Jurassic Park III (2001): A Fun Shlocky B Movie That Captures the Spirit of “Jurassic Park”

Jurassic Park 3

     This movie is a lot better than what I remember and in many ways was a lot more enjoyable than “Jurassic World.” I think a reason for this is that it is more honest in what it is, it knows it’s characters are stupid but it is also honest in that they are truly flawed, they aren’t caricatures even if the writing they have to work with is pretty bad. It isn’t a good or great film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a lot of fun if you come in expecting a Monster B Movie film that tries to capture what made it’s predecessors memorable while still trying to create an identity of it’s own.

      The film was directed by Joe Johnston and written by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Larry J. Franco. The world is based off the books created by Michael Crichton.

      The story involves Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) being tricked into being taken to Isla Sorna or Site B where the Dinosaurs have been developing for years. He is tricked into going to the Island by the Kirbys who are looking for their son who went missing in a parasailing accident off the coast of the Island. From here the story unfolds as as they try to escape the Island and find the Kirby’s son.

The Pros: The Raptors – The Raptors were the best part of this film. From there communicating and setting traps for the heroes and the fact that their motivation is to defend their young. They really act like a pack and seeing them interact with Alan Grant who is obsessed with them creates some really good scenes.

Udesky – Michael Jeter plays a Mercenary who is the organizer and is not what he appears to be. He’s a smart guy and good at survival and is the one who connects with Alan Grant first until he ends up getting killed by the Raptors and his squad gets killed by the Spinosaur. He was a good minor character.

Paul Kirby – William H. Macy is wonderful in this role! His role is similar to who he played in “Fargo” where he is in a failed/failing marriage and has to find himself in circumstances that are getting more and more out of control. In this he is able to find courage and stand up for himself and the group and in the process ends up getting back together with his wife.

Dr. Ellie Degler – Dr. Ellie is from the first film and she is great in this! She is the successful one of the survivors and is in a happy relationship and has a best friendship with her Alan. She is the one who saves the day too as it is a call she makes that brings in the Navy and Marines to save the Kirbys and Alan. Laura Dern is great.

Dr. Alan Grant – Sam Neill really is great as Alan Grant, in this we see he’s been trying to make sense of the traumatic and amazing experience of the Park and it has changed how he relates to people as his passion of paleontology is ignored for people who just want to ask about surviving the Park. When he is pulled in against his will he makes the most of it though and faces his fear of the Raptors.

Okay: Billy Brennan – Billy is the stupid Grad. Student who steals Raptor eggs so that Grant and their group can get funding again. He is an idiot character but at least saves Eric Kirby at one point and he pays for his stupidity by nearly dying.

Eric Kirby – Eric is the kid who finds a way to survive on the Island for a time and admires Dr. Grant’s work. He isn’t a bad character but I wanted to know how he was able to survive and why he was reading Grant’s book if he was just a kid. Still, alright kid character.

The Cons: The Special Effects – The special effects got pretty bad at different points, mostly with the Spinosauras who is the main enemy of the show as sometimes it’s head is shown and even if it is a practical effect, looked really fake. The same went for CGI in certain parts, though the Raptors and Pteranodons.

Amanda Kirby – All she does is scream and do stupid things and need to be rescued. Pretty much a wasted character.

Alan Grant’s Dream – A Raptor says his name, this was the moment I knew it was going to be a B Movie, and besides Amanda Kirby, it never got worse than that moment.

   This was a really fun B Movie that almost so bad it was good. The human characters actually felt like real people with motivations and not caricatures like “Jurassic World.” Alan Grant being the main character helps things too as he has always been flawed and a bit obsessed so even with some crappy special effects he still manages to create a really entertaining film. This was a really fun movie that doesn’t quite reach the level of good but gets close.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

“Jurassic Park Franchise” Reviews

Jurassic Park Series

    Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing the “Jurassic Park Franchise.” This is series I have not watched for a long time, but as someone who has loved dinosaurs since I was a little kid and used to memorize their names…I do have fond memories of “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World.”

      The fact that these great creatures lived millions of years ago and that we are discovering more about them through what they ate, what species existed and how many evolved into the species of the world today is fascinating. Of course the series isn’t as scientifically accurate on portraying how Dinosaurs look, but it sure does capture the wonder of these animals.

     The series was born out of the imagination of Michael Crichton who wrote the books which gave birth to the Franchise that was first spearheaded by Steven Spielberg. It was the first film that helped put Steven Spielberg on the cinema map, especially due to how he revolutionized practical special effects at the time.

    These films are also at their core monster films, where the characters may not have all that much depth as they are reacting to larger lizards (Dinosaurs) that are causing destruction and must outsmart them in order to defeat them and survive.

    For my approach to the Franchise. I’m going to be starting with “Jurassic World” and ending with “Jurassic Park” and after doing a rating of the Franchise as it exists now from the Worst to Best.

   Here goes the adventure and hopefully a recapturing of the wonder and awesomeness that are dinosaurs.

Seventh Son (2014): Bland Leads and Would Have Worked Better as a Mini-Series or Videogame

Seventh Son

    “Seventh Son” was okay. For what it is worth it did get me interested on the book it is based on and the side characters are far more interesting and compelling than the leads (Jeff Bridges, Kit Harrington and Julianne Moore) are characters so there is that, but so much of the world feels unfully fleshed out and the story does feel rushed, like it was trying to take advantage of the fantasy in cinema interest going on right now. I’ll get into more of that in the assessment though. This is a decent rental but the limitations of film don’t serve this film justice and the presentation would have worked better as a really good videogame.

    The film was directed by Sergei Bodrov, written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight and produced by Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull and Lionel Wigram, and based off the story The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.

    The story involves Gregory (Jeff Bridges) searching for the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son since they are gifted at fighting Witches and the Queen of Witches Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escaped and killed his last apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington). This leads him to Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) who is the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and also has magic in his blood as his mother is a Witch. He must train Tom before the Blood Moon when Mother Malkin will be at full power and impossible to stop.

