Archive | April 2014

August: Osage County (2013)

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August: Osage County

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by John Wells

Starring Meryl Streep as Violet Weston

Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston

Margo Martindale as Mattie Fay Weston

Chris Cooper as Charlie Aiken

Imdb Link

THIS REVIEW HAS SOME SPOILERS, READ CAREFULLY

After an unfortunate tragedy, the three daughters of the Weston family all come home to help their mother Violet (Meryl Streep).  Violet is a pill popping, verbally abusive, witch of a woman who makes everyone around her unhappy.  Her daughters have each been damaged by her in some way, and over their visit, each of their lives begins to fall apart.

I watched this a day after my family did, and after hearing each of them proclaim their hatred for the film, my expectations were greatly lowered.  I was not expecting much out of it.  Which is why I’m so surprised that I find this to be so god damn spectacular.  August: Osage County is an incredibly well acted, and well written film.  Based on a pulitzer prize winning play, this was bound to be a very theatrical film, which it was.  It wasn’t very spectacular in aspects of direction, or any film making techniques, but as a pure script, and as pure acting talent, it was brilliant.  I’ll start by saying that the cast, as an ensemble, is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.  Every cast member performs at their best.  I think the only one in the cast that I didn’t enjoy watching was Abigail Breslin, and even she had her moments.  The ones leading the film though, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts, made everyone else in this amazing cast look like amateurs.  Streep and Roberts spit acid back and forth at each other, as they scream, shout, and act their asses off.  Streep plays a wicked old woman, and Roberts plays her daughter who is slowly becoming her.  They both give incredibly intense, and deep performances, and both very much deserved their Oscar nominations. I actually can’t believe some people think that Streep only got the nod because she is Meryl Streep.  She completely deserved it.  What a fantastic performance.  Next, we have the writing.  I need to read the play, as I think this would work even better on stage, but I found the themes in August: Osage County to be enough for me to love the writing.  My take on the story is that it shows how our parents can influence our lives by the way they treat us.  We have two wicked old ladies, who were treated like shit by their parents, and who treat their kids awfully.  That’s the first layer of my theory, they treat their children as they were treated.  Like dirt.  The next thing I noticed is how each of the Weston girls has her own way of coping with how their mother has treated them.  Each of them has grown up dealing with the parental issue a different way.  Ivy has serious trust issues.  She has trouble opening up emotionally to people, and has trouble letting people in.  She feels so unsafe around people that she ends up falling for her cousin, the only man she feels safe with.  Then there’s Karen.  Who feels incredibly empty and lonely, and who throws herself at every man she meets.  Even when discovering that her fiancée is a pedophile, and a complete and total douchebag, she stays with him.  Because she feels that it’s better for her to be unhappy with someone than lonely without.  She has also been damaged by her mother in that way.  And finally, we have Barbara, an illustration of the quote “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.  Barbara, instead of shrinking down like her sisters have, slowly becomes her mother.  She’s depressed, abusive, and a horrible person to be around.  The one scene that shows just how much Barbara is turning into Violet, the fish scene, Violet and Barbara both yell and curse at Ivy, they wear the same clothes, and they both have the same cynicism.  This is the theme of the film, individual dysfunctionality stems from the dysfunctionality of those around you.  Like parents.  Next, I have to say that god damn I loved the dialogue as well.  It was so damn dark, but so funny.  Not in a laugh out loud type of way, more of a “that was strange” way.  I found the film very amusing, but never laughed out loud.  Personally, the only thing that holds me back from giving this film a perfect score is that I don’t find it to be something I could watch over and over again.  I also don’t think there was anything special about it’s film making, and my first thought when the film was over was “damn, I bet that would be a fantastic play”.  So I’ll read the play, see how that works for me.  But still, this was a pretty damn good movie with some great themes.  Give it a shot, and ignore the negative criticisms.  Go in with an open mind.

