'Magic Mike XXL': The woman's dollar and the fantasy business

'Magic Mike XXL': The woman's dollar and the fantasy business

Women make fewer dollars than men do, but that dollar goes a long way in this sequel

The reality: In the United States, women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. For African-American women, it’s 64 cents. For Latinas, 56 cents.

The fantasy in the movie “Magic Mike XXL,” is that women hold all the dollars, and the dollar really stretches.  Ladies – of all colors, sizes and ages -- rain dollar bills on stripping men in wads, or like falling confetti, like it’s nothing, while men strip without command, without any extra urging from those waving singles.  (In what is one particularly unsexy scene at the Myrtle Beach male stripper convention, women wait in line to get single-dollar bill change for the $20 or $100 dollar bills, in delicious modular stacks.)

The reality is that money is power. By proxy, a film whose core demo is women (and gay men) that rakes in a lot of money means that the woman’s dollar has power -- why we have a “Magic Mike” sequel to begin with. If a film has a successful box office run, women’s dollar-power in Hollywood can be further recognized if not augmented, even if it appeals specifically to straight women’s normalized sexual proclivities.

A fantasy is that films for women, and films about power reversal via the almighty dollar – without question – would be financed and released anyway. 

The reality is that men and women both have to struggle to make their dreams to come true. Mike (Channing Tatum) is having a hard time getting his small business off the ground. Tarzan (Kevin Nash) wants to be an artist and Ken (Matt Bomer) wants to be an actor and a singer; Tito (Adam Rodriguez) is trying to start an artisanal frozen yogurt food truck. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) just wants to settle down with a nice girl whose vagina can handle his genital girth. Rome – Jada Pinkett Smith in a role that was originally penned to be male -- built her “subscription-based” strip joint from the ground up after paying her dues.  Zoe (Amber Heard) is a fledgling young photographer who would rather live homeless than have to return to her job as a stripper - a parallel that the career of a female stripper is vastly different than that of a male stripper.

But it’s a fantasy that achieving one’s dreams is equally hard-fought between genders. Look at the filmmakers and crew for “Magic Mike XXL”: in a phrase often used ironically, the struggle is real. One of six “Magic Mike XXL” producers is a woman. Of 160 credited crew members, less than one-third of them are women. Only one female made the cut on the music soundtrack, and she’s a featured guest on a Jeremih song. Rome’s character was written as a woman instead of a man, but her role is partly contingent on having romantic ties to a man. Zoe’s dream of “making it” as a New York photographer was contingent on the financing from a man who was mostly only interested in her for sex.

The reality is that anyone woman watching “Magic Mike XXL” doesn’t see have to see themselves as any one woman in the film. We can all be a little Zoe: misanthropic, flirtatious, artistic, sarcastic. Or Rome: powerful, independent, masculine, wounded. Or Andie McDowell’s Nancy: middle-aged, divorced, moneyed, liberated. Or Mae (Jane McNeill): sexually unsatisfied, romantic, trapped. Or any number of convention-goers, strip club attendees or drag barflies: thick, thin, black, white, queer, cis, working class, filthy rich.

The fantasy is that any one of these female roles is actually a complete “character.” Rome bats close, but loses her moxy when Magic Mike dances for her on-command, which is apparently action enough to let bygones to be bygones. She saves the day in order to push the males’ plot forward. (Rome, baby, he ghosted you: you CAN tell your ex “no.”)

Speaking of “no,” there’s a fantasy, the grand finale at the convention. Manganiello’s routine is playing house by “marrying” an audience member and then strapping her in a sex swing to the strains of Trent Reznor’s romantic prose “I want to f*ck you like an animal.” Rome preaches that opposites attract: hot goes with cold, and “yes” can be met with “a little no.” After a particularly spirited performance, a woman is  heard shouting “ravage me,” the operative term synonymous with violence, destruction and sometimes even rape. This isn’t to say all women prefer sexual play involving dominance, cockteasing or rape-fantasy. To the contrary, “Magic Mike XXL” is one of the few movies to positively frame those fantasies as a specifically female fantasy in a “safe” communal space.

