Day (27) McKenzie tells him that everyone is going to sing karaoke, including Summer. Reluctantly, Tom shows up on Day (28) and Summer has been asking about him. Summer sits with Tom and McKenzie, who is already drunk. They talk and McKenzie gets to ask the questions Tom probably wished he could. She expresses her views on relationships; Summer doesn’t want a boyfriend and she’s not a lesbian. She doesn’t believe in love, calling it fantasy.

Day (28) Summer sits with McKenzie and Tom during an office outing to sing karaoke.
On the way out, Tom and Summer put McKenzie into a cab, but he has one last surprise, telling Summer that Tom likes her. After he’s gone, the two talk about being friends, which is all that Tom could ask for at the moment, even though he’s definitely in love with her.

Day (31), their first day back in the office after karaoke, the two of them are making copies, when Summer walks over and makes out with Tom out of the blue. That afternoon, Paul comes over and tries to get the details of what is going on, not realizing that Summer is in Tom’s apartment. Tom is worried that Summer might overhear Paul’s questions about how far he’s gotten with her sexually. And once Summer makes her presence known, Paul makes a quick exit and Tom and Summer leave.

Day (31) is not so bad. Summer makes out with Tom in the copy room.
Day (282) finds Tom and Summer at IKEA. Tom is making a joke about their faucet not working, as if the display were their real bathroom, but Summer isn’t amused. This is in contrast to Day (34) and their first trip to IKEA (which I assume is the one in Burbank). That time, the two openly pretend they are in their own home, running around from bathroom displays, with their fake/broken faucets, to the living room with a not working TV, to kitchen displays, in which she serves him an imaginary dinner of Bald Eagle, to bedrooms. They act like they don’t care who sees them and seem to be having a very good time. When they go back to Tom’s apartment, they make love for the first time.

Day (34), Summer and Tom clown around  in an IKEA, pretending to be a
married couple whose house has two kitchens, but no working faucets.
While the next day is not numbered at first, Tom leaves his apartment to the tune of Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True”. Everyone Tom runs into is happy for his success and they sing and dance along to the song. There is even an animated blue bird of happiness that befriends Tom. (It’s a musical sequence which reminds me in a lot of ways of the “spontaneous” Twist and Shout dance scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), where all of Chicago is dancing to The Beatles’ cover of the Isley Brother’s song. Everyone is dancing to the music and having a good time.)

The whole city seems to celebrate with Tom after he sleeps with Summer.

Tom arrives at work and gets on the elevator on Day (35), but gets off on Day (303) and everything’s changed again. Summer is gone, replaced by Yvette Nicole Brown as Vance’s new secretary. Tom’s euphoric mood has been replaced by despair. McKenzie asks if he’s gotten Summer back yet, to which he replies, “I’m working on it.” Just then, Tom gets a reply from an unspecified email he’d sent to Summer. She tells him she can’t this weekend, but maybe next, writing hopefully that this means they can be friends.

Flashback to Day (45) and McKenzie catches Summer humming a TV show theme song to Tom over the office phone. Day (87), Tom and Summer are in a used record store and she’s telling Tom that her favorite Beatles song is Octopus’ Garden, because she really loves Ringo Starr, which Tom can’t believe. They end up back in an adults-only video section of the store. Summer selects Sweet and Shower, which the two watch. She thinks they could perform one of the acts depicted in the film, but when they try they fail.

Summer:  "I told you. I love Ringo." Tom: "You're insane."

Day (95), Tom is taking Summer on a tour of some of the great architecture in downtown Los Angeles and takes her to his favorite spot, a bench overlooking some of the older buildings in the city, including the Continental, the first “high rise” in LA, built in 1904. He tells her what he would do to better incorporate new buildings with the old. He shows her at her insistence, using her arm as his canvas.

 Day (95), Summer becomes Tom's canvas.

Now that Tom has shared his favorite spot with her, she reciprocates and invites him to her apartment for the first time, Day (109). We’re told in narration how important this night was to Tom, as he seemed to get to know the real Summer and hear stories she had never told anyone else. They get to be intimate on more than a physical level.

In the next few days, not numbered, Tom updates Paul and McKenzie about the state of his relationship with Summer. He seems to be spouting her views, telling them that they’re not putting a label on things. He then confides in Rachel his concerns before she has to go back into a soccer game. She knows he wants to ask Summer what’s going on and encourages him not to be a pussy about it. Day (118) Tom screws up the courage and even though it’s not the answer he wants, they are both happy, which is pretty good at the moment.