Slacker (1991)

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Slacker

★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Richard Linklater

Starring a lot of people and no one is in it for more than 5 minutes

Imdb Link

A day in the life of Austin, Texas college age kids, told through a series of vignettes.

I really like Richard Linklater, and after seeing the trailer for Boyhood, I decided I needed to check out his other films, and since the only one of his on Netflix was Slacker, I decided why not check that out.  Where to begin with this movie.  Slacker is weird.  That’s certainly one thing I can say about it.  It is weird as hell.  We follow a bunch of strange people through their strange activities, and strange dialogue with one another.  It is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen, because there isn’t a single normal character in it, every single person is weird.  I also have to say that it’s one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen as well.  It tackles ideas that I have long been fascinated by, the idea of everyone having their own story and life. Do you ever get that thought you get when walking down a busy sidewalk, that every single one of these people around you has their own life, family, job, friends and story? And you’ll never know many of these people, but they’ll keep going on through their life.   Although I found that it fell flat on it’s face, I find it admirable that it tried to take on that idea.  I definitely respect it for what it tried to do, but in my opinion, it failed at doing it.  Next, apparently it’s a cult comedy, but I’m wondering how, I didn’t find it very funny in a laugh out loud way, more funny in a “this situation is so strange” way.  Maybe it just wasn’t my style of humor.  Oh well. I also have to say that this film, even though I disliked it, made me realize that as a filmmaker myself, my directorial style is pretty close to Richard Linklater.  I love his approach of doing long takes when there’s a conversation going, not distracting the audience with cuts between closeups.  There was a lot of that in Slacker and it really works.  With Slacker however, there was a lot of good things here, but it was a film that I found pretty dislikable.  It was too strange for me I guess.  But I can see how others love it to death.  It’s certainly interesting.

In a Lonely Place (1950)

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In a Lonely Place

★ ★ 1/2 out of 5

Directed by Nicholas Ray

Starring Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steele

Gloria Graham as Laurel Gray

Imdb Link

A screenwriter, Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is the prime suspect for the murder of a young woman, all the evidence is against him, and yet he’s saved by his neighbor who gives him an alibi.  He and his neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Graham), an aspiring actress, slowly fall in love, but she becomes frightened of his violent side.

This film was a major disappointment to me.  I know that a lot of you who have seen the film will disagree with me.  I know how highly regarded it is, I know it’s one of Roger Ebert’s “great films”, and I know it’s in They Shoot Pictures Don’t They’s top 500 films.  But still, I just could not get into this film.  It was simply not my thing.  I found it very dislikable for a few reasons, mainly that I couldn’t relate in any way.  The characters’ actions did not make sense in most cases, I often didn’t see any motivation for their actions, or really a lot of reason for things they did often.  The characters just all became characters because of that, they never felt like actual people.  The dialogue was another thing.  In a lot of cases, In a Lonely Place has amazing dialogue, it has some fantastic quotes, like “I’ve Killed a Lot of People in Movies” or “I don’t watch the pictures I write”.  But as a whole, I found the dialogue unrealistic, and carried mainly by the amazing quotes mixed in between the mediocre back and forth.  I’d say what I really liked about the writing doesn’t even come from the writing of this film, but from the author of the novel it was based on.  I loved the thematic substance behind the film, and I really liked the story.  I also have to say I enjoyed Bogey in this, not as much as in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Casablanca, but he was still pretty damn good.  I’ve actually liked him in everything I’ve seen him in so far.  He’s a great actor.  But back to In a Lonely Place. I found it just really unremarkable in most ways.  There was a lot of good things going on, but I disliked it as a whole.  That said, it wasn’t a bad film, just a mediocre one.  I love the film noir genre, but this is one of the weaker ones I’ve seen.  But on that note, I’m officially done the “Noir November” /r/truefilm catalog.  So that’s a good thing I guess.

