Monday, 21 May 2018

Trouble Every Day
Dir: Claire Denis
Claire Denis isn’t the first filmmaker you might associate with the vampire/cannibalism horror sub-genre but she just so happens to have made one of the best films in the category. That said, 2001’s Trouble Every Day isn’t quite a vampire film or a film about cannibalism. It is a horror but not in the classical sense. It’s a strange one and a bit of a slow-burner but worth the wait in my opinion. I love Vincent Gallo, even though he is frightening weirdo, he’s perfectly cast in many respects. It follows Gallo who plays Doctor Shane Brown and wife June (Tricia Vessey) as they travel to Paris on holiday. June believes it is their honeymoon but Shane has an ulterior motive to track down an old friend – Dr. Léo Sémeneau (played by Alex Descas), a neuroscientist and his wife, Coré, whom he once was obsessed with. It seems his recent marrage to June has triggered something and, as well as catching up with his old friend, he feels drawn to Coré (played by the stunning Béatrice Dalle). Nothing is really explained, we know little about any of the characters and the audience is left to fill in many of the blanks but if you give it your full attention, you will become transfixed by it. I generally hate existential films but this one held my attention because as slow as the story was, there is something uniquely watchable about both Gallo and Dalle. We learn that Léo is now working as a General practitioner to keep a low profile. He locks Coré up in their house every day due to her ‘condition’ – something that is never explained until we see her escape and violently murder some men. It seems to be a regular occurrence, with many escape attempts and many murders. To protect her, Léo buries the bodies himself. It takes a while for the film to kick in, it’s all very mysterious and unpredictable, so when two burglars break into Leo’s home and find Coré locked up and alone – leading to their very gory deaths, following a raunchy sex scene – you could be forgiven for giving up on the film. Personally it was a twist to embrace, it came from out of know where and got the story going but I can see why a few would ask more from the time they had already invested. Coré’s condition is never explained, it’s not really vampirism but it could be included in the genre, and the same could be said for cannibalism but personally I see her condition being more symbolic. I think there is an exploration of ownership, of addiction and of obsession. It’s a raw venture and its existential nature won’t be to everyone’s taste but for me it is a rare example of it actually working for the benefit of the story. Shane arrives at the house just as Coré has murdered the two intruders. She is covered in blood and emotionless. She sets the house on fire but her intentions are unknown, its impossible to tell whether she is remorseful, suicidal or mad. However, upon seeing him, she becomes enraged and desperately tries to bite him until he manages to overpower and strangle her, leaving her to burn with the house. Leo arrives just in time to watch her burn. The relationships between the characters is unspoken and all the more fascinating because of it. The most revealing part of the film is also it’s most puzzling moment. As later that day, Shane becomes strange and distant, stopping in the middle of sex with his wife and finishing by masturbating, running away from her and adopting a puppy from a nearby pet shop. Finally he returns to the hotel where he has sex with a maid, eventually biting her to death in her nether-regions. I think it can all be interpreted in many different ways but personally I think it is making comment on obsession - self-obsessed to be specific and the various versions there are of betrayal related to pretty much everything we do. Self-victimization. I could be wrong though. Either way, it is the thinking persons horror, not easy to watch but rewarding if you let it.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Disaster Artist
Dir: James Franco
The Disaster Artist is a great concept and a very unique tribute of sorts to one of the worst films ever made. Tommy Wiseau's 2003 TheRoom is now infamous in its awfulness and has amassed a huge cult following – mainly thanks to Wiseau's outlandish acting, the film’s bizarre narrative and one of the oddest scripts ever written. The film is based on Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell's non-fiction book of the same name that chronicles the making of The Room – Sestero being one of the film’s leading actors, and journalist Bissell writing a few pieces about the film when it was first released. James Franco was a fan of the film and decided to make the book into a film as soon as he read it, casting himself as Tommy Wiseau and his brother Dave Franco as Greg Sestero. It’s only really when you know the story behind the film that you begin to realise what the film is about and how it all came together. James Franco is actually mentioned in the book and he and Wiseau are passionate about the work of James Dean. Wiseau actually said years before The Disaster Artist was an idea that if a film were ever made about him he’d either want Johnny Depp or James Franco to play him, Franco’s performance as James Dean in 2002’s Sonny being one of his favorites and an inspiration to make his own film. Both Wiseau and Greg Sestero gave the film their blessing, even though it doesn’t quite tell the real story and only shows half of what really happened. Weirdly, it actually makes a few things up – such as Sestero missing out on a chance to star in Malcolm in the Middle – which never actually happened. What it does do well however is address the bigger questions and explores The Room’s greatest hits – all those bizarre scenes that made the film a cult hit in the first place. Some of the frame for frame re-shoots are near perfect copies and in this film he get the joy of seeing the reactions of those who were behind the camera at the time. This is the film at its best. For example, the awkward sex scene between Wiseau’s Johnny and Juliette Danielle’s Lisa is best remembered for his leathery backside bobbing up and down. It is unpleasant and questionable when you first watch it. It’s well known now that he insisted upon it, suggesting that his ass was going to sell the film but what viewers might not have known is that the crew kicked-off when it happened and many an angry word was shouted. It was a treat watching each actor in turn ask why their characters were saying the things they were and why the film suddenly stops following their story-lines. Wiseau had money but he didn’t have a clue, so as a crew member you did as you were told or you left. When the paychecks actually cleared, the crew stayed on, even when the forty-day shoot took the best part of a year. It was fascinating to learn that one of the film’s most infamous scenes, that included the immortal lines: “I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s Bullshit! I did not hit her. I did not…… Oh, hi Mark.”, took around fifty takes to get right because Wiseau couldn’t remember the lines – even though he wrote them. I very much doubt Seth Rogen looks or sounds anything like scriptwriter and eventual uncredited director Sandy Schklair but there is something golden about hearing him mumble all the questions that audiences had been asking themselves all these years. It is odd for a film to recount the making of a film that wasn’t made that long ago when all the main players are still around. I would say that none of them resembled the original actors, although they got all the lines right and sounded a bit like them. It didn’t matter too much though, as this film really only had to get Wiseau right. I personally wouldn’t have cast James Franco, he would have been one of the last actors to have crossed my mind, but he does an amazing job of it. He looks and sounds as close to Wiseau as you could possibly get and the film really is all about him and his performance. It’s nice to see a film with two brothers in the main roles but it was a bit tough on Dave really, as his character isn’t half as interesting as Wiseau. The comedy is handled well and in all honesty the film is clearly a heartfelt tribute to The Room and all involved are obviously big fans. I still think the parts of the real story that they changed were unnecessarily interfered with and the fake interviews with J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Angelyne, Kevin Smith and Ike Barinholtz brought nothing to the film other than false interest in the films promotion but I get it, they were filming in LA, why not take advantage. Even though it didn’t really happen, I also liked the Bryan Cranston scene, if only to see him as Malcolm’s dad again. I think one’s interest in this film really will depend on whether you have seen The Room and/or understand how the ‘So bad its good’ cult phenomena works and/or are a believer. It’s a great character piece though and a hilarious true-ish story.
