Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

TL;DR – King Arthur is a fascinating film as long as you don’t care that much about the source material, though it does have more than a few lulls and awkward story moments

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

King Arthur Legend of the Sword

Review

So this was a surprise, from all accounts, and my own expectations going in I was expecting a dumpster fire in movie form. Instead what I got was sure a flawed film in many respects but also a really interesting one as well. So today we are going to look out how this film approaches the legend, how the cast works, then the parts of the film that excel and the parts that really fall short. So let’s begin with how they approach the myth of King Arthur, and well it’s interesting.

Because it is in the public domain, the King Arthur story is one of those narratives that gets remade over and over again. We’ve had miniseries do a classical remake, we’ve had it reinterpreted into a teen angst drama, a side event on a fairy tale TV show, we found out that Camelot was a bit silly, and we even got it reimagined as a real world event as the Roman’s retreated. So you needed to do something new, make an interesting idea, approach it from a different angle, or else you risk the question of why should I watch this when there are already versions of this out there. So King Arthur: Legend of the Sword approaches this conundrum by just having the Arthurian legend as a window dressing for the story. So we have Arthur witnessing his parent’s death before being raised in a brothel and becoming a black market leader in an occupied town. You have some nods to people in the legend but some core members get barely a cameo, and some are missing altogether. On the one hand, this gives the filmmakers a lot of latitudes to tell a story that is not confined to a certain progression, on the other hand, if you are a fan of the original legend you are going to find the inconsistencies jarring. As well as this, they take bits of reference from everywhere and smash it together, we have the very magical Camelot existing at the same time as the real world Londinium after the Roman exodus, with a little Old Testament thrown in there for good reference. So this leads to a movie with giant elephants existing at the same time as negotiations with Norse traders, a martial arts master teaching students in an abandoned Roman bathhouse, and people of legend working within the social structures that existed at the time.

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Part of what worked for me is that it’s clear that the cast was on board for whatever Guy Ritchie threw at them. We have Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who I’ve not see much of before but he really brings a command performance here, a sort of suave cockiness but also being a bit down to Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is on a Bond shortlist somewhere.   Jude Law as Vortigern, is just eating up the stage stealing almost every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is given good performances, hell even the David Beckham cameo was incredibly watchable. Also, it’s just great to see Eric Bana back on the big screen, Hollywood needs to cast him in more movies.

Something that I really found interesting with King Arthur is how Guy Richie took a film set in the Middle Ages, or a weird alternate reality where after the Romans left mages traipsed around England in giant elephants, but also embodied it in what is a very modern style. The outfits, the hairstyles, all feel a bit out of time, but it is more than that. In many ways, there is also this undercurrent of a modern gangster film beating just under the surface. I mean at one point Uther (Eric Bana) literally goes ‘hold my crown’ before jumping straight off a collapsed bridge into the previously mention giant elephants. This is also reinforced with editing style of the film, uses a combination to frantic montage scenes, this might have some of the best montage scenes I have seen in a very long time. As well as this, King Arthur has some really interesting sequence editing, which for the audience has a way of keeping you always on your toes. A good example of this is where Arthur plays out what would happen if he is introduced to the great families of England.

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays 'The Mage' or 'I am an important character from the myth whose identity won't be revealed until the sequel'

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays ‘The Mage’ or ‘I am an important character from the myth whose identity won’t be revealed until the sequel’

One big standout for me was the musical score by Daniel Pemberton. I’m a big fan of bending musical styles, or taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it, or using music as a juxtaposition and it is here where King Arthur shines. Most high fantasy films or medieval period pieces use a classic orchestral score, which I’m not knocking at all, I mean just listen to the power of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But it is nice to see someone put a spin on the familiar, which is what we get here. The standout has to be what I think was an electric violin or a real violin that has been modified in post-production. Using an instrument that couldn’t exist at the time creates this interesting dichotomy and helps create that modern veneer that the movie sits in. As well as this, King Arthur also has a fantastic driving drum beat during some of the action and montage scenes, which really jells with the slight frenetic pace of the editing. All of this is combined to create a really interesting soundscape in the film.

Now while there are some interesting parts in King Arthur there are a couple of things that do really hold it back, though how big of a problem these are might change for you. While I did like the story overall there were some issues, for example, it did start to feel that this was a film with some great action scenes and other sequences, but in-between them there was a lot of treading water waiting for the next moment of action. [Spoilers] As well as this, it does feel like a lot of character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor so we are left with some weird scenarios. You can see this with Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen) who is shown throughout the film to be incredibly smart and knowledgeable, who forgets all of that when he risks everyone’s lives to kill Earl of Mercia for no reason. Also, at one point Arthur is betrayed by one of his own, but we see no reason for why this person turned it’s just like they’re good, oh wait, nope not anymore. Another big issue was that some of the fight scenes it became very clear that it was a CGI model fighting and not an actor. This is disappointing because other than this, the rest of the CGI and visual effects are really good. [End of Spoilers]

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

In the end, even with its problems, I did really enjoy this weird ride called King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. When you have actor throwing themselves into the roles, a story that is bonkers but people care how portrayed, beautiful sets, and a rocking score, well you have the components of an interesting film. Of course, that being said, if you really like the Arthur legend and you are not a fan of big diversions well this might not be the film for you.