Tapped Out (2014) – WORLD PREMIERE REVIEW

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Tapped Out

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Allan Ungar

Starring Cody Hackman as Michael Shaw

Michael Biehn as Reggie

Krzysztof Soszyski as Dominic Gray

Imdb Link

A young misfit, Michael (Cody Hackman) is sent to do community service hours at a karate school, and stumbles into the world of Mixed Martial Arts fighting.  He soon discovers the man who killed his parents seven years ago is a fighter, and trains to be able to take him on.

So this film was a production filmed in my city a year or so ago, and it finally had it’s premiere, and I’m here to give you the (probably) first review of the film out there.  Tapped Out is a film about fighting, by fighters and fighting enthusiasts, for fighters and fighting enthusiasts.  Really, Cody Hackman, the star and co-writer of the film, does not have a background in acting, he has a background in fighting.  Most of the actors are UFC stars.  Really, this film is a MMA lover’s wet dream.  A ton of great fights, badass action sequences, and some cool photography to make it look even better.  Personally, I’m not a fan of mixed martial arts, so this film didn’t really cater to me.  It’s not in the vain of Warrior or Moneyball where even people who hate the sport presented can love the film.  That said, I did not dislike the film none the less.  I found it to actually be a lot better than it should have been.  The script may have been basically written entirely in clichés, and it was predictable beyond belief, however, I couldn’t help but enjoy the hell out of it.  It’s simply a badass film, and for that it’s really enjoyable.  The action scenes were exciting and tense, the sappy scenes never felt overly sappy, basically I just found it to be a perfectly enjoyable movie.  However, like I said, it is basically written in clichés and over used tropes.  It’s basically Batman meets The Karate Kid  in story line.  Really, there’s nothing surprising about it.  This kind of makes it less than what it could be, because it doesn’t really do anything new or interesting.  The performances are pretty meh, but forgivable, as most of the actors aren’t really actors.  The editing and camera work are awesome, they compliment the movie perfectly. Still, it’s not really my type of movie, and the clichés can be too much at times.  Still, for a film like this, I actually enjoyed watching it, and for this film’s target audience, that’s all that’s really needed.  It’s really fun, and has a lot of cool visuals and editing.  But the more I think about it, the less I like it.  I’m certainly trying not to think over it too much.  If you love MMA though, you’ll love this movie.  And it’s certainly something for my city to be proud of.

Short Term 12 (2013)

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Short Term 12

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Destin Cretton

Starring Brie Larson as Grace

John Gallagher Jr. as Mason

Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden

Keith Stanfield as Marcus

Imdb link

A young woman, Grace (Brie Larson) works at a foster home, caring for underprivileged and damaged teenagers.  She goes in and out of her daily routine, making the kids feel as safe as possible, and going home each day with her boyfriend, and coworker Mason (John Gallagher Jr).  However, Grace’s emotional stability is shattered when a new teen comes into the home.

This movie is so incredibly emotional.  Hardly ever can a film both make your heart break and feel warm at the same time.  Short Term 12 succeeds in doing that.  One minute you’ll be smiling and feeling all warm and fuzzy, and the next you’re devastated.  It really is a powerful film, because it shows how life is so wonderful, but at any moment, things can change for the worse.  However, they won’t stay that way forever.  Personally, I would say this is the most important coming of age film I have ever seen.  Speaking as a teenager, and seeing how much pain there is around me in my friends, and so many others my age.  I think that every single teenager should be shown this film, as it educates us on how amazing life is, and shows how we can cope with issues, and how things can always be so much worse, and how things always look up in the end.  As of right now, I’ve already been recommending it to all my friends.  It really is an important movie.  In addition to being an important film, it’s also exceptional on every level.  The writing is fantastic, building great scenes, dialogue, and some of the best characters ever written for a story of this kind.  Those characters are all played brilliantly by an ensemble cast that is magnificent.  Every actor delivers a brilliant performance in this film.  Specifically Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield.  Brie Larson, who plays Grace, is being called one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood after this film.  I can see why.  Her performance here is amazing.  You can see how much pain Grace is in as the memories of her past are dragged back up to the surface.  It’s an incredibly complicated character.  Then we have someone who isn’t being mentioned as much, and yet I found him to be one of the best parts of the film.  Keith Stanfield, who plays the 18 year old Marcus in the film gives one of the most emotional and powerful performances I’ve seen in ages.  Marcus is the typical tough guy, but he has an incredibly sweet, and sensitive side.  Watching his two sides clash is just brilliant, and Keith Stanfield does a brilliant job with the role.  A few scenes in particular made me actually tear up with Marcus.  One that I won’t spoil, and one where he cries out of fear that his abusive mother left scars on his head from beating him.  I can’t wait to see what both of these talented young actors do in their futures, as they have very bright careers ahead of them hopefully.  The camerawork and direction of the film is typical indie filmmaking, nothing extraordinary really.  The greatness of Short Term 12 does not come from it’s film making.  It comes from it’s heart.  One of the most beautiful films I have seen in a long time.  It’s on Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