The Room
Dir: Tommy Wiseau
Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 debut The Room is now infamous as being one of the worst films ever made. I have a habit of defending bad films but not this time. I’ve been to film school, so I’ve seen quite a few terrible amateur films but I’ve never seen a feature film – that people have clearly put effort and spent money on – as bad as this. I wondered who on earth green-lit it, until I released it was paid for by the director/writer/producer/lead actor - Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is a self-confessed movie fan who had written scripts before and had attended acting school. However, it doesn’t feel like he knew anything about the movies while watching. The more I learn of him, the more this seems true. It reminded me of the story behind the band The Shaggs. In 1965 Austin Wiggins made his three daughters form a band after a palm-reader predicted his daughters would be in a pop-group to his mother. However, the girls didn’t want to play and were never allowed to listen to music growing up. They were given instruments and ordered to play by their disciplinarian father without any reference as to how the instruments worked or indeed what music was. The Room feels like it was directed/written/produced/performed by someone who had no idea about the filming process and who had only seen very few films. Wiseau is certainly a strange character – a character with plenty of money to fund an entire production. The film itself is a complete mess, with an inconsistent narrative structure, loads of pointless subplots and one of the worst scripts you could ever imagine. I’m not even sure why it was called The Room. It concerns a love triangle of sorts but the story really never goes anywhere. The film begins with Wiseau’s character Tommy coming home with a sexy dress for his girlfriend Lisa to wear. Their young neighbour comes around just as they’re getting amorous with each other – doesn’t get the hint – and ends up jumping in bed with them as they are about to get it on. It’s so incredibly awkward it’s difficult to know what the hell is going and the film continues in much the same vein. Lisa becomes uninterested in him and soon begins a sexual relationship with his best friend Mark (played by Wiseau’s best friend Greg Sestero). Both pairs have at least two sex scenes each – all of which are identical – with Wiseau’s featuring his bizarre looking backside (According to Greg Sestero's book, Wiseau insisted on having his bare bottom filmed. Wiseau's reasoning was, "I have to show my ass or this movie won't sell."). Tommy suspects something and sets a secret recorder in their bedroom. Lisa starts telling everyone that Tommy is hitting her and literally nothing happens for most of the film until everything is repeated. The recordings have nothing to do with Tommy finding out, no one’s motivation is explained and people come and go and do things that make absolutely no sence whatsoever. If it had just been a bad film no one would have noticed it, however, it is so ridiculous and contains so many bizarre and ridiculous lines of dialogue, that its hard not to become somewhat transfixed by it. Greg Sestero would later write a book about the doomed production and answers many of the questions the film raises. Wiseau was relentless during the making of the film but showed a total lack of understanding as to how films are made. He filmed it using 35mm and in HD simultaneously as he wanted to be the first director to do so – although he didn’t know the difference. Only the 35 mm footage was used in the final edit – wasting a huge amount of money. He would green-screen certain scenes, even though similar locations were available. The funniest example of this is having an ally way scene built on a sound-stage right next to a real life ally way. Much of the dialogue was lifted from James Dean films and the chamber plays of Tennessee Williams but the over-acting was all Wiseau. Thanks to the overacting and the bizarre script the film has become a cult, regularly playing to sold out midnight showings. It is certainly hypnotic in its awfulness but I can’t say I have any desire to ever watch it again. Apparently Wiseau tasked the crew with devising a way for Johnny's Mercedes-Benz to fly across the San Francisco skyline, revealing Johnny to be a vampire at the end of the film but they talked him down, stating that it would be a little ridiculous. Personally I think it’s a lost ending and something that would have no doubt improved the final production.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Of Horses and Men
Dir: Benedikt Erlingsson
Benedikt Erlingsson’s wonderfully dry 2013 comedy has one of my favorite introductions of all time. Set in a remote Icelandic valley where there is really nothing but horses and voyeurism for the locals to enjoy, Kolbeinn a middle-aged man with delusions of grandeur among his village, rides his magnificent and newly trained horse to the house of single-mother Solveig, of whom he is attracted. The pair clearly like each other but are bound by a distinct awkwardness. Kolbeinn displays his new horse as if it were an extension of his manliness, clearly a subconscious show of strength and virility and one that works on Solveig. However, she is with her mother and young son, they chat for a short while, drink tea and Kolbeinn is away again. However, Solveig’s untrained horse is also clearly smitten with Kolbeinn’s mare and jumps his fence in pursuit. As the entire village watches at a distance through binoculars, the untrained colt catches up with Kolbeinn and mounts his mare without resistance. Kolbeinn is left helpless, waiting for the pair to finish their business, with the inkling that everyone is watching. He goes home and shoots his horse and one of the funniest black comedies made in the last twenty years begins. Iceland cinema is pretty rich and varied considering the country’s size, and while 2015’s Rams is similar in some respects, Of Horse and Men is as unique as it gets. The film is essentially a series of six fables connected by the cast and location. The characters are mixed bunch of young and old, traditionalists and modern thinks with only their history, location and love of horses in common. Like most black comedies, Of Horse and Men deals with the opportunistic trinity of sex, fate and death and how cruel – and funny - each can be. Very few people live in such remote and hostile environments but somehow writer and director Benedikt Erlingsson involves the audience and one becomes, not just sympathetic with the villagers, but also somehow able to relate with them, even though their lives are a far cry from our own. The film has a somewhat primal feeling to it, where tradition and modern ways of life co-exist but often clash, leading to often exaggerated conclusions. It’s a classic Nordic film in this respect, full of contrasts. I love Nordic films, there is always fire and water at play, with exterior scenes chilling one to the bone, followed by the warmth of the internal fireplace. Life and death are always explored with a wry smile, as if to say ‘Aren’t we flawed but aren’t we beautiful – anyway, life goes on’. It’s a meditation on fate through horses and Iceland. A rather special piece of its time, a film I’m sure generations of Icelanders will look back on in years to come. You have got to get the balance right when making a black comedy though, and Benedikt Erlingsson has managed it perfectly.