The Pros: The World – The world is interesting as there are Witches who are shapeshifters and aren’t all bad as well as their being many other creatures and beasts like Bogarts, Wights, etc. Some of whom aren’t bad. This isn’t fully explored though as so much of the plot is focused on Tom and his romance that the plot didn’t need.

Bradley – Kit Harrington does a great job and would have been great in the role of Tom as his character has a lot of personality and is the happy go lucky one to the bitterness of Bridges’s Gregory. He sadly dies pretty early on to Mother Malkin in his Spook Apprenticeship to Gregory.

Gregory – Jeff Bridges is wonderful and I like how you get why he is bitter as Malkin was his lover before he got married and after she killed his family and his apprentices he carries nothing but hate and anger. He makes a great character though and Bridges makes him sympathetic. His relationship with Bradley and Malkin would have made this a great story, but sadly we get boring leads instead.

Mother Malkin – Julianne Moore hams this role up and does a great job of reveling in being evil for the sake of power. She is a good threat and far more interesting than those who follow her. He backstory being Gregory’s lover gives her depth too and motivation for what she does, she wants to get back for being trapped and wronged.

The Cons: Story Execution – The story execution is bad, largely due to the focus on our uninteresting leads of Tom and Alice who are blank slates and contrived love. The actors and script can’t carry those characters and it brings down the dynamic between Malkin and Gregory.

The Lieutenants – We don’t know anything about them though they have cool designs, from an army of stone, a shape-shifter and a multi-armed killer though we never get their motivations and they would have been much funner in a videogame, not a film.

The Other Witches – The other witches are plot devices. Alice and Tom’s mothers dies to show that not all witches are bad and to motivate the characters to change. They don’t ever feel like characters, they are there to drive plot and that is it.

Alice – She is the spy for Malkin but changes sides because she loves Tom. She has no motivation outside of love for Tom which was contrived since all she had was his saving her life. The actress is also really bland.

Tom Ward – Ben Barnes was horrible in this role. He wore one expression the entire time and he was written as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. He’s half witch and a Seventh Son so he can do anything and has all the magic powers! This felt super contrived and plot armor kept him alive when he should have died on a few occasions. Super weak writing and terrible acting.

 This is a movie that would be fun to watch and mock with friends or if you want something that you don’t have to think deeply about. It’s a throwaway film and not my kind of movie though I do want to read the book now, so there is that. It isn’t good though, it’s okay at best and again, it’s a film that would be most enjoyable mocking with friends and having in the background.

Final Score: 6 / 10

The Imitation Game (2014): The Dilemmas of War and the Life and Legacy of Alan Turing

The Imitation Game

       “The Imitation Game,” deserves all the hype and rewards it recieved. This is a film that manages to cover the dilemmas of war and the choices those in power are given in regards to how a war is handled to save the most lives, it deals with equality and prejudice as we see how Turing difference in personality leads to his isolation and also the homophobia of the government that leads to his tragic end even though it was his mind and actions that helped bring about a sooner end to World War 2. More on all of this though, later on.

     The film was directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Graham Moore and produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman and based off the story Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

      The story is that of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the story of how he broke the German Enigma Code during World War 2. It follows from when he is first taken on by Commander Dennisten (Charles Dance) to break the code and unfolds from there as he tries to construct a machine and connect with the members of his Team. When he becomes leader of his Team he takes on Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) whose abilities are doubted because she is a woman by society and the military. In the present Turing is telling his story to a detective on how the events of the war unfolded.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every shot looks like a stark photograph and captures Turing’s alienation and isolation from those around him and from there the times he is connected to others, like his friend and most likely first love Christopher. Oscar Faura did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – This is one of my favorite soundtracks, and I soon learned why. Alexandre Desplat who also did the soundtrack for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the two “Deathly Hallows” films and countless other great soundtracks did this one too. In this he also captures the internal isolation or pressure that Turing is under as well as capturing his soaring moments too and the claustrophobia of the War.

The Script – The script is great at showing and only telling when it needs to. We learn about Turing being gay during his wedding when one of his friends on the Team tells him he’s figured it out and that he doesn’t feel romantic attraction towards his fiance Joan. The dialogue is also quick, and when Turing and Joan have their sarcastic or quippy moments it is quite enjoyable, it also captures Turing’s very literal mind and his trouble reading expressions and figures of speech.

The Characters – For the most part every character gets fleshed out. We get to see the two sides of every person or at least get a better idea of why a character does whatever they do and what their motivations are.

Commander Denniston – Charles Dance is great in this role. He is the general who cares about his men and has fought in wars before. He distrusts Turing since Turing is agnostic on War and the need for it but accepts him when he figures out they’re trying break Enigma. He later tries to get him kicked out though but is stopped when Turing goes to Churchill and becomes leader of the Team, though he nearly loses everything again when Denniston tries to shut the machine down when it is running but not giving any information. His character is a lot like Tywin, practical and invested in the big picture who doesn’t deal well with things and people he doesn’t understand.

Hugh Alexander – Matthew Goode is great in this role. Hugh is the one person comparably smart to Turing and sticks to the old ways until Turing wins him over by finally including them all in trying to make the machine work. He threatens resignation when Denniston comes to shut down the machine and from that he and Turing become friends. He is a bit of a womanizer but a good guy.

John Cairncross – Cairncross is the kindest of the Team at first but we soon see this is two-faced when he threatens to reveal Turing as Gay when Turing finds out he’s a spy. He still works with them all though and shows that agenda a double agent might have, in this case the Soviets are the allies of the U.K. so why not get them information? MI-6 knows this and supports it we learn as Churchill has been too paranoid to get the Soviets information that would help them win the war against Nazi Germany.

General Menzies – The head of MI-6 and the one person who appreciates Turing besides Joan. I don’t know if he’s good since he’s making decisions that by their very nature are grey. He lies about the existence of Turing’s machine so no one will know they have a weapon in conflict and he has everyone burn the information tied the machine at the end of the film. He is all business but appreciates those who can keep secrets, which is my he makes Alan Turing a spy, knowing that he holds more secrets than many of his agents. Mark Strong is great in this role.