 

 Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram & Joby Harold
Story By – David Dobkin & Joby Harold
‘Based on’King Arthur Legend
Music by – Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography by – John Mathieson
Edited by – James Herbert
Starring
– Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Bleu Landau, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Peter Ferdinando, Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

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Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

TL;DR – This is a paint by numbers film with no direction or heart, a real disappointment, and the better title is probably Pirates of The Caribbean: Coincidence on the High Seas

Score – 2 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is a post-credit scene

Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales banner

Review

So here we are looking at the fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and I’m sitting here wondering where it all went wrong. The first Pirates of the Caribbean was one of those breaths of fresh air that pop up every now and again, a brilliant standalone film, reinvigorating a genre of film that had disappeared, and it had one of the greatest character entrances in film history. Its two follow-up films which completed a trilogy of sorts were not as good as the first but fine films in their own right. However, the last film felt more like a continuation out of necessity rather than a new story that they felt needed to be told, and this continues in Dead Men Tell No Tales. So at this point, it should be no surprise that I didn’t like the fifth Pirates of The Caribbean film so we’re going to break down what worked and what didn’t and one of those lists is going to be bigger than the other.

This is more symbolic than they were going for

This is more symbolic than they were going for

Before we get into the heart of the review let’s take a moment to set the scene. It has been about fifteen years since ‘At World’s End’ and about four since ‘On Stranger Tides’ and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) the son of Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) is on a quest to free his father from the curse that bound him to The Flying Dutchman. Henry is convinced that the only thing that can help is the fabled Trident of Poseidon and also that the only one who can help him find it is Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his magical compass. To try and find Jack Sparrow who had gone into hiding Henry signs onto the British Navy so he can explore the Caribbean, where after a confrontation with Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) he arrives at Saint Martin runs into Carine (Kaya Scodelario) who has been arrested for being a witch, she’s not, she’s actually an accomplished astronomer, and has to hunt down the Trident before everyone else can get it. As far as a set up goes, it’s not bad, but as we’ll find out it is not without its many issues.

So let’s start the review with the casting and performances because this is one of the film’s few strong points. Look we’ll get onto the story in a moment and that does impact on the performances, but despite that, I do think most of the cast is doing a great job with what they are given. Javier Bardem is amazing he has such a presence about him that even behind the CGI overlay his performance shines through. I did quite like Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario performances, which yes has more than a little feeling of Will and Elizabeth 2.0, but they make it work through a sheer stubborn will. Geoffrey Rush, well Geoffrey Rush is just a delight on screen, I mean he shined in Gods of Egypt and that was a dumpster fire of a film and here, while he doesn’t have any of those classic moments from the first film his presence is felt in every scene he is in. Now, of course, the big question is Johnny Depp and eh, it’s not bad but at this point, he has been playing the same character in all five films and there has been no real character development so you may or may not like it depending on how over you are with Captain Jack Sparrow. One thing I will say is that the film woefully underutilised David Wenham.

Watching Javier Bardem & Geoffrey Rush play off each other was fun

Watching Javier Bardem & Geoffrey Rush play off each other was fun

When it comes to the technical side of things it is more of a mixed bag, with some parts like the visual effects being fantastic in places and oddly poor in others, and the music being all over the place. A lot of the visual effects in Dead Men Tell No Tales are really quite good, with standouts being Salazar’s ship and crew. I really did like the semi-corporeal feel of the crew, and the ship opening up to eat its prey was a fascinating design choice, as well as this, there were some really good water effects which are not the easiest thing to pull off. However, while it was good to see some decent visual effects, there were also some quite poor CGI which I was not expecting. There were some overhead shots of Redshirts running which looks really poor (I assume they were CGI, if they weren’t then something was off with the framing), also there was a scene where a small boat was being towed at speed and it could not have looked more green screened, and the de-aging tech is still not quite there. The physical sets and costumes were all really good, I really liked the town they created it had a lot of interesting details, and allowed for one of the better action sequences in the film. However, one area that was a real let down for me was the music. When you have had one person (Hans Zimmer) be the creative force behind the music from a franchise it is difficult for another person to jump in, as there is that tension between adding your new voice and respecting what came before, we saw this play out with Rogue One. Now I should say that Hans Zimmer’s score for Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favourites from the 2000s so maybe this is clouding my view, but this score was lacking heart and didn’t add anything new that stood out for me.

Now while the things I have mentioned are snags, at the heart of Dead Men Tell No Tales’ problems is a story with no direction, it is more of a combination of stock story points slapped together with a thin veneer of plot, and it is frustrating to sit and watch two hours of lazy story writing. At every point the story took the opportunity to take the most boring direction, whether through rehashing plot lines from the past, or having characters acting stupidly, or by going ‘surprise’ when the rest of the audience saw it coming a mile away. When a character announces that they are on a quest to find their father that they never knew, well I’ll let you guess how that turns out and you’re probably right on the money. You have the captain of a large (deep hulled) British warship knowingly chase pirates into uncharted water, ok, near a rocky island with sharp rocks gouging out from the water, um wait, then into a cave with no knowledge if the masts can even fit or it there is an exit, wait what no, you are bad at your job. There is no tension throughout the film, everyone who we have seen in the past might as well been wearing a force field. The whole film is filled with both literal and metaphorical Redshirts that exist only to be killed so none of the good cast has to die. [Spoilers]There is one point where a bunch of secondary characters escape a ship, yep that ship was dead moments later, and no one that we could possibly care about was put in any real danger. When we have an extended fight sequence with Jack Sparrow’s head in a guillotine, well you know they won’t be that serious in putting anyone’s life in any real danger or peril. This leads to a dull and emotionally flat film, indeed there was only one moment in the entire film where I felt any kind of emotional attachment to the characters or the narrative and that was a scene almost at the very end of the film. [End of Spoilers] Now this was probably not the writer’s fault, they might have been working from a brief with a lot of things being forced onto them that they had to add whether it worked or not, but it ends up being a flat nonsensical mess.