Bride of the Monster
Dir: Ed Wood
Sadly, I think what most people knew about Bride of the Monster is something that wasn’t true. In the book The Golden Turkey Awards, released in 1980 by Michael Medved and Harry Medved, it was claimed that Lugosi's character declares his manservant Lobo (Tor Johnson) "as harmless as kitchen". This allegedly misspoken line is cited as evidence of either Lugosi's failing health/mental faculties, or as further evidence of Wood's incompetence as a director. Wood already had a reputation for being one of the worst the world of cinema had ever seen but this insulting and hurtful mistake is one of many unfortunate inaccuracies reported that have always damaged his appeal. Lugosi said this line correctly, the exact words being, "Don't be afraid of Lobo; he's as gentle as a kitten." Michael Medved and Harry Medved saw the film in a theater setting with inferior sound quality but still, the inaccurate claim managed to achieve urban legend status, and it keeps circulating. Thank goodness for Tim Burton, as his 1994 biopic of Ed Wood sets much of the record straight and takes a sympathetic and celebratory look at the great man’s work. Bride of the Monster is among the directors better known and much loved films. It took two years to shoot because of budget costs – even though $70,000 was considered pretty healthy back then – but still managed to spawn a large cult following, as well as a sequel that followed in 1959 – although due to even more financial issues, wasn’t released for another twenty-five years. The story involves a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Eric Vornoff who lives in a haunted house, complete with moat containing a giant killer octopus. The police soon begin to get suspicious after many people go missing around the same location of the house and they decide to investigate. They bring a news reporter with them as well as a European intellectual, Professor Vladimir Strowski. The news reporter Janet (the fiance to one of the policemen) is kidnapped by Vornoff’s huge manservant Lobo who takes her back to the house for the doctor to do hypnotic experiments on. Strowski then soon wonders into the house and bumps into Vornoff. It then transpires that Strowski is there to recruit Vornoff to help him continue with his own groundbreaking experiments with atomic energy. Cut to a flashback where Vornoff narrates that two decades prior, he had suggested using experiments with nuclear power which could create super-humans of great strength and size. In response, he was branded a madman and exiled by his country. He suggests that with Strowski’s help, he could find the answers and his country would have him back and regard him as a national hero. Strowski agrees but is in it for himself. However, just as they are about to experiment on Janet, Lobo – who totally has the hots for her – pushes them to one side and rescues the fair maiden. Vornoff then injects himself with the super-strength liquid and he and Lobo have a big akward fight. The police get there just in time to rescue Janet, just as the house is struck by lightening, forcing it to collapse. If that isn’t a good night in I don’t know what is. Vornoff is killed obviously, but as the chief police captain puts it at the end of the film, he had it coming after he “tampered in God's domain.”The total lack of understand of how nuclear power and atoms work is forgivable thanks to the inclusion of giant killer octopus. Lobo is pretty cool too and Bela Lugosi’s performance as  Dr. Eric Vornoff is the stuff of b-movie legend. It’s a great sci-fi horror and like many of its contemporaries, it serves in part as a Cold War propaganda film. Once again, an external threat from "Old Europe" serves as the enemy of the righteous United States. The country of origin for Vornoff and Strowski is left unnamed but Strowski uses the term master race, clearly suggesting that they are a couple of old Nazis. It’s a mish-mash of genres and ideas that steals ideas from Bride of Frankenstien and White Zombie and throws in a giant killer octopus for good measure. It’s awful and brilliant at the same time. It would be the last speaking appearance of Bela Lugosi and the last time he would play a charismatic villain whose megalomania leads to downfall and destruction – the sort of role he is fondly remembered for by his fans. The film is part of what Wood aficionados refer to as "The Kelton Trilogy", a trio of films featuring Paul Marco as Officer Kelton, a whining, reluctant policeman. The other two films are Plan 9 from Outer Space and Bride’s sequel Night of the Ghouls. I would hazard a guess that Quentin Tarantino was a fan. There is something wrong with you if you’re not a fan to be honest, as – as awful as it is – there is an undeniable charm to Bride of the Monster that I and many others, find irresistible.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Deadpool 2
Dir: David Leitch
There was much talk following 2016’s Deadpool about how they should approach a sequel. Deadpool 2 was actually green-lit a couple of days before the first film was released but months later director/producer/co-writer Tim Miller left the film stating creative differences. Many speculated that it was Ryan Reynolds that was the problem, with the actor given more say and creative control, but the media and fanboys do need to calm down a bit, film makers can disagree and still remain on good terms. I dare say Miller left for his own integrity and it is often best for the project and everyone involved when someone who disagrees with the direction of story steps aside. It’s sometimes knowing when to leave that makes a good film maker. Miller later stated that he didn’t want the film to get bigger as is the case with most superhero sequels and that he wanted the follow up to retain the same DNA as the first. Fine. It’s a little odd though, because while Deadpool 2 may have more elements to it, its very much the same Deadpool from the first film and still true to the comic book origins. There was worry that the introduction of X-Force would overshadow the film’s main character but this isn’t at all the case, in fact, this worry is immediately addressed in full on Deadpool fashion. No one like a an actor who gets too big for their boots either but Ryan Reynolds/Deadpool are a different kettle of fish, it’s the perfect marriage, and when you hear that Miller left in the end because he wanted Kyle Chandler to play Cable while Reynolds’ overruled him to chose Josh Brolin, then I can’t help but side with Reynolds. I didn’t think much of Atomic Blonde but new director David Leitch has proven his worth as a 2nd unit director and as the uncredited director of the great John Wick. He does a great job with Deadpool 2, capturing many of the action scenes in the same vein as the comics while adding an extra level of comedy action. The film didn’t come without its problems, after Tim Miller left, actor T.J. Miller received Sexual misconduct allegations and seem to go off the rails somewhat and was later arrested for calling police with a false bomb threat. There were calls for him to be removed from the film but editing had already begun and re-shoots would have been impossible. The biggest tragedy was the death of stunt-women Joi Harris who died as a result of a motorcycle crash. Harris was not wearing a helmet because the character she was portraying, Domino, does not wear one in the scene, and there had not been time since she joined the film to create one for her to fit underneath the Domino wig. Veteran stunt double Melissa Stubbs had been available and willing to do the stunt, but the inexperienced Harris was preferred due to her skin color being a match for actor Zazie Beetz. This decision was criticized by multiple stunt