March 15, 2013, - 3:15 pm

Wknd Box Office: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Call, Stoker

By Debbie Schlussel

I only really hated one new movie this weekend, but the other two were just okay.



* “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone“: As a kid, my late dad bought me magic tricks, and I used to perform at family gatherings. So, I love magic, magicians, and movies about either or both. And I really wanted–and expected–to love this movie. But I expected too much. After all, I thought a comedy about magicians starring Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey would be extremely funny–laugh-out-loud funny. But it wasn’t. Not even close. Yes, I laughed a few times, some of it forced laughter. But mostly I sat in silence. Most of the jokes were either lame, not funny, or entirely groan-worthy. I guess that’s why it’s coming out in March and not in May when the real movie season begins. I liked the story, which was entertaining enough, but it was not anything new. If anything, the best thing about the movie was Alan Arkin, who is always terrific in my book.

Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi were nerdy kids who were bullied mercilessly by the kids at school. But they see a videotape of Arkin who is the great magician Rance Holloway, who teaches them how to do amazing magic tricks. Flash forward to modern day, Carell and Buscemi are a popular magic act in Vegas, and they are invited to perform at James Gandolfini’s casino. But, with frosted ’80s big hair and cheesy rhinestone-encrusted costumes, their act becomes dated and predictable and they grow to hate each other. Soon, Buscemi is out of the act, and no one is going to egomaniacal Carell’s solo magic shows. Now, a “street magician” (Jim Carrey) who hosts a reality show, “Brain Rapist,” is the all-the-rage magician. Carell tries to make a comeback and trains with the aging Rance Holloway, who is now in a nursing home.

By the way, if you take your kids to see this, keep in mind that Jim Carey–who isn’t in the movie much–drills into his own head. Not magic. Not magical. Not funny.

As I said, the story is entertaining enough. But I wish it were funnier. If it were, it would get at least TWO REAGANS. But since it isn’t, it only gets . . .


Watch the trailer . . .

* “The Call: This could have been a great thriller, and it started off that way, but it just was too violent, bloody, and graphic for my taste. At times, I found it coldly sadistic. A man is soaked with gas and burned alive. Another is stabbed repeatedly in more than one scene until he’s dead. And a girl is nearly scalped by a deranged serial killer. The movie leaves little to the imagination as we see the first cutting for the scalping, etc.

Halle Berry plays a 911 operator in Los Angeles. A call she takes results in the kidnapping and murder of a young girl because when the phone is disconnected, Berry calls back, and the ring gives the girl away to the killer. Because of this screw-up, Berry stops working as a 911 operator and is instead a trainer for new recruits. But when a new operator can’t handle a call from a kidnapped teen, Berry springs back into action. A teen girl (Abigail Breslin) is kidnapped from a shopping mall parking lot and locked in the trunk of a car. She has a Tracfone and calls 911 from the trunk, where she is guided by Berry on what to do. This part was interesting because it gives you some ideas on what to do if you ever find yourself in such a horrible situation.

Throughout most of the movie, the two of them converse on the Tracfone, while Berry makes efforts to extract information and attract attention from other motorists, so police can identify the suspect and locate the car. Along the way, two people are brutally murdered by the kidnapper when their suspicions are aroused. He also switches cars, and so on.

I can’t say the movie wasn’t thrilling, entertaining, and suspenseful. It was all of those and definitely wasn’t boring or slow. But it could have been a much better movie without the gore and brutality. I get that bad people do bad things, but do we really need to depict it and desensitize Americans to it even more? Not in my book, and it took away from the movie in my opinion. The best thrillers don’t use guts and gore, they play mind games to scare and thrill you. The violence and brutal stuff is the lazy Hollywood man’s way, and I’m giving the movie a lower rating because of it.

This is definitely not for kids and also features the F-word more than a couple of times and other sexual slang. And I did not like the ending, or find it believable.


Watch the trailer . . .

* “Stoker“: Absolutely awful. This creepy, pointless waste of nearly two hours of my life I’ll never get back is a must-skip. It was written by Wentworth Miller, formerly the star of FOX’s defunct series, “Prison Break.” He should stick to acting. It was killing porn without a point. And it tried soooo hard–way too hard–to be artsy, different, and cool. And it was none of those. Just pretentious dreck.