It is getting better but we are still not quite there with CGI de-aging

It is getting better but we are still not quite there with CGI de-aging

Structurally the film is also a mishmash of long setups, overwhelming coincidence, and long stretches of dull padding. Look I don’t mind a slow build, indeed I championed Arrival for that very quality, but there is a difference between a slow build and a film taking forever to get started. We know from almost the start that the film will be a hunt for the Trident of Poseidon, but it is not until we are well into act two before that actually starts. Before this we are stuck sitting through one coincidence after another, oh Henry needs to get to the Trident, well he runs into Salazar which means he can get to St. Martin (which if you think I am going to gloss over the fact that St. Martin was never a British colony you are mistaken) when he finds Jack, but also Carina the only person in the world with a map to the Trident, also if Henry was not there Jack and Carina would be dead, and it goes on and on. Yes you might be saying ‘but Star Wars has a lot of coincidence too’ and you would be right but A New Hope’s story is strong enough that you don’t see the coincidences until you go looking for them, here you can’t help but trip over them on the way to the next action set piece.

There are also some really cringy scenes, which really doesn’t help the film in any way because it reinforces the lazy storytelling. The worst offender of this is probably the wedding sequence about half way through the film. Here Jack is woken up in the middle of a wedding ceremony to discover that he is the groom and is being forced to marry an unpleasant looking woman. Besides this scene feeling like it has been ripped out of multiple films of the past, it serves no purpose in the film. It doesn’t tell us anything about Jack we don’t already know, it doesn’t show us something of Henry or Carina’s character, it does not forward the plot or reveal anything, it serves no purpose. Now in better films like Mad Max Fury Road use this kind of scene as a way of letting the audience breathe, or to release the tension, however here it just feels like they needed a bit of filler, which would have been fine it was in any way funny, but it’s not.

Pirates of The Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales 2

This is a cool moment but the film needed more work on its story to support moments like this

In the end, I really wanted to like this film, I was a fan of the original trilogy, and this was even filmed around where I live so you kind of want to see your local film industry excel, but it just didn’t do it for me. If there is to be one more, which let’s face it there will be, please can I implore you to take some time and think about the direction of the movie, the motivation of the characters, and give the story some substance which it desperately needs.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Screenplay by – Jeff Nathanson
Story By – Jeff Nathanson & Terry Rossio
Based onPirates of the Caribbean by Walt Disney & Characters Created by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie & Jay Wolpert
Music by
– Geoff Zanelli
Cinematography by – Paul Cameron
Edited by – Roger Barton & Leigh Folsom Boyd
Starring
– Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, Stephen Graham & Martin Klebba, with Paul McCartney, Orlando Bloom & Keira Knightley
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – John Wick: Chapter 2

TL;DR – John Wick was the gold standard for action films and John Wick Chapter 2 continues this with brutal action, and a deeper insight into this fascinating world.

Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars

John Wick Chapter 2 Banner

Review

Now it should come as no surprise that I love the first John Wick film, from the action, to the world building, to the sheer commitment of Keanu Reeves put into preparing for the role. Indeed I wrote a whole article on how it sets the gold standard for Worldbuilding and Visual Storytelling. The issue is that when you love the first film it is always a bit difficult to look at a sequel with an objective lens, on the one hand, you may be blinded by rose tinted glasses, or you may judge it harshly because nothing can live up to the expectations the first film made. With this in mind, I approached John Wick 2 cautiously but I am still happy to say while it did not quite live up to the first film it is still an amazing film in its own right. Its action is still as good as the first, we delve deeper into this world they are creating, and we get to see what happens when a movie is perfectly cast.

Poor John can't catch a break

Poor John can’t catch a break

If you missed John Wick 1, well first you should go watch it, but to give you a summary. John (Keanu Reeves) was once assassin/professional ‘Baba Yaga’ working mostly for the Russian mafia in New York but part of a greater underground world. After finding love in a hopeless place he wanted out of his life, and was offered an out if he did one impossible task, a task he did and for a brief moment he was happy. However, his wife died due to an illness, but knowing John she gave him a new puppy to care for, as a way to help him grieve. But that was all ruined but professional asshat Iosef came into his house, attacked John, stole his car, killed his dog, and awoke the ‘Baba Yaga’. Now it is important to look at this set up because in the first film Winston gave this piece of advice “You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may well find something reaches out, and drags you back into its depths”. Well, John should have taken that advice.

To set the scene John Wick Chapter Two is set within days of the first film, John and his new dog are starting a new life … once John gets his car back from the Tarasov’s. However, John’s hope that he could bury what he had just dug up is dashed when Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) the one man left with some hold over John, a Marker, signed with his own blood, rocks up to his front door. Ok, to cut a long story short John is forced to do something he does not want to do to keep his obligations to the world he lives in, and everything that he had worked on starts to fall apart.

He does not like it but John is dragged back into this world

He does not like it but John is dragged back into this world

So when you are talking about a John Wick film the first thing we have to talk about is the actions, and it is just as good as the first film. Now you don’t have to watch the video of Keanu training (though you should) to know that he goes above and beyond in this role. Filming actors in action sequences can be a difficult job because you don’t just have to work on the choreography, in most cases, you also have to work on framing it so you don’t see the stunt double. Now stunt coordinators and stunt teams have a lot of great tricks that they can use to hide performers from the practical to the CGI, and usually this is done in such a way that the audience suspends their feeling of disbelief and goes with it. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work, you see the performer can’t fight, or they have to cut so many times between shots to hide it, so you lose the flow of the fight, it’s the difference between Daredevil and Iron Fist. While it is not uncommon to see actors train and perform stunts themselves, it’s rare to see an actor go to such lengths to be in as many shots as possible, and for a studio to finance it. This clearly has an impact on the screen, because you can film longer shots if you don’t need to cut all the time, so you can build each moment naturally. It also helps because John employs a form of Gun Fu that each movement is not about looking good it is about dispatching the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible and to make sure they don’t get up to be a threat. There are numerous action set pieces throughout the film and each could be an article in its own right, but we get car chases, gun battles, hand to hand combat, and battles with assorted objects he finds lying around. Look you probably know what to expect here, but everything needs to work to make scenes of this quality, the cinematography, the acting, the stunt performers, the directing, the editing, the score, everything.