professionals, with many noting that Harris' experiences racing motorcycles did not necessarily qualify her as an able stunt performer. This is unforgivable and everyone involved should be duly punished. It’s just a film, no one should die making it and for this reason I wouldn’t be upset if the film failed. It won’t because it is great and it wouldn’t be fair on those that had nothing to do with the accident but it doesn’t sit well. However, I will continue with the review of the film. It is not a carbon copy of the first. The plot is completely different and now that the character is established, the writers have come up with a clever and exciting scenario that is original and gives fans old and new, exactly what they want as well as a few treats they didn’t even know they wanted. Deadpool's abilities are explored to great creative effect and the pop culture references keep coming thick and fast. His digs at both Marvel, Sony and DC are direct and on point, although this time Sony do good by him and gives the audience some unexpected pleasures. The forth wall is broken many times, indeed, the forth wall is broken within the forth wall, without it ever seeming as complicated as it sounds. The introduction of X-Force could have been awful but the way they handled it was superb and incredibly funny. Brolin was the perfect Cable and Zazie Beetz’s version of Domino is far more interesting and likable than the Domino of the comics. Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus return from the first film and I still can’t get over how close Brianna Hildebrand looks to the Negasonic Teenage Warhead of the comics. They are joined by other established characters such as Bedlam, Shatterstar, Zeitgeist and Vanisher, who are all shown up for the floored characters they are. Juggernaut was a particularly impressive addition to the line up but I’m shocked there were no Vinnie Jones references. A new comer to the team was Peter, a normal guy who just wants to get involved. Peter steals the show somewhat in a way that no one else could other than in a Deadpool film. It was great to see Julian Dennison again following Hunt for the Wilder People as Russell "Hot Stuff" Collins, aka Firefist. His characters addition to the story made a lot of sense and I’m glad it wasn’t all just about revenge. I wasn’t too keen on the dream-like elements of the film each time Deadpool nearly dies but I expect them to make fun of this in Deadpool 3. The film is worth seeing for the mid-credit scenes alone to see Deadpool go through time and correct his and Ryan Reynolds mistakes of the past. It is more of the same (what we all want from Deadpool) with a few new ideas thrown in for good measure. The possibilities remain endless for Deadpool and I hope they keep them coming, because as tired as I am of X-Men and as brilliant as the MCU is, it’s good to have Deadpool somewhere in the middle causing trouble.
American Ultra
Dir: Nima Nourizadeh
I didn’t know that much about American Ultra before watching it but I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t based on a graphic novel or a comic series as it feels suspiciously familiar. I went into it blind and I have to admit my heart sank a little when Jesse Eisenberg’s name came up on screen, followed by Kristen Stewart and then Max Landis. I’m not a fan of Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network remains his finest work but only because playing unlikable comes natural to him. Kristen Stewart is hit and miss. Max Landis on the other hand is about as overrated as it gets. Chronicle was incredibly over-hyped, I liked the idea but I really didn’t think they made a good film out of it. Still, I make a point of giving everything a try and doing so with an open mind and I will admit that there is a lot to like about American Ultra. Firstly, Nima Nourizadeh’s direction is superb, someone please give him a decent story to work with because his visuals are outstanding. It’s interesting to see the transition from music video director to feature film director, in many respects I wonder why you would as the pay isn’t as good and you don’t get as much freedom or variety but here Nourizadeh has taken a mediocre and somewhat formulaic story and made it look fresh and original. The plot itself has been described as a ‘stoner Bourne’ which is pretty accurate and the sort of thing that would have stopped me from watching it had I known before sitting down to it. Jesse Eisenberg said in an interview that to prepare for the role of a stoner, he went and lived with his cousin, Andrew Eisenberg, who taught him how stoners walk and talk. Jesse Eisenberg has said that without his cousin, he probably couldn't pull the role off. This makes out that Eisenberg is an edgy method actor, which I don’t believe he is, and his character here is basically the same character he always plays but with long hair. He plays Mike Howell who lives in a small town in West Virginia and works in a quiet convenience store. He lives with his girlfriend Phoebe and plans to propose to her on a trip to Hawaii but due to repeated panic attacks he finds it impossible to leave the town. He fears he is keeping Phoebe back but she always sticks by him. We soon learn that Mick isn’t all that he seems, he doesn’t know it but he’s actually a CIA secret weapon. Just a simple code word whispered into his ear turns stoner Mike into an unstoppable killing machine. The film’s title is a clear reference to the CIA’s research project called MK Ultra. Once again the project has been misunderstood. The project was started to combine what the American government knew about mind control with what the Germans knew about this subject. The letters MK use the English word for "mind" and the German word for "control". So MK stands for Mind Kontrolle. "Ultra" refers to the highest level of security classification. Its main purpose was to come up with ways to induce their subjects with Multiple Personality Disorder and find out how these alter personalities could then be triggered on command to be utilized for other means which the subject generally would have no recollection of afterwards. The project began in 1953 after the American government had brought scientists from Nazi Germany to America under Operation Paperclip, and officially ended in 1973. It’s hard to tell whether Mike being a stoner and the title featuring the word ‘American’ is a comment on the youth of today in the US or if they couldn’t think of anything else to call it but it’s a twisted version of a factual idea, sci-fi if you will. Fine, I’m down with that, its just that it isn’t done very well. The set up isn’t strong enough for one to feel involved and the climax is all a bit too overblown. It feels like the beginning of a film and the ending of a film have been stuck together with a big chunk of middle missing. It’s an alternative superhero film really, a different version of Chronicle in some respects. I think everyone is miscast. I do agree that Eisenberg and Stewart make for a great acting duo, they are clearly friends and the chemistry between them on screen is strong, I just think this was the wrong film for both of them. I’m still unsure as to whether it was meant to be a comedy, or at least have funny moments, because if so then it fails miserably. I liked the gory violence towards the end but again, it didn’t seem to fit with the film’s first chapter and it wasn’t really much of a twist. It’s what happens when you give a great director a rubbish film to make.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Red Beard
Dir: Akira Kurosawa
