Episode 213: Parasite

For our January Donor Pick, the Patrons chose Bong Joon-Ho’s international sensation for us to discuss. There’s no doubt that this film has taken the world by storm, and for very good reason, as it is a masterclass in filmmaking with layers upon layers to peel back all while enjoying and entertaining domestic thriller. We chat about the biggest takeaways we had from the film, though we likely don’t cover everything possible as this one will be mined for new details for years to come.

Parasite Review – 0:01:06

The Connecting Point – 1:06:37

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Full Measure

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Once upon a time, I served for many years in the United States Navy. One of the heights of my career was being selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer, a position of unique and particularly valued leadership. Before we could officially be accepted and wear our anchor collar insignia, we spent a summer being schooled in Naval history, toughened through increased physical fitness exercises, and eventually participated in a time-honored tradition that tested our mental, emotional, and physical limits while forcing us to rely on each other in ways that strengthened the bond of brotherhood between us all. As part of our Naval history training, we were required to learn about the many Medal of Honor (MoH) recipients who served in the Navy and Marine Corps. I remember vividly being at PT (physical fitness training), well before the sun had risen, reciting MoH citations verbatim in the push-up position, unable to recover and stand until we’d remembered every detail precisely. Now I know that some of you reading this will probably be thinking how cruel this sounds, but its effect on us was profound. These methods hammered home the importance of remembering and honoring those who came before. It wasn’t about having knowledge for the sake of it, we were being trained to pass down the Naval history from our generation of Sailors to the next, ensuring that the sacrifice and valor of all the man and women awarded the MoH was never, ever forgotten, or taken for granted.

“The Last Full Measure” tells the story of a man who was forgotten, though, at least in terms of being remembered equal to his action. Airman William H. Pitsenbarger was a U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper who served as a medic in the Vietnam War. On April 11, 1966, he entered a war zone and tended to injured men until they could be evacuated safely via helicopter. When the last helicopter was forced to leave due to heavy enemy fire, Airman Pitsenbarger waved it off, choosing to stay with the wounded infantrymen still fighting off a Viet Cong assault. Despite being wounded several times himself, he continued to treat others in any way he could and distributed ammo to those who could still resist before ultimately being killed. The battle was one of the most deadly of the war with Americans suffering heavy losses, but due to Pitsenbarger’s courageous actions at least 9 men were able to return home alive.

For his actions, Pitsenbarger was awarded the Air Force Cross. The film follows the efforts of the men he saved, his parents, and an initially reluctant Department of Defense staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) to see him recognized with the Medal of Honor, the United States of America’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration. Over the course of the film, Huffman visits many of those whose lives are owed to or were impacted greatly Pitsenbarger, with him slowly learning about their trauma from the war and the possibly covered up true events of that fateful day. Director Todd Robinson, who has worked on this project for 20 years, utilizes flashbacks to the battle in order to depict Pitsenbarger’s actions in a way we can visually understand. Admittedly, Robinson has not mastered his craft, and the film suffers from clunky transitions between past and present and some overly melodramatic camerawork at times. But Robinson’s passion for sharing Pitsenbarger’s story with the world shines through every frame and the emotional acting of this stacked veteran cast, which includes such heavyweights as Sam Jackson, William Hurt, Peter Fonda, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Dianne Ladd, and Bradley Whitford. Backed by a beautiful, tender, and moving score by composer Philip Klein, I spent the second half of the film in uncontrollable tears, powerfully moved by the brotherhood, fatherhood, valor, and integrity I saw on display. 

Some critics have already faulted the film for not dealing harshly enough with the governmental concealing of information that took place and for not taking a clear enough stance on the war (as well as the mistakes revealed to have been made in Operation Abilene), but that is not the point of Robinson’s film. It is clear from the start that what Robinson wants us to do is akin to what I experienced in my aforementioned Naval training. He wants us to learn. To observe. To feel. And to remember. It would be difficult to come away from this film not wrestling with how we see these survivors struggle to cope or moved by the reverent way in which they push to see the man who gave his life for theirs honorably remembered.  The emotional swells of the film are in service of crafting a memorable experience, and to that end, I must say Robinson has achieved resounding success.

“The Last Full Measure” is certainly more heavy on drama than fighting, setting it apart from the majority of its genre kin. It is a story of perseverance paid off. A tale as much about the psychological and physical wounds of our veterans that lived as much as the heroism of the one who did not. Of healing and finding peace. And a call to stand for what is right in the face of politics that wish to suppress the truth. For everyone but those with the most cynical of hearts, “The Last Full Measure” is a fully moving experience and an admirale tribute to the effect that one man’s sacrifice had on so many. 