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Bowling for Columbine

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Michael Moore

Imdb Link

Filmmaker Michael Moore searches for the reasons about why America has the most gun violence in the world.

I know that people generally have a dislike for Michael Moore, they don’t like how manipulative he is with his information, they don’t like how radical he is in his politics.  People just do not seem to like him.  However, you have to admit, that whether you like Michael Moore or not, or you hate his style of leaving out crucial information that would detract from his argument, you have to admit, Bowling for Columbine is a masterpiece.  This is a documentary that is for one, incredibly fun to watch.  It becomes more accessible to the masses because it has a sense of humor while tackling very serious issues.  It works so well, and it also functions to point out the ridiculousness of the nature of this issue.  How ridiculous is it that everyone buys guns out of fear of being shot, and out of fear shoot people? It’s a vicious circle.  Michael Moore is also just a generally very funny guy, and he’s fun to watch on screen.  Next, the issues it presents are very relevant and need to be discussed.  There are some docs that feel kind of useless.  They don’t really feel like the issue they present needs to be made into a film.  Bowling for Columbine needed to be made.  The issue of gun control in America is something that needs to be discussed.  And it’s amazing to see that so many people saw this film and actually did something about it.  Or even Michael Moore and the students from Columbine did something major about it.  They got K Mart to stop selling bullets.  It’s incredible in a documentary when the film maker doesn’t just discuss change, or discuss why something is bad.  But they actually do something about it.  I respect Michael Moore for that.  He actually stood up and did something, and his film made people really think about this problem.  Really, overall it might be the best documentary I have ever seen.  No, it is the best documentary I have ever seen.  It’s fun to watch, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and it makes you really think.  It’s a film that is about something, and it takes a stand.  I think that it’s amazing for that.

Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

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Mr Smith Goes to Washington

★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Frank Capra

Starring James Stewart as Jeff Smith

Jean Arthur as Saunders

Claude Rains as Senator Paine

Imdb Link

A group of corrupt politicians hire Jeffrey Smith (James Stewart) to be their new senator, as they think he’s someone who will just roll over and conform to what they want.  But when Jeffrey comes up with a bill for a boys camp in the place where these politicians want to build a dam for their own profit, it turns into an all out war between Smith and the other senators.