Based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's short story collection, Akahige shinryōtan, Akira Kurosawa’s classic Red Beard is a tender tale exploring social injustice, exploring two of Kurosawa's favourite topics: humanism and existentialism. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was once again an inspiration to Kurosawa (after his 1951 adaptation of The Idiot) and his 1861 novel Humiliated and Insulted provided the source for a subplot about a young girl, Otoyo, who is rescued from a brothel. The film takes place in 19th century Koishikawa, a district of Edo which is the former name of the city of Tokyo. Young Dr. Noboru Yasumoto is our protagonist and we follow him as he arrives at a rural clinic he has been assigned to after leaving medical school. Trained in a Dutch medical school in Nagasaki, the somewhat arrogant Yasumoto aspires to the status of personal physician of the Shogunate, a position currently held by his father, a well-established, highly competent physician. Yasumoto believes that he should progress through the safe, and well-protected, army structure of medical education. However, for Yasumoto's post-graduate medical training, he has been assigned to the rural clinic under the guidance of Dr. Kyojō Niide known as Akahige (‘Red Beard’). Dr. Kyojō Niide (played by the awesome Toshiro Mifune) seems at first to be a tyrannical task master, but as the film progresses we learn he is a compassionate clinic director. Initially, Yasumoto is livid at his posting, believing that he has little to gain from working under Red Beard. Yasumoto feels that Dr. Niide is only interested in his medical notes and soon rebels against the clinic director. He refuses to wear his uniform, disdains the food and spartan environment, and enters the forbidden garden where he meets ‘The Mantis’, a mysterious patient that only Dr. Niide can treat. As he struggles to come to terms with his situation, the film tells the story of a few of the clinic's patients, which is a huge turning point in the film’s narrative. One of these patients is Rokusuke, a dying man whom Dr. Niide discerns is troubled by a secret misery that is only revealed when his desperately unhappy daughter shows up. Another is Sahachi, a well-loved man of the town known for his generosity to his neighbors, who has a tragic connection to a woman whose corpse is discovered after a landslide. However, Yasumoto’s only really takes off when Dr. Niide takes him along to rescue a sick twelve-year-old girl from a brothel (fighting off a local gang of thugs to do so) and then assigns the girl to him as his first patient. Through his efforts to heal the traumatised girl, Yasumoto begins to understand the magnitude of cruelty and suffering around him as well as his power to ease that suffering, and in doing so learns to regret his vanity and selfishness. Through his observations of Dr. Niide's compassion and a series of destitute patients, Yasumoto learns the true meaning of what being a doctor really means. The lives of patients are more important than wealth or status. Their sufferings can be ameliorated with compassion and conscientious care. The film is stunning, as you’d expect from the great Kurosawa, but alas, it was to be the last film he made with Toshiro Mifune after collaborating sixteen times together and it is also noted by Kurosawa purists as the last film he shot in glorious black and white. Mifune would typically appear in up to six or seven films a year at this point in his career but he chose not to do any that year as he filmed Red Beard, allowing himself to be fully immersed in what would be his last film for Kurosawa. Before filming certain scenes, Kurosawa would play the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, instructing the cast that this was how he wanted to audience to feel when watching this scene. The first scene of the film was one of these scenes and it set the tone for the rest of the film perfectly. It wasn’t just the direction and performances that are perfect, the attention to detail was also precise, with Kurosawa going as far as instructing the set builders to use the right kind of aged wood that would have been used in the region at the time the film is set for the hospital set and, in the further desire for authenticity, made sure the hospital was stocked with expensive medical supplies of the time period. The drawers that were never referred to or even opened on camera, were nevertheless filled with the correct pills of the time period. It makes Stanley Kubrick look like an amateur. It’s a stunning piece of cinema, a Kurosawa classic which is in truth, beyond most people’s definitions of a classic.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Dir: Paul Mazursky
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is one of those rare films that is very much of its time but still feels timeless and indeed fresh. Released in 1969, it was filmed just one year after the infamous ‘Summer of love’ but looked at America’s new found openness and sexual awareness from a totally different angle. The establishment had poked fun at the hippies quite a bit by this point and various sex comedies leaped at the opportunity without really harnessing the cultural change that society was going through. Hippies and flower power were current but they didn’t represent everyone. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice looks at a successful group of late twenties/early thirty somethings and how a sexual revolution effects them. The film begins with husband and wife Bob & Carol (played by Robert Culp and Natalie Wood) who attend a weekend of emotional honesty in an Esalen-style retreat somewhere in the California hills. Bob is doing research for a documentary he is making and is initially unconvinced by the openness of the group and how it supposedly helps with modern relationships. Carol on the other hand is immediately taken by the new philosophy and soon reels in her husband. After two days the couple are changed and become eager to share their enthusiasm and excitement over their new-found philosophy with their more conservative friends Ted and Alice (played by Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon). The humor is never cheap and the subject is never played for laughs except from when Ted suggests he ‘feels’ like Bob should pick up the dinner tab. This is what works so well throughout the film, it’s subtle and believable. Instead of a mad-cap sex comedy, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice works better because it is more like theatre. When Bob admits to having an affair, Carol almost celebrates it because of his honesty, which throws Ted and Alice and their opinions of relationships and their friends in to total disarray. The script is sharp as a knife and the performances are brilliant. I’m a huge fan of Elliott Gould and Natalie Wood but Dyan Cannon is superb, as is Robert Culp. The film was no doubt seen as risky for some actors, with some big names such as Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, Tuesday Weld, Jane Fonda and Faye Dunaway turning down lead roles. A mistake they no doubt regretted when both Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon were nominated for Academy Awards and Natalie Wood, who turned down the $750,000 fee for a percentage instead, made $5,000,000. It deserved all the praise it received but the award I think it best deserved was for best screenplay. The script – and subsequent performances – have a real spark of electricity about them, more so then most ‘romantic’ films made then or since. The conclusion is also something rather special. The mood of the film is captured brilliantly by Quincy Jones’s score, featuring songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The cinematography was one of the last pieces made by the legendary Charles Lang – it didn’t really need such beautiful visuals but it is certainly better for them. It’s certainly Paul Mazursky’s best loved film (and I love all his films) and one of the best for each cast and crew person involved. It’s the perfect film to end a decade on, the best representation of relationships in the end of he sixties and the beginning of the seventies I can think of. Something of a forgotten classic.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Dir: Angela Robinson
