Movie Review: The REVENGE OF DOCTOR X

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revenge of doctor xToci Company
1970
NR

“How in the hell can anybody be so utterly stupid as to build a rocket base on the coast of Florida?”

 

Usually, when you mention celebrated director Ed Wood, the very first thing that pops into your head is probably Plan 9 From Outer Space. As well it should, as it’s easily in the Top 5 of famous So Bad It’s Good movies. While that may very well be his ultimate legacy, most don’t realize his prolific output, not only as a director, but also as a writer. There were several movies made that were strictly written by Ed Wood, like the subject of this review, The Revenge Of Doctor X.

In this instance, Ed Wood was uncredited for the screenplay. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

Anyway, filmed in 1966 and released in 1970, this movie also has gone by the titles Venus Flytrap, and Body Of The Prey. As always, the version I watched went by the title of The Revenge Of Doctor X, so that’s the title I’m going with.

In The Revenge Of Doctor X, a burned-out NASA scientist whose introduction we see raging against a rocket taking off on the Florida coast, is ordered to take a vacation. So, he decided to fly out to Japan for some R&R, but then picks up a Venus Flytrap plant before heading out. I don’t know, that seems to be something that would have a bit of trouble with customs officials, I would think. Anyway, he takes his new-found interest in botany and stays in an abandoned resort that’s situated next to an active volcano. So, the guy decides to fully embrace his mad scientist vibes and goes ahead with tinkering the Venus Flytrap, thinking this is the next evolutionary step between humans and plants, and creates a humanoid carnivorous plant monster by cross-breeding the Venus Flytrap with an undersea carniverous plant he picked up after diving with a bunch of locals. Soon, the plant monster escapes, does some damage at the local nearby town, and the doctor goes and tries to stop the carnage. Goofy wackiness ensues.

As campy, low budget sci-fi movies go, The Revenge Of Doctor X is pretty campy. The lead actor constantly chews up the scenery, flying into angry outbursts at the drop of a hat. It’s actually rather amusing to witness this guy. The rest of the acting from others is hammy, there’s some surprise topless nudity that is beyond gratuitous (I don’t know if they were trying to exploit the Japanese culture with that, but still…thanks for the mamories, there), and the creature effects are…well, they’re what you would expect from a low-budget 60s sci-fi flick. Cheesy, campy and right fun to look at.

Bad directing, bad acting, momentous leaps in logic…meaning, you have to see this to believe it. Sure, The Revenge Of Dr. X languishes in obscurity, and I would have never heard of this had this not been on the Amazon Prime streaming I was browsing through, but really this movie needs to be watched at least once just for the experience alone.

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Movie Review: SOLO A Star Wars Story

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solo a star wars storyLucasfilm / Disney
2018
PG-13

“So, what’s your name, anyways?”
“Rrraaawwgghhhyyy.”
“You’re gonna need a nickname, ’cause I ain’t saying that every time.”

The second release in Disney’s supplemental films in the Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story delves into the back story of everyone’s favorite intergalactic scoundrel with a heart of mythra, Han Solo. While there was the Han Solo trilogy of books that was regulated to the Legacy non-cannon section since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, that didn’t stop Disney from delving into the past and giving us an official canon back story for Han — how he met Chewie, got into smuggling, and came across that little space boat called the Millennium Falcon.

Having been released a mere six months after The Last Jedi, I think that contributed to the lack of enthusiasm with the release of Solo. There wasn’t as much of a buzz, and preview reports were lackluster at best. Also, there may have been something about the change of directors midway through that could have been part of it. I have to admit, I wasn’t really all that jazzed to watch it myself, and my fellow partner in crime, Nex, kept referring to it as the “Ill-Advised Star Wars Movie”. Regardless, I watched Solo, along with the other Exalted Geeks (recording the podcast about it here), and so let’s get to my thoughts on the movie. But first, as always, the Rundown (spoilers ahead):