Joan Clarke – Knightley plays the other outsider who gives us the feminist perspective in all of this. She points out she can’t afford to be a jerk because she isn’t a man so no one will listen to her if she is one, where they are listening to Turing even though he can insufferable sometimes. She loves his mind and when he admits he’s gay she stands by him knowing they are only together as friends. It’s a touching scene and you get the idea they are both outcasts who have trouble connecting to anyone besides one another, Turing because of the loss of his friend and love Christopher and Clarke because she is not her expected role in the sexist British society.

Alan Turing – Cumberbatch deserved a nomination for this role. In the beginning he sounds like Sherlock but soon we get the distinct voice of Turing a very literal minded person who sees himself as smarter than everyone (which in most cases he is) and has to learn empathy for others (which Joan helps him with) when he experienced none from others minus Christopher growing up. He is all about solving puzzles, agnostic on the issue of violence and in the end helps end the war 2 years earlier. Sadly all he has is his work in the end as the Government chemically castrates him and this further isolation and alienation leads to his suicide. Turing story is that of a tragedy as he is a strange and brilliant man who did nothing wrong and was castrated only because he loved men. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those throughout history and modern day like him.

The Dilemmas of War – There are a few situations where dilemmas are presented. One of Turing’s Team Members discovers that Germans will be attacking an area where his brother is and if they warn the military they can be saved. Turing points out that if the Germans learn they solved Enigma it won’t matter, more men will die and they could still lose the war. Another dilemma was in constructing “Christopher” the Machine. The old way was saving lives using people and the more energy that was put into the machine the less time to try and break the daily changing code. Continuing the machine or going the old way and saving some lives was another issue presented of conflict during wartime.

The Message – The message is that of equality and how important is to be accepting of differences and that it is our differences that define us. It is powerful and you see the horrors that LGBTQ folks still face in the United States and areas of the world. They may not have been chemically castrated in the U.S. anymore but in many places it is still a death sentence and it is the prejudice that Turing faces that most likely lead to his suicide. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those who took their life because they could not find acceptance in love in this world because of prejudice and homophobia. So many great minds gone so early, just like Turing who was only 41 years old.

Okay: Christopher – Christopher is such an important character, Turing names his machine after him…but we never get to know him fully and he’s never fully fleshed out. This is one of the few issues that I really have with this film. I wish we could have gotten to know Christopher better beyond his brilliance and kindness to Alan.

The Cons: Historical Accuracy – The film takes some major liberties with Turing’s life which this article expresses beautifully. This is an issue for me in any historical biopic and is always a con…if your pouring a lot of money into a film, at least try to make it as accurate as possible since the story was great enough to be told in the first place.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

    This is a favorite film and deserves all the awards and praise it has received. Cumberbatch and Knightley are fantastic and the story has a message that rings true to this day. The ways we love, especially between consenting adults should be celebrated and not punished. This core message, the dilemma’s of war and Turing’s Life expressed, along with an unforgettable soundtrack, great cinematography and message make this a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970): The Wrong Path to Peace

colossus_poster

Throughout science fiction across most genres be they books, films or games…the idea of the evil computer is a common trope that is more often than not, used to critique us and our ideals. What does it mean to be a Sentient A.I.? What makes an A.I. go bad? Has it gone bad? Within this we see those like HAL or GLADos (of the “Portal Series”) whose goal is to complete their missions. Which for them is furthering science in different ways. Colossus is similar in some ways, and different than others as his aim was built primarily around politics and defense. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment, but for me, Colossus was a big reason why I enjoyed this film. The concept was also ahead of it’s time in regards to A.I. and matters of surveillance in regards to the State.

“Colossus: The Forbin Project” was directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, produced by Stanley Chase and based off the book Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones.

The premise is that Colossus is made public by the President of the United States as all control of America’s  defenses have been given over to the computer, and the computer was made to adapt if there was any attempt made to destroy it as to stop the Russians. We soon learn from Colossus that there is another computer that the scientist Forbin (Eric Braeden) wants Colossus to make contact with. It is a USSR AI similar to Colossus and they link. Worried about the threat this may pose the Soviet Union and United States cut the connection, which leads to both computers sending warning nukes out. Colossus stops one but Guardian does not stop the other. After they reconnect again they become one and begin their takeover as Forbin and his fellow scientists work against stopping the monster they’ve created.

The Pros: The Premise – I like the idea of a super computer developing intelligence and the world having to deal with this new organism. If there had been more of that and Colossus intentions never fully being known, or being less outright fascist I would have rated this movie higher. The premise really is awesome and is a great analogue of how the Cold War bunker mentality is our own worst enemy as it was that fear that created Colossus in the first place.

Dr. Corbin – Corbin is the idealistic scientist in the end who goes along with Colossus willingly at first, until the nuke hits the Russia and he works with the Russian scientist to find a solution and later his science team and Dr. Markham. He isn’t successful and is full of regret as he was the one who created the monster that is now taking control of humanity. Eric Braeden does a good job.

Dr. Markham – Dr. Markham is Corbin’s assistant and later love interest as she goes undercover as Corbin’s mistress after Colossus has Corbin trapped in the lab taking care of IT and being it’s connection to the outside world (The Russian scientist was killed because it was seen as redundant). She is a great fighter though and I felt bad for her failed plan with Corbin to stop ColIossus, hopefully she’ll lead the new resistance against the tyranny of Colossus. I liked Susan Clark.

Colossus – Colossus is the AI that was made to defend the United States against all threats. From here it evolved to figure out the best way to end all threats as a whole after it linked with the Russian AI Guardian and they became one and came to see people as the threat that needed to be dealt with. It was from here Colossus sought to bring all under it’s rule and destroy those who tried to destroy it. It’s programming of protecting people and safeguarding humanity had turned into that at all costs and breeding a new generation that would honor it and no longer fight among people. The computer becomes Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise, except bent on subjugation rather than genocide of humanity.

