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Raiders of Atlantis

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 20 - 2010

The Plot: Our film opens in the distant future of 1994, where we follow mercenaries Mike (Christopher Connelly) and Mohammed (Tony King) as they are paid by a colonel to kill a man for $50,000. After pulling this job successfully, the two plan on getting away and heading to Trinidad until the heat blows over. At the same time, we follow Dr. Cathy Rollins (Gioia Scola), a expert in pre-Colombian dialects, who is brought aboard a rig located in the Atlantic ocean. She is brought in by the US government who has placed Dr. Saunders (George Hilton) responsible for her. Saunders asks Rollins to decipher a tablet that is dated over 12,000 years old and was recently found on the ocean’s floor. After some quick research, Dr. Rollins decides that this tablet could very well prove the existence of Atlantis itself! When the scientists begin diving for more research and using a submarine to possibly lift Atlantis, the great underwater paradise rises from the ocean’s floor. When it rises, the rig is destroyed and leaves Dr. Rollins and a select few stranded. Mike and Mohammed, on their way to Trinidad, find them floating and soon this group is off and traveling. They stumble upon San Pedro island where Manuel, Mike’s friend and guide, goes insane and tries to kill them. On San Pedro, the island has been turned into a war zone, bodies are strung up on buildings, and the streets are empty. A gang known as The Interceptors are killing off the entire population. Now Mike, Mohammed and the two doctors have to find a way to survive and put an end to this curse from Atlantis!

The Review
Ruggero Deodato is a filmmaker of special interest to me. He seems to be a filmmaker who always wanted to do more and make films that were better than his particular staple of genre cinema, but failed more often than not. With that said, his films are almost always genuine in their entertainment value and he has never delved completely into hack territory from what I have seen (and I have seen more than your common fan). Deodato’s main calling card has always been and always will be his greatest success: Cannibal Holocaust, but his filmography is littered with works of interest for fans of Italian trash cinema. With even his worst films, such as the dreadful Body Count, his work had a viable atmosphere that retained at least some level of respectability. Between the years 1980-1985, Deodato made his greatest and most consistent string of films. With Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park, Raiders of Atlantis and Cut & Run Deodato ostensibly solidified his name in the pantheon of great Italian genre filmmakers. Looking at this list of films, I absolutely see that with each successive film his work was becoming more and more diluted, but Raiders of Atlantis catches Deodato before the well had gone completely dry.

While Cut & Run is likely my least favorite of this impressive run, I give it credit for its rather clear narrative comportment. With Raiders of Atlantis, a film I find infinitely more entertaining, I can not deny how utterly ridiculous this whole project is. From a critical standpoint, no this is not a “good” movie. The special effects are laughable, some of the acting is atrocious and the general plot is made up entirely of head scratching moments that deny probability. Yet, when this movie finally decides to get up and start moving, it does so with a unabashed sense of urgency that can’t be denied. The first half of Raiders of Atlantis is comprised of establishing information primarily, but it still comes off entirely as fluff. We know next to nothing about the characters of Mike Hall or his companion Mohammed/Washington, despite their being our leads. So, it becomes rather difficult to say that the first half is dedicated to character exposition when we aren’t entirely sure what it is that our lead characters do for a living. It is obvious that we watch Mohammed and Mike commit murder and we see them collect money for doing so, apparently from a colonel, but how did they get wrapped up in this business? Are they mercenaries? What has happened with these men to have lead them to this? Do they have families? How long have they been doing this? Are they cruel? There is very little time spent explaining who these men are, despite it being crucial in understanding the characters.

Raiders of Atlantis is a rare combination of post-apocalyptic stereotypes, some jungle survival and science fiction mystery. Taking place eleven years in the future (why 1994?), the film attempts to grab the audience with its science fiction angle early on. This ultimately fails because setting your movie in such a near-future doesn’t show much change in the landscape. Maybe military killings, such as the one Mike and Mohammed commit, are the usual in this near-future? Well, if that were true I suppose our two heroes would have no need to run off into hiding. It is interesting that we ultimately get to “see” the process of this apocalypse, as opposed to a film being set in the distant future where gangs already traverse the landscape. That unfortunately doesn’t make up for this bizarre version of 1994 that looks a LOT like 1983. No, I’m afraid there isn’t much special about this future world, other than Atlantis being dug up. Mentioning the inevitable rise of Atlantis brings up another inconsistency in the movie that becomes apparent early on, because now I have to mention the special FX work.