We open on the planet of Corellia, where a young Han is livin’ the Dickens style street urchin life, stealing shiny things for a giant worm alien gang leader. This is the day that he and his love interest named Qi’ra make their escape from the gang to get off of the planet to a better life; only, it doesn’t exactly go as plan, as Qi’ra gets recaptured, while Han manages to get off of the planet, but at the expense of joining up with the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet. Fast forward to three years later, and we find that Han and the military aren’t exactly a great fit, as he’s been downgraded to the infantry, and while on one of them Imperial conquests of a planet, Han tries to hook up with a bunch of criminals posing as infantry soldiers, but is then thrown into a pit to be fed to a beast of some sort. Of course, by the law of plot conveniences, this “beast” turns out to be none other than Chewbacca, and after a bit of a rocky start, they bond by working together to escape. They catch a ride off of the planet by the same batch of criminals Han ran into earlier, because one of the members — the one with the big neon I’M GOING TO DIE FIRST blinking on his forehead — took a shine to their moxie. Or whatever. After a heist to steal a shipment of a super hyperspace fuel called coaxium goes south due to the interference of SPACE PIRATES!, the crime lord who hired the group to steal the stuff decides to let them try and make it up to him, by taking raw coaxium from the mines on Kessel, and assigns his top lieutenant, who turns out to be Qi’ra, to tag along and make sure nothing goes wrong this time. Or, you know, death. So, they hire the guy with the fastest ship in the galaxy, which turns out to be some guy named Lando Calrissian (I’m sure he’ll be of no consequence later in the series), who pilots a certain heavily modified YT-1300 Corellian light freighter he calls the Millennium Falcon. After a bunch of chest-puffing between Han and Lando, they take off for Kessel, where they pick up the raw (and highly unstable, I should add, otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension and drama involved) coaxium, all the while causing a riot and freeing a bunch of Wookiee slaves and triggering a droid uprising. Han manages to make the jump in 12-ish parsecs through the Maw and gets the shipment safely to the planet Savareen to process the coaxium. Then the SPACE PIRATES! show up, say they really aren’t the bad guys in this movie, and then Solo tries to do the right thing by confronting the crime lord. There’s a bit of cross/double cross going on, the crime boss dies and then Han takes off while Qi’ra decides she’d rather be the new crime boss and stuff. Then Han wins the Millinnium Falcon from Lando, and he and Chewie flies off to join up with some gangster on the planet Tatooine. The end.

So, overall, while I feel that Solo wasn’t exactly necessary as a movie, it was still pretty good. There were plenty of cheesy bits in there — how Han got his last name, an inverse of the “I love you / I know” exchange, and a surprise cameo that seemed a tad shoehorned in. Also, did we really need a social justice warrior droid, or implied human/droid sex? Did they really contribute to the story, here? But, I digress (I look forward to all of your comments and emails)…

Alden Enrenreich does a decent job portraying the younger Han. But Donald Glover is the best one here as Lando, channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams, convincing me he’s gonna break out a Colt 45 at a moment’s notice.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is an enjoyable distraction but not exactly essential watching. It’s a good matinée flick, and I’ll probably watch this again sometime when the DVD gets released.

Book Review: STRANGE WEATHER

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joe hill strange weatherJoe Hill
William Morrow
2017

Joe Hill’s follow-up to his fantastic novel The Fireman is a collection of four novellas, titled Strange Weather. Of course, being a fan of Joe Hill, I purchased my copy of Strange Weather the same week it was released. But, in kind of a first, I got my copy as an e-book through Google Play. Not that this will become the future standard for my literary indulgences, mind you. Just went with this format for kicks and giggles.

So, four short novels collected in one binding. Let’s dive in and see what came out of Joe Hill’s brain droppings, shall we?

  • “Snapshot”

A successful middle-aged man reminisces back to the summer of 1988, where he runs into a creepy guy with a camera you really don’t want to have your picture taken with.

This was a pretty taught thriller with an object that seems to call back to the Stephen King novella “The Sun Dog” from the Four Past Midnight collection. But, “Snapshot” is far from a rip of that story. The two feature instant cameras that do weird stuff, and that’s where the similarities end. The camera in “Snapshot” is far more sinister. The story also manages to be emotionally wrenching, with the theme of losing your identity and saying goodbye to your past. I also found myself empathizing with the main protagonist, as I too was the fat young teenager back in ’88. What a year. No creepy gangly old men with cameras, though. That I know of.