Mia Wasikowska is India, the constantly sullen daughter of a man who has just died in a car accident. She and her very cold, selfish mother (Nicole Kidman) live in a mansion in the country with all the trappings of the good life. But India is a geek who dresses like a hipster who is even too hipster for hipsters. After her father dies, an uncle she never knew existed shows up to stay for a while. And while her mother is coming on to her strange new uncle, he is busy killing people–killing the housekeeper, killing a visiting aunt, and then helping India kill the one boy at school who is nice to her. Oh, and then we’re shown a shower scene in which India orgasms to her visions of the killing. Yup, highbrow, classy stuff here . . . if you’re a sycophant to the pretentious. For everyone else it’s an avoid-at-all-cost waste of time.

The filmmakers call this a “thriller.” But there was nothing thrilling about it. Just 99 minutes of slow, boring, painful-to-watch navel gazing accessorized with a lot of blood and far too many meaningless shots of spiders. Stay away. If you like this, you’re a fake.


Watch the trailer . . .

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27 Responses

I guess that “Wonderstone’s” characters are a take-off on “Ziegfried and Roy” and “Mind Rapist” is one on Chris Angel’s “Mind Freak.” None of which are compelling enough to make want to see this. Although Debbie’s 1.5 Reagans will make me look for it on video at some point.

Also, Jim Carrey is decidedly less funny since he’s been back on Lithium, but I’m glad he’s taking care of himself. Audiences don’t seem to notice the difference, anyway.

DS_ROCKS! on March 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Hum, will Hollywood ever make a movie worth seeing again?
If you’re talking about magic then you’re talking about James Randi eventually…

Randi on James Hydrick

Randi on Uri Geller

Randi on Lawrence Livermore

“Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.” Isaiah 47:12

Frankz on March 15, 2013 at 5:11 pm

“The Call” sounds like a spin on the famous Belgian thriller “The Vanishing” which is about a man who contacts a serial killer to learn what happened to his his kidnapped wife he suspects was murdered by this serial killer. I won’t give away the ending except to say its one that will haunt the viewer for days on end. Now this is how to make a creepy thriller with interesting twists and turns that leaves you guessing to the very end. If is not completely original, it doesn’t deserve three Reagans and so – Hollywood in my opinion, hasn’t come up with new thriller material since Alfred Hitchcock was alive. He was the Master Of Suspense for good reason.

NF: The Vanishing is MUCH BETTER! (and a lot different). DS

NormanF on March 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Jim Carreys character reminds me of a combination Chris Angell and David Blaine.
And the the other two characters seem to be a re-enactment of Siegfried and Roy.

Halle Barry could play Whitney Houston in a movie biopic.
I almost thought it was Whitney Houston for a brief second with her hair like that.

ebayer on March 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

” Stay away. If you like this, you’re a fake.”

Is that “flake” or “fake”?

E: As written–fake. DS

ebayer on March 15, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I must admit, when I got to see the commercials for that magician movie (with no sound thou’…) I said to myself what a very amusing and hysterical idea for a movie (and especially with Jim Carrey & Steve Buscemi in it…). That’s too bad it wasn’t good. Don’t know how they could have failed when the premise and “players” are so good. (But then again, I came across an EXCELLENT idea for a podcast on Twitters (bad books, movies and things are reviewed) but the show SUCKS. The peeps who put it on are not funny at ALL (however, they amuse each other greatly, the geeks!) and it ruins the whole deal. I have inappropriate guilt because I want to tell them how sucky they are but I don’t want to be mean so…)

I also love Alan Arkin. I like him so much I even enjoy his son’s acting too. He’s just got this unique quality that can’t be duplicated (except somewhat by his son) but is very special to watch.

“Stoker” isn’t getting ANY good reviews and was even panned by NPR. I think I know why now. I don’t like that Wentworth Miller. I have ALWAYS found him very creepy. And when I have spidey sense like that, my initial reaction is ALWAYS the correct one. Now I find him even more creepy. Ew. I’ll continue to stay away from that freakazoid!