I am definitely in the minority of people who dislikes Frank Capra films.  I’ve tried so hard to enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life but I’ve never been able to.  While I definitely liked Mr Smith Goes to Washington a lot more than It’s a Wonderful Life, I simply didn’t find it as fun, or charming as everyone else seems to.  For one, the patriotism factor brought it down a bit.  I’m not American, I’m from the great white north, and we simply don’t have the same attitude of patriotism here up in Canada.  A big factor of the film is about being proud to be American, and what it means to be a true American.  I simply couldn’t relate to this, and it made the film a bit distant to me to be honest.  I know that isn’t a big part of the film, but it’s definitely a part of it.  Next, I found many parts of it to be pretty damn cheesy.  First, when the Governor of the state is getting political advice from his children.  I found that kind of ridiculous, they seemed all to know about every possible candidate for senator even though some were 5 years old at the most.  Maybe that was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t really played for laughs if it was.  I also just found the fact that he proposed a bill for something that could easily just be a private business.  It didn’t seem really plausible.  Now it probably sounds like I really hated this film, which don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t mind it.  You can see I gave it a decent score, I just wanted to get what I disliked off my chest.  I found it to just be kind of “meh”.  However, I have to say that James Stewart’s performance as Jeffrey Smith is one of the best performances I have ever seen.  I do not say that lightly.  James Stewart was absolute perfection in this film.  I have no clue how he didn’t win an Oscar for this… Maybe it was because Gone with the Wind was the same year, but honestly, I do not think that Clark Gable comes even close to Jimmy Stewart.  I was simply blown away by James Stewart, and if I ever do watch this film again, it will be for him.  This is what acting should be.  Overall however, Mr Smith Goes to Washington didn’t do much for me in many other aspects than Jimmy Stewart.  Still, I can see how people love it so much.

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

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The Raid 2: Berandal

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Gareth Evans

Starring Iko Uwais as Rama

Arifin Putra as Uco

Tio Pakusodewo as Bangun

Imdb Link

Only 30 minutes after the first raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) is assigned a new task.  He has to go undercover in the criminal underworld to find corrupt police and bring them down, while also trying to avenge his brother’s death.

Holy shit… People are not lying when they say that this might be the best action movie ever.  I mean it isn’t my favorite action movie for sure, but in terms of fight scenes, gun fights, and just all around badassery, I honestly cannot think of a movie that tops The Raid 2.  The action is mindblowing, every punch, kick, tackle, stab, or block is expertly choreographed, it’s actually even hard to believe that anyone can fight like that sometimes, it’s just so incredible.  Beyond that, it might be the most creative action movie ever made, every single object that could possibly be used as a weapon, was used as a weapon.  I never imagined that someone would ever hit baseballs as a method of murder.  It’s just things like that that makes this film so fun to watch, constant brutal creativity.  I liked The Raid: Redemption, but The Raid 2: Berandal stepped up every single aspect of the last film.  It has all the action times 2 from the first film, plus it manages to add in an actual plot line (which is something that Redemption never had). It has beautiful, vibrant camerawork in contrast to Redemption‘s gray, kind of ugly looking cinematography.  In every way, Berandal stepped it up a notch.  One thing that surprised me the most is that the writing in this film was actually really damn good.  I expected what I got from the first film, constant amazing action but shitty writing.  Instead we’re given a screenplay that isn’t half bad.  The plot line might not be anything new, but it is not cliché or boring.  It’s a classic undercover cop revenge tale, but it feels like something new.  The dialogue was surprisingly good too.  Now onto the direction, which was brilliant, I think Gareth Evans has the possibility of becoming one of the best directors out there.  He has such a good vision for the film that really works on screen.  Using long shots, Alfonso Cuaron style, in the prison yard fight scene made for one of the best fights in the film.  It illustrated how chaotic the fight really was.  Also, I feel like I have to mention the kitchen fight, which was one of the best fight scenes, if not the best two person fight scene that I have ever seen.  It is spectacular.  I can’t even describe how amazing that fight was.  The Raid 2 might be one of the most brutally violent films ever made, but there is an incredible beauty in this brutality.  It’s a wonder to watch.  This is a truly great film.  Watch it now please.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazahkstan (2006)

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Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazahkstan

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Larry Charles

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat Sagdiyev

Imdb Link

3rd watch

A Kazakh TV reporter, Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen), is sent to America to learn all about American culture.  While there, he offends nearly everyone, and falls in love with Pamela Anderson, who he decides he will marry.