  • “Loaded”

A disgraced mall security guard shoots and kills the jilted mistress of another mall store manager, a Muslim woman and her infant son shee was carrying, and a young man who witnessed the incident, thinking it was all a terrorist attack. He’s hailed as a hero of the community, everyone praising him, including his estranged wife and young son. Until a reporter from the local paper starts digging for the truth, and the “hero” finally snaps under all the pressure.

“Loaded” is one of those super tense thrillers where the real life terror depicted in the story is only amplified by the real life horror that plays out on the news at home, with shootings seemingly on the rise. Hill did a rather good job with making the antagonist nunced and sympathetic to a point; though in no way do you really side with him, as what they’re doing is despicable, but you can kinda see where he’s coming from. Overall, a very good story that rather pissed me off with the ending, there. Well done, sir. Well done.

  • “Aloft”

A young man’s first attempt at skydiving, to honor the wishes of a friend that died of cancer, results in him getting stuck on a cloud that’s not really a cloud (at least, it doesn’t act like actual clouds do…which is an understatement), and he’s stuck trying to figure out how to get down, and the cloud doesn’t seem to want to let him go.

The fun thing about speculative fantasy fiction is the taking of an otherwise absurd-sounding concept, and spinning it into a yarn that makes it work. “Aloft” does just that, with a concept that sounds more like a comic strip gag — a guy skydives and gets stuck on a cloud. Joe Hill takes this and makes it right engrossing, giving things a nice mystery surrounding his situation, as well as working out some relationship issues.

  • “Rain”

One afternoon in Boulder, Colorado, it begins raining razor-sharp crystalline shards that kills or seriously wounds anyone caught outside in it. This includes the girlfriend of our story’s protagonist, who, soon after the first freak storm, sets out on foot to Denver to try and find her girlfriend’s father to inform him of his wife and daughter’s tragic demise from the freak storm, and try to make heads or tails of what’s going on, and try to survive.

In a note in the afterwards portion of this book, Joe Hill admits to writing “Rain” as kind of a satire of his own post-apocalyptic novel The Fireman. Maybe I’m not smart enough to get the satire part; it’s probably too subtle for a meathead like myself to notice the first time reading. I do, however, recall reading a story in a collection of youth-oriented science fiction stories back in grade school, one that involved a kid playing outside on a planet his human family have settled on, and almost getting caught in a flash storm that rained sharp crystals from the clouds, much like in this one. Only, that story wasn’t as nuanced or, you know, set on Earth as “Rain” is. A lot more plot, a lot more character development, and…well, let’s just say this is probably the best kind of kooky cult types you want to be stuck next to. Give or take singing Genesis songs in the middle of the night.

Once again, Strange Weather manages to solidify Joe Hill as one of my top favorite genre writers in the past ten years. He has one of the most fertile imaginations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and this collection is further proof of that. Highly engrossing, time seems to just fly by as I read this. Highly recommended, this.

Movie Review: JURASSIC WORLD Fallen Kingdom

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jurassicworldfallenkingdomUniversal Pictures
2018
PG-13

“If I don’t make it back, remember that you’re the one that made me come here.”

I believe at this point it’s safe to say that any sequel to come out will never really capture the lightning in the bottle magic of the original Jurassic Park movie. Which is okay, I think. As long as it’s entertaining, and doesn’t insult my intelligence too much. Which can’t really be said about all of the sequels. I mean, Jurassic Park III was pretty bad, in a mediocre kind of way. When it comes to the reboot sequels, I would have to sadly admit that the most recent sequel — Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — falls rather flat.

