REVIEWS

Review: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' May Actually Defy Your Expectations

by
February 15, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is not the disgusting trainwreck of awful filmmaking and horrendous acting some of you were expecting. It’s not even the steamy, sexually enlightening handbook for which some of you were hoping. The adaptation to E.L. James’ nationwide bestseller – itself based from Twilight fan fiction – was inevitably going to stir up controversy of all manner before its release, but the film, itself, is both tamer and, surprisingly, more accomplished than the preemptive lack of credit being given. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, it’s is a freshly-shot film telling a weakly-crafted story, the latter criticism of which seems to be built in to today’s Hollywood release structure. It’s the first of a three act story, but Fifty Shades of Grey brings enough visual style – and one solid lead performer – to keep you on board for the eventual trilogy.

We’re introduced to this multi-shaded world of Christian Grey through the eyes of college senior Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson. She’s the epitome of innocence; mousy, sweet, and completely naïve to what she’s walking into when she interviews the billionaire playboy, played by Jamie Dornan, for her school newspaper. The connection between them grows within an instant, infatuation quickly sprouting into full-blown love. But, for all the laptops and shiny, red cars Christian buys for her, Anastasia has a serious decision to make about him. You see, Christian has very specific, sexual tendencies; the bondage, discipline, domination/submission type of tendencies. A novice when it comes to even holding hands, Anastasia is unsure if she can overcome the fear Grey’s world gives her to ultimately find true love with this man. Only time – and a few, well-placed flog marks – will tell.

First and foremost, strike any comparisons you might have between this film series and the Twilight movies. Yes, the fan fiction angle is what got the Fifty Shades ball rolling, and it’s been the only comparison anyone’s been able to make without reading James’ original novel. Their shared audience – some might call them fanatics – is another point, but not one you could use with any depth when criticizing this film.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Saving Mr. Banks co-writer Kelly Marcel was tasked with adapting James’ novel to the big screen, a job she seems to have accomplished with unmediated, no-frills-allowed directness. Some of the dialogue from James’ novel even finds its way into Marcel’s screenplay verbatim, probably the most jarringly lame and awkward moments coming from this. It’s as if everyone knows the source material is weak, but the key demographic dictates the similarities. Dornan’s utterance of the dialogue “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” is softly spoken and casually captured, as if the director didn’t really want to include but had her hand forced.

Speaking of Taylor-Johnson, she brings to Fifty Shades the first semblance of hope this series has of actually being worthwhile. Her direction includes interesting camera movements and some rich depth when it comes to the color scheme she’s using. It’s easy to accomplish the greyness of Seattle, where the story takes place, but Taylor-Johnson makes the almost subversive choice of actually letting a little sun come out now and again. Sure, using the weather to create a thematic mood is a little filmmaking 101, but it works for this film’s simplistic attitude. It doesn’t hurt that she brings cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, her collaborating DoP from Nowhere Boy, along for the ride. The deep textures they give to every exterior and interior in the Fifty Shades of Grey world is far more commendable than anything going on with the story.

Not more commendable, though, than Dakota Johnson’s performance. There’s a very one-dimensional, casually flowing way someone could have played Anastasia, and it would have been the shallow performance many were expecting. Johnson chooses to play the role any way but that. She has a genuine sweetness about her, a sense of humor and playfulness that seems to be a defense mechanism for the naïve Anastasia. Her curiosity, though, subtly brightens as the film progresses. Taylor-Johnson and her lead actress create a fine character conduit for the audience into Grey’s BDSM world, her sincerity and realism often hitting the right notes or showing the right reactions.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Dornan, on the other hand, creates something of a mystery when it comes to Christian Grey. It’s not the suave, cool mystery you’d think would be ideal for such a role, either. His Grey is, pardon the obvious puns, wooden and stiff, a coldness that repels you instead of luring you in to discover more. The character is written poorly, often coming off more as a demented stalker than the Bruce Wayne of kink. The actor, unfortunately, doesn’t do the character any favors, rigidly moving in his suits and bumbling through some of that wretched dialogue. He takes Grey’s strange proclivities and seems to be using those to create the day-to-day character, an inappropriate choice that makes the character something of a creep in and out of the bedroom.