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of psychologist William Moulton Marston who helped develop the Lie Detector Test and created the comic superhero Wonder Woman. The film is described as fact-based, and that is accurate to a degree, as no one represented in the story actually kept a record or diary of their lives, indeed, Marston’s private life was kept very secret – his granddaughter has been very vocal that she’s not happy with this representation, so it is fair to say much of what is seen in the film is objective. However, while the film suggests that Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston actually invented the lie-detector (they didn’t, the invention of the polygraph is credited to John Augustus Larson) they were both the inventors of the systolic blood pressure cuff, a component of the polygraph which features heavily in the story and is a key component of Wonder Woman’s story. Things may not have happened the way the film suggests but much of it can be backed up as fact. As a huge comic fan, it was a real eye opener. I often wondered about the early Wonder Woman comics and their suitability for kids. It’s well known among Superman fans that Superman's Co-creator Joe Shuster drew a lot of fetish art for Nights of Terror while he was down on his luck and suing DC comics over Superman copyright. They sold under the counter and eventually banned by the U.S. Senate. It was quite a stir in the comic world and parents began taking more interest in what their kids were reading, but I knew little about Marston and the origins of Wonder Woman. A Professor of psychology at Harvard College in the 1920s, Marston was the father of DISC Theory – a theory that people illustrate their emotions using four behavior types: Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). He argued that these behavioral types came from people's sense of self and their interaction with the environment. He included two dimensions that influenced people's emotional behavior. The first dimension is whether a person views his environment as favorable or unfavorable. The second dimension is whether a person perceives himself as having control or lack of control over his environment. Although Marston contributed to the creation of the DISC assessment, he did not in fact create it as it is understood today. In 1956, Walter Clarke, an industrial psychologist, constructed the DISC assessment using Marston's theory of the DISC model. He did this by publishing the Activity Vector Analysis, a checklist of adjectives on which he asked people to indicate descriptions that were accurate about themselves. This assessment was intended for use in businesses needing assistance in choosing qualified employees. Again, these are details. Marson and his wife Elizabeth researched and developed the polygraph and studied the concepts of dominance, inducement, submission and compliance and when you look at all these closely, you begin to see where Wonder Woman came from. Their marriage was unorthodox and they kept the fact that they entered into a loving relationship with their research assistant Olive Byrne (daughter of Ethel Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger – two famous suffragists and feminists of the 20th century) a secret until their deaths. Elizabeth and Olive were both very different from each other, Elizabeth being head-strong, confident, opinionated and outspoken, while Olive was much younger, innocent and seen as more pure. The three loved each other equally and entered into a polyamorous relationship until William’s death. The three got into bondage and sexual submission, seeing it as not just a sexual thing but something of purity. The writing was on the wall – or in their case, in the comics. Olive and Elizabeth, who lived together until the tender ages of 81 and 100 respectively, were essentially the inspirations behind Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman, based on Olive, Elizabeth, the polygraph and DISC theory, was essentially intended to support the feminist movement to further equal rights for women through a populist medium. Job done, and out of all the superheros around today, I’m glad Wonder Woman is well up there as still one of the most popular. My only criticism with the film were some of the slower tender moments and sex scenes. The character development was a little too fast-paced, so the sex and sudden interest in bondage sort of came from no where and the years skipped by in seconds rather quickly. There was a lot to fit into just one film, and I loved the structure with Marston being interrogated by representatives of the Child Study Association of America as he was in 1945, I just think it needed far more in terms of narrative and development.The film reminded me of Werner Herzog’s 2001 drama Invincible in some respect. It told the story of Zishe Breitbart (aka Siegmund Breitbart) who was said to be the inspiration behind Superman. While Superman is never once mentioned, it feels like an origin story that itself isn’t quite attached to the superhero as we recognise them today. There are many DC fans who won’t be interested I’m sure, but if you are into the origins and mythology of comic characters – and you like a sexy drama – then look no further.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Battle of the Sexes
Dir: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Typical, you wait for years for a good Tennis movie and then suddenly two arrive at once. 2017’s other Tennis movie was of course the brilliant Borg vs McEnroe, the better of the two films it has to be said. However, while Tennis is the sport both films have in common, Borg vs McEnroe is a serious drama exploring focus and those with a competitive nature, while Battle of the Sexes focuses on equality and acceptance. Borg vs McEnroe is a tremendous drama but it is serious all the way. Battle of the Sexes on the other hand is light-hearted and funny, just as the true events were. Its exactly what you’d expect from a Simon Beaufoy script and a Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris film that focuses on the truth – that is – it is extremely sugar-coated. My teeth didn’t quite fall out after watching but they needed a damn good brush before bed. The film is about the infamous publicity match between Woman’s Champoin Billie Jean King and former World No. 1 Bobby Riggs. King was fighting for equality within the Tennis association at the time and was vocal in her objection of discriminatory pay. King was involved in the formation of the world’s first professional all-women tour known as the Virginia Slims while Riggs was long retired and struggling with a gambling habit. Riggs, in light of the progressive women players movement, had the bright idea to put on an exhibition show to see if the women's No.1 could beat a former world champion. Either outcome would see both players make a lot of money and if the women player won it would further help the cause, so he sold it as a win-win proposition. He first approached King when she was on the all women's tour but she refused, suggesting that it would be too much of a circus and that she wanted to focus on serious tennis for women. When she was beaten by rival Margaret Court, Riggs approached Court suggesting that she was now No. 1. Riggs beat Court with ease, making him a lot of money and knocking the women's team and their