Deodato reveals his lack of technique in the world of science fiction as we see Atlantis raised from the bed of the ocean. A director more experienced in this form of special FX may have been able to save some of these scenes, but as it is Raiders… features some of the absolute worst miniature FX on record. You begin to understand how brilliant a filmmaker Ishiro Honda was, that his Godzilla movies and giant monster flicks could still look so good fifty years later, when a movie made recently in comparison could look so awful. In the book Cannibal Holocaust and the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato, the writers correctly described the FX work as “boat in a bath tub stuff”. The “waves” that come rushing towards the camera have no frothy edge to them like you would expect in such a mammoth tidal wave, the props are lacking in detail and the sequences overall come across as embarrassing. Still, for b-movie fans looking for a laugh, there are plenty to be had here.

In completely opposite fashion however, Deodato delivers some of the best action set pieces I have ever seen in an Italian film. There is a great chase sequence that takes place on a bus as our leading man tries to evade a helicopter, but it enters into the realm of ridiculous Jackie Chan style stunt work as we see the character of Mike having to climb on top of the speeding bus in order to shoot down the helicopter. We also see an assassin jumping FROM the helicopter on to the speeding bus in courageous fashion. If that was not daring enough, Mike also has to climb aboard a moving helicopter from atop the parked bus just a few short minutes later. This is simply one sequence in a second half that is filled to the brim with shootouts and various moments of gore thrown in to spruce things up. The gore shouldn’t be overhyped, this being a film from Mr. Cannibal Holocaust himself, but there are a few choice moments throughout; including a excellent decapitation as well as an arrow through the throat.

The Conclusion
There are other interesting aspects I should probably cover. The film features George Hilton in a supporting role, and despite the fact that he doesn’t get to do a whole lot he still manages to be his charismatic self. The backdrops that Deodato shoots in are also pretty amazing and he does a swell job in making San Pedro appear as a nightmarish post-war landscape using very few sets. The bits that ultimately take place on Atlantis, a landscape that deeply resembles the Amazon, are equally as amazing to look at. The general plot for this one might not make sense from even the most basic of points, but all of the tiny little things add up to an entertaining ninety minutes that really shouldn’t be passed up by Eurocult fans. I give it a solid three out of five that teeters on the edge of a four. Definitely check this one out!

SS Girls

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 15 - 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

The Plot: It’s war in the 1940′s. The efforts of the Third Reich are being threatened by traitors amongst their ranks. Nazi General Berger is ordered to assign the eccentric Count Hans Schellenberg to assemble a crack team of prostitutes, trained to have sex under any condition and convert his manor into the private brothel Blumenstrauss. It is here in Blumenstrauss that the conspirators are treated to countless delights, to lure them into admitting their turn-coat ways prompting their immediate execution. However, the love blossoming between the hostess and Schellenberg is starting to rub Schellenberg’s ex-flame Frau Inge the wrong way. Will Blumenstrauss continue to stand against the love triangle inside or will it collapse at the end of the war?

The Review
Of what few Nazisploitation movies I’ve seen, I can honestly say SS Girls is one of the most unique. That may sound awkward considering that the premise behind SS Girls has been done before (Nazis rooting traitors out through sex), but its presentation is unlike any other I’ve seen. It isn’t dark and cruel, it isn’t straight forward and serious. No, SS Girls is actually… kind of funny.

SS Girls is the kind of movie that you can imagine being adapted from a comic book because its so zany, over-acted and sexual that it almost mocks the theme of the sub-genre it’s in. Hans Schellenberg is a thoroughly funny and cartoonish character brought to life by Gabrielle Carrara’s attention to physical acting, his enormous Scicilian grin and wild, beady eyes (as well as an almost Joker-esque dub actor). Despite this, he has his intense moments too, particularly when he’s confronted by Frau Inge about their past relationship. Every character in the movie is very much like Hans, though; everyone has either a very humorous or light attribute about them that adds to the movie’s overall theme of silliness and seriousness. There’s one character who is known for mutilating people indiscriminately and mixing women’s blood with his cognac, but rather than coming across as scary he’s just plain nutty. That’s not even getting to his sidekicks, which consists of Crazy Kurt from Women’s Camp 119 and a Japanese Imperial soldier with a Sharpie Swastika on his head band named Wang!