The reality is that no woman has a single fantasy that can be fulfilled by fictional, chiseled men who are eager only to render a smile on her face.

The fantasy is that all these men are all so comfortable with their sexuality that they can vogue in a drag club like champs; that they believe in equality of body hair maintainence; that they know all the words to Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”; that they want to watch “Downton Abbey” on the weekends and grow fat and old with you; that they will “worship you” as a “goddess” (and that God “is a her”); that they are ogling cars and punching each other in the dick to settle arguments when women aren’t around; that birth control is “grown woman sh*t”; that the dude “who stole your smile" is an a**hole; and that stripping for you – even if you’re a frumpy gas station attendant -- is super fun (if not a little messy… bottled water and Cheetos, who’s gonna have to clean that up?).

The reality is that – as pandering as all that may be – “Magic Mike XXL” is as good-natured a film, that one can laugh at it, chide it or smile during it as one sees fit. Manganiello -- an actor whose rise to fame originated with his role on a vampire TV show -- plays a character who later scoffs at a “Twilight”-themed strip routine. Rome is a black woman in a fedora who effectively gentrifies the term “queen” -- slang with origins in gay and black communities. Zoe isn’t in a “boy phase” right now, and Magic Mike respects it; but Rome is apparently bisexual and Magic Mike – her ex – didn’t even know, and reacts with shock. There is room for irony as much as there is for simple pleasures.

The fantasy is that for under two hours, an audience that is knowingly being pandered to, that “Magic Mike XXL” is for women, the woman’s and the gay male’s gaze.

The reality is, “empowering” is a word someone uses when they’re trying to sell you something. “Magic Mike XXL” isn’t a non-profit. The film isn’t in the reality business; it’s in the fantasy business.

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Skip Or Repeat? New albums from Tori Kelly, Kacey Musgraves, Leon Bridges, more

Skip Or Repeat? New albums from Tori Kelly, Kacey Musgraves, Leon Bridges, more

Capsule album reviews from new June 23 releases

Welcome to another edition of Skip Or Repeat, capsule album reviews from the week's latest crop.

New for June 23: I review Tori Kelly's long R&B/pop effort "Unbreakable Heart"; Wolf Alice's genre-spanning and loud debut "My Love Is Cool"; Kacey Musgraves' joyous "Pageant Material"; and Leon Bridges' soulful "Coming Home."

None of those scratch an itch, want something more? Check out fresh sets from electronic mainstays The Orb, rockers Bully, jazz artist Jamison Ross, a solo set from Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman, and Son Lux's latest, all due this week.

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'Why did nobody stop it?': Director Asif Kapadia on Amy Winehouse documentary

'Why did nobody stop it?': Director Asif Kapadia on Amy Winehouse documentary

What does the 'Amy' helmer have to say about Winehouse's father Mitch?

"That’s said to be one of her best."

I told director Asif Kapadia -- director of Amy Winehouse documentary "Amy" -- about the sole time I'd seen Amy Winehouse perform live. It was her first U.S. performance, a nail-biting wonder. 

"That’s the one that Jay-Z was at."

"Yeah, there was a lot of industry," I said. We went on.

I feel a small amount of pride and tittering excitement whenever I've seen a show that has gone on to become a thing of legend, even on an insular scale. When it comes to artists who have died, those memories can transcend into nostalgia. And when I think of Winehouse's death, those good rememberances burn with pain and shame. Because at points -- even in my career as a reporter -- I've felt complicit in the obsessive nature of celebrity, pecking at low-hanging fruit, or using reductionist language in discussing entertainers who are struggling with their very humanity.

That's what "Amy," as a film, achieves: the same emotional awe, which can transition into contrition, personal loss and empathy. Using home footage, photos, news footage, TV appearances, new interviews and film/pics shot by Winehouse herself, the story of the singer/songwriter's early career and even her early childhood kickstarts the conversation of her undoing and her death. It's full of the music that made Winehouse a worldwide phenom, but also the same gross stuff that complicated her audience's relationship to her, and artists/celebrities/talent who struggle with substance, mental health issues and fame.