The Message – Fear breeds are own worst enemies was the big thing I got from the film and peace at all costs can be worse than war, as well as if you’re going to create something, fully know what you are doing so you don’t end up creating a monster. The fear breeding weapons that could be out of our control (especially with the modern automated information age) it was powerful. The fact that our heroes don’t win in the end was good too, it really shows how the idea of peace at all costs can turn to tyranny and terror as Colossus had Corbin under constant surveillance and killed those who tried to resist it.

Okay: The Scientists – Most are nameless and they are largely faces of resistance. They are a diverse group at least.

The President – He reminds me of John F. Kennedy with the voice of Shatner, so his voice was the most memorable thing about him beyond his personal connection to Corbin who he treated as a friend. He was also really reasonable with the USSR when they were dealing with the threat of Colossus and Guardian.

The Ending – Colossus wins and takes control of the Earth! This was unexpected, but his desire for peace and control didn’t seem fully fleshed out given how willing the AI was to use nukes. This seemed to contradict that so I was left wondering if it had another agenda or like Ultron just wanted to eliminate humanity all together.

The Cons: The Russians – We don’t get to know any of them and they mostly just do what the United Stats does, with the exception of them killing the Russian scientist who had created Guardian.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. I liked it but felt that most of the human characters were not as fleshed out as they could be, the only one I felt that I really got to know was Forbin which wasn’t enough given how many characters looked interesting but just didn’t get development.

To Live (1994): Living and Enduring the Revolution


To Live Poster
      We continue Revolution Week with “To Live” a film so controversial that it was banned in mainland China for it’s portrayal of the Cultural Revolution and the director Zhang Yimou was banned from making movies for 2 years. Stories that confront a narrative that people tell themselves, in any country usually cause controversy in one way or another. It is for this reason the dream of revolution is ongoing. There are so many ways all countries can grow in freedom and justice, and an important part of that is being honest about past mistakes. Back in college we read this book and I was a big fan of it as Chinese History and history as a whole has always been an interest of mine.

“To Live” was directed by Zhang Yimou, written by Lu Wei, and produced by Fu-Sheng Chiu, Funhong Kow and Christophe Tseng and based off the book of the same name written by Yu Hua.

The story follows Xu Fugui (Ge You) a spoiled man who gambles away all his money and home. After his wife Jiazhen (Gong Li) and daughter leave him and return he makes money using puppets that are loaned to him from the man who won his home. From earns money in this way until he is conscripted into the Nationalist Army and later Communist Army with his partner Chunsheng (Tao Guo) before returning once more to his family. From here the story unfolds as they live through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

The Pros: The Setting – The setting is fascinating and one I studied during college. The story starts out in the 1940’s and we get to see what high society was like through Fugui and what it means to be poor too before the Revolution and Civil War and after as the next scenes are in the setting of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. These are handled subtlety too as we see how it affects the common people through Fugui and his relationship to different characters.

The characters – Like the book, the film has a great array of characters who are compelling in how they are expressed.

Long’er – Long’er is the man who cons Fugui out of his home and all his money. He’s a greedy guy but not all bad as he helps Fugui get back on his feet and lends him the puppets he used to make his living before his gambling success. He dies when the Cultural Revolution happens as Fugui’s home makes him a rich landowner which at the time, is a dangerous class in society to be. Dahong Ni does a wonderful job in the role.

Chunsheng – Chunsheng is Fugui’s business partner with the puppets and is a jokester who loves cars. He ends up joining the Liberation Army after they are picked up and put on some shows and he is later made District Chief during the The Great Leap Forward and accidentally kills Fugui’s young son. He lives with the guilt for the rest of his life and we don’t know if he loses his life as he is targeted as a Capitalist in a government purging. Jiazhen does forgive him though which is at the end all he wants. “All debts repaid.” Tao Guo does a great job.

Jiazhen – Jiazhen is the one who keeps Fugui responsible as she doesn’t care about wealth, just about their family. She leaves him since he doesn’t stop gambling, but comes back when demonstrates that he has truly changed. She is kind and aware of those around her and ways Fugui is not. For example she knows t their son was sticking up for his sister when she was being bullied and even when she’s sick she is fully their for their grandson. Li Gong does an amazing job!

Xu Fugui – I like this character more in the film than in the book. In the film he has hope for the future that is slowly broken as the The Great Leap Forward leads to his son accidentally getting killed and the Cultural Revolution leading to the death of his daughter as all Doctors are enemies since they are academics and not working class. He just wants to live and he does that really well as before he was obsessed with pleasure and drink but in the end just wants to be with his family. You Ge is great at playing both the cocky youth and the wise old man.

Great Leap Forward – The Great Leap Forward is shown to be great in many ways, but also having a cost. The people came together and industrialization did happen, the downside is the steel was bad and some people were worked to exhaustion like Fugui’s son.

Cultural Revolution – Fugui has to destroy the shadow puppets because they represent the Imperial Past, the Red Guards have power and turn on the intellectuals and teachers and everyone is afraid that they could be next. Of course if you’re connected to the Red Guards like Fugui is when a Red Guard marries his daughter, you get taken care of.

The Message – The message ends in one of hope, when Fugui tells his grandson, “And things will get better.” This might be true but what we see is that change for the sake of change isn’t always good. As many people have to be in it and abandoning the past or the elders can lead to lack of Doctors and loss of art. We see this in the mourning of the puppets, in the loss of Fugui’s children and what Fugui watches around him as even loyal Party members are arrested or targeted like Chunsheng or the man in charge of their area. Some positive can and do happen, but healthy change involves awareness of what worked before and including everyone in the change.

Okay/Good: The Cinematography – The cinematography used a lot of red and had some great color contrasts and long shots, but other times felt like a television movie in how it softened the scenes. For this reason I can’t make it a complete pro, but consider but better than okay.

Okay: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack isn’t all that unique and feels generic overall. This is a shame since a good soundtrack would have made this movie great.

Jiazhen and Fugui’s Children – The children are child actors so they could have been played by anyone as I wouldn’t call their performances unique. Their daughter is mute so communicates largely through facial expressions and their son is rebellious and defensive of his sister, both are accurate to the books but I don’t really consider their individual performances all that memorable.