The action is brilliantly realised

The action is brilliantly realised

While we are talking about acting, let’s chat about the cast. Like the first film John Wick 2 could be accused of employing stunt casting, and while I can see where you are coming from with that complaint, when the stunt casting is as good as it is here I welcome it with open arms. Why it works as well as it does is that everyone is giving the best, going that extra mile, so it’s hard to say who is stealing the scene from who because everyone is game with whatever the film throws at them. For example, we have our returning characters Winston (Ian McShane), Charon (Lance Reddick), and Aurelio (John Leguizamo) who continue to give this look into the deeper mythology of the world of John Wick. I mean every line of dialogue Lance Riddick has is pure gold, with the perfect intonation for his character. But this is only the start we have Peter Stormare who is in the film for all of five minutes and is amazing for every single moment of screen time, Franco Nero who has a resume that few can outmatch and who establishes his character with a single line of dialogue, now you can’t go wrong with adding Laurence Fishburne to your film and of course he is a delight, even Peter Serafinowicz who has a small role as the Sommelier is amazing. When it comes to the new antagonists I liked that all of the three big bads all had different motivations, fighting styles, and relationships with John. We have Cassian (Common) who set on a collision course with John by forces outside either of their controls, you have Ares (Ruby Rose) a straight up no nonsense unremorseful killer, and Santino the winner of this chapters Iosef’s award for overconfidence through being an ass. They are all amazing but I want to give a special shout out to Ruby Rose and the writer Derek Kolstad here, Aries is a fantastic character but it is also fantastic to see a character that has an impairment, something that leads to her communicating through sign language, but it does not stop her in any way from being central player in this brutal world.

What a fascinating charioteer Ares is

What a fascinating charioteer Ares is

Now as I said the first John Wick film was a masterclass in world building and John Wick 2 does not just sit on its laurels, instead it delves deeper into this world. In the first film there was only one unbreakable rule, no business on Continental grounds, but in the second film we get an extra rule, all Markers have to be upheld. A Marker is an agreement that for services rendered the bearer will at some point call in the debt and you have to do anything they request under pain of death. As well as this, we see where all the contracts are processed and without giving anything away I was fascinated by every moment in this place. We also find that this world that they live in goes deeper and higher than we saw before. Now one of the more interesting analyses of the first John Wick film I’ve watched was Movies with Mikey, who in part of his analysis looked at the film in the guise of it being a classical Greek God narrative. While I can sort of see that in the first film, it is much clearer in the second film and no that’s not just because one of the characters is named Ares. We see this world existing in counter to our own, but more than that, human almost seem to be oblivious to the other world, it’s not until they are brawling in front of you that the scales are removed from your eyes and you see what is going on.

This works because technically speaking the film is firing on all cylinders, now I have mentioned the action side but more than that, it’s the little touches. For example, we have people speaking Russian, Italian, and ASL, so there needs to be subtitles, but instead of just plopping them on screen, they are integrated into the narrative and the cinematography. The score is also used to highlight the action sometimes by having a driving beat when you needed and sometimes playing back so you can hear the foley in all its gory glory. The story also works well, because unlike other comparable films like Taken, the second film is not just a rehash of the first in a new location, sure it has similar themes, but it is about dealing with the consequences of the first film and how they start to tear his life apart. It is also good with leaving narration breadcrumbs throughout the film to add to the impact. For example, a character at the start references something from the first film, it’s kind of played for laughs, but instead of being a throwaway gag, it’s actually there to remind you of it so when it happens later in the film you already have that connection. Now while I did like the story, one area they need to work on is that some of the sections just felt a little too much like treading water till the next action set piece. [Spoilers] Also the ending I think will work better once we get to see John Wick Chapter 3, it’s sort of that same feeling I had when I walked out of The Two Towers for the first time, which is not really the film’s fault but more just the fact of where this film lies. [End of Spoilers]

John Wick Chapter 2 5

You should never make this man get angry with you

In the end, did I like John Wick Chapter 2 as much as the first film, to be honest no, but to be fair I doubt anything could have because I came into that knowing nothing about the film and that is an experience you just cannot have with a sequel. But is the action great, yes, are the characters intriguing, yes, was the story engaging, yes, do I want to see more of this world, you bet ya I do, and I do look forward to the next film which gen how well this did in the cinema’s I hope we get to see.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Chad Stahelski
Written by – Derek Kolstad
Based onCharacters created by Derek Kolstad
Music by – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard
Cinematography by – Dan Laustsen
Edited by – Evan Schiff
Starring
– Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio, Common, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Laurence Fishburne, Franco Nero, Tobias Segal, Claudia Gerini, Peter Serafinowicz & Peter Stormare
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review –The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One

TL;DR – The Osiris Child is like they smashed Alien & Resident Evil together, added a dash of Farscape, and sprinkled on some Australia for extra measure.

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Osiris Child Science Fiction Volume One

Review

So when I first heard about The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume One about a month ago when I was at Supanova the local geek convention here in Australia. I had not heard about it before then, but it was getting a lot of good buzz and I can’t remember the last good Australian sci-fi film I saw. So now that I’ve final had the chance to see it, honestly, I’m more than a little surprised at the level of quality of this small Indy film that packs a big punch.