You can read William H. Pitsenbarger’s full Medal of Honor citation by clicking here.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Underwater

Underwater, no one can hear you scream!
(unless of course they have a mic in their dive suit helmet and you do too, and then you can definitely hear them scream but I digress)

 

It’s easier to just get the comparisons out of the way right off the bat. The hot take will be that “Underwater” is “Alien” at the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, there’s some truth to that, or people wouldn’t be saying it. Sure, “Underwater” follows a female primary protagonist, who is part of a crew trying to stay alive amidst the presence of mythical deadly creatures, but much of the film plays out a lot more straightforward than you might expect, instead resembling a traditional natural disaster escape movie.

Narratively, “Underwater” isn’t too deep (heh), and that’s perfectly alright. Director William Eubank makes a great choice utilizing the credits sequence to provide background information that normally would be delivered via boring, pace-slowing exposition. Instead, a collection of newspaper articles, scientific papers, and memos flashing behind the credits tell us that our setting is a drill site in the Mariana Trench, where the deepest drilling in history is taking place, and that reports of mysterious shadowy creatures have been made. Once inside Kepler Station, we meet Norah (Kristen Stewart), reflecting on the isolation and timelessness of life in the deep while brushing her teeth. Within minutes, though, a breach of the station hull occurs due to an earthquake and what follows is a 90-minute rush to rescue, survive, and escape. Along the way, Norah, a mechanical engineer, teams up with fellow survivors. They include a wise-cracking, Alice in Wonderland obsessed goof played by T.J. Miller (who surprisingly has a few jokes actually land), their calm and collected Captain (Vincent Cassell) of the station, and a few others. The Captain proposes a dangerous plan where they will don their deep-sea suits, descend, and then traverse the nearly 7-mile deep ocean floor to reach another station that still has working escape pods. They all know it’s insane, but they have no choice. What follows is a suspenseful group effort to stay alive; some do, some don’t. At times it definitely gets ridiculous and some of the more chaotic action is nearly incoherent in the dark watery setting, but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun, with the dialogue kept at a minimum and the propulsive intensity dialed up high throughout. Stewart is a capable lead and her considerable talent is on display, even when not really necessary. She carries an emotional weight for the crew that elevated the film for me, and she is also a part of the film’s most memorable monster moment.

The concept of “Underwater” certainly could have been presented in a longer, smarter, and more dramatically heavy film – one that isn’t so predictable, doesn’t play fast and loose with science, and gives a more thorough explanation about the creatures encountered. But that’s not this movie, and as I said in the beginning, that’s okay. What “Underwater” does is deliver a fast-paced, claustrophobic, action-thriller (backed by an excellent Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts score) that works perfectly fine without sea monster aliens even introduced, but that takes joy in leaning into its creature feature third act. It’s wild and at times silly, but I had a great time watching it and would gladly sit through it again when it releases on home video. Not every movie needs to have depth (heh again) to be entertaining, even if its title makes you think otherwise.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Just Mercy

The American criminal justice system was envisioned to be built on the ideas of fairness, justice, and due process for its citizens, a system that has a responsibility to give those citizens a fair trial, a court-appointed lawyer, and that operates under the adage “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”. Throughout history, this has been the opposite for those who have the distinction of being African American and of lower than privileged socioeconomic means. The United States has a bad track record of people wrongfully shackled under the thumb of the correctional system based on flimsy evidence and a lack of procedural aptitude; the same shortcomings have lead to innocent individuals losing their lives at the hands of a retributive government practice known as the death penalty. “Just Mercy” tells the story of one man’s fight to escape the clutches of a broken system with the help of a heroic lawyer willing to do the impossible.

Not enough praise can be showered on the plethora of terrific acting performances that can be found throughout this film. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx play off each other with deep conviction and dedication to their respective roles; Jordan is electric as the headstrong lawyer who is putting everything on the line to help inmates get off death row, while Foxx turns in one of his more compelling performances as a victim of injustice and racism. Character actor extraordinaire Tim Blake Nelson impresses me highly in the few moments he had to share, physically and mentally turning himself into a traumatized empty shell who is a victim of coercion. If there is one actor who carves their own mark away from the rest, it is Rob Morgan. Morgan is phenomenal, the equivalent of a sixth man in the NBA  who comes off the bench and drops 40 points to the surprise of everyone. His personal moments as a man on the brink of execution touch the soul with great heartbreak and tragedy, giving us the most emotionally charged moments that will bring any viewer to an uncontrollable amount of tears. Brie Larson, in my opinion, stands as one of the few actresses in Hollywood who is must-see but sadly does not fit the distinction in this forgettable role. She is not in control of a story that doesn’t give her much activity when it comes to more powerful moments and she lacks presence compared to the other actors, while her attempt at a Southern dialectic o is missing the juice needed to feel convincing.

Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12″) displays an inherent trait of allowing the characters on screen to show off a strong sense of humanity and imperfection. The whole film is a testament to thematic drama in its purest form. Cretton gathers plenty of kudos for his use of emotionally telling close-ups and Steadicam shots that put you in the center of the environment, rife with equal parts hope and fear. It would have been very easy for this to be another assembly line cliche-filled melodrama complete with a lineup of white saviors but this is filled with genuine attention and care to the topic at hand. The ugliness of African Americans being wrapped up as victims of a system characterized by racism and oppression will not be lost on anyone, and the fact that we still are plagued by these problems is a hard pill to swallow. If “Just Mercy” teaches us anything, the lesson is that we each have an obligation to fight and stand for the ones who cannot, the ones who are voiceless and invisible based on their bank account or their ethnic roots.

A powerful and profoundly deep drama, “Just Mercy” is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who shares the same passion in doing right by the people who deserve it the most.  This biopic is a true story that should be treated in the glow of the American Hero narrative. It is an indictment on a criminal justice system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt with a sense of fairness for all.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 207: Little Women

All adaptations are not created equal and this week we discuss one of the best, Greta Gerwig’s new take on Louisa May Alcott’s book. With a modern flair, a meta twist, and the best ensemble cast of the year, this version of Little Women warmed our hearts and won us over.

Little Women Review – 0:01:01

The Connecting Point – 1:21:02

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MOVIE REVIEW: Uncut Gems

The experience of your physical and mental senses being run through the gauntlet of a pressure cooker has never been more fully realized. Your heartbeat thumps with each new anxiety-filled sequence that won’t resolve itself, and an escalation of stakes conjures sweat to trickle from the surface of your forehead. Even in the quietest of moments, there is a sense that the viewer and the main protagonist will never find themselves out of the massive black hole that has swallowed them whole. The Safdie Bros “Uncut Gems” is a cinematic experience that demands full attention with its cascading thrills, visual/auditory richness, and Adam Sandler’s tour de force performance.

Set in the year 2012, Howard Ratner (Sandler) is a jeweler stationed in New York City who enjoys an impressive clientele that features a who’s who of musicians and athletes desiring custom pieces that stand out. Ratner receives the delivery that he has been salivating over for months, a rock filled with colorful gems straight from the country of Ethiopia. Ratner hopes to score a big windfall of cash from this prized possession in the form of an auction listing, while also getting serious loan sharks and bookies off his neck over uncovered debts. The plan does not go well due to unfortunate circumstances brought on by mishandled gambling decisions and the chaos of Ratner’s personal life unfolding behind the scenes, sending him traveling down a slippery slope of heightened drama and personal turmoil that can prove undo his quest for a high heaven payday.

Adding to the massive characterization of this New York City thriller is Daniel Lopatin’s chilling score, featuring a mixture of 80’s inspired synthesizers, monk chanting, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and pounding drums. The musical accompaniment is important to creating an atmospheric high on par with the thrilling events provided by the story. This is one of the best examples of the year in how a score can serve as a mirror to the emotional texture a film wants to supply the audience. There is an immersion element present in the sound design that is chock full of details and pays emotional dividends. One great example is a sequence that takes place in a club where the insurmountable boom of early 2010’s rap and R&B surround the auditory landscape, filling viewers with an  actual rendering of the chaos present on the screen

Sandler proves once again that he is not just useful in the comedic arena but can also encapsulate larger than life characters. He became Howard Ratner down to the accent, personality, walk, and contradictions. It is fascinating to watch him lose himself and take over the DNA of the film with a performance that is equal parts compelling, entertaining, and award-worthy. Lakeith Stanfield is wonderful in his supporting role and continues to travel upward to respectability in the cinema world. Basketball enthusiasts will be ecstatic to see Kevin Garnett have a major role in how this film unfolds, too. He is such a loveable cult of personality, playing himself, which is far from a fault but icing on the cake.

The Safdie Brothers feel right in their element with another adrenaline-filled ride that follows their previous breakthrough “Good Time”. This effort strikes white-hot with the handling of tension and offers a great exploration of morality in the dangerous world of high stakes gambling. The intense direction sparks growing suspense and dread that never leaves. Quick cuts, push in close-ups, and panning shots are employed with a showmanship style that captivates. It can be very hard for most films to keep up high energy because there is a risk of driving off the tracks and losing a sense of newness present in the tone. The Safdie Brothers have incredible talent displaying prominent control which keeps the audience hooked into what will be coming around the corner. This all leads to a shocking conclusion that will not leave my mind even with the advent of a new decade. Let’s just say that viewers will get their money’s worth, but it may not be in the manner of what they expected.