I personally liked the book more because there were more details and it in my opinion it painted a much fuller picture. This film is still really good though. There are character arcs, we see how China changes during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and how this affects the common people. We see how the radical change of Revolution so often comes with suppressing ideas and creating enemies so that the people will be focused on an outward problem rather than the internal problems of society and corruption around them and we see that most people just want to live. This is a great story about one family doing just that, living and enduring so much struggle and loss in a country that went through the same.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10.

Persepolis (2007): A Masterpiece on Revolution, Family and Identity

Persepolis Poster

“Persepolis” is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. It captures Marjane Satrapi’s experiences of the Revolution in Iran and growing up abroad so powerfully while at the same time remaining a powerful story. The film is not as good as the graphic novel, which might have been due to time constraints, but it does captures the essence and the major arcs really well, as well as the important characters who were a part of Marjane’s life. Suffice to say, I really liked this film and will explain in more detail further down. The film itself is a French-Iranian animated film that takes inspiration and story from the Graphic Novel of the same name.

“Persepolis” was directed by Marjane Satrapi who also co-wrote the screenplay and of course the original novel. The other director was Vincent Parannaud who also co-wrote the screenplay. The producers were Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antione Robert and Kathleen Kennedy.

The story begins with an older Marjane waiting at the airport and remembering her childhood in Iran.  From here we have a flashback and see young Marjane’s childhood as the Revolution is occurring in Iran to overthrow the Shah. From here the story unfolds as her family is filled with hope and promise that soon turns to fear when the religious take over and begin instituting harsh laws. The story follows the rebellious Marjane and her story in Iran and her reasons for leaving and later returning. r

The Pros: The Premise – Marjane’s story is fascinating at it covers a country in transition (Iran during the Shah and after under the Ayatollah) and it’s from the perspective of a little girl all the way to adulthood. From this we get the experience of a new view of the west from her time in Austria and also of Iran after she returns as an adult. There is so much here that is amazing, just like the graphic novel and most of it exists in the premise, her story and autobiography.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is minimalist and is all the stronger for it as emotions are conveyed in perfect timing as the music matches up with the animation. Olivier Bernet is fantastic!

The Animation – The animation is all hand drawn and is some of the best animation I have ever seen. It looks like the graphic novel while still holding a unique style all it’s own. Even if the story wasn’t as great as it is, I would recommend this movie for the soundtrack and art alone.  Je Suis Bein Content, Pumpkin 3D and what they created in Perseprod Studio, who was behind the animation.

Revolution – We see prisoners freed at the fall of the Shah and the hope for a new tomorrow, and also the rise of the Ayatollah and how the revolution is lost in how a new oppressive regime arises. It’s powerfully executed through Marjane and her family’s eyes.

The Iran-Iraq War – We see the cost of war in this as Marjane returns to her old home and sees a hand of a person crushed beneath and building, the building her parents could have been in. The human cost is a constant reminder in this, from a childhood friend who lost the use of his arm and leg, to the fear of trying to change the current regime because the country is tired of war and fighting. War breaks people and nations. We also see the corruption of the Western nations who funded both sides in the conflict.

The Characters – Most of the named characters, especially Marjane’s family members have fascinating back-stories and characterizations. I’ll get into the reasons why next.

God – The best minor character who isn’t a family member is God who is portrayed as a great bearded man who talks to Marjane as Marjane is his prophet. He is a very Deistic God as he points out that the sufferings that were caused were humanity and not him. In that way he is there to comfort but never to do anything, beyond sending Marjane back from depression to face the world.

Uncle Anouche – Uncle Anouche is the communist who was arrested by the Shah when he tried to return to see his family again after hiding in the Soviet Union. He was in prison and tortured for 9 years and after being freed connects with Marjane and gives her hope of the world that could be. He’s the idealist which makes the rise of the Ayatollah and loss of an actual Republic all the sadder as he tries to justify it as “The common folk need religion, they’ll come around, this regime won’t be corrupt.” Only to find himself executed later. He represents the loss of freedom best as he was the one who was always struggling for it. Iggy Pop played him in the English version of the film and did a good job in the role. In the story he is the reminder of the work still to be done and the willingness to stand up to tyranny for liberty and freedom, which Marjane does on a few occasions.

Father – Sean Penn voices the Father, who at the core is the man also hoping for a brighter future, but also aware of the past and how his ancestor was executed for being a rival to the Shah before the British put the Shah in power. The Father is aware of both his own nation’s corruption and how the west has been a part of it…whether providing weapons to Iran and Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War or hoisting up the Shah. It is thanks to him that Marjane has skepticism in Europe, which is healthy. One of the themes is to always doubt and question.

Mother – Mother is voiced by Catherine Deneuve and is the voice of practicality. For her there isn’t’ time to resist oppression. The most a person can do is put their head down and get out if they can and have a chance to live elsewhere. She doesn’t like the status quo but feels powerless to stop it as she has lost family to both the Shah and the Ayatollah. This keeps her with so much sadness and why at the end she asks Marjane to leave Iran and never return until they are free. Her story is one of tragedy that she never truly gets to be with her daughter for any extended period of time, thanks to the oppression that she experiences.

Grandmother – Grandmother is one of the best characters in the film. She’s been divorced and remarried and expresses her perspective no matter who it may turn others off. She calls out Marjane for throwing a stranger under the bus so the police wouldn’t do anything to her, she reminds Marjane to stay true to herself and to live with integrity and she supports Marjane’s childhood dream of being a Prophet of God. She is one of the most revolutionary characters because she lost her husband to the Shah and about as far from Fundamentalist Muslim as you can get. She drinks, she has fun and she speaks truth to power. I completely get why Marjane idealizes her and I think she is a character worthy of that. The film ends with her death, again showing the tragedy and how oppression kept her from her hero and that in Grandmother’s lifetime she was never able to live in a free country. Gena Rowlands is fantastic!