The awkward choices, complete lack of story progression, and milquetoast handling of its subject matter takes its toll, and Fifty Shades of Grey ends up being an adaptation sure to satisfy few completely, that goes for lovers and haters of the source material alike. But there’s a starting point from which the cast and crew behind this series’ future have a chance of expanding upon. Its stunning look and above-and-beyond lead performance aren’t enough to make this film the period point at the end of the BDSM conversation in cinematic terms. Steven Shainberg's Secretary still handles a helluva lot more of that and with subtle and humorous results. Fifty Shades of Grey is gauche. It knows it’s gauche. At least it’s not ugly.

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  • Steven
    Pick the short straw Jeremy?
  • Susan
    Anyone who sees this film is an idiot. Its the end of civilization as we know it.
    • Elita Hooper
      I saw it and I am still here.
    • John Doe
      No argument here.
    • davidshaw
      You're a complete moron. Is it a stupid movie? Undoubtedly. Is is THAT bad? No, absolutely not, NO movie is ever that bad. Quit being a "doomsayer" and trying to get attention. It's pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself to the very core.
      • Seriously. I love to rag on a movie I think is a waste of my time, but the film made a quarter billion worldwide. So, there must've been a few people who enjoyed it.
        • LightningB
          Yeah but every Transformers makes a billion dollars and everyone of those has been trash. But I guess the difference is they aren't trying to make anything more than mindless action with those. I'm not going to bash Fifty Shades though as I have not seen it and have no intention of doing so.
          • I watch Transformers to see robots fight and make a mess of a couple cities. That's it. It's like going to In-N-Out and expecting Chilean Sea Bass. Sure, the fish is a nicer dish, but that aint what In-N-Out does. They make burgers. And they're damn tasty.
      • JBroti
        No movie is ever that bad, huh? Go watch "After Earth"....
      • LightningB
        I think Showgirls was "THAT" bad.
      • Bo
        She should be ashamed of herself to the very core? Jeez, Mr. Shaw...that sounds a bit pathetic and you sound like a critical parent. Shaming people for their views, which by the way, seem to me much more intelligent than your own. Stupid movies, especially ones like this, are a clear indication of the shallowness of our current culture and where it's headed. If you are too ignorant to realize that, that in itself, makes the point she's making regarding our culture/civilization. People are always moronically labeled 'doomsayers' when they express what's coming down the pipeline and others are too unaware to see it themselves. I suggest you not reply to me as I'm totally uninterested in what your views and opinions are from what you replied to Susan. It'll be hard for you not to, I understand, but see if you can get a grip and not do so as I won't even read it...will just press that magical delete button upon seeing it....gotta love that about civilization...
    • Bo
      Wow...I mean wow...I hope you ignore Davidshaw's angry and malicious reply to you, Susan. Often when intelligent people see things that others are not capable of seeing their observations are attacked in moronic ways. I totally agree with your assessments, Susan. Rome is burning and now, like then, only morons don't realize it...thus it burned to the ground! Thanks again, Susan. For what it's worth, you sound like a very perceptive and intelligent person.
      • Susan
        Bo, I'm an adult, a wife, mother, a graduate of NYU Film School a.k.a. Tisch School of the Arts, a lawyer, former Assistant District Attorney in NYC and have been called worse names by people of more significance than Davidshaw. He didn't bother me in the least. Its nice of you to be gallant and worry about my being offended. By the way, when I was in film school, my future husband and I went to a film festival called "The Worst Movies Ever Made." We saw The Attack of The Killer Tomatoes and Plan 9 From Outer Space (an Ed Wood film). Those were so bad. What is more disturbing about 50 Shades of Crap is that it demeans women in a vile way. Women don't want to be whipped and beaten and I don't want to see women being urged to submit to being whipped and beaten. If I was into that sort of thing, I would see it for free on the internet. I'm no prude by any means. I loved Kingsman and its rude, funny, over the top violence and sexual innuendo. The difference is that Kingsman is a very good movie with excellent actors, particularly Colin Firth who is something to behold.