Spoilers abound, my dearhearts…

It’s three years after the events of Jurassic World, and the dinosaurs on the island are in danger due to an active volcano getting ready to blow its top, literally. While the U.S. gov’ment is debating whether to consider them endangered species and try and save them, or to let nature take its course to correct the mistakes John Hammond made with the first park, the former operations manager of Jurassic World and now head of a Dinosaur Rights organization–Claire–is contacted by John Hammond’s former partner, Benjamin Lockwood, to mount a privately funded dino rescue mission. And since one of the last remaining velociraptors in existence is one of her ex’s pets, she talks him into coming along to help, along with a couple of interns from her Dino-Rights! group. I just imagined that being said by J.J. Walker, by the way. They all get to the island, along with a bunch of para-military types to help with the capturing of these beasts, who — surprise surprise, shock and awe — turn out to double-cross them on orders of Lockwood’s long-time financial assistant, who wants the dinosaurs to sell off to the highest bidder, and also create a new even more dangerous hybrid called the Indoraptor. Because we learned absolutely nothing with the Indominus Rex from the last movie. Lockwood’s granddaughter discovers what’s going on, as the assistant smothers Lockwood and prepares to sell off the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, Owen and Claire are captured and locked up with the dinos, but they manage to escape and interrupt the auction proceedings by setting free the Indoraptor, which kind of backfires when the thing starts hunting them down. But, then they manage to defeat the Indoraptor by way of Plot Convenience, but then the grandaughter learns that she’s a clone herself, and thus sets all the dinos free to roam the great American countryside, eating whoever gets in their way, and setting up another sequel.

Make no mistake, I’m no hater when it comes to these movies. It’s just that I consider th Jurassic Park movies to be like an amusement park ride that you go on frequently, like a rollercoaster or haunted fun house. The first time is great, but then they start getting predictable to the point where you could take a nap through the entire thing and still hit all the beats. This was actually winked at in the first Jurassic World movie, with everyone noodling around on their smart phones rather than look at live dinosaurs mere feet in front of there.

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom felt like a movie that was going through the motions. Well, much more notably than the others. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with the who Altruistic “Dinosaurs have feewings” good guys versus the Evil “Dinosaurs are for-profit commodities to be exploited” entrepeneurs before you begin wondering if one of the financial backers was Peta or Greenpeace. this was already played out in The Lost World, and it was just as nauseatingly heavy-handed then, too.

There were parts of this movie I did enjoy, lest you begin thinking I slept through this: the parts where the dinos are all running amok in both the beginning and the end sections were always a treat; and say what you will about Chris Pratt, he’s the reason why you would want to watch this, outside of said dinosaurs. James Cromwell (Zefram Cochran to us Star Trek nerds) as the estranged business partner to John Hammond threw in a nifty angle that kind of retcons things a bit, but he fits right in. And as usual, the scenes are shot beautifully, and was probably the only reason why I was glad to have caught this on the big screen. However, that couldn’t keep the parts that took me out of my overall enjoyment from making this less than “meh”: for instance, never mind that the story itself is tired and merely paint-by-numbers, but there were times where I found myself thinking, “That’s not how lava works”, “They should have burst into flames and been reduced to cinder long before they got to the boat”, and “They’re really low-balling the prices for the auction of these things”. And don’t get me started with that kid more or less dooming humanity all because she’s got the feels.

Overall, Jurassic World: The Lost Kingdom isn’t entirely bad, per se. It has its problems, as well as some bright points, and points that just don’t make sense. Go into this with your expectations low, and catch a matinée instead of a full-price. Or wait for the rental / streaming. As to the obvious sequel baiting, to paraphrase the woefully underused Dr. Ian Malcolm here: they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Movie Review: The DARK TAPES

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dark tapes, theEpic Pictures Group
2016
NR

Oh, hey, look: a found footage anthology movie. On the Amazon Prime streaming. Who’da thunk it? Well, I chose to watch this due to the cover art itself, so let’s get this review over with.