So let’s set the scene, it’s some point in the future and humans have started to colonise the universe and out on the fringe there is a planet with a new colony, a flotilla floating above and a prison below with a deep secret ready to bust loose. It’s here that we meet Lt. Kane Sommerville (Daniel MacPherson) an officer for Exor the military contractor who is in charge of supporting new settlements. Sommerville has a conflicted past that drives him to be as far away from Earth as he can get, which is complicated because he has a daughter Indi (Teagan Croft) who has travelled across the Galaxy to see him. Since Sommerville lives on the Flotilla, a large orbiting space station, he leaves Indi on the planet in capital Osiris in the care of a babysitter as he works in orbit. The next day he wakes up to discover that there was a prison riot overnight and now all communications are lost with the surface, General Lynex (Rachel Griffiths) tells everyone it is because the prisoners are holding the planet hostage, but in reality it is because something buried deep in the heart of the prison has escaped and killing everything in its wake. So Sommerville has to rescue his daughter with the help of some of the people he runs into on the planet like Sy (Kellan Lutz), Gyp (Isabel Lucas), and Bill (Luke Ford) before everything is lost. So as far as setups go this is a really good start, you have a ticking clock, literally, a start for a redemption arc, and good illusions to something bigger at play.

A father fighting for his daughter is a good setup for the film

A father fighting for his daughter is a good setup for the film

One of the things I do have to give Osiris Child credit for is the really high levels of production that you just don’t expect to see in an Indy film with this kind of budget. A lot of care and attention has been put into getting the details looking right, the sets feel real, with those little touches to make them feel lived in. The bus they spend a lot of time in has been kitted out really well, the costumes all fit the style they are going for, and the Flotilla really nails that futuristic military feel. Osiris Child also has some really good special effects because they are very careful in only using them when needed, so this means when they do use them they can spend the money on making them look good. Sure, they do cut corners in places using blur or some creative camera angles to hide things but that does not take away for the work that they have done here. Another standout is the soundscape, the sound is one of those things that you don’t really notice until something is wrong, but here you notice it because at all times it is on point, with some really good foley work, and the score really hits all the right notes.

Now one of the reasons why the film looks as well as it does for its budget is they make great use of the built landscape that already exists. If you are an Australian you can already probably guess where they film parts of Osiris Child and you probably be right on the money. However, even from someone who lives in Australia some of those landscapes were majestic, and of course, there were space flies, there was no way you could edit them out. Now one area that didn’t quite work was the creature creation, now Osiris went for a puppet style for their creature, the sort of style of puppet you would see in Farscape but I’m not sure it quite worked. Part of that is that no matter the film the monster never looks as scary as you mind makes it out to be when you only see little bits of it, but also the style they used worked well for Farscape because there were a lot of different alien puppets, but here in isolation it stands out much more than it should have.

The Flotilla is beautifully realised

The Flotilla is beautifully realised

The action sequences are one of Osiris Child’s standout accomplishments, with a number of the scenes really hitting above their weight. The standout for me had to be the space fighter dogfight in the upper atmosphere of the planet, it was well structured and implemented, and was cut together to increase the intensity. Another thing I liked with the action was that in the brawls they filmed it in a way that made the punches feel like they had weight behind them, fists make a connection, and gave you the feeling that this punch hurt, it was also edited in a way where the action slowed well and you could tell what was going on at any one time. While I did like the action, they did overuse slow-mo a little too much and some of the inserts were a bit weird and unnecessary.

[Spoilers]So as I said Osiris Child has a great set up for a story and overall I think it was well executed and well-acted but not everything worked. There are a lot of framing devices used in Osiris Child, like the counting clock, chapters, jumping through time, and narration to help tell the story, and while good, some of these work better than others. The ticking clock was great because it gave us this constant reminder that time is of the essence. However, while the chapters help frame the time jumps and give Osiris Child the feeling of something grander in scope, the constant jumping did start to impact on the pacing of the film. Also while some of the reveals hit you right in the feels, some of the others leave you scratching your head, take for example why Sy was imprisoned, in today’s world it would be highly unlikely he would have seen much if any jail time and the movie doesn’t really give a good rational as to why he was treated the way he was. As well as this, the movie is narrated by Indi at some point it the future, which is a really good framing device, but as the movie progresses that she wouldn’t actually know some of the things she mentioned and that pulls you out of it a bit [End of Spoilers]. All the acting is solid, for me the standouts were Teagan Croft who nailed a very difficult role which would be impressive even before you realise that it is her first major acting role. Of course, there is also Temuera Morrison who has this air of authority in his mannerisms and speech that just fit this role to a tee. The two main leads Daniel MacPherson and Kellan Lutz play off each other really well, which you see in scenes like in the bar.

Rachel Griffiths always gives a command performance

Rachel Griffiths always gives a command performance

In the end, it’s clear from the movie, I mean look at the title, that this is meant to be the first of a series of films and given this first outing I’m really interested to see where they go next with this, I just hope people give it a chance.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Shane Abbess
Story By – Shane Abbess & Brian Cachia
Music by – Brian Cachia
Cinematography by – Carl Robertson
Edited by – Adrian Rostirolla
Starring
– Daniel MacPherson, Teagan Croft, Kellan Lutz, Isabel Lucas, Luke Ford, Firass Dirani, Bren Foster, Temuera Morrison & Rachel Griffiths
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; NZ: na; UK: na; USA: na

Map-It: Team America: World Police

TL;DR – Today we chart out just where Kim Jong-Il was going to blow up in Team America: World Police

Team America World Police
Ever since I was a young child I have always been fascinated with maps, how they show and hide the world around us, how we determine all our lives based on where a line was drawn, sometimes by someone long dead, indeed it was this love of maps that lead me to studying International Relations. So it’s one of those things for me that when someone puts up a map of the world with markers on in movies/TV or Video Games almost all the time it is cartography gibberish. So today we start a new series called Map-It where we plot out those maps from Movies/TV and video games to see exactly where they were pointing at. So let’s dive in and look at our first example Team America World Police, and I should mention there are obviously spoilers for the move ahead.

Why Team America: World Police, well besides being a good example, it was also released around the time I was studying International Relations and it has a very interesting take on world politics that led to numerous discussions with my peers, so it has a special place in my heart, even if it does make me feel old. Now, of course, you are going to say this is a film where all the actors are puppets, Kim Jong-Il is a secret alien cockroach, they slice Helen Hunt in half with a katana, please can you really take this movie seriously? No of course not, but just because it is a silly movie does not mean it gets a pass when it comes to maps.