Day (259), Tom and Summer are at a bar when a man, identified as Douche (Ian Reed Kesler), tries to pick her up in front of Tom. Summer rebuffs him, but the Douche makes one too many disparaging remarks about Tom, who finally hits the man, only to be beaten up in return. But Summer is not pleased by what Tom has done and uses his actions as a way to slow down their relationship. Tom doesn’t want to hear her say they’re just friends after the kissing and shower sex. He leaves angry. We see the two of them in bed in their separate apartments. Tom almost calls her, but stops himself. Then Summer comes to his apartment during a rain storm and they make up.

The next morning (?) they talk about her exes, which include a girl in college and a guy called The Puma when she studied abroad one semester. Day (266) and they play a game she invents saying the word penis louder and louder in a crowded city park until Tom is too embarrassed to continue.

Back to Day (191), Tom and Summer are at a museum surveying some pretty far out contemporary art until it gets too “real” to be considered art. They head instead to the movies and a film called Vagiant, about a half vampire, half giant monster. They’re last seen laughing. This contrasts to Day (314), in which we see Tom alone at the movies, looking quite sad. He imagines himself in a series of foreign films that parody French New Wave and Ingmar Bergman.

Tom sees himself as the protagonist in a foreign film.

His relationship, or lack of one, with Summer affects his work to the point Vance has to call him into his office. He knows something’s up with Tom and knows it has to do with Summer. Tom’s work has been a little off; Vance reads one of Tom’s latest cards “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Fuck You Whore.” Vance doesn’t want to fire Tom, he thinks of him as one of the good ones, but he wants him to channel his feelings into Funeral and Sympathy cards.Misery. Sadness. Loss of Faith. No reason to Live... This is perfect for you.”

But back on Day (167) Summer was having the opposite effect on Tom’s work. Back then, he was on fire. Not only did he write all of his cards, but he was helping McKenzie and others with theirs, coming up with new ideas including one love card that reads “I Love Us”.

Day (322) finds Tom telling us he hates Summer and for all the reasons he told Paul he loved her back on Day (154). Everything he found cute and endearing then he now finds intolerable. I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs.” He even hates a song, Swayze's "She's Like the Wind", that reminds him of her so much and so loud that he gets kicked off a bus.

Day (345), Tom is hooked up by Paul and his girlfriend, Robin, with Allison (Rachel Boston), but Tom is not ready to start over. All he can do on the date is talk about Summer and when Allison sides with Summer, Tom gets the idea to take Allison to sing karaoke. Perhaps this was a desperate move on his part to try to reinvent the magic he felt with Summer with Allison, but she doesn’t find the drunk Tom on stage wailing to The Clash’s "Train in Vain" and leaves. Who could really blame her?

Day (345), Tom is set up on a blind date with Allison (Rachel Boston).
It doesn't go well, because Tom is still obsessed with Summer.
Flash forward to Day (402) and Tom is boarding a train to go to Millie’s wedding. McKenzie, who had talked him into going, flakes out, leaving Tom alone, or so he thinks. Seated on the train is Summer. Tom purposefully passes her by, but she comes and sits next to him. Captured in the Summer Effect, Tom lets his guard down and the two sit together at the wedding and dance together at the reception. She invites him to a party she’s throwing the following Friday and sleeps on his shoulder on the train ride back. Tom’s head has to be swimming now.

In a departure from the rest of the narrative, we see characters from the film, Paul, Vance and McKenzie, talking about love in a black and white academy ratio mini-film. But when it gets to Tom, he has nothing to say, probably because by this time he doesn’t know anymore what love is.

Day (408) and Tom walks to Summer’s party. In one of the film's better sequences, her party is shown in split screen on the left is Expectations and on the right Reality. What he expects is a more intimate party with people he knows and that Summer and he would pick up the pieces of their shattered relationship. But in reality, he doesn’t know anyone there but her and Summer leaves him alone quite a great deal of the time. He does on the Reality side deliver one of the better lines in the movie. When asked why he writes greeting cards rather than be an architect, he responds “I guess I just figured, why make something disposable like a building when you can make something that lasts forever, like a greeting card.”

Reality sucks!
But reality really kicks him in the ass when he sees Summer showing off her engagement ring, an image that wipes the Expectations side off the screen. Tom runs away and is captured in a tableau that wipes away the world he knows leaving him alone on the screen in silhouette.

Tom alone after Summer has made his world disappear.

Days (440) and (441), Tom’s alarm goes off, but he can’t get out of bed. On Day (441 ½) he does venture out for supplies. Dressed in only his bathrobe, he goes to a convenience store and stocks up on Jack Daniels, orange juice and Twinkies.

Day (442) finds Tom back at work and at a low in his life. When Vance calls on him in a meeting, Tom loses it. Putting down Rhoda’s (Maile Flanagan) idea for inspirational cards, featuring her own cat, as total shit; Tom calls the whole idea of greeting cards bullshit. After his tirade he quits.