Borat if nothing else, is the funniest movie I have ever seen.  Every single time I watch it, I laugh even harder, at jokes I missed because I was laughing to hard to catch the first time, and also laughing harder because I know more about the film, and the lengths Sacha Baron Cohen went to to make people feel uncomfortable.  Often people mention this film among those that you can only watch once.  Some people say that it’s humor is in the shock, and that it isn’t as funny the second time.  I personally disagree with this, like I said, I still find this movie to be the funniest I have ever seen, and I also disagree that the humor is in the shock.  I think that Borat‘s humor is very much satirical, and a lot of it is in how people react to Borat.  Some people treat him as an alien, others a child, some try to force their hateful beliefs on him, others do their best to be kind.  What’s so satirical about Borat is that in forcing a foreign stereotype that has absolutely no grounding in reality, into America, you can show how people truly are.  It can really be seen as a political satire of America instead of just an ordinary dumb comedy.  Maybe I’m just thinking a little too deeply about Borat, but it is truly a smart movie.  Next, I have to mention how good Sacha Baron Cohen is.  He gives one of the best performances of all time here, that might seem like a stretch, but I don’t believe it is.  He is fantastic.  The thing about Cohen is that he loses himself in his roles.  He transforms into the character.  With this movie, he basically had to improvise so much, and he had to always stay seeming kind of innocent while offending the hell out of people.  He pulled off a character that I don’t think anyone else could have pulled off.  At least as well as he did.  I think what shows the most is that even though Borat was a popular character on a Tv show before this film, people still completely believed that he was the character.  No one had any doubt, and not even a thought crossed their minds that this man was faking it all.  That is great acting.  Just overall, Borat is an amazing film.  By far the funniest, raunchiest, most offensive comedy I have ever seen.  But it is also just a fantastic movie.  If you haven’t seen it, please, watch it now.

Memento (2001)

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Memento

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Guy Pearce as Leonard

Joe Pantoliano as Teddy

Carrie Anne Moss as Natalie

Imdb Link

3rd watch

Leonard (Guy Pearce) is on a mission to find the man who raped and killed his wife.  The one problem is, Leonard can’t form new memories.  He writes clues on notes and takes pictures, but he can never remember what he’s found out or where he’s been.  Starting at the end of the story and progressing backwards, we learn more and more about what is actually happening.

I think I need to start by saying that I love Christopher Nolan, he is by far my favorite working director out there. Nolan has a talent for plot.  He can make the most intricate, well thought out, and complex plot lines really easy for the audience to follow.  Memento is a really complex story.  A man who can’t remember what happened five minutes ago trying to solve a mystery, when really there isn’t much of a mystery to solve, the mystery is more in his character.  This is a difficult thing for any writer/director to approach, but the Nolan brothers found a way to make it work.  I know a lot of people discredit Nolan as a writer, saying that he has cheesy dialogue, or that he uses too much exposition.  I strongly disagree with people who call him a bad writer, I believe Nolan is one of the best writers in film.  Like I said, Nolan has a talent for plotting his films, he is so good at slowly revealing details so we’re always interested and captivated, waiting to know the next detail, then he drops a bomb on us, making everything we’ve seen feel irrelevant, we’ve been lead completely astray in our beliefs, we were wrong the whole time.  Then on a rewatch, we see all the clues leading up to that, all the foreshadowing.  Nolan is an absolute master at creating stories like this.  Plus, the dialogue in Memento is pretty damn good, so I don’t know what people are complaining about with his dialogue.  Personally, I would say Nolan is a better writer than he is a director though, I love his style of direction, but it’s his writing that makes the movies for me.  The only film of his I don’t love is Insomnia, which happens to be his one film he did not have a hand in writing.  That said, Nolan’s direction in Memento is pretty damn great.  It’s ultra stylized, neo-noir goodness.  The visual style of the film is awesome.  Overall, I love Memento, it’s one of the most creative mysteries I’ve ever seen, and I actually liked it a lot more on this watch than on any watch.  If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend it.  It’s truly a great film.