Skunky on March 15, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Oh, and kudos for Norman for bringing up the brilliant “The Vanishing”. Right up my darkest of alleys. One of my all-time favs and not for the weak at heart.

Strangely enough he also directed the crap Yank remake with Sandra Bullock & Kiefer Sutherland. It’s as bad as the original is good (and haunting).

Sociopaths are dangerous and that film illustrates just how normal their facade can come off as.

I usually have a fit when Yanks re-create a great movie to a crap version but I can’t blame the American director for the crappy American version because the same Dutch director directed both!

Skunky on March 15, 2013 at 7:31 pm

After Jim Carey came out with his anti gun statements following Sandy Hook, I decided to never watch any of his crap again.
The Call sounds nasty. I can’t watch that stuff, too much of a bad thing. I learned my lesson after renting Hostel years ago. Wooooe.

samurai on March 16, 2013 at 8:55 am

I liked “The Call” a little more than Debbie did. I have to admit that I came into the film with very, very low expectations. This kind of prurient victim film (e.g. “Kiss the Girls,” “Lovely Bones”) more often than not leaves me bored and/or disgusted.

No, this wasn’t exactly “The Vanishing,” but at least the villain was memorably creepy, and I think that’s a plus. Also, Abigail Breslin played a teen character I sympathized with and admired, and she didn’t just lie helpless like a wet dishrag once she was kidnapped—she was constantly doing things which gave me a chance to root for her. Brad Anderson who directed (and whom I’ve admired for more than a decade for many of his films, such as “The Machinist”) used a lot of directorial tricks to create a thick atmosphere of weirdness and suspense at the end of the film. Finally, I thought it was interesting and novel seeing what it’s like to work at an emergency 911 station.

I appreciated also that there was no obnoxious feminist subtext as is frequently the case in these types of movies that seem to want to pander to women.

Burke on March 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

The Vanishing (1988) is available on Hulu.

I started to watch it and must say that in the beginning that male character is quite annoying and I don’t understand why the girl he is with would want to be with him.
He’s hateful and brooding and sooo arrogant.

“don’t worry about the gas gauge,just look at your mirror”
What happens next?
They run out of gas at night in a tunnel.

What does he say?
“It doesn’t matter how we got here,we need to get out of it.”

Who would put up with some self righteous idiot like that?

ebayer on March 16, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Ebayer, the dude is European…he’s SUPPOSED to be annoying. No worries, most peeps felt just as you did watching it.

    BUT when his GF goes missing he DOES try to find out what happens. He becomes obsessed with it.

    The bigger story is the sociopathic bastard. That POS. And how dangerous and clever they are and how they go un-noticed. That’s the tragedy of the tale. Especially if you watch the whole movie
    (which is not for the weak).

    Skunky on March 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks Skunky
      I did watch the whole video and you’re right to call that chemistry instructor a POS.
      I despise two faced bastards like that.

      ebayer on March 17, 2013 at 3:04 am

        I’m glad you watched it Ebayer and NOT the Sandra Bullock/Kiefer Sutherland version. It’s not for everybody but I like real truth…no matter how disturbing it is.

        Yes indeed. Sociopaths and Jihadists. Good peeps of the world are too far behind in knowing all they should know about these scourges. I take it seriously.

        A great and disturbing book on one of the worst is “The Only Living Witness” about Ted Bundy. It’s the definitive tome on that psycho. Back then thou’, we had the stomach to fry EmEffers like him (IF caught). Look at where we are now!

        Skunky on March 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

I prefer the 1965 English movie,”The Collector”,who’s plot is along the same lines as 1988’s “The Vanishing”.

ebayer on March 16, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    “The Collector” is an interesting choice, ebayer. It’s a film adaptation of a John Fowles novel, one of three that were made (the other two were “The Magus” and “French Lieutenant’s Woman”). All of Fowles’s novels were about skewering conservatism. That’s why Fowles is the darling of university professors and why his books are taught as part of the curriculum: he creates elegant allegories which are part of the college liberal propaganda machine.