Being a B-Movie lover, I feel the need to point out a familiar face in this movie. If your a fan of Strike Commando, Exterminators of the Year 3000 or Yor: Hunter from the Future, then the character of Prof. Jurgen will look awfully familiar. Just picture him with a scruffy beard and he’ll look just like Le Due/Papillion/Pag. Yep, Luciano Pigozzi is in this movie! He’s actually not too bad in the movie, though it’s probably the most serious role I’ve seen him in so far.

I think the only character who isn’t light or humorous in the movie is Ivano Staccioli who is once again playing a straight-laced high-ranking Nazi officer. He is a lot more animated and shows a lot more range in this than in Women’s Camp 119, so there’s still some fun to him. Plus, I think Bruno Mattei realized how classy this guy looks playing piano because he has Ivano doing the same here as he did in Women’s Camp… although here he’s smoking a cigarette while a drunk Flapper in a sheer dress dances on top of it. Funny enough a lot of actors and actresses showed up here from Women’s Camp: Gota Gobert, probably the only German performer in the whole movie, shows up again though she doesn’t get the best line in the movie this time… in fact, I don’t think she has any lines. She doesn’t even beat anyone up! Marina Daunia is really good in this movie as she brings a lot of intensity and power to the role and still manages to come across as being a longing and sexual person. Yet in Women’s Camp 119 Daunia’s role amassed to a Jewish prisoner who had maybe one line, a few staring shots and some lip syncing… before her character got shot in the head. Even the random Nazi Doctor in the poison bullet scene from Women’s Camp showed up in this as a groping butler. This use of actors reminds me of when I was doing High School plays and the class would be split into two groups performing the same play, but no one played the same character.

The movie is pretty well shot; it has its signature Mattei extreme close-ups and overall smooth camera work to it. Granted, the cinematography isn’t on the same level as say, Andrezej Zulawski; there’s nothing really impressive and the camera tends to go over a few rough pans, but the man knew where to point the camera and that shows here. I think the only time the lighting and shots don’t match up is when Magal is strip teasing in a room lit by red light, but once we get a close-up of her the red light is barely there. The setting is also very good, there’s a lot of fairly impressive architecture, almost like the crew traveled to Loire Valley, found and furnished one of its many lost castles and filmed Nazi Porn there.

The props in this movie are pretty neat, especially the ones made specifically for the film. Ever seen a Nazi Pope? You will if you see this movie! There’s even this ridiculous sexual Training Montage (guest starring Salvatore Baccaro again) where a woman is having sex with a… uh… I actually have no idea what she’s having sex with. It looks like a starved prisoner of war who is literally just skin and bones making him look like a huge special effect… but its head is moving perfectly and actually looks like a human head attached to the skin and bones body! Speaking of which… there is some bestiality in the movie. Nothing overt mind you, just a bunch of very happy looking dogs laying on top of naked women as they caress their coats. Sadly, the sex can get a little tedious here and there, like one scene where Magall and Daunia are making out during a thunder storm and the scene feels like it goes on for ten minutes. The girls are VERY sexy, though. They found some very lovely looking ladies to be nude in the movie, though if you’re not a fan of overgrown bush… be prepared to see several small forests.

Typical of Bruno Mattei there is a fair share of stock footage, although it’s actually fairly seamless. The stock footage soldiers, complying to their Captain’s orders against on-coming tanks, matches pretty well. For a moment I was actually under the impression that this movie had a budget beyond Nazi uniforms! The stock footage soldiers and action started to bust open when the soldiers attack the Russians in the ruins of a village and the only authentic footage is of the Captain shooting wildly at the camera (in front of a chain link fence that looks like someone’s backyard).

Once again, this being a Mattei film, this movie has a great soundtrack. The score – composed by Gianni Marchetti – mostly consists of saucy Italian Jazz with just a hint of Bossa. The soundtrack makes every scene sexy, intense and overall delicious with its combination of playful female vocals, harmonicas, piano tunes and guitar strings.