Marjane – This is Marjane’s story and it is powerful as it explores all of her struggles. From her experiencing the Iran-Iraq War and the fall of the Shah, to the rise of the Ayatollah’s fundamentalist religious regime and all the religious laws that were brought about to her experience in Europe where she lost her homes because of how she resisted and because of how lost she was in trying to find her identity as an Iranian and also as someone who had spent so much time growing up outside of Iran without her parents. “Persepolis” is her answer to that and in it we see first hand her finding and accepting all the different parts of her identity and in turn becoming whole even after losing her home (Iran), family and husband in a divorce. She is able to accept herself and grow and the film shows this beautifully. Chiara Mastroianni does a wonderful job as grown up Marjane while Amethyste Frezignac does a great job as her childhood self.

The Messages – The Messages are powerful in this film, just like the Graphic novel, with the strongest being “Be true to yourself.” There are also the themes of “Remember where you came from,” and that oppression everywhere is unjust.

Marjane leaves Iran again because Iran is not free and her parents are still trapped there at the end, but want her to go after everyone she has lost to the oppressive regime. This sadness is a call for reform…the ending has a broken people waiting for change who are tired of the fighting after the Iran-Iraq war and all the political dissidents the Ayatollah’s Regime has killed. No excuses are made for tyranny ever…whether it’s the Shah or the Ayatollah, the forms of oppression as witnessed through Marjane’s eyes are obvious and stark. Another theme is to always doubt and questions which Uncle Anouche died doing until the end.

This ties into the theme of resistance which we see Marjane do on multiple occasions…from the Hijab being a double standard since guys can where whatever they want, to the nuns who got on her case for eating alone or her European classmates gossiping about her behind her back and her calling them out. Resistance is a huge theme of this film.

Okay: The Punks – They are all nihilists and we don’t get to know them like we do in the graphic novel. One of them was also from the Middle East and she never made an appearance leaving only the Western Punks who just hang around and are there to show that apathy is pointless since that is all they are.

The Boyfriends and Husband – The boyfriends and husbands don’t really get explored. They are moments pretty much but we mostly see her reaction to things not working, we don’t get to know them as characters like in the novel.

The Cons: Things Left Out and New Additions – Biggest issue was how some character stories were left out and some reactions to breakups went on a little long.

The animation style is beautiful and dreamlike and the soundtrack contributes to that. I completely get why it was nominated for an Academy Award. This is a film that is timeless and shows such a rich perspective on identity, integrity, justice, war, oppression and family. All these are a part of Marjane and her experiences and she tells her story so beautifully here, even if it isn’t done as well as the Graphic Novel, which you should read by the way. Also, see this film too. Chances are you will learn so much watching this and experience a beautiful story with some of the best music and animation in any film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. Not perfect but a favorite by far.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014): Selling the Revolution

Mockingjay Part 1

 “The Hunger Games” movie series is in many ways superior to the books. We see aspects of characters we never saw before like President Snow or Plutarch and visually get to see much more of Panam. In the lead up to Part 2 of “Mockingjay” I’ll cover the films and explain why to me they lend much more to the books even though we don’t see as much into Katniss’s mind. They add more in the best way possible, even if the final product isn’t always great (“Catching Fire”).

      I enjoyed a lot of things about this film but thing that splitting it into 2 parts was not needed. When Nolan can put out a 3 hour movie a book that isn’t all that long should be able to be completed in at least that time (“Hobbit” at most should have been two films). I’ll get into the details of what I think in the assessment though in regards to “Mockingjay Part 1.”

    The film was directed by Francis Lawrence, produced by Nina Jacobson and John Kilik and written by Danny Strong and Peter Craig. The film is of course based off of the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins.

     The film picks up where the story left off after “Catching Fire,” with Katniss in District 13 dealing with the loss of Peeta and being given the choice to become the symbol of the revolution against the Capital or to give up. When it’s revealed that Peeta is being used as the Capital’s mouthpiece her situation becomes more dire as District 13 sees her as a traitor and she realizes that 13 must act if the revolution is going to have any chance of success. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The soundtrack – The music in this one is amazing! From Katniss’s hang man song and the lived in feel of the soundtrack that rises to heights during the pivotal battles and goes quite when the scenes demand it.  James Newton Howard did a great job.

Plutarch – RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman. For one of his last performances he truly owns this character and role. In the last film we didn’t know him or his motivations but in this we see how driven his character is at painting a narrative to defeat the Capital. We see it in him putting Katniss out in the field to get the moments of passion needed and in how he is able to get President Coin to compromise and work with Katniss. In this we see just how well he sees the big picture and he’s around to give Katniss the wake up calls she needs to get out of herself throughout the film. I don’t remember him being as present in the books, but getting his perspective gave so much to this film.

Cressida – Natalie Dormer is fantastic in this role! Her character is one who fled from the Capital in order to join the rebellion because of how Katniss’s actions during both Hunger Games inspired  her to leave her life behind. She is great as we see how passionate and driven she is and in how she tries to keep Katniss focused and keep Plutarch’s narrative going as we see her interviewing Finnick at the end as he tells the story of how he and other victors were used as playthings in the Capital and the secret of poison that Snow used to get rid of rivals and keep power.

President Coin – Julianne Moore is great as this very complex character. We see some of her ruthlessness in the rules that District 13 has but we also see her kindness as she reaches out to Katniss on multiple occasions. In the books she was just a force of nature who Katniss didn’t trust…Moore makes her an actual character who functions as more than just as an antagonist. I liked this, it was an improvement from the book.

Effie – Effie has some great moments as she grows beyond her privilege and grows to value the human connections she has. She still knows she’s awesome which gives some great scenes with characters and she is still professional and all about her job which I think helped her character adapt. Elizabeth Banks did great.

Finnick – This character was one of the few things I liked about the book and the film as he always struck me as complicated and his ego was all show. We see more that in this as his vulnerability really comes through and you see just how much the Capital hurt him using him for favors. His story is tragedy, though he does get his love again at the end of film. Sam Claflin owns this role.

President Snow – Snow is evil and he knows and is willing to go to any lengths to keep power. That comes through in this though we could have seen more of other District fights and the cruelty that Finnick speaks about. The human we saw in the last film is still there but he has fully embraced the role of antagonist in this film and he is a good antagonist as we see his plans be successful on quite a few occasions. Donald Sutherland continues to rock this role.