    On the surface, “The Collector” is a simple serial killer film. Terence Stamp plays a strange killer though, and after a while the viewer comes to understand that his pathology is the supposed pathology of all conservatives who are superficially materialistic, unlike the far superior liberals who can see into people’s souls. I recall one scene that made me gag, where the female victim tries to convert the killer by turning him on to the liberal insights of Salinger and his book “Catcher in the Rye.”

    Burke on March 17, 2013 at 10:15 am

Since everyone on this site is offering an opinion about (the original Dutch-French version of) “The Vanishing,” I’ll add my own: It’s one of my favorites. It’s mysterious and twisted and strangely permissive (in a way I liked) of one man’s almost lunatic obsession. What surprised me was that I also liked the American remake with Sutherland, Bridges and Nancy Travis. This goes counter to Skunky’s distaste for the remake, I know, so maybe I’m wrong about this (or is it possible that Skunky has just a wee bit of bias against American films? Nawwwww. That couldn’t be it). 🙂

Burke on March 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

    LOL, you are so correct Burke…I do harbour a HUGE bias against American films. I find them insulting (sorta like a toned down versions of “Disney” sitcoms (some overacting and trying too hard…Arnold Schwartznegger films come to mind.) and silly. But there are always exceptions as my list of guilty pleasures and not so guilty pleasures will tell you.

    I think there is a date stamp on my distaste too, now that I think of it…like after 1985 or something. I am a HUGE fan of American films from the 1978-1981 (a tic into 1982) period because they portray a gritty feeling that is so real and palpable (Like “Gloria” and “Back Roads” and horror fare like “Fun House”) that is hard to see in many films today (except foreign films).

    I forgot about Nancy Travis! I always liked her and she seemed to disappear for a bit. For some reason in the movies I saw her in (very few) I liked her.

    I think I became a movie snob after seeing “Tess” when I was 12. Then I used to go to Australian double-features. At a young age I was able to see the difference and it made quite an impression. 😀

    Skunky on March 17, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Well, Skunky, I guess I can’t tease you too much about your bias against American films (except for those from the seventies, of course, to which you rightly give a pass); you definitely haven’t kept your feelings hidden on this site! I’ll bet you won’t be rushing off to see “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” as I just did. In my opinion, Debbie nailed the film as usual with her 1 1/2 Reagans, calling it just okay but generally not too funny. For me personally, the film was split into two parts: the parts that were good I thought were charming and appealing, but the parts that were bad (mainly when Steve Carell was overplaying his role as a celebrity whose fame has gone to his head) were atrocious. Debbie liked Arkin; I liked Buscemi and also thought this was the funniest role for Jim Carrey he’s had in many years. Kids would probably enjoy the film and in many ways it seems targeted particularly to them, but the language was gratingly vulgar for a sentimental comedy of this type, making me cringe.

One part that did make me laugh (at the screenwriters, for their clumsiness) was the inclusion of a joke about bottled water from Mexico that causes diarrhea. I bet that cost a couple positive reviews from politically sensitive indignant liberal critics.

Burke on March 17, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    LOL, yes Burke, anyone who knows me knows I am a movie snob and hate going to “regular” movies but I have been pleasantly surprised by the ones I have gone to (for family members) that did NOT suck like “The Dark Knight Returns”, “Thor”, and even “Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters” (this movie was bad but the goth scenery kept me pleased). It would have been torture for me otherwise.

    It’s a bit back in the “way-back” machine but I remember going to see “Backdraft” with friends in the early 90s. I felt as angry as an axe murderer. It was torture for me. I didn’t want to go and did and it was everything I hate in a film.

    On the Burt Wonderstone film, I was shocked to hear it wasn’t funny. The premise is VERY amusing to me and I like the acting of both Carrey & especially Buscemi. Never been into Carrell but I don’t see many of his flicks.

    I like that you give many movies a go. You’re more welcoming that I am. I know what I like and like avoiding BUT I have been pleasantly surprised by a movie that was waaaaay better than I ever expected…like “Boyz In The Hood” and “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (I happen to think DS is spot on W/her review of the movie 100% but for some odd reason I like it way more than I should…)and embarrassingly “Tootsie” (I had refused to see that movie for years but when I finally did I LOVED it. It happens!