Original Team America: World Police Map

Original Map - Team America World Police

So to give a bit of context at this point in the film most of Team America has been captured by Kim Jong-Il the leader of North Korea and who is also holding a massive international world peace ceremony in association with the Film Actors Guild but this is just a ruse to get all the world leaders in the one place so they won’t notice the terrorist acts before they happen. So about 1:12:00 into the film just after the montage song we arrive in Pyeongyang and the ceremony is in full swing, but like all big bads of the past, present, and future Kim Jong-Il can’t help but explain his villainous plan, he has given ‘WMDs’ to terrorist across the world put them in position so that there is a massive coordinated attack at the end of Alec Baldwin’s speech. It is here at 1:13:21 that we get to see the above the locations of all the ‘WMDs’ he has placed around the world.

Now comes the interesting part, well at least for me the interesting part, mapping out all those dots. To do this I first tried to find the map projection they were using in the image. Now while I could not find an exact match I did find a project that was close enough to be able to do some generally accurate projections, and thus we have the locations mapped out.

Team America: World Police Locations placed on a Robinson Projection World Map

Robinson Map - Team America World Police

Click for full sized map.

So once we had all the places mapped out on the projection we had to find out where those locations mapped out to in the real world. For this, we used a number of programs and maps, including Google Maps to try and find as close to the locations as we could. Since this process is not as precise as we would like, we gave the film the benefit of the doubt and picked the largest populations centre near the location rather than the exact pin point to allow for some human error, and with that, we get the following targets.

Locations - Team America World Police

Click for full sized image.

Now we have the locations the flaws in Kim Jong-Il’s plan starts to become more and more apparent. So what is Kim Jong-Il’s motivation, well it’s to ‘change the world’ with implications that the world order would be changed with him being on top and that governments would topple across the world. Now the question is what is Kim Jong-Il using to target these locations? In dialogue, he describes them as ‘WMDs’ Weapons of Mass Destruction, which usually comprise of either Biological, Chemical, Radiological, or Nuclear sources. Now the issue is that in 2004 when the film was released, North Korea while heavily suggesting that they were developing Nuclear Weapons after leaving the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2003, it would be two more years before they would test their first Nuclear Weapon in 2006. As well as this, in the film, some of the terrorists set off their ‘WMDs’ early around the Panama Canal, however, the explosion shown is that of more conventional explosives, and not WMD. Now putting aside the fact that experts believe that even today in 2017 North Korea only has ten or so nuclear devices¹ of the 116 targets only 15 of them are major cities, indeed many of the sites are actually in wildernesses or uninhabited area, and the vast majority are from incredible small towns some with only a handful of residents.

This being said if we do entertain the notion that North Korea had 116 nuclear weapons, which would put it on par with India and Pakistan, would this lead to the world change he is after… well it would depend on the actions of others. For example, there would be massive flows of people out of the affected areas creating a mass migration event that we have not seen in most people’s living memory, especially around parts of Canada where Kim is actually quite good a targeting major cities. Also, he does target seven of the eight other nuclear powers including Paris the capital of France and some major cities in USA and Russia. So it is not inconceivable that elements inside some of those countries may start a launch of their own weapons amplifying the destruction, but if that was a case you would think Pyeongyang would be pretty high on a couple of people’s lists of targets, so that would not work out for Kim.  However, the big danger is even though most of the strikes would cause very little structural damage on their own, well not if you live in St. Petersburg, Tripoli, Detroit or Albury-Wodonga but generally, the amount of particulate matter added to the atmosphere from the strikes and the inevitable fires that follow, would lead to a significant cooling of the planet and would have the potential to heavily impact global agriculture².

So, in the end, what can we infer from this map, well for one Kim Jong-Il does not have the best grasp of geography, and his targets are mostly unimportant low population centres or completely inhabited areas. As well as this, it is most likely for the data presented in the moved, corroborated by real life that these ‘WMDs’ were probably conventional weapons, reducing the impact of this strike even further, and if they were nuclear weapons the outcome would most likely be just as bad for Kim Jong-Il as it was for everyone else. So what can we take away for this, well one thing is clear Kim Jong-Il was an awful despotic madman who enjoyed the fine things of life whilst his people starved and he also appeared in puppet form in Team America: World Police as a man who is really bad at his job.
Sources

¹ Moon, Ci. 2016. ‘North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and the Search for a New Path Forward: a South Korean Response’ Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 72(5): 343-344.

² Turco, RP, OB Toon, TP Ackerman, JB Pollack & Carl Sagan. 1983. ‘Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions’ Science. 222(4630): 1283-1292.  ‘

 

Credits – The Robinson Projection World Map that we used was created by Daniel R. Strebe on 15 August 2011 which is shared with a Creative Commons License, The original map comes from Team America World Police credits below.

Directed by – Trey Parker
Written by – Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Pam Brady
Music by –  Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by – Bill Pope
Edited by – Thomas M. Vogt
Starring
– Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa Moyo, Daran Norris, Phil Hendrie, Maurice LaMarche, Chelsea Marguerite, Jeremy Shada & Fred Tatasciore
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Snatched

TL;DR – It honestly feels like this movie was a waste of everyone’s time, including mine

Score – 1.5 out of 5 stars

Snatched Banner

Review

Sigh, what a disappointment, this movie had an interesting premise, the cast all had such potential, but what we got was a confused mess that does not know what kind of film it wanted to be. Now of course this first sentence probably would not fill you with confidence, and you’d be right, but when you have Goldie Hawn someone who can light up the screen no matter what film she is in and in her first movie since 2002 and you can’t make it work, well you have problems. So in today’s review we are going to break down the film and talk about what things did work and what didn’t, and one of those sections is probably going to be bigger than the other.