Day (450), Tom is at Rachel’s soccer game. She is happy to see he’s sketching again, but it’s a caricature of Summer with a bloody knife. Rachel tells Tom that even though he might have thought Summer was the one, she doesn’t think so and advises him to rethink what happened and not just the good times.

Another montage of Tom and Summer during happier times: walking down the street, holding hands at IKEA, laughing in the car. But we also see Tom’s fight with Douche, them arguing after and making up. Then we get to their last date together, Day (290), when they see The Graduate (1967), one of the films that had shaped Tom’s feelings about relationships. We see Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katharine Ross) laughing on screen as they make their bus escape, but Summer is in the audience crying.

After the movie, Tom tries to comfort her, but she tells him it’s nothing and that she’s being foolish. They go to the same used record store they’d gone to on Day (87) and Tom realizes she hasn't listened to a mix tape he’d made her. Summer is distant and not even a Ringo Starr album Tom finds gets much of a reaction. Tom tries to keep the date going and offers up pancakes for dinner.

Days (456-476), Tom starts to gets his rhythm back. He starts taking an interest again in architecture and starts to interview at firms. Though he’s not finding much luck he doesn’t give up. He sketches out ideas. Set against Tom’s progress we see Summer getting ready for, and going through, her marriage ceremony.

Tom creates his own designs/world on a chalkboard wall in his apartment.

We revisit Day (488), which opened the film. Summer seeks out Tom at his favorite spot in the city, and they talk. Tom tells her he doesn’t understand her actions. Summer tells him he was right about true love and fate, recounting how she met her husband, though we never do learn his name. ”So, what if I'd gone to the movies? What if I had gone somewhere else for lunch? What if I'd gotten there 10 minutes later? It was - it was meant to be. And... I just kept thinking... Tom was right.” She gives the knife in Tom’s heart a twist when she explains that she discovered in someone else all the feelings she had never been sure about with him. Summer holds Tom's hand. She says she is glad to see Tom is doing well. As she leaves, Tom tells her he really hopes she is happy, even though we’re not sure he really is himself.

Day (488), Summer seeks Tom out at his favorite spot.
He finally gets a piece of painful closure.

Twelve days later, Day (500) on Wednesday, May 23, Tom attends a job interview and meets a beautiful girl (Minka Kelly) who is also applying for the same job. They talk and Tom learns she shares his favorite spot and dislike for the parking lots. Before entering the interview, he makes a point to go back to her, tempting fate. At first she turns down his offer to have coffee, but then decides to accept. Tom asks her name, and she replies "Autumn", at which point Tom looks straight at the audience, breaking the fourth wall. And just before the end credits begin, the count goes back to Day (1).

Freed from Summer, Tom is open to the possibility of Autumn (Minka Kelly)

(If you haven’t seen the film, START HERE:)

The comparison to a Woody Allen film is meant as a compliment of course. The film takes place in favorite Allen venues: diners, movie theaters, on the streets looking at architecture and record stores. Tom is an updated, younger version of the Alvy Singer character for Annie Hall (minus the obsession with death), who despite his best efforts to win the girl back, doesn’t. Turns out, like Annie, she wasn’t the one.

Everyone, at least every adult, has been through this situation to some length, in their lives. You think you’ve found your soul mate only to have them lose interest in you. Love is more like a dimmer than a light switch, so you can’t just turn off your feelings, even after they’ve rejected you and it can take a long time to turn it off completely. While most Rom Coms deal with boy meets girl and boy loses girl, they invariably have boy win girl back, but that’s not what happens here.

Tom and Summer are sort of universal characters. The genders could be reversed, but they are still true either way. Tom is the romantic and Summer is not, at least to Tom. In the moment, he doesn’t see where the relationship went off track, so naturally he is surprised, shocked and hurt when the break up happens. Reflecting back on events, looking for signs is hard. Rarely do you get a post-mortem on what happened. Tom doesn’t get one until Day (488) and it is really only after her brutal assessment that he can truly move on.

Like Allen's Annie Hall, the film is told in non-linear fashion, as Tom searches through his memories trying to figure out where things went wrong. Were there signs he was missing? Did he not sense her frustrations? Did he miss the frown when he said something to her? But (500) Days is more daring with its time shifts as the movie might go back 200 days or more then move forward two to three days before leaping forward twenty.A relationship is like a puzzle made up of days and events, with some being more important than others, that fit together and it takes all of the pieces to see the whole picture. 

The brilliance of the writing is what holds all of this together. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber is full of insights into all forms of relationships: love, friendship and familial. The film also has many laugh-out loud moments, some visual, but mostly through the dialogue. As with any modern Rom Com, there are dark days for the protagonist, but those are also handled very well and with a sense of humor, as when Tom goes shopping in his bathrobe. Another sign of a good script is that almost every character has some memorable line from the film, so everything isn’t dependent on one or two actors carrying the load. The ensemble of actors is very important to the success of this film.