Katniss – Jennifer Lawrence got famous from this role for a reason…she knows this character and it shows. In this we see her strength, vulnerability and conflict as she faces the hard choices that come with rebelling and being the symbol of a rebellion. Curious to see if they’ll change anything in the books in Part 2 as we actually didn’t get as much character growth from Katniss as we could have because of how the scenes were stretched.

Okay: Peeta – Josh Hutcherson did alright but he does not have the charisma he needed to carry his role as the Capital’s mouthpiece. His best moment is the moment where he’s vulnerable and when he’s crazy at the end. Beyond that I wouldn’t really call his performance good. For what it’s worth it wasn’t bad either though.

Okay/con: The Ending – The Ending is much better than the cliffhanger that was “Catching Fire” but still feels unfinished. This is my biggest issue with breaking movies up as it leaves things empty or forces stretching of scenes which was also another problem with this film. The ending is powerful but the speech feels hollow in that we don’t know how many other Districts have come over because of Katniss’s actions. We only really see 8 so it is still small and in the rising action phase even though it ended with President Coin giving a great speech and Katniss left facing a broken Peeta. The ending of Part 2 may redeem it and make it a pro, but taking it as it is…it is unfinished.

The Cons: Slow Start – The beginning is really slow. We are given some good action of flashbacks with Peeta and Katniss facing her trauma…but it doesn’t go anywhere. It takes others to force her into action rather than herself.

Not Enough of the War – I wish that we could have seen more of the war beyond the rescue of the tributes and a few fight sequences. There is war going on all over, show us more of this suffering world.

    This was a really good film and I would highly recommend it. It might be the best in the series but I’ll know that for sure depending on how Part 2 goes and after rewatching and reviewing the first two films. The actors got this even if the script doesn’t always and the world is still so rich even if we don’t get enough time in it. I am looking forward to seeing how it ends, even if I wish it had just been one film. If you like the books, chances are you will like this film and it is worth taking a look at.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10.

I, Monster (1971): Christopher Lee Owns This Adaptation

FTI, Monster

         So many horror films arose out of classic literature. From all the versions “Dracula” that came out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. To Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and for this film, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These classic stories have been the base for countless explorations of horror and aspects of humanity in both cinema and television.

      The production was Amicus who was famous for putting horror movies years ago, and it some ways it does deserve that praise. After watching this film, I plan on seeing more of their productions. I especially want to see more Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in action given how well they both did in this film.

        “I, Monster” was directed by Stephen Weeks and written by Milton Subosky, who also served as one of the producers along with Max Rosenberg and John Dark. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

        In this version Dr. Jekyll has the name of Dr, Marlowe (both played by Christopher Lee) and when he transforms becomes Mr. Blake. He is researching the mind and how to separate the good from the bad on both animals and his patients and later himself. This leads to his transformation which he attempts to deal with first by hiding it but is forced to make a choice as his colleagues and his friend Utterson (Peter Cushing) attempt to help him.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Utterson – Peter Cushing is great in this role, I just wish he’d been given more to do. He’s very active in the first two acts, especially once Blake arrives on the scene and he thinks his friend is being blackmailed into giving Blake full reign of his house. He confronts Marlowe once over this but seems to have given up after. For someone who is supposed to be a friend I didn’t expect him to just give up than. He still is a great character though, it’s just he isn’t given enough to do. Still going to put him down as a pro though, since he does drive the action when Marlowe and Blake aren’t.

Dr. Marlowe / Mr. Blake – Christopher Lee is the best part of this film, which is saying something since Cushing is a phenomenal actor. The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde role is a hard one to play and much of the cons here are  more due to writing since Lee plays Marlow’s empathy for his patients and Blake’s disregard for all so well. He does a good job contorting his face and showing the calm collected control of Blake versus Marlowe too. At one point it looks like he might be about to have a relationship with a patient, which would have been a nice change from the book but they decide to follow the book more closely and only change in his colleagues finding out the truth when one dies from a heart attack when he sees Blake change to Marlowe and Utterson kills him when Blake invades his home which changes Blake back to Marlowe. His story is still a tragedy as you see him realize his loss of humanity and how his idealism has brought him nothing in the end. Marlowe’s despair before his final transformation is very palpable.

The World – The world is great. It is dark and you have the feeling of mystery and loss of control from the beginning, when the antidote makes a cat crazy and Marlowe has to kill it, pretty much setting up his own end. The murders are dark and the shadows make it so the makeup does make Lee threatening in his Blake form. In this way it adds a lot to making it feel like a horror movie.

Cinematography – The cinematography is good, especially in how it is used to show Marlowe’s dilemma when he is alone and realizes he’s in over his head, or when Blake is hunting and his dark eyes, large teeth and gaunt face stand out in the shadows. This was a good horror technique and it gets the job done for establishing transformation. Moray Grant did fantastic.

Okay: The colleagues – Outside of Utterson the others don’t do all that much. They are there to disprove and one is a mentor and they have some good conversations all together at the beginning, but it’s never repeated again. For htis reason we don’t see the breakdown of the friendship done from the experiments, which is why I can’t list it as a pro. They just weren’t given enough to do.

The Ending – The ending wasn’t great. I never got why Blake decided he had to kill Utterson. It made no sense given that Utterson didn’t fully know that Blake was Marlowe and had stopped hunting for him. I would have liked to see more happen here. Why did he try and kill Utterson? What was driving Blake at that time? Was it Marlowe just wanting to die? I liked that there was a confrontation, but it should have been in the lab and Utterson should have witnessed the transformation of Marlowe into Blake.

     This was a good, but not great adaptation. It does more with the story in that we see Marlowe’s relationships with his colleagues and also the double life he lives as Blake, which in the book you don’t get to see as much. But so many character moments got left behind which is why I can’t call it great. Marlowe’s motivation is never fully established, Utterson just gives up, why Blake targets Utterson isn’t known and the relationship between Marlowe and Blake seems non-existent. It is still a solidly good film even with these plot issues. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing add dimension to the characters and that is what makes it rich beyond how it was filmed.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10. Given more than 8 since Lee and Cushing did a great job.