"We’re the audience who watched it, laughed at it, commented on it, shredded it. We’re all a part of it," as Kapadia said during our chat.

Below is an abridged interview with the helmer, who responded to recent comments made by Winehouse's dad Mitch, who has distanced himself from the film that features a lot of his own commentary. We also talked on celebrity, ownership, Winehouse's intuitive talent and audience reactions to Winehouse's downward spiral.

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Skip Or Repeat: New albums from Nate Ruess, Hilary Duff, Adam Lambert

Skip Or Repeat: New albums from Nate Ruess, Hilary Duff, Adam Lambert

Capsule reviews of new music, including James Taylor, Giorgio Moroder, Mika

From this week's edition of Skip Or Repeat: capsule album reviews on the ambitious pinings of Nate Ruess' "Grand Romantic," Hilary Duff's pleasure-centric "Breathe In. Breathe Out.", James Taylor's nostalgic "Before This World," Giorgio Moroder's "Deja Vu," Adam Lambert's "The Original High" and Mika's "No Place In Heaven."

Maybe some of these albums move the needle for you. Maybe you need something more... try on Active Child's "Mercy," Academy Award-winning Michael Giacchino's "Inside Out" soundtrack, Heartless Bastards' "Restless Ones," High On Fire's "Luminiferous" or the Vans Warped Tour compilation for 2015.

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Here is a list of things 'Jurassic World' hates

Here is a list of things 'Jurassic World' hates

Women, funny Chris Pratt, Sea World, 'Jurassic Park'

"Jurassic World" doesn't just hate one group of people. It hates pretty much everything and everybody, an equal-opportunity hater. Here is a semi-complete list of things "Jurassic World" hates:

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Atticus Ross knows when your film score is being lazy

Atticus Ross knows when your film score is being lazy

Composer speaks to HitFix about 'Kid A,' Brian Wilson, John Hillcoat and 'Twin Peaks'

Atticus Ross spent no time thinking when I asked if he thought Brian Wilson is a genius.

He is, said the Academy Award-winning composer. Which is why -- in part -- Ross spent more than a week trying to write just a single minute of music for the Beach Boy's biopic "Love & Mercy," why he felt responsibility to craft something that wasn't "lame" to tell Wilson's troubled history. It's Wilson's legacy that informed Ross' risk-taking action, to chop, screw and build off of stems from Wilson and the Beach Boys' actual recording sessions and make a score that can still stand alone as a singular artwork.

Below is an abridged interview with Ross, about his work on "Love & Mercy."  The composer/musician/Nine Inch Nails member also spoke on John Hillcoat's next film, writing with Trent Reznor, ] how Radiohead broke their own mold, making a soundtrack to a drug trip, and why his model for making good music is actually "bad business."

You can watch my interviews with "Love & Mercy" stars Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks here.

HitFix: Did you find yourself struggling between being a fan and kind a composer tasking yourself with pulling through all the stems?

Atticus Ross: That was my idea. That was what I picked to do for the score. My immediate response to Bill about writing a score for is “Absolutely no f*cking way.” Because what’s it going to be? [Brian] is what he is, he is one of the greatest musical minds ever -- certainly in the last 100 years. And so what’s it gonna be, some “Good Vibrations,” followed by some bit of score? That’s just going to be lame, in my opinion.

I know all Beach Boys stuff because I grew up with it. My dad used to have a ham radio station in England, and then he did a nightclub out here. So a lot of the Beach Boys music, I knew all their songs, because they were kind of ingrained in my consciousness in being a kid. But I wasn’t one of those people who was like, “I’ve got this mic because it was used on Pet Sounds.”

So before I wrote the film off, I was urged to just read the script. And I read the script and I thought the script was brilliant. Bill Pohlad undeniably is a man of great taste, from the films that he’s been involved with. Having read the script and knowing the story and knowing what they’re going for and knowing that it’s really a very original approach to the story and the points in time that they’ve picked to juxtapose… it felt like if we interweave Brian into the music, then it wouldn’t be like this jarring thing. Like, here’s the film and here’s this itty bitty score. We treated it more like the subject matter, tried to have the music reflect that.