        • Bo
          Hello, Susan. Thanks for your reply as it's a breath of fresh air on this site to communicate with an intelligent person and a woman at that as most of the angry and rude comments here are young guys. I most certainly agree with you regarding 50 shades of crap. I raised a daughter who is intelligent and interesting and we have laughed at this silly book/movie. I'm an old dog and used to be an actor and writer. I worked with Coppola on Apocalypse Now; Robert Altman and Sissy Spacek on 3 Women; John Cassavettes and Gena Rowland on a play here in L.A. I had very intelligent and interesting conversations with them all about movies; I miss that and find it quite difficult these days to find people who are capable of discussing films in a respectful way. The disagreements are especially fun. I chatted about films with Paul Schrader once after a screening of his interesting and complex film In The Comfort of Strangers and he stated the same thing; he loved to argue about movies. Me too, but with respect for others opinions...even if I think they are totally off base with their perceptions...lol... One last note...it is disturbing to see that so many people, women especially, it seems, who loved these 50 shades of crap books and now the movie. It would indicate a regression rather than an advancement for women in our culture. Sad and weird. The good thing is there are women such as yourself and my daughter...so that's a relief. Thanks again. If you haven't already, check out a film by a new woman director titled A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night. It is brilliant and wonderful and different and like nothing you've seen for a very long time. Probably the only way to view it now is if you can find in on DVD or something. I hope you can as it seems as if you, and your husband, will like it. Take care. Glad to learn that davidshaw's rude and immature comments had no effect on you. Excellent!
          • Susan
            Thank you for your compellent. I am jealous of your career. I am old too and when I graduated from film school, cable was in its infancy. I couldn't get a job in the film or television industry (no contacts or nepotism) so I went to law school I had the grades and LSAT scores to get into a great school. As you may have summised, I live in the NYC metro area. Still I have not heard of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I will see it. I very much admired a film by female director Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right. I hope she does more. Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska (she was great in Jane Eyre with Michael Fassbinder - if you haven't see the Steve McQueen classic Shame with Fassbinder, you must run out and get a copy). I feel so sorry for Paul Schrader. The Canyons was well, horrible. He is not the only great filmmaker that cannot get financing anymore. The Great Great John Sayles can't get a film made anymore either. He made Lone Star, Matawan, Eight Men Out, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, Hudson City, Shes the One, Lilliana, and many more. Many of these films made money. So sad. A Woman Under the influence (a Cassavetes film in case anyone is reading this other than Bo) needs to be restored. The last time I saw it on TCM, I was shocked. If you still have Hollywood connections, please speak to someone who can help. Cassavetes and Rowland's son Nick is a good filmmaker too, but not in his father's league. Didn't you enjoy Gloria with Rowlands? They made a horrible remake with Sharon Stone I think. Yes I love cinema, not garbage and particularly not garbage that humiliates and subjugates women. Nice to chat.
          • Bo
            Hi Susan! Yes, this is a nice chat. I enjoy doing as such with someone who is familiar with all the films you mentioned above. I hope you can find A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night. I don't know if it will even be available on DVD. I hope so as I tell everyone I chat with about films to try to watch it. I've seen Shame, of course. I appreciate both McQueen and Fassbinder, but have problems with their work. I liked Shame, somewhat. Good to see people making films of that nature. The great, great John Sayles, eh? That made me chuckle. Sure, I've watched his stuff from the beginning. Lone Star is my favorite; otherwise, I'm hit and miss with him. As far as Lisa Cholodenko...I don't know. I appreciate her as a filmmaker, but not sure her sensibilities and mine match. I did not like High Art; had many problems with The Kids Are Alright; and kind of liked Laurel Canyon. You know, she is involved with the 8 part mini-serious on NBC Thursday nights at 8 PM titled The Slap. She directed the first episode this last Thursday. It's much like most of her work; ensemble cast; a hot topic. One of the people slaps the kid of another when the kid is misbehaving. Had many problems with its first episode. It's on regular TV, NBC for chrissakes, so that alone is problematic. Again, it's worth viewing...so far...I think...lol... Yea, Nick Cassavetes...I don't know...he's totally different from his father. I liked John a lot. I liked his work, but had problems with a lot of it also. Loved Woman Under The Influence, of course. Really liked Opening Night too. Just watched The Killing of a Chinese Bookie again several months ago and liked it. I loved Gloria; it was much more accessible than most of his more personal work. You're right, the Sharon Stone version totally missed the mark. Hard to compete with the likes of Gena Rowland who possesses so much grace; in her work and in person. Lovely, lovely woman. I liked one of John's earlier films A Child Is Waiting with Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, and of course Gena. If you've not seen that film, Susan, check it out...it's worth the effort. Okay...wow...yammering on and on...lol...but I totally agree with your last sentence(s)...I too love cinema, but not garbage (which there is a lot of these days) and particularly not that which humiliates and subjugates women. Isn't it a shame that a woman wrote the books of 50 Shades and a woman directed it and a woman wrote the script and a woman gave it the green light at the studio? Well, if nothing else it sure indicates that the work is far from done concerning women and recognizing their equality in the collective culture. Much to be done as many still fall for the kind of programmed fantasy that 50 Shades puts forth. Thanks for the chatting. Good luck to you and your husband...in life as well as in finding and viewing A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night and for sure A Child Is Waiting.