(500) Days of Summer seems to revel in the atmosphere of downtown Los Angeles and presents it much like Allen presents his beloved Manhattan, as an exciting, interesting and colorful place to call home. But the real stars of (500) Days is not the skyline or the nightlife, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt had made a name for himself as a child actor, starring as Tommy Solomon, the oldest, but youngest looking of the extraterrestrial Solomon family in the TV series 3rd Rock From The Sun (1996-2001) and as the juvenile lead in the Disney remake of Angels in the Outfield (2004), playing foster child, Roger.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tom in (500) Days of Summer.

Even though Gordon-Levitt left Hollywood in 2000 to study at Columbia University, he never really left, as a film he was in came out every year while he was at school. But in 2004, he dropped out to concentrate on his acting again. Since then he has appeared in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), Elektra Luxx (2010), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Lincoln (2012) and Don Jon (2013), the latter which he also wrote and directed.

Zooey Deschanel, who had been acting in films since 1999’s Mumford, made a real splash in the Will Ferrell starrer Elf (2003) and in Jim Carey’s Yes Man (2008) as Alison. She and Gordon-Levitt worked together prior to (500) Days in Maniac (2001) along with Don Cheadle. The Los Angeles Times had taken note of her in 2003 as a recognizable type, due to "her deadpan, sardonic and scene-stealing [film] performances" as the protagonist's best friend. A musician (the female side of She & Him), Deschanel’s film work has pretty much stopped for some reason. The last film she was in was Your Highness (2011). She has been concentrating her acting efforts on TV in the sitcom New Girl, which started in 2011.

Zooey Deschanel as Summer.

One of Tom’s biggest confidants is his younger sister, Rachel, in one of the better performances by Chloë Grace Moretz, in her young career.  I’ve seen Moretz in other films, including Hugo (2011), and I have high hopes that she will continue to transition from child actress to adult movie star. I can only see her getting better with age.

Tom gets advice from his sister Rachel during her soccer games.

Perhaps best known as Agent Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Clark Gregg has been acting since 1988. While he would appear in supporting roles in movies and on television, his biggest break came in 2006, when he was cast as Richard Campbell on The New Adventures of Old Christine, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In 2008, he made his first appearance in Iron Man and would become a fixture in the MCU and now stars in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which premiered last year.

Clark Gregg plays Tom's boss, Vance, in (500) Days of Summer.

500) Days was Marc Webb’s first film, though he had directed music videos going back to 1997’s Blues Traveler’s “Canadian Rose”. His last video was for Green Day’s “Last of the American Girls” released in 2010. Since this film, Webb directed the less than magical The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), its equally disappointing sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and is signed to direct the sequels up through The Amazing Spider-Man 4 (2018). This sort of leap from small independent to over-the-top studio films is not without precedent, see Christopher Nolan’s work prior to his Dark Knight trilogy. I’m sure Sony was hoping for Nolan-type success when they signed on Webb to direct their Spider-Man reboot. Time will tell if this move pays off for the studio and for the director in the long run.

I so rarely praise a musical supervisor on a film. Also known as the musical or music director, this is the person responsible for obtaining rights to and supplying songs for a production. In this case, Andrea von Foerster deserves a shout out. The songs selected for the film were excellent choices and set the mood for what is happening on screen. Until this film I had never heard of Regina Spektor (‘spekt a lot of people hadn’t), but she wrote and recorded two really good songs: “Us” and “Hero”, included on the soundtrack. I also liked Feist’s “Mushaboom”, Mumm-Ra’s “She’s Got You High”, and Meaghan Smith’s “Here Comes Your Man.” Since Tom’s ideas on love are partially based on Smiths songs, two are included as well, the excellent “There’s a Light that Never Goes Out” and the plea that goes unanswered, “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want”. Additionally, there is Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends”. This is a good soundtrack to own as it does remind you of the film every time you listen to it.

With the exception of the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and a National Board of Review for Best Directorial Debut for Marc Webb, the film did not win any major awards and was not nominated for any awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The film lost Best Feature at the Spirit Awards to Precious and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes to The Hangover, which just confirms my opinion of the Golden Globes.

(500) Days of Summer is one of the best romantic comedies this century and a film I cannot recommend highly enough. It’s smart and funny and tells a usual story in a very unusual and interesting way not only visually but with a well-acted, wonderfully written script. It is rare to find a movie that can make you laugh days or weeks later when someone mentions a line of the dialogue. If you’ve never seen (500) Days, then you owe it to yourself to see it. This is one of those films that makes you nostalgic for what Hollywood used to seemingly do so much easier and with much more regularity, make a well-crafted story.

Here's to the next 500 reviews on Trophy Unlocked. Comments are always welcomed.

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