    Skunky on March 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I laughed, Skunky, when you described “Backdraft” (which came out something like a thousand years ago) as if it were some personal insult that had just been dished out to you a week ago. Talk about festering wounds that don’t go away easily! What was particularly funny to me was that I felt the same way when I saw that film, feeling betrayed that this massively superficial soap opera which had been advertised as a great new Ron Howard achievement had been inflicted on me and taken time from my life. How dare they! I guess when it comes down to it, that’s what I most like about Debbie’s blog: I don’t have to suffer alone anymore. Now when I view a tedious, annoying, foolish James Bond film (like “Skyfall”) that is one of the very worst in the entire series and every critic out there is raving about how it’s “the best evah” and a shot in the arm for the series, I can take comfort in knowing that Debbie found it awful like I did. And so on with many other examples.

As for “Hansel and Gretel,” I had mixed feelings like you did. Debbie panned it completely, but I differed from her that week, writing that it had “some redeeming characteristics.” Last week, though, when referring to it in contrast to “Jack the Giant Slayer,” I called it “slimy,” “prurient,” inhumanly slick and a complete waste. Like I said, mixed feelings. As for “Thor,” I will never say anything good about that film, no matter how generous my mood. No way.

Yes, I do see a lot of movies, perhaps an obsessive amount (and this takes me back to comments I made earlier about what I appreciated in “The Vanishing”). Part of this is so I don’t have to make a decision about which might be worth seeing and which not so much. It’s easier if I just see them all. I’m actually just about done compiling my list of films I either liked or considered worth seeing from 2011, and it numbers now over 350. When the list reaches 365 (one for each day of the year), I’m going to definitely stop and move more seriously to 2012. Maybe all of this is obsessive on my part, but one incidental advantage is that it gives me an excuse to see minor Australian films which I think are underappreciated. (I know you have a soft spot for Australian films, or at least Australian male actors, and I sometimes recall this when I’m watching one of these.)

I’m guessing from your comments you’ve been watching the Dustin Hoffman series of films on TCM (like “Tootsie). I just saw “Little Big Man” yesterday, another famous Hoffman film. Yuck! How I hate Arthur Penn and the Hollywood liberals who trashed and deconstructed our history and culture. I’m sure Debbie would excoriate this film if she reviewed it, and that makes me feel a little better even if she’d be the only one to do so.

Burke on March 18, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Hee-hee…it’s true…I HATE “Backdraft”. It’s very indelible for me because it was the rare time I went to a film I knew I would hate. And I sure did hate it. I took a few extra long “restroom” breaks for that POS. After that I made a steadfast rule…but I break it now for familial reasons.

    I agree about “Skyfall”. It wasn’t torture but it was a bore for me. Luckily it had Javier Bardem who I like to watch tear up the scenery. Of course there would be no redeeming quality to “Thor” for you…As a man you wouldn’t be pacified by Chris Hemsworth who made it watchable for me (I also like the cinematography of Thor’s home planet and the dude who played his brother is a good actor). Other than that, utter crap.

    Oh, and I saw Tootsie….loooooong ago. Not when it came out but I spent a Thanksgiving (like in 1990!!) with friends in NH and they were watching it on cable. At first I was annoyed but then I LOVED it. I didn’t feel the same way about “The Abyss”. That was my “Backdraft” before I saw “Backdraft”.

    For Aussie films I haven’t seen any good ones lately. “Beautiful”, “Beautiful Kate”, “Separation City”, and “Coffin Rock” (was that the title???) were just ok. I do like “Two Hands” (not that great a movie but Bryan Brown & David Field make it better) and “The Hard Word” were two I liked. Haven’t seen a good one lately thou’…”Animal Kingdom” being the last one I think…

    Skunky on March 18, 2013 at 11:50 am

      First, thank you, Skunky, for being so consistently friendly and positive towards so many on this site. You always have something encouraging to say (except towards those ignorant commenters who want to badmouth Debbie, of course). Your handle may suggest stinkiness, but your personality shines and makes the site brighter. I just wanted to tell you that so you would know you’re appreciated. 🙂

      You have a great memory, probably better than mine. You can even remember what sort of bathroom breaks you took thirty or forty years ago when you watched movies like “Backdraft.” I can hardly recall what movies I saw a week ago. I have a list for Netflix, a list for theater movies and a list for TCM. I have to write everything down or I’d be hopeless.