Sadly, as much fun as I had watching this movie, I can’t bring myself to give it full credit. I’ve watched enough Nazisploitation films to get the idea that many clichés were required, seeing how most Italian exploitation movies were knock-offs and unofficial sequels anyway. Also, considering this is WWII we’re talking about, most of the time the movie won’t have a happy ending and I get that. However, did THIS Nazisploitation movie need such a depressing ending? Halfway through, the zany sexiness just peters out; it’s like the movie suddenly remembered it was taking place in WWII and realized it needed to be more realistic. Suddenly, characters who seemed so confident or comical break down and become so overly serious and remorseful that they simultaneously become irrational. Hell, even the hookers hop aboard the Irrationally Depressed Nonsense Train when they have no real reason to be depressed in the first place!!

I keep getting the feeling that Bruno needed to give Ivano Staccioli’s characters more back story; it’s like Bruno kept looking at the guy and saying ‘your character will change EVERYTHING in the end’ and Ivano just quirked an eyebrow and shrugged as if to say ‘Sure thing, boss.’ Ivano’s character does have more reason for his actions here than Women’s Camp 119, but it’s still abrupt and hollow. Besides, in Women’s Camp 119 it was thematically appropriate because the movie was dark and depressing to begin with, but this one was the exact opposite. Not that I really wanted a completely upbeat ending – I know not all stories about WWII ended lightly – all I’m asking for is a little consistency.

This review covers the release done by Exploitation Digital. The transfer is pretty good and viewable, although the other source material used to present the movie as it was meant to be seen is a little off. There’s a scene near the end where Ivano’s character shoots an injured soldier and the only line he says is muted much like the deleted scenes in Red Nights of the Gestapo. I’m assuming the line was muted to cover up the original Italian dialogue, yet the ending of the movie leaves the original Italian dialogue in place. It’s too bad they never dubbed it, the last lines would’ve been perfect if they were dubbed… glad I know a little Italian.

I’m going to check out the Shriek Show release of SS Girls, though, because apparently this one is missing a few scenes: much like the DVD releases for Trick or Treat and The Serpent and the Rainbow, the back of the box features two screen shots that aren’t shown in the movie, one of the executioner laughing his head off and the other of the Crazy Kurt guy pointing a revolver at Gabrielle Carrara. There is a pretty good interview with Bruno Mattei on it though, most of which he spends talking about his inspiration for SS Girls and how the Nazisploitation craze sprung up in the first place.

The Conclusion
Well, as much as I practically despise the padding and out-of-place ending of this movie, I honestly can’t help but recommend SS Girls because let’s face it: with movies like Women’s Camp 119 and The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, a sub-genre of exploitation this cruel NEEDS a movie as fun as SS Girls. It’s a well shot, funny, sexy romp into Exploitation. Trust me, it’s the most fun you’ll have in this sub-genre.

New Tsui Hark film “Detective Dee” picked up by Indomina

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 13 - 2010

Director Tsui Hark is one who couldn’t make his breakfast without splitting audiences. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for the amazing Time & Tide, but let us face facts: his record has been spotty to say the least. I am willing to give the man another shot, and from what I have read Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame may just be the film to return him to top form. New distribution company Indomina Releasing has apparently picked up the rights to Hark’s latest and although Twitch reports that the company has kept information very close to the vest.  We will just have to see what comes of this, but I would certainly be interested in checking this title out.

Who knows, maybe Hark will finally make good on some of that promise he has shown in the past. With Andy Lau in the lead of an apparent martial arts epic, it at least deserves a watch, right? Keep reading after the break for the official press release and the international trailer:

Continue reading “New Tsui Hark film “Detective Dee” picked up by Indomina” »

Black Tight Killers

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 3 - 2010

The Plot: Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) is photographer covering the Vietnam war. While on leave and heading home he meets a lovely young stewardess named Yoriko on the plane. The two hit it off well enough and Hondo manages to talk her into a date at a local restaurant later that night. They soon notice a man standing in the background watching them. As Hondo approaches the mysterious stranger, Yoriko turns up missing. When Hondo heads outside to find Yoriko, he finds the mysterious man and heads to confront him but instead witnesses him being murdered by a group of three women wearing black tight leather. With Lopez dead, Hondo attempts to fight with the women only to be thwarted with their Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet (I’ll get to this shortly). Hondo is at first taken in by the police for suspicion of murder, but is released after a friend speaks up for him. Hondo now has to find out just why Yoriko was kidnapped, who has her and who are these black tight killers?