There’s that part in the movie where Brian puts the headphones on and it’s just all this screaming chaos. That ended up being my wife singing -- my wife is Brian's darkest moment. But towards the end of that, it builds in this cacophony and I deliberately lead to that awful “Sun, Sun, Sun” track, which becomes more and more unfiltered and then we’re using horns and stuff from his own music to build up into that moment of him sitting outside, totally out of it.

For actors, it can be difficult to portray somebody who is on a drug trip, or drunk, or somebody who is mentally ill, because it can come off looking fake. For you is there a similar struggle for composing music and arranging music, like when Brian's tripping or having an episode, or other psychedelic scenes?

It was just really the hours that were put in. I think for everybody involved it became a labor of love. Something like dinner utensils scene, it’s only a minute long that scene but I probably spent at least seven to ten days just working on that one minute of music. Because -- like you say -- it could be so awful, that moment of the knives and forks are coming alive, to do it in a way that felt alive and threatening and not overdone. There are some warped vocals from “God Only Knows” come in. But they’ve been re-tuned and messed with, just to try and get that sense of always being in his head.

We had the [session] tapes, and then I had all this stuff where they would just leave the tape rolling. I’d just have the stereo tracks where [Wilson’s] rehearsing with [studio band] the Wrecking Crew. And some of those sessions would go on for 40 minutes, and you can hear Brian talking back on the tapes.

You may think of Brian Wilson being spaced-out or whatever, but what you may not realize -- and what comes across in the film -- is just how focused he was during those years. And this isn’t space-out, or a guy who doesn’t know what he wants. He’s totally in control. He’s totally in charge of the sessions. He’s on it.

For dramatic films, what is -- in your opinion -- a lazy score?

This sounds too generalized, but I feel if you’re working with good actors, you can operate opposite, or juxtaposed, to them. It should be a dance.

If it’s a sad scene, people feel like it really needs sentimental music over the top of it. Like I feel a lot of stuff…

…is too on-the-nose.

Yeah. The stuff that drives me crazy is when it’s telegraphed, that sense of your being forced how to feel.

All the films I really like are the films that don’t necessarily give you the answer. Do you know what I mean? You can take away your own reading of it. I think you can do it yourself with “Love & Mercy.” How you experience it can be different for everyone. And I think that of all the good films I’ve worked on. There’s always a semblance of question marks. I don’t particularly appreciate being told how to feel in any part of my life in cinema or anywhere else.

You certainly wouldn’t want to make the same album over and over again. And I feel like with this film and with all the films I’ve worked on there seems to be a lot of effort put into the idea that the music exists as its own entity. And that’s something that you can recognize from that entity. For “Gone Girl,” there was a very clear idea behind that score – I’m not saying that we always succeed or anything. I’m just saying that the goal is to create, much like the film is in its own space and is its own story. I think the music should be in its own space and its own story and just made for that.

And I think that requires effort and time. It’s not a good business model. Like, my model is a bad business model.

I’m looking forward to your work on I guess on “Triple Nine.” John Hillcoat is somebody I really associate with Nick Cave. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve been charged to do on that score?

John is a good friend of mine and the reason it wasn’t Nick -- and I’m friends with Nick as well -- is just simply that John had a vision for that one, which was it be very electronic, but not be kind of electronica, like… what’s the word?

Not like EDM.

Yes, absolutely not, nothing like that. Like early Depeche Mode or something where the electronics revel in the electronics.

It’s very raw sounding. He had that vision before and the film itself is another ensemble piece. When you’re working with 12 characters as opposed to two, what we realized early on was you really need to understand the relationships between these 12 characters in the first half-hour or the film doesn’t work.

Like, you can’t just assign each of them an instrument or a little melody line and throw it all together.

Yeah, so that was definitely a process. We’re just getting the last little bit finished right now. But John is John. He’s super talented and it’s a completely different film. It’s very dark and confined story. I haven’t actually seen the finished mix of it but still tend to have nerves because you just never know.