If you’re new to this blog of mine, you may have noticed that I have kind of a low expectation upon found footage movies. I watch ’em because sometimes I’ve been surprised before, like with the V/H/S series, or with the first Cloverfield movie. But more often than not, they’ve turned out to be formulaic and stale, mostly involving invisible ghosts and such, always at some haunted location. Or family curse. I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity series. I do very much enjoy the anthology style of horror movie, so at least there’s that going for The Dark Tapes. So, does this anthology flick stand up, or does it fall flat? Let’s see…

The first segment is kind of the wrap-around short, the one that is shown in segments between the segments, acting as a lose glue to hold the films together. It’s called “To Catch A Demon”, and starts kind of weak, but then gets a bit more interesting as the segments go on. It does have a Lovecraftian sci-fi feel to it, and works on a certain level, with the low point being when the trans-dimensional creature speaks. Kind of unintentionally funny, there. Anyway, the first proper short is “The Hunters And The Hunted”, which comes off as a cheap Ghost Hunters/Paranormal Activity knock-off, for the most part losing me in the “been there, done that” feeling, when suddenly there’s a twist at the end that made me nod and smile in approval. Good save, there. Up next was “Cam Girls”, and is pretty much the weakest short in this, more or less an excuse in girl-on-girl titillation and gore, all on web cams. The end “twist” is the biggest middle finger to those watching. I do give them props for not featuring any nudity in this one, just letting the story stand on its on unmitigated suckiness. And finally, “Amanda’s Revenge” centers on the titular young lady who finds herself constantly visited and tormented by otherworldly beings, frightened at first but then figuring out a way to turn the tables and chase away these ETs for good.

Overall, there’s a lot of really good ideas featured here in The Dark Tapes that suffer greatly from the execution. The strongest point here, I thought, was the wrap-around “To Catch A Demon”, which reminds me of the Lovecraft story “From Beyond”. Second best is “Amanda’s Revenge”, with “The Hunters And The Hunted” saved from a strong ending but still doesn’t justify the weak first part. “Cam Girls” is just pointless. The low-budget effects can be off-putting at times, as well as some of the acting.

In the end, The Dark Tapes doesn’t do anything to justify the continued production of found footage movies, other than they’re cheep to crank out and make money on. Check out the three V/H/S anthologies for a much better example of doing the style right.

Movie Review: A QUIET PLACE

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a quiet placePlatinum Dunes
2018
PG-13

Hey, remember Jim from the American version of The Office? You know, the character who kept pursuing a relationship with the secretary, and instead of being slapped with a sexual harassment lawsuit, ended up marrying and having a family with? He was played by John Krasinski, who, as it turns out, also writes, produces and directs other movies and television.

You’re probably rolling your eyes and groaning, “I know, idiot.” Fair enough. I just needed a way to start off this review, and I went with the Pointless Trivia Everyone Already Knew route. You probably also already knew that Krasinski doesn’t like the horror genre. Which I find fascinating, because his recent movie, A Quiet Place, is an amazing horror movie.

So, we’re dropped right into Day 86, and the majority of the Earth’s population has been hunted almost to extinction by extra-terrestrial apex preditors that hunt primarily by their ultra-hightened sense of hearing. If you make the teeniest of sounds, they can zero in on you and take you out in the blink of an eye. We follow a family of five scavenging for supplies in a deserted town, making no sounds, as at this point they’ve figured out some tricks to keep under the sound radar, if you will. That is, until, due to an unfortunate act of affection by the older sister, their youngest son is taken out by one of the creatures on their way back to the farm they live at. Jump forward about a year, and the family is not only surviving, but thriving, as the mother is pregnant and is a short way off from the due date. Pretty ballsy choice, given how infants are not exactly paragons of complete silence. But, they prove themselves to be up for the challenge, devising a sound proof box that the baby can sleep in, to keep from attracting the creatures to their already heavily modified homestead. The daughter is deaf, and is more than a bit on the angsty side, as she’s on the cusp of puberty, and she also blames herself for her brother’s death, as well as believing her father doesn’t love her because of that, only caring for her out of obligation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but because of all the silence needed, it’s hard for the father to really express his love for his daughter, outside of trying to build better hearing aid devices to try to help her hear. Everything comes to a head one afternoon when the father takes their middle oldest son out to teach how to fish, the daughter goes off to the spot where the youngest son died to do some brooding, and the mother goes into labor a couple of weeks early, which is bad enough…but then she steps on a nail getting to the safety of the basement, which is when everything really hits the fan.