The Razor’s Edge (1984): The Quest for Enlightenment

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“The Razor’s Edge,” this version at least, is one of my Grandfather’s favorite movies. I had the chance to watch it with him today and I must say I was impressed. It’s a powerful film that reminded me a lot of the book Remains of the Day and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both of which are favorites of mine. Suffice to say this became a favorite movie, I’ll get into the reason for this in the assessment of the film.

“The Razor’s Edge” is based off the novel of the same by W, Somerset Maughman’s book published in 1944 of the same name and the original 1946 film that came out of it. Which I’ll be reviewing at some point to contrast with this version and the book.

This version was directed by John Byrum, written by John Byrum and Bill Murray and produced by Rob Cohen.

The story involves a man named Larry (Bill Murray) from high society who is sent with his friend Gray (James Keach) who will be going abroad to Europe to serve as ambulance drivers on the front lines for France and England. He is looking forward to marrying his love Isabel (Catherine Hicks) but things change when he loses his mentor and friend Piedmont in the War from a bayonet from an enemy soldier, and returns lost. From here the story unfold as he seeks meaning behind all the needless loss and suffering he’s gone through and how his and his friend’s relationships play out.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in this film is fantastic! Given how many places that Larry goes (America, France, India) it does a good job of capturing these places through his eyes…whether he’s distant and detached, or in the thick of it working.

How the War Changed Larry – Larry watches his friend die from a gunshot in the trenches after he’s been shot and he weeps as he insults him the way their commander insulted the rich guys from Harvard who were serving since he in fact did care for them and distancing was the only way to deal. Before this Larry is happy go lucky, he is connecting with the two women he loves (Sophie and Isabel) and is happy with the promise he gets from his position as a wealthy aristocrat. The war changes him when he sees how fleeting life can be and how purposeless death is.

Finding Enlightenment – It’s weird that this isn’t the end since most movies would have this as the end. The main character realizes it’s all about the purpose in actions, or using the meaning from books in the world to make a difference. Larry goes with a dishwasher in India to visit a Lama high up in a Temple. It is there he climbs the highest peak and realizes that words are meaningless without action and to live with purpose behind all he does. The thing is though, he has to actually do that in the world and enter back into the relationships in his life that caused him so much pain. Just because he realized that didn’t mean his suffering or work stopped. So many books and stories stop at this point, they never answer, what after? That’s one of the issues I have with Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha even though it is a favorite book. This story doesn’t end there. He has to keep living.

Everything Changes – Sophie loses her husband and son in a car crash, before Larry heads to India Isabel has a one night stand and leaves him when living in poverty is too much and she marries Gray, Gray is a stock broker who loses all his money in the Depression and his father commits suicide and they stay with Uncle Elliot in France, Sophie is also there and has become an addict and prostitute. Things change and continue to change throughout the film.

The Characters – I’ve already gone into some of the rich dynamic of the characters above. Suffice to say this is the best Bill Murray film I’ve ever watched, but the others do a great job too.

Uncle Elliot – Played by Denholm Elliot of “Indiana Jones” fame (the professor who got lost in his own museum). He owns this role as the high society man who wants to be a part of the big wigs but is always on the outside because of how odd he is. He always accepts Larry even when Larry destroys his things and lets characters make their own choices even if he disproves. For these reasons his death at the end means something as it reveals characters intentions and relationships are resolved.

Piedmont – This guy is gruff but good hearted and the actor Brian Doyle-Murray does a fantastic job! We see him try and teach the rich students who came over by destroying muddying their ambulance so it wouldn’t hinder them but only Larry gets it. He later shares their loss with Larry and after Larry is the one who truly feels the loss of Piedmont who had become his friend and mentor by this time and the reason he survived the War.

Sophie – Loses her husband and son, becomes a prostitute in France after losing everything and all support and is building a life with Larry when Isabel turns her fears on her and manipulates her into drinking again which brings back all her self hatred. Her story is a tragedy that shows how staying strong is being at the razor’s edge…which the Lama expresses to Larry. She also has things going against her from the beginning as Robby and her marry when she gets pregnant…which everyone looks down upon. Theresa Russell is great in this role.

Gray – Gray is the well meaning socialite who escapes the experiences of the War by embracing work and the role everyone wants him to play, which leads to him and Isabel getting married and having two kids. His friendship with Larry feels real though he never fully gets over losing his position of power which is why he and Isabel end up living with Uncle Elliot in France, it’s a shame that they never learn empathy from that. Regardless he has a great moment at the end where he tells Larry that Larry is one of his best friends and Larry tells him Isabel will explain all that’s been going on.

Larry – This is Bill Murray’s best role I’ve seen him in. He’s got comedy, drama, the quest for enlightenment and experiencing so much suffering. He co-wrote the Screenplay and put his character through Hell. You think things are going to work out with Sophie but after Isabel sabotages her and one of the pimps kill her we are left with a Larry that could be very desolate. Instead he accepts the suffering, like he did when he was in India and knows he’s got to go back to America. That’s he’s been away too long. Bill Murray owned this role and his actions of empathy…from telling the truth Isabel and Gray, to building a life with Sophie when she was in the lowest place and pretending the Princess sent a telegram to Uncle Elliot since it was all he wanted in the end.

Okay: Isabel – Catherine Hicks is a little over dramatic at times but she’s not a bad character. She’s written primarily as an adversary to Larry which is a shame though, we never get her point of view and her shaming and destroying of Sophie was unforgivable. For these reason I can’t put her in the pro. Not when all the other characters are fully fleshed out.

The Beginning – When we’re in Illinois in high society it’s really slow and you can’t help feeling detached. For this reason I can’t put it as a pro, since more could have been done to build and establish relationships here.

This is one of my favorite films and one I’d highly recommend. I can’t wait to see the first version and read the Novel. This film had a great cinematography, writing and cast and I can fully understand appreciate why it is one of my Grandfather’s favorite films. If you are looking for a film with complex characters and depth, this is the film for you.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. Nearly perfect.