The way you kind of describe it kind of sounds like you’re using kind of analog sounds, almost minimalist electronic sounds. It made me think of Cliff Martinez on “The Knick.”

Yeah I love his stuff. I love “The Knick” as well. I think it works great.

When I was talking about juxtapositions earlier, I think that’s a good example where, on paper you don’t necessarily say “Oh, that’s gonna work.” But it gives it a kind of definition in terms of the whole piece. You might say, “Well that’s not from the period” but at the same time I feel like it’s perfect.

It almost feels native to it.

Yeah! “Native” is the word I was thinking of earlier, about films as a whole. Like, the idea that the music feels native to that specific piece I think is a goal -- certainly in terms of composition as my goal. I think if you treat a film scene-by-scene, it’s different than looking at it whole. To give it its own life that is native to that specific piece, it’s definitely more work. It’s definitely more challenging. But I think in the end it’s ultimately more rewarding.

For you, what does Trent Reznor bring out in you as a composer? What do you bring out in each other that you kind of from project to project that you do happen to work on?

Collaborating with him brings out the best in me, and I would hope he would say it brings out the best in him. We’ve worked together for a long time and being in the studio is a bit like being stranded on a ship in the middle of the ocean. You develop a friendship that’s different to other friendships because… me and Trent have spent more time together in the last 10 years than we have spent with our families. And within that, beyond the friendship, I think you develop a language between the two of you that just becomes second nature.

I’ve learned a lot of what I’m talking about now from Trent, from the early days. Just how nothing leaves the studio -- and nothing has left this studio for many years -- without me thinking that’s the best I can do. Like, “I can’t do any better." Of "You like it, but it doesn’t really matter to me anymore because I know that I’ve done my best.” That’s always been paramount with Trent. It really is like no stone left unturned

When we’re working together, before we pick up anything, there’s probably a couple of days of conversations about “What is it going to be?”. The problem with the digital age is you can have an orchestra in your computer. There’s every synth model. There’s every amp. There’s everything. There’s literally everything. So to me – and to Trent as well -- the idea of making sound from scratch versus in a computer, there’s an idea about having to move the instruments can dictate ideas of the music. It’s like a process of subtraction rather than addition.

Making the process more work for you.

Yes, but, you know, you can’t do 10 films a year like that. There’s no way you can.

What’s next for you and Trent? Are you going to work on another score together or another Nine Inch Nails album?

We are working together on something coming out. We’re not actually talking about it.

Hopefully by “together” you mean you and him on maybe another score?

Possibly.

We talked about “The Knick,” are you a fan of other TV music? Watching anything that excites you?

I love the music on “The Fall.” Not that it’s new news to anyone but I feel like in television there’s been this incredible sense of risk-taking over the last decade or the past five years.

I guess you’re a fan of taking risks.

Ha, not necessarily in the car, but I hope in music. Going back to Brian [Wilson] I do think it’s impossible to make good art without taking some risks. And I mean this in the most humble way: the score for [“Love & Mercy”] could have gone horribly wrong. It’s a great risk to take on trying to integrate his music, looking at him and his career.

I always think of Radiohead, when they did “Kid A” that was one of their greatest moves and they were kind of big band, one of the biggest rock bands in the world and they made that album, and I love that album. And with “Pet Sounds,” when [Wilson’s] whole life led up to that point, and it was this giant step.

I think I do better work when I’m feeling more uncomfortable, when it feels like it’s a bigger stretch for me. And I think a lot of people feel the same.

Do you have a favorite song from a movie or a television show of all time?

That’s almost impossible… I would say, off the top of my head, “Laura’s Theme” from “Twin Peaks.” It’s one of the greatest. That’s another great example of something that it’s played a lot in major key, like it’s almost happy but at the same time it’s terrifying.

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Skip Or Repeat? New albums from Muse, Of Monsters And Men, FFS

Skip Or Repeat? New albums from Muse, Of Monsters And Men, FFS

Capsule critiques of fresh sets from Sharon Van Etten, PINS and more

Skip Or Repeat is a recurring feature of capsule album reviews.