          • Susan
            Have to disagree with you on Sayles. Maybe its because I'm an East Coast woman. My husband is from Hoboken originally and he felt like Hudson City was a biography of his father and brother. I also love, love baseball and adored Eight Men Out. I also have seen innumerable plays and loved Matawan. James Earl Jones is such an amazing stage actor. His Othello with Christopher Plummer, August Wilson's Fences and Paul Robson were spine tinglingly great. I intensely dislike Star Wars. Anyway, getting back to Sayles, he lives/lived in Hoboken. I just adore Chinese Bookie. What a great movie. I also like The Kids are Alright a lot more than you. I'm not a huge fan of Julianne Moore, but I thought the little seen film What Maisie Knew, with a terrific. Steve Coogan and Moore were both terrific in it. I also admire Todd Solaz. Far From Heaven was good, not Douglas Sirk over the top good like Written in the Wind and all this and Heaven too, but good. I'm not a fan of A Child is Born. Its not schmaltzy like Penny Serenade, which I am fond of because its to over the top, but the only thing I love about it is the stark photography and Judy Garland's performance. I admire Lancaster as a producer. He was brave. Would Judgment at Nuremberg have been made without him or A Child is Waiting or Come Back Little Sheba with a stunning performance by Shirley Booth that he had the grace to let outshine him. No. I didn't know about the Slap. I'm also a huge sports fan (Rangers, Mets, Jets, and not anymore, but was a Knick fan) so I don't watch network TV. I watch Masters of Sex, many episodes of which are directed by Michael Apted (Love Seven Up - a billion times better than the mediocre at best, boring, overrated Boyhood) and watched Boardwalk Empire. I thought that Whiplash and the Grand Budapest Hotel were much much better than Boyhood (J.K. Simmons, who I first saw many moons ago in a revival of Guys and Dolls with Peter Gallagher as Sky Masterson and Nathan Lane as Nathan (where he got his name from - his real name is Joe, but there was a Joe Lane already registered with Equity) and Faith Prince)). American Sniper was good too. Unforgiven is my favorite Eastwood film ever and Gene Hackman (who is supposed to be an a-hole in real life) was a great villain. The last film that I could wholeheartedly recommend is the hysterically funny send up of Bond Films, Kingsman. Colin Firth was just hilarious and so suave and debonair and kick ass - pun intended. What did you think of Mr. Turner? Tim Spall was unbelievable and should have been nominated for an Oscar and won. That he didn't win for Secrets and Lies is still a travesty. However, the film as a whole was not my favorite Mike Leigh film by any stretch of the imagination. Turner was loathsome in some ways and generous in others, but he was his ART and that is the point. Sunday in the Park With George without the Sondheim music and pretension. What did you think of Mr. Turner.