      Yes, you’re right. That was my problem with “Thor.” I’m a guy, so Hemsworth wasn’t enough. Somebody should have written out a disclaimer in the ad, something like, “If you’re a guy, you needn’t show up. You will probably get sick from the weak script. So only show up if you’re gay or a woman.” That’s why I don’t trust ads very much; they never give you the whole story.

      “The Abyss” was very disappointing. Was this actually the same Cameron who’d earlier made “The Terminator” and “Aliens” films? How could he do this to us? We all wondered. It was a shock to see a director we admired suddenly unravel so completely, a betrayal to us all–but little could we know at the time, only the first disappointment of many to come. Later he would do far worse, with the sappy and overblown “Titanic” and shrilly populist “Avator,” for example. Those movies made “The Abyss” look like “Gone with the Wind” or “Citizen Kane” in comparison. In retrospect, maybe we should thank Cameron for letting us know early with “The Abyss” the really, really lousy films he had later in store for us.

      So you really LOVED “Tootsie”? Even with capital letters, I see. That’s a lot. It reminds me of your total hatred of “Backdraft,” another movie from about half a century ago. You don’t forget things easily, I can tell. As for myself, I’m still angry at Dustin for his part in making “The Graduate” such an iconic success for a whole generation of naive flower children. I still wonder, why did the story have to be so critical of plastic? That was uncalled for in my opinion. Plastic is not all bad as the movie seems to say it is.

      Thanks for your list of Aussie films. They’re all good; even the “bad” ones are good. I love Aussie films–westerns (especially), gangster films, horse race films, romances, mysteries and all the others. Australia has the good parts of England but not the effete decadence and arrogance. It may not be a perfect country, since nine out of ten of the most poisonous snakes in the world live there (not to mention the dreaded frilled lizard and bilby), but it’s pretty good.

      Burke on March 19, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I agree that “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” has a great premise. Without having viewed the film (at all – not even trailers), it’s hard to imagine Steve Carrell, Buscemi and Jim Carrey not giving good (or good enough) performances, considering their experience and success up to now. Perhaps the fault lies in the script, direction and editing.

BTW, any political jokes or smears in it? They could have done a good one with Obama disappearing $16 trillion and millions of jobs. And I think Obama would have agreed to be in the film and appeared when called.

Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Andrew, there were no political smears concerning Obama in “Wonderstone,” not one. And you’re right, there could have been some great disappearing jokes about the 16 trillion that’s come up missing. They blew an opportunity there.

    I’m a simple person, though, who enjoys simple pleasures, and I was just grateful that there weren’t a few gags thrown in mocking conservatives. That made the film rare in itself.

    Burke on March 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm

The Call: So Hollywood is remaking Ashley Judd movies in her honor?

Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Andrew, Judd made so many woman-as-victim-of-bad-men-who-are-mashers films she became a laughingstock for a while. I remember that. It was pretty funny. She dropped out of sight for a while, but judging from your comment, not everyone’s forgotten. Now she’s about to run for Kentucky Senator, and maybe you’re right: Hollywood came out with this new serial killer movie so they could honor Ashly Judd and give her some important pre-run publicity before she began her campaign.

    Burke on March 19, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Stoker: I see Nicole Kidman’s script choices remain highly uneven. To wit, I see she’s finished “Grace of Monaco” where she plays Grace Kelly (oh, the intrigue and driving skills!) and also just finished a revenge movie, “The Railway Man”, with Colin Firth, about Japanese torture (she replaced Rachel Weitz after Firth asked her to himself).

Maybe they’re better than they sound. Oh god….

Andrew on March 18, 2013 at 2:21 pm

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