campaign which was always dogged by the suggestion that they were paid less because they weren’t as good. Riggs, a retired fifty-five year old man had beaten the women's World no. 1, a professional at the top of her game and only 28 years old. King knew she had to set it straight but she did it with grace and in good humour. Riggs’ playful gimmick was to act as a chauvinist, even declaring himself as ‘The Pig’ and it pulled in the punters. The pair appeared on many TV shows and in the end it helped the game in all aspects. However, the film doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Most things that happen in the film is true – with several scenes shot like-for-like from archive footage - but many of the characters and their relationships are exaggerated, such are ‘dramatisations’ of this ilk. The other side of the story explores the relationship Riggs had with his wife and the relationship King had with her hairdresser behind her husband’s back. Homosexuality was still not accepted by most of society back in the early 70s, King was fighting for woman's right but gay rights were still very early in development, she had to concentrate on one before the other. Her husband found out about her sexuality and was supportive throughout, although I’m not sure that comes across as well as it could have in the film. Also, her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett is over-exaggerated. Barnett actually ended up suing and outing King, nearly ruining her career, which she spent many years trying to rebuild. The initial formation formation of the eight player women's group was Larry King’s idea and not World Tennis magazine founder, Gladys Heldman’s. Heldman gave it her financial backing and secured sponsorship from Virginia Slims Chairman Joe Coleman. It was Larry who founded WomanSports magazine and who started the Women's Sports Foundation though. I do get it though, a very important issue was addressed, but it’s just a shame that it was done through a piece of fiction, rather than fact. However, I believe the message comes across. It’s a very enjoyable and very likable story that is remarkably well-balanced with no real villain or smugness. King is a phenomenal player and a remarkable activist who has done more for women's rights than most people release and Riggs was one of tennis’s greatest characters, a true ambassador for the game who brought it to the public and out of the private clubs. It’s a fascinating chapter in sport told well. Its just ever so let down by a sickly-sweetness and a few clichés too many. The performances however, are brilliant and go a long way for making up for any misgivings.
Now You See Me 2
Dir: Jon M. Chu
I’m not sure Now You See Me needed a sequel, Isla Fisher clearly thought the same, but it made money the first time round and that’s how Hollywood works. To be fair, Isla Fisher was pregnant at the time of filming so couldn’t commit but she hasn’t been asked back for Now You See Me 3, which just shows you that the film isn’t made out of love. The film isn’t an improvement on the first for various reasons, the main one being that we now know who the Four Horseman’s benefactor is – the big mystery of the original. The plot is almost exactly the same as the first except for who is pulling the strings but the big reveal won’t be a surprise to anyone, at least not those who are paying attention, something hard to do when the story is so horribly dull. I like magic but I don’t much like magicians. Now You See Me takes away all the skill of illusion and covers only that unique smugness that magic performers have. All of the magic in the film is CGI, which makes a huge chunk of the story almost redundant, indeed, the plot itself is an illusion. I like the cast but I hate the characters they portray. The smug arrogance actually suits Jesse Eisenberg, these films must be a walk in the park for him but I found Mark Ruffalo and certainly Woody Harrelson stooping to levels that are way beneath them. Dave Franco is okay and Lizzy Caplan was a nice addition to the cast but I thought it was rather lazy to have Michael Caine return as the main villain. However, the film’s biggest mistake was probably the inclusion of Daniel Radcliffe as the most unassuming bad guy ever in the history of bad guys. Sure, maybe the real villains of this day and age are people like the character Radcliffe portrays, that’s why James Bond is so rubbish these days, but seriously, he can’t act for toffee. Just because he starred in the lead role of one of the biggest (if not the biggest) franchises in the history of cinema, doesn’t mean he can act. In fact the opposite is true. I’m sure he’s a nice chap but seriously, he needs to step up, but then again he’s bankable, so he’s still working. I would hazard a guess that everyone who was in the first film was paid handsomely to return for the second, so many of them said they weren’t going to be in it, to later announce that they would. It’s not as if who would return was the talk of Hollywood, the first film received a luke-warm reception, frankly if you really liked it then you are easily pleased. Was money an issue this time round? Why else make Woody Harrelson play two characters (his original character and his twin brother)? I like Woody Harrelson a lot but the twin brother thing has been done to death – it’s not clever and it didn’t work here like it hasn’t worked in other films for a very long time. It felt like the likable actor was tasked with carrying the film somewhat and I wonder whether they knew Radcliffe as a bad guy was quite enough to seem quirky and fresh. If you’re serious about making a credible film, you don’t hire Jon M. Chu either. I’m not sure if I’ve made it clear but I thought very little of this sequel, if ever a film didn’t deserve a series then it is this one.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Under the Rainbow
Dir: Steve Rash
Nominated for two Razzie Awards, one for Worst Musical Score and Worst Supporting Actor, 1981’s Under the Rainbow failed miserably at the box office. Leading actors Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher both declared it at the time as the worst film either had ever worked on, as did many of the supporting actors. Audiences hated it and critics hated it. I on the other hand rather enjoyed it and I have to say I see it as more than a guilty pleasure, I think there is a lot to love about it. Chase had only been in a handful of films by then and Fisher had only been in four; Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Shampoo and The Blues Brothers – so yeah, it was the worst film out of those five – but both stars would go on to star in much worse films than this. The story is quite clever and the best kind of silly as it is based on a humourous rumour of real events. While filming The Wizard of Oz in 1938, the little people that played the Munchkins all stayed at the Culver Hotel where it is said – but unconfirmed – they partied hard, trashing the place and swinging from the chandeliers, full on success and champagne. The movie is actually filmed in what was the Culver Hotel and begins in the same way that Wizard of Oz does with all the main characters starting out in a refuge and hostel for a community of the destitute, homeless and unemployed somewhere in Kansas. A little person by the name of Diminutive Rollo Sweet enters the hostel (which is next to the bus station) with dreams of making it to Hollywood. He falls of the roof while trying to fix the television areal and his dream becomes the film. In the dream he fixes the areal and the announcer introduces a broadcast by the President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It speaks of Hitler's invasion of Germany's neighbors and the scene cuts to the Führer who