          • Bo
            I loved this reply too , Susan. It's terrific when I've run across someone who has seen many, many films and has such a definitive opinion and point of view; and disagrees with me without feeling insecure and the need to get all rude about it. Terrific! Okay, I get it...you guys really like Sayles...lol...I agree re: James Earl Jones...great voice and great actor; better than Sam Jackson whom I don't care much for and even better than Morgan Freeman who I used to like a great deal; not so much anymore. I'm also not a big fan of Julianne Moore, but thought she was terrific in The Hours which I thought was a great, great film. Ed Harris was excellent in the film. Not a fan of Todd Solaz...sorry! Forget The Slap. Watched it again and it really does have the sensibility of regular TV, which like you I never watch...unless something like this comes along that I need to check out. I liked Masters of Sex for a few seasons then got bored. I liked the actress and not so much Michael Sheen. I've always liked much of Apted's work. You couldn't drag me to see Boyhood. It looks way to 'whitebread' family schmaltzy to me. You stated you didn't like A Child Is Born, which I am pretty sure you meant Child Is Waiting. Well, that's interesting. It's been a long time since I last saw it and will again when the chance arises. I have always like Lancaster from early on. As a young boy I saw The Young Savages directed by Frankenheimer and have never forgotten the impact that film had on me. That and Crimes in the Street starring Cassavettes. Both about teen-age gangs in New York. Lancaster was great in so many films I could list them all. Elmer Gantry...great! The Professionals with Lee Marvin and Ulzana's Raid. I love Westerns still to this day. I liked Unforgiven. Am not a big fan of Eastwood's work. I had a very good actress friend who worked with Hackman on Night Moves and had an affair with him. She really loved him, but said he was never able to enjoy his success or life and not able to experience happiness. I think Hackman is one of our best actors ever, regardless of his misery...lol... And I'll just say it's probably best to not discuss American Sniper. I was a Drill Sgt. in the Army during Viet Nam and do not have a good opinion of Sniper and the whole rah rah rah go America let's kill and win and have heroes who are not really heroes, but only manufactured by the culture and media out of human beings need to feel heroic themselves. Sorry, hope that doesn't offend your sensibilities, but just being honest with how I view these matters. I know too much about the real Sniper guy and what he wrote in his book and some of the things he claimed that were not true. The only film I really like of Mike Leigh's is Naked, which I think is one of the great, great films ever made. David Thewlis was brillant in that film. I also loved the work of the girl, Katrin Cartlidge, in that film and others she did before she died in 2002 at the young, young age of 41. I've not seen Mr. Turner and will wait for it to come on cable. I do like Timothy Spall though and think I might like this film from all that I've read about it. We'll see. Take care, Susan.
          • Susan
            I love debating film with someone very knowledgeable. A Child is Born - A child is waiting. I had Judy Garland on the brain. Funny. I will see some of the films if you promise you will watch Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh). Its a great film. BTW, you can wait to see Mr. Turner on TV. Its not Lawrence of Arabia for goodness sake and will work well on a small screen. Its not a great film by any means, but Spall is incredible. His son is quite a good actor (Rafe Spall). I saw him in a BBC version of The Wide Sargasso Sea (love the classic novel and hate the theatrical release). It stars the sublime Rebecca Hall (I saw her on Bway in Machanl and she was magnificent) and Rafe Spall as Mr. Rochester. I don't think its been taken down from youtube. Just great. Take care and see you at the movies (I hope you saw Life Itself - not great but interesting as Ebert had a full life - I trust that you saw a great documentary - Tim's Vermeer).
  • Stefan Kuhlmann
    Read the book. Badly written. Saw the film. Hoped for an "elevation" from the depths of the novel. But sadly, the two main leads have no chemistry AT ALL. The "sex scenes" are a borefest for anyone who actually had good sex for real. There are even sequences where they "pan" away from the sex, like an 80s movie. The soundtrack is good though...at times... The movie IMO is for a crowd that still "screams in fear" at the sight of a nipple. Maybe the sequels will be better. I doubt it but here is hoping again.
  • DAVIDPD
    Yeah...I won't be seeing this one. I am sorry for the millions of guys who will be dragged to this one.
  • At a showing here, 3 women attacked a man and he ended up getting glassed in the face. I'm too scared to go.
    • C.A. Hall
      why?
  • cuckoozey
    Thanks Jeremy, but I'll stick with all the other countless reviewers comparing this to Showgirls-level terribleness.