This week, we take a listen to Muse's dystopic nightmare "Drones," Sharon Van Etten's gentle heartbreaking EP "I Don't Want to Let You Down," Of Monster And Men's hyperbolic "Beneath the Skin," the cheeky combo of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks for "FFS" and the tighter sophomore set from PINS ("Wild Nights").

Which albums have you been listening to this week? Any of these sets below pick you up or let you down?

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Violence & bloody revolution promised in first trailer for final 'Hunger Games'

Violence & bloody revolution promised in first trailer for final 'Hunger Games'

'Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol'

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland and, yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman are back for the final chapter of "The Hunger Games" franchise, "Mockingjay Part 2," the trailer to which just dropped this morning.

"Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol," Katniss Everdeen urges in this high-octane first-look at the last film, out in theaters right up next to Thanksgiving this year on Nov. 20.

There's only a small taste of peace and comfort in the first portion of the trailer, as it turns its focus on a wedding. There's even some jubilant colors and fashion, but this flick promises to be as violent as first films, and as far-reaching as "Part 1."

Do you think this series has arrived at a good time in our own culture? Were you moved by "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1?" Do you think Peeta can ever be the same?

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Stop asking bands these questions

Stop asking bands these questions

Funny Or Die went to the Governors Ball music fest in New York over the weekend and asked all the right questions to bands. Namely, one question: which question are you asked all the time that you don't want to answer anymore? Then Mike Scollins answers for them.

I have written about music professionally for more than 15 years. And, yes, I have asked some of these questions.

But I have never asked Strand Of Oaks why he's just so good looking. And I always enjoy Noel Gallagher trying too hard.

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On 'Love & Mercy': The disappearance of living legends

On 'Love & Mercy': The disappearance of living legends

Interviews with Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks

The media business is an odd business, where we race to herald our greatest entertainers with prose and galleries and listicles as soon as (and, sometimes, only after) they've died.

Wire services prepare actors, musicians and other creative peoples’ obituaries months, years, and even decades before they’re deceased.

Especially when creators are dormant -- they retire, they don't pursue gigs, they can't get gigs – the column inches and other platforms celebrating their contributions to film, TV, comedy or movies, too, appear inactive.

Similarly, filmmaking sometimes follows the same graphic arc of interest and ability to portray the achievements of great artists. For every biopic made while a creative’s alive -- “American Splendor,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter, ”“What’s Love Got To Do With It” -- there seems to be twice as many made after death, like “Walk the Line,” “The Aviator,” “Capote,” “Vie En Rose,” and “Behind the Candlabra.” That’s not ignoring the difficulties of telling those artists stories while they’re alive, but even in death, estates haven’t proven this retrospective artform to be any easier: consider the long-finagled movie projects for Freddie Mercury and Jimi Hendrix.

At one time, Brian Wilson was all but dead. His beautiful “SMiLE” album in proverbial crates in the attic, his mental health destroyed by drugs, addiction and debilitating mental illness, abused and cordoned off by his sham psychiatrist. The Beach Boys and “Pet Sounds” was already a memory, one that didn’t have the internet to build out “Top 10 Reasons…” lists and obits in the back-end yet.

“Love & Mercy” is the rare film to wonderfully capture the specific time of life and metaphorical death and a rebirth of Wilson, now 72, a musician so rare that it’d be in no way an exaggeration to call him a living legend.

From my point of view, it is a gentle thrill and with great gratitude I’m afforded the equally rare opportunity to applaud the man, the music, the living history and a film,  the stars of which who helped to tell the story.

Check out my interviews with “Love & Mercy” actors Paul Dano (who plays young Wilson) above and John Cusack (older Wilson) and Elizabeth Banks (Melinda Ledbetter) below.

“Love & Mercy” is directed by Bill Pohlad, with the score chopped and screwed by Academy Award winner Atticus Ross, and additionally co-stars Paul Giamatti. It’s in theaters now.

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