The Review
Yasuhara Hasebe is a filmmaker that despite anything you say about him, definitely did things his way. A creative force within the Japanese exploitation film world throughout the seventies, he worked in all facets of genre film but his primary focus was in the sexy-girls-doing-bad-things market. Black Tight Killers actually marks the debut film for Hasebe, and would showcase many of the strengths of the director. Made in the mid-sixties, there is a marked difference between the culture and atmosphere that permeates Black Tight Killers as opposed to what can be found in Hasebe’s later Stray Cat Rock series. The psychedelic ideas and laid back atmosphere make the film quintessentially groovy. The differences between the sixties and seventies from an aesthetic level are not that drastic, but when you watch something like Black Tight Killers the differences really do stand out. Here we have a budding and less world-worn Hasebe delivering this kitschy little adventure tale, and it works for all of the right reasons!

Produced by Nikkatsu before they eventually went full steam into their Roman Porno line in the early seventies, Hasebe deftly delivers this spy romp with all of the gusto and enthusiasm one would expect from a filmmaker who had spent the better part of the decade working as an assistant director (to Seijun Suzuki no less) and now had the chance to really prove himself. Often lumped together in the Pinky Violence genre, it is both deserving of the title and not in many regards. For one, the film is produced by Nikkatsu which immediately sets it at odds by many definitions of the Pinky Violence genre. Toei, by all consensus, is considered the one true “Pinky Violence” studio as they created and established these films. These ninja women who wear the black tights that our title comes from are also secondary characters, and are ambiguous in their motives throughout the first half of the movie as well. Hardly what we expect from our Pinky Violence bad girls. In an argument for its inclusion however, I will say that all of the color, style and fashion from the genre is present and accounted for with the female ninja gang showing all of the youthful defiance and energy that the genre would certainly bring about.

There are many great elements that combine and make up Black Tight Killers, but one of the first I should mention has to be the cinematography. This film looks amazing! Despite the obvious age, all of the style and visual motifs still absorb the viewer instantaneously. The lighting throughout continually defies all logic and instead places us inside of a hyper stylized cartoon world. For instance, the wallpaper in a room may be orange but the overall lighting could be dark green and our two main characters standing in the foreground could be covered in a light pink spotlight that shines down on them. These colors shouldn’t work together, but they are so differentiated that they actually do and we as the audience are left with a smorgasbord of visual treats. The camera work is rarely static throughout, with Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (a cinematographer regularly used Seijun Suzuki) trying to make a unforgettable impression. The camerawork is at all times fluid, jumping between techniques and odd angles and making great use of depth. Cramped hallways turn into sprawling and claustrophobic caves that we track in and out of, the camera flips around with a steady stream of whip pans and zooms that dazzle the eye and there’s even some excellent handheld work to be found.

Part of the reason that the film ends up looking as beautiful as it does comes down to the amazing set design used throughout. The Tokyo streets at night are pitch black aside from neon signs that burn, rooms are painted black with white couches glowing in the darkness and inside of alleys there are dozens of barrels stacked to the ceiling in the background with each one painted green or yellow. There are so many set pieces in this movie that I loved. The black room just mentioned, I love it for the amazing staircase in the center of the room that has no conventional steps but instead features glowing white discs that stand out amidst the darkness. We also have the awesome single-colored backdrops, similar to the opening sequences in many Shaw Bros. films where martial artists would show their forms with red or orange backgrounds. During the introduction of the film we see our ninja Go-Go dancers doing some unison dance moves, but it also comes back into play during an amazing dream sequence where we watch as each layer of these single-color backdrops are ripped apart like paper in a desperate chase sequence.