And, I’m going to just stop there, and let you go ahead and find out what happens.

It took me a week from the release date to finally catch A Quiet Place, but I’m glad I did so. John Krasinski seems to know what he’s doing, as he’s crafted a tense, taunt and utterly genuine horror movie that’s incredibly effective. The entire cast carried the script wonderfully, having to act without words, building up and fleshing out their characters with hardly any dialogue, and it works. You get drawn into the family, tangibly feel the love and affection they have for each other, especially with the tension between the father and the daughter. The use of the sound — and sometimes the utter lack of it — is incredibly effective with building the tension.

The monsters themselves were wisely kept in the shadows, out of sight, until the very end, letting us piece things together through the movie. When they show up, though…yeah, pants-wetting nightmare fuel.

Overall, A Quiet Place is a very effective, well-made horror movie that will draw you in, and won’t let go until the very final scene, which will leave you wanting to know what happens next. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: The THING

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thing, theUniversal
1982
R

“I donno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”

Continuing to explore the works of John Carpenter in the 1980s, we come to his remake of The Thing. Well, okay, technically it’s more of a close adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell, Jr., while the first film adaptation — 1951’s The Thing From Another World — was a very loose adaptation at best. Haven’t read the book or watched the first film (yet), so that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Anyway, John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982, and was immediately lambasted by critics, causing it to flop hard at the box office. Which, given this was really the complete opposite type of space alien movie than that other one that was released a mere two weeks before The Thing, and yeah; I can understand why this movie wasn’t as popular. Fortunately, because of the burgeoning home video market at the time, The Thing has been reassessed over the years, and gone from cult favorite to certified sci-fi classic.

So, after opening with a UFO crashing into Earth, we arrive in Antarctica, where gun-wielding Norwegians are going after a Malamute in a helicopter. As you do. The dog runs to an American outpost, where the chopper crash-lands, and — because the surviving Norwegian doesn’t speak English — is shot in self-defense by the station commander. A couple of the Americans stationed at the base fly out to the Norwegian base to find out what made them go all cray-cray, only to find their base was burned down, with nothing but frozen corpses and a malformed humanoid of some sort, which they take back to their base. After an autopsy by a mustache-less Wilford Brimley, they discover the unholy abomination they found had normal human organs. Meanwhile, the dog they saved begins to go Franz Kafka, metamorphosing and absorbing the other dogs in the kennel, which leads to the crew flamethrowing the thing. After doing an autopsy on that, as well as going over the data recovered from the Norwegian site, the team determines that, as improbable as it sounds, the UFO seen at the beginning of the movie was found after 100,000 years, unleashing the alien creature that can assimilate any living thing it comes into contact with. Of course, this ups the paranoia quotient, and considering they’re all in a very isolated part of the planet, the possibility of them all coming out of all of this alive is not looking too good. Especially after the creature proves itself very adept at taking each of them out one-by-one.

Back when I first watched The Thing, I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. There was a lot to take in, yes, but since it was the early 90s and I was much younger and not as focused as I am now, I didn’t really pay much attention, my mind distracted more often than not, wondering why my friend was making such a big deal about this movie and wanting me to watch it. Well, I’m glad he made me sit and watch is VHS copy. Over the years, after watching it more times, it grew on me, to where I understood the brilliance that went into making this movie. John Carpenter took the less-is-more approach, ramping up the paranoia and giving the atmosphere a thickness you could cut. When it came to the creature effects, when you realize how they managed to pull this off with just practical effects, you come to understand what went into this. The Thing is a movie that doesn’t go for the happy ending, letting things dangle with a question mark and a bleak aftertaste that, quite frankly, I appreciate.

Overall, yeah…The Thing is another bit of required watching, and another reason why I hold John Carpenter in high esteem, like many others. If you haven’t seen this, or (heaven forbid) have only the 2011 re-quel, you really need to rectify this oversight.

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