Ok to set the scene, Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) is a 20 something year old who has no real direction in life who just got fired from her job and whose boyfriend (Randall Park) has just dumped her all before she was meant to go with him on a non-refundable holiday to Ecuador. So after all her friends bail on her she asks her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) who was cool back in the day but now lives with her cats and son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) who suffers from agoraphobia. So to cut a long story short, they go to Ecuador, meet ‘plutonic friends’ Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), Emily hooks up with totally not at all dodgy James (Tom Bateman) and then shock horror they get kidnaped and then stuff happens.

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Ok I know a lot of people are not fans of Amy Schumer and her style of comedy, but she’s not the big problem here. In fact I think the whole cast is doing their best in their roles it’s just they are given nothing to work with. Seriously you have Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes in your film, you need to be aggressively mediocre to make them feel dull. The same can be said for the cinematography and editing, it is clear that they had talented people behind the camera, there are some really well constructed shots, some great framing, but the story gives them very little to work with. When it comes to the sets and locations, I will say they are all really well done but it’s clear they are in Hawai’i and not South America and that would be clear even if they didn’t use a lot of the same locations from Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates.

Ok well we have already starting to touch on some of the issues but let’s dig down to the big issues plaguing Snatched. The first big thing is that it does not know what film it wants to be, this is an American PG-13 in tone/story/structure that it feels like a week out from shooting the studio told everyone that no, actually you’re going to be R instead. Seriously it has the structure of a classic PG-13 movie, you have a couple of characters that are complete opposites from each other but have a pre-existing relationship, then something happens that forces them to work together, at some point they’ll air all their dirty laundry, run into some ‘quirky’ characters, and then they’ll work past their differences to escape. It could have easily been edited down to a PG13 film and not been great but it would have probably been better. Nothing is added by the film going to R, they don’t use it to add to the narrative like Deadpool, it’s just there so they can make that nip-slip gag.

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

As well as this, the movie opens with this narration card, ‘the two women caused chaos across South America’, and oh ‘and the kidnappers did some bad stuff to’. So when the first act of the film is really boring, you go to yourself, its ok, they are just setting this up for the juxtaposition so when they get captured and escape and things go off the chain you have something to compare it too. But no, they don’t ‘go of the chain’ they whine and winge from Ecuador to Columbia, with maybe only the very last part of act three being at least partly interesting. There are some moments of action here but it all really tame, like X-men 1 compared with Logan kind of tame. Seriously this is a good ‘fish out of water’ premise for the film, but they do nothing with it. Indeed they can’t even commit to what kind of film they want it to be as the tone varies widely across the film, from slapstick to this serious commentary on the role of tourism in developing countries which could have been interesting if it was not a throwaway line of dialogue.

Another big issue is the characters themselves, who are mostly awful people, but who are all playing broad and often unpleasant stereotypes. We have Emily, the stereotypical millennial with no direction in life, Linda, the stereotypical divorcee who lives alone with her cats, Jeffery the stereotypical nerd, I mean come on Snatched it’s not the 80’s, Morgado (Óscar Jaenada) the stereotypical Latino mobster, Ruth and Barb who are, well actually I don’t know what they are doing but it’s odd to say the least. Frankly they were so awful that I didn’t care at all if they learned to work together or not at the end.

We sympathize with you Goldie

We sympathize with you Goldie

In the end, I don’t know what I was expecting of Snatched, but I did not expect to spend most of the film being board. It is a film who can’t commit to what it wants to be, full of stereotypes and clichéd set ups, and honestly I think I only laughed once in the 1 ½ hours I sat through this in the cinemas, I’d give it a big miss, and don’t subject your mothers to it on Mother’s Day.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Jonathan Levine
Written by – Katie Dippold
Music by – Theodore Shapiro & Chris Bacon
Cinematography by – Florian Ballhaus
Edited by – Melissa Bretherton & Zene Baker
Starring
– Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Joan Cusack, Wanda Sykes, Christopher Meloni,  Óscar Jaenada, Tom Bateman & Randall Park
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Alien: Covenant

TL;DR – Beautiful sets and locations, fantastic suspense, interesting action, and some characters that make some really odd misstates.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is No after credit scene

Alien: Covenant

Review

Wow, this was kind of unexpected, to be honest, I’ve not watched an Alien film since Aliens and from what I have heard the quality of the movies since have been not that great. So I didn’t have high hopes when I walked into the cinema, but honestly, this is one of those times when I’m glad to be wrong because Alien: Covenant was really great. In today’s review, we are going to break down the acting, set, music and action before looking at Alien: Covenant’s big problem. So we are going to avoid spoilers as best we can but given it is a part of a franchise there may be some inadvertent spoilers and also some general assumption that you will probably already know before going to see an Alien film. Now there will be a section a bit later when we go full spoiler but that will be clearly marked so you can avoid it if you wish to do so.

Alien Covenant 4

How beautiful is the scenery in Alien: Covenant

So let us begin with where the film begins in 2104 with the colony ship Covenant on a mission to deliver 2000 colonists to their new home on the other side of the galaxy when tragedy strikes and the mission synth Walter (Michael Fassbender) is forced to wake the crew out of hypersleep early. As they repair the ship they discover a rogue human transmission from a nearby planet, a planet that should not have any humans because they are on the first ship to make it this far into space, and a planet that is more habitable than their destination. So the crew decided to check out the source of the transmission and see if this planet could be a better candidate for colonising. Thus the crew descends to the surface of the planet and chaos ensues.