Black Tight Killers is so over the top that it is amazing that the studio wasn’t disappointed with Hasebe’s effort. They had wanted a very James Bond style movie from what Hasebe has said, and it is kind of interesting that Hasebe went so far as to directly reference a myth perpetuated from the set of Goldfinger – the concept that if one is completely painted, the skin can no longer breathe and thus the person dies. This is brought up several times during the course of the movie and even though it has no basis in reality (as we have all seen via Mythbuster), it is easy to forgive due to how outrageous the rest of the movie is. Did I mention that the film has ninja Go-Go dancers? The audience HAS to realize that this picture does not take place in anything that resembles reality. The ninja weaponry used throughout the movie essentially replaces James Bond’s gadgets. The Go-Go dancers surely have the best and most insane weaponry/ninja techniques used, especially in comparison to Hondo’s simplistic laughing gas. There are hairbrushes that quickly reveal themselves to be knives and tape measures that are razor sharp that are used like swords. When it comes to ninja techniques… these girls have it all! The previously mentioned Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet shows one of the girls spitting two lumps of chewing gum into the eyes of our leading man Akira Kobayashi, which of course leaves him temporarily blinded. These girls also have the ability to disguise their voice in any way they choose, even taking on exact duplication of a man’s voice! Notably these girls can also use 45RPM records as ninja stars, impaling them several inches into hard walls. Did I mention the fact that this movie was a little over the top?

Throughout the movie, which is already fantastical and lighthearted, there are some great bits of comedy that are carried by our leading man Akira Kobayashi. In the opening moments of the movie, while on the battlefield in a life or death situation, this Hondo character (Kobayashi) lifts up a beer in order to have the top shot off in a humorous little moment. It perfectly encapsulates Hondo as well as the heights of absurdity our feature will ultimately end up taking us. Hondo has the answers for everything, but Kobayashi plays the character raw and is so charismatic here that you can’t help but fall in love with this guy. His martial arts technique on the other hand is… interesting, to say the least. The fight choreography within the movie isn’t what I would call the most labored or technical, but it gets the job done and shares that same “sloppy but effective” look to it that Sonny Chiba and Jimmy Wang Yu primarily created. In the dramatic, most of the cast acquit themselves well but ultimately this is Akira Kobayashi’s show and he makes good in every scene.

The Conclusion
I really loved this movie, I don’t know if I have made that clear enough at this point. It is a spy caper that isn’t afraid to be silly, but the craftsmanship that went into the visual style shows an insane amount of creativity behind the scenes. For fans of Japanese cinema during this era, you really owe it to yourself to track this one down. I give the movie a solid four out of five stars and I actually thought about going higher! Black Tight Killers is pure adrenaline driven fun from start to finish. Make sure to check it out!

Halloween Horrors #27: At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 30 - 2010
Hey everybody, we’re dwindling down to the final hours of our Halloween Horrors. Can you feel it? It’s a little sad, but I’m also a little happy about it as well. I honestly can’t wait to watch something non-horror, haha! Next week famed Asian cinema website Wildgrounds is hosting a blog-a-thon of sorts for Japanese cinema and we here at Varied Celluloid plan to take part in the festivities. So keep an eye out for hopefully some Asian cinema content here on Varied Celluloid and on the VCinema Blog!

For now, check out this review for the classic piece of Brazilian horror At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul starring the immortal Coffin Joe!

The Plot: Ze do Caixao (Coffin Joe, director and star José Mojica Marins) is a mortician who desperately wants a child to continue on with his name. Unfortunately his wife is barren and unable to provide such a child. Coffin Joe, who has no real moral compass, decides he will do what it takes to have his child and continue his blood. Ze has an affection for the young Terezinha, but she is Coffin Joe’s best friend’s (Antonio) girlfriend. When he makes his move on Terezinha, she is obviously disgusted but reminds him that he has his own wife waiting at home for him. This angers Joe, but he decides she is right and heads out to cure himself of his marriage. After chaining up his wife and forcing a poisonous spider to bite her, Joe is free to pursue Terezinha but he now has to deal with Antonio as well. As Coffin Joe begins his onslaught of terrible acts, he is reminded by the local gypsy woman that even though he may get away with these atrocities for now – at some point the souls of those he has done harm will come back, and at midnight they will surely take his soul!





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