is instructing his diminutive but aggressive secret agent Otto Kriegling on his latest mission. Otto is to go to California, to a certain hotel, to meet up with an agent of the Emperor from Tokyo, whom he will recognise because he will be Japanese and wearing a white suit. The latter will recognize Otto because of his height – he is 3 feet 9 inches tall. In addition, the Japanese agent will utter to Otto as a secret password "The pearl is in the river", which will prove he is the man to whom Otto must hand over a secret map of America's military defense system. Otto departs, confident that nothing can go wrong with these arrangements. However, when he arrives at the hotel, he is soon shocked to realise that the other guests are made up of one-hundred and fifty little people (all around 3 feet 9 inches tall), their studio assistant played by Carrie Fisher, and a Japanese Amateur Photography Society group who wear white suits as a form of uniform. Meanwhile, Bruce Thorpe (Chevy Chase) is there to meet an Austrian royal duke (Joseph Maher) who has enjoyed the protection of Inspector Collins of Scotland Yard. Thorpe is with the US Secret Service and is to continue personal protection for the Duke and Duchess. He quickly discovers that the Duke lives in permanent dread of assassination, although Thorpe tries to assure him that the likelihood of this being attempted in America is slight. To forestall this, the Duke continually dons a series of childish disguises. His other preoccupation in life is preserving his wife's companion, a dog which she calls Strudl. Fortunately the Duchess has extremely poor eyesight, but refuses to wear her spectacles, so that she believes that almost any dog of roughly the right size and coloring is her beloved pet. The Duke tells Thorpe that a dozen of these animals have already died in one way or another without her noticing and this continues throughout the film. It’s a comedy of errors and a beautifully inventive one in my opinion. Some of the jokes could be seen as offensive but personally I don’t see it and I don’t think you need a thick skin to see the funny side. Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher are brilliant opposite one another, and the supporting cast is strong. It’s the sort of the few silly comedies that I could watch with my parents and it really is beyond me how it has been so unfairly dismissed. The comedy performances are really tight and I thought the direction was good too, dreamlike as it was meant to be. Steve Rash made some ace films in the 80s, all underrated pleasures and even though this was one of the few films Fred Bauer and Pat Bradley wrote, its incredibly clever and one would have thought they would have been busy and in demand ever since. I think age has been kind to Under The Rainbow, it’s not perfect but it is full of charm and it made me laugh consistently. It made me like Chevy Chase again and love Carrie Fisher even more (if that is even possible). It is important to remember that the Razzies have nominated great films such as Cruising, The Jazz Singer and Saturn 3 in the past and nominated Stanley Kubrick as worst director for The Shining.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Alien: Covenant
Dir: Ridley Scott
The only thing worse than a prequel is a sequel of a prequel that is itself still a prequel. The conversation about whether Prometheus was or wasn’t a true Alien film got boring before the 2012 film was even in cinemas – it got even more tiresome after the film was released. To set the record straight, it was decided to call the film Alien: Covenant, but even though I was underwhelmed by the first film, I think Prometheus: Covenant would have been a more appropriate title. As it is it lack conviction and it tries to please everyone but pleases nobody. I hated the film within the first few seconds when I released that the trailer I saw (featuring James Franco as the captain of the new spaceship and crew) was essentially the first part of the film and not taken from what was seen in cinemas. So essentially, if you missed the trailer, then you missed the first few minutes of the film. That my friends, is a dick move. I had little enthusiasm for this film really, I guess I secretly hoped it would go back to being a mindless action film in the absence of any real intelligent writing, but the announcement that Danny McBride would play a main character shattered all interest. However, I was drawn in by the dream-like intro scene featuring Michael Fassbender’s David and Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland. Maybe there was more to the story then I first thought. A lot of what made the first Alien movies so successful is that the situation our protagonists found themselves in was so limited. There was a claustrophobic feel to the film that added that extra element of terror. However, they were horror films, Alien: Covenant is something else, with horror elements. Little time is spent in space or in a spaceship, the xenomorph is around killing people but it isn’t quite the alien we all know and it really isn’t the film’s main villain. Its original title: Alien: Paradise Lost, was probably rather more suitable, although I’m sure it would have confused many and maybe would have given away too much of the plot for others. The overall concept of the film is great, I just don’t think it was executed particularly well. After the initial intro scene, the main story begins eleven years after the events of Prometheus. It undoes a lot of what I hated about Prometheus throughout the film which was great for me but not great if you were a fan of the 2012 prequel. A huge colonization ship called Covenant is bound for a remote planet named Origae-6, with two thousand colonists in stasis and 1,140 human embryos aboard. The ship is monitored by Covenant’s own android Walter, a newer model that physically resembles David from Prometheus (also played by Michael Fassbinder). The crew awakes and soon realise that they have been taken out of status early. Origae-6 is still seven years away but a new habitable planet has been detected, so they are obliged to go and check it out. No points for guessing what they find there. There are a few pleasant surprises among the clichés however, with a reverse chest-burster (an alien popping out of someones back rather than their front) being my personal favorite. There is a lot of wandering around and not achieving anything by people who are supposedly very clever but there is also a much darker edge to the story. It moves away from the alien concept quite a bit in places which I still haven’t decided whether I like or not. I like that it tries something totally new but I also miss the hum of a desolate space ship. I like the whole ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ thing, rather than ‘Let’s check out this planet/oh no, lets get the hell off this planet’ scenario, and of course Ridley Scotts obsession with making everything look like a classical epic. There was always something biblical about the original alien films and the many scripts for Aliens and Alien 3 were amazing in what many writers/directors wanted to achieve, but now that Scott is exploring many of those ideas I’m not sure its what I would have chosen for the story. I think I just hate prequels. Its different and I like what they did with the character of David but I feel that there is still something not quite right about this new direction. Maybe they should have ditched all of the elements we recognise from the original alien films and should have started from scratch. Maybe they should have made a continuation of the story instead of a prequel. And maybe, just maybe, they should have just left the franchise alone. I’m still very much on the fence with this one.