Now I may have an issue with some of the decisions the character make in the film but I have to give props to the whole cast for their wonderful performances. I have to give full credit to Katherine Waterston who has to give a very difficult performance, showing great lows and highs and a determination I’ve not seen in quite a while, she was great in Fantastic Beasts, but here playing Daniels I think she has shown that she will be a force to reckon with in the future. It’s also great to see Michael Fassbender shine after a couple of less than stellar films, boy can that man do charming and creepy at equal measures. Now the big surprise for me is Danny McBride, this is the first dramatic role I have seen him in and he really excels. The rest of the cast, sure a lot of them are just there to die, this is an Alien film after all, but each creates a believable person, this is not just an actor but a real person with wants and desires … that sometimes does really stupid things. Indeed, it is the acting that helps back up the tone and feel of the movie, which has moments of great lows, moments of great highs, and lots of really creepy moments in-between.

The whole cast is putting in strong performances

The whole cast is putting in strong performances

So when you come to an Alien film there are a couple of things you expect, and one of them is that at some point an alien is going to burst forth from someone and wreak havoc. In many respects, the movie lives or dies on these moments of high tension, that realisation that you are not on the top of the food chain and that now you are the one that is being hunted. Thankfully this is one area where Alien: Covenant shines, those long moments of tension where something is wrong followed by carnage. The design of the xenomorphs have updated quite a bit heading towards the Aliens we are used to, they are also incredibly well realised and animated. This is important because as people found in games like Alien: Colonial Marine, if the xenomorphs are not terrifying then the whole house of cards falls away. But the creaking sound, ok let’s be clear all the sound mixing here is amazing, the attacking in long grass, the vicious extermination of … well, now we are getting into spoilers. The only thing I will say is while most of the action is really great in the film, there are a couple of brawling fight scenes that are a little to cutty with the editing.

Having good action is one thing, but it works even better when you can set it in interesting soundings, and boy does Alien: Covenant pull that off with style. One of the reasons that this film is as compelling as it is, is through the realness of everything. The sets feel tactile, the planet is a real location, and the CGI blends seamlessly with the physical elements. While it is clear that CGI is being used to expand the sets, it is nice to see people walking around real sets interacting with real props, and you can see that with the acting, it just gives the film a level of authenticity. The big standout is, of course, the ship Covenant itself, and a lot of care and attention has been put into making it feel real. This is expanded to the expansive locations shots on the planet that were filmed around Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in New Zealand, and what a beautiful location it is. All of this is supported by some of the best CGI in the business, honestly Animal Logic has outdone themselves here. Visuals are not everything, but when they come together here you have to applaud it. Also, it has to be said Ridley Scott knows how to frame a scene, that cold open immediately draws you into the narrative, you know something unsettling is coming.

The Covenant is beautifully realised in both CGI and practical sets

The Covenant is beautifully realised in both CGI and practical sets

Another big technical area that Alien: Covenant excels in is the entire soundscape of the film, from the orchestral score all the way to the use of silence. I was honestly surprised to see there was a bit of a rocky start with the score for Alien: Covenant because it might be one of my favourite scores so far this year. It referenced some of those older musical sci-fi themes, an homage to the work of the great Jerry Goldsmith, it almost had a Star Trek feel to it, only for it to get twisted and manipulated as the horror unfolds. I loved the use of the violin in Alien: Covenant it really shows off its versatility of the instrument from serenades, to ominous, to the musical equivalent of a hunter stalking its prey. I mentioned the sound mixing and editing before but I want to bring it up again because the sound work here is some of the best in the business. Sound is one of those things that you tend not to notice, unless something is wrong with it, like that line that was added in post-production that does not quite match the rest of the dialogue, or a misapplied sound effect that can undercut an entire performance … Man With a Golden Gun. But here, every creak of the ship, click of a xenomorph, scream in pain, wind blowing through the grass, the lack of insect chirps, it all comes together to heighten our engagement with the story.

Now all this being said there were a couple issues that I have with Alien: Covenant that does sort of affect my overall view of the film. [Spoilers] Ok the first big issue I had was that it felt like some of the crew just wanted to die, because their actions make no sense from the perspective of self-preservation. For example, the whole movie was set in motion because two of the crew released the spores that caused aliens to grow inside them, but let’s look at that for a moment. One of the crew became infected when he poked the spore pod, dude you’re on a new planet don’t poke things, the other crew member was infected when he accidentally stepped on a pod whilst sneaking a cigarette. Now while this is more understandable it does lead to the next question, why were none of the crew wearing any protection when landing on an alien planet, just because there was a breathable atmosphere does not mean that is nothing that could kill you in the air/dirt/water, bacteria, viruses, pollen that could cause allergic reactions, alien bioweapons lying dormant waiting for people to disturb them. Yes I know, like the plank Rose was lying on in Titanic, why were they not wearing suits or protective gear?, because the plot needed to happen, but it could have been done in a more thoughtful way. We see this again when Oram (Billy Crudup) who has just witnessed David talking to the Alien that just killed one of his crew, instead of killing the now clearly untrustworthy synth he follows David of his own free will right down into the heart of the building past a plethora of evidence that David in unhinged and actively looks into what is clearly an egg/pod thing and with something pulsating inside. Look this is not a big deal but when we see movies like Get Out where people are acting with intelligence, it is just frustrating to see lazy characterisations here. As well as this, while most of the time the slow parts in the film are masterfully used to build tension, there are a couple of times during the second act when they felt a bit less like a slow build and more like the film dragging a bit, but thankfully it does not last long. [End of Spoilers]

The tension is palpable

The tension is palpable

In the end, while it is not a perfect film, but boy is Alien: Covenant a compelling film. The actions is great, the technical side of things is outstanding, the locations are amazing, and if you get through the fact that some of the characters engaging in some of the stupidest decisions in cinema you will be engaged from start to finish, and what a finish it was.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Ridley Scott
Screenplay by – John Logan & Dante Harper
Story By – Jack Paglen & Michael Green
Music by – Jed Kurzel
Cinematography by – Dariusz Wolski
Edited by – Pietro Scalia
Starring
– Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby & Guy Pearce
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R