  • IamSlave
    I'm so glad I have a girl that has ZERO interest in this crap film. Star Wars here we come.
  • So, of the 10 commenters here bashing the movie, only about 2 have seen it? Yep, thats a pretty standard internet signal to noise ratio, I suppose.
  • txJM
    I'll live my entire life without caring one iota about this retarded film.
  • JayCee
    I got dragged to watch it last night... after all the giggling and little "tehe" here and there... you begin to realize that it is not at all what you're probably expecting. Visually it is nice and the acting is good, but the script and screenwriting RUINS the film... its so boring and very much along the lines to the way the book is written. Just awful. I almost fell asleep. Quite honestly, it surpassed my expectaitions because I was expecting another 'Twilight' garbage but nonetheless its still a bad film.
  • TK
    This movie came out just in time for Valentine's day which is why it is raking in the money. It's the same reason why Nicholas Sparks movies have been so successful. I went in with an open mind but this movie is awful. It feels like a late 80's early 90's film like Color of Night and it barely reached the heights of Basic Instinct. Writing was bad, Grey was more like the creepy guy who hangs around public toilets rather then suave like Bond. I know people are going to flock to this like Mcdonalds was offering free burgers. It is inevitable because the books were so popular but be prepared to be disappointed. The movie that Sam Taylor Johnson put together will never be your fantasies. With something as intimate as sexual fantasies, it was never going to live up to people's expectations. Your Mr Grey most likely isn't the same as this Mr Grey, at least I hope not, surely women/men have better imaginations then this wooden cardboard. Just my 2 cents.
  • Susan
    This is in reply to Bo, I'm an adult, a wife, mother, a graduate of NYU Film School, a.k.a. Tisch School of the Arts (concentration in Film Production), a lawyer (a litigator in Federal and State Courts), former Assistant District Attorney in NYC and have been called worse names by people of more significance than Davidshaw. He didn't bother me in the least. Its nice of you to be gallant and worry about my being offended. By the way, when I was in film school, my future husband and I went to a film festival called "The Worst Movies Ever Made." We saw The Attack of The Killer Tomatoes and Plan 9 From Outer Space (an Ed Wood film). I also sat through a film called Catch That Kid (I have a teenage son). Those films were so bad I can't describe them. What is disturbing about 50 Shades of Crap is that it demeans women in a vile way. Women don't want to be whipped and beaten and I don't want to see women being urged to submit to being whipped and beaten. If I was into that sort of thing, I would see it for free on the internet. I'm no prude by any means. I loved Kingsman and its rude, funny, over the top violence and sexual innuendo. The difference is that Kingsman is a very good movie with excellent actors, particularly Colin Firth, who is something to behold in Kingsman and every part he has ever played.
    • TK
      You say that but if you look at it most of the people responsible for the success or even the creation of this particular project are women. Don't get me wrong I am not a fan of the way in which it portrays women or the way the main character is treated but take a step back and see. The author of the book was a woman, the majority of the readers were women, the director of the movie was a woman and most likely the majority of audiences were women and few clearly unhappy boyfriends and husbands being dragged along like me haha. So clearly there are a few women who like to see stuff like this considering it is setting box office records already and I am crying at the fact I contributed.
  • speedracer
    Also theres a lot of non consent that isn't part of the bdsm culture. Not okay at all.
  • Beachwriter
    After Kelly Marcel did such a poor job writing the script for Saving Mr Banks I didn't expect 50 Shades to be much better. I am glad it wasn't "raunchy" as she said it would be, but it's unfortunate it ended up so one dimensional. Ironically the Twilight series did a far better job of bringing the viewer into an experience and developing the characters. 50 Shades had the ability to be so much more, including an Oscar. I wish it had been given that chance.
    • TK
      Yes I have to agree with the Twilight movie. I tried to read the books but they were poorly written and someone was tasked with making that into a watchable movie...which they did lol. They weren't the greatest movies but the source material was far worse.
  • I'm not bashing, because everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but I think it's funny how much our movie tastes differ. Any time you write a positive review about a movie, I end up hating it. Any time you write a bad one, I love it. All in all though, it is helpful! Keep on keepin' on. I'll avoid this like fire, as intended anyway.

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