Darius Khondji’s work as cinematographer is visually powerful and hard to keep from gawking in amazement. The use of neon and fluorescent lighting in evening vignettes feels natural to the worldwide reputation of New York, also known as “The Concrete Jungle”. There is an air of grittiness, but also classy opulence, in the production design; apartments and houses that give off the style of high taste even with the characters and sequences involved being rife with uncertainty and sometimes illicit behavior. The look of a flashy extravaganza complete with luxury but embodying the same surface area as a Scorsese crime drama in homage brings the film home in a majorly impactful way.

“Uncut Gems” is a film that will test your strength and stamina in how much intensity one human body can handle. It is a drama that builds and builds on entertainment, suspense, and fascination until it releases it all in a climactic supernova, making it an integral part of the year in cinema.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Two Popes

Following the journey of Jorge Bergoglio’s ascendancy to the title of “Pope Francis”, “The Two Popes” plays out more like a documentary than a typical drama. Based on true events, this story is mostly told via continuing dialogue between Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) and Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins), who differ in what the future path should be for the Catholic Church. Will the religion stay stuck to outdated cultural and ideological truths or is it time for new progressive ideas that fit in with the changing times? Pryce and Hopkins both deliver the goods in acting quality; their dichotomy represented by scenes of verbal conflict and immense respect for one another. Flashbacks do well in fleshing out Bergoglio’s disposition prior to his current way of living, bringing levity to his unconditional dedication to the common people valued by Catholicism and events that shaped his new-age ideals for views centered on topics such as homosexuality, economic inequality, and religious practices.

Appreciation can be showered on the professionalism echoing from Fernando Meirelles’s direction and the steady writing Anthony McCarten puts together working with an expansive story such as this. The film’s issue lies in nothing truly standing out on its own. Its method of storytelling is not always compelling and can cause some viewers to lose focus. Most scenes centered on two men exchanging long anecdotes concerning religion and political ramifications will not be what most would call “entertaining”. The humor in this film feels very tough to latch onto, especially when the actors conveyed these scenes in a manner that feels far from enthusiastic.

Fernando Meirelles’s “The Two Popes” will find an audience with people who have deep knowledge of the long history of the Catholic Church and who have pledged their support for Pope Francis. Outside of that, it’s difficult to recommend a 2-hour film that uses long-running discussion between two men as its manner of narrative technique. Pryce and Hopkins are both prominent in dual leading roles and the topics they discuss do lend themselves to current societal issues around the world that are experienced by many. For me, this is an experience that can be praised for its polish but is not something worth a second viewing.


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 205: Bombshell

Potentially lost in the shuffle of big-name releases this Christmas is one of the most important films of the year, and also one of our favorites. We chat about this riveting story of toxic sexism and how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO. This slick, entertaining film is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It is first and foremost a story that gave us perspective, and with that plenty to talk about.

Bombshell Review – 0:01:32

The Connecting Point – 1:15:12

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MOVIE REVIEW: Cats

Debuting in 1982, CATS is the fourth longest-running musical on Broadway and has amassed millions of devoted fans worldwide. It was only a matter of time until someone decided to tackle the challenge of bringing the innovative fourth-wall-breaking stage musical to film, and that crazy person is Tom Hooper, directing his second musical adaptation after 2012’s “Les Misérables”. Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot, the story of “Cats” is a selection of poems put into song and it is notoriously hard to follow. Eliot was known for his fanciful made-up words and names, so keeping everything about this unique world and the characters living in it straight is certainly difficult the first time through. 

The plot is fairly simple, yet at the same time utterly confusing. Over the course of a single night, a tribe of cats called the Jellicles make what is known as “the Jellicle choice” and decide which cat will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new life. So basically, all of the cats are anxious to die, go to Heaven, and be reborn again… dark. The Jellicles consist of an ensemble cast portraying cats of various personalities, all of whom are likely to break into song and dance, of course. The audience is first introduced to Victoria (Francesca Hayward), a new arrival, and through her POV the first half of the film revolves around introducing members of the tribe who explain how competition to be “the Jellicle choice” goes. There is a villain, Macavity (Idris Elba), who wishes to ascend to the Heavyside Layer at any cost, and he’ll gladly play dirty to get there. Elba’s role is expanded from that of the musical and he mostly satisfies despite going way over the top in a few scenes, but the animation used for his “magic” is laughably bad. In the second half of the film, several cats audition to be “the Jellicle choice” in front of the cats and Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), the elder and decision-maker of the tribe. This half also provides much more time with Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), the outcast cat, who is the emotional center of the story and sings the musical’s most well-known and powerful ballad, “Memory”. Dench’s performance as Old Deuteronomy is great and a nice connection to the stage version, where she once played Grizabella on Broadway. Hudson meanwhile steals the show, belting out “Memory” as powerfully and beautifully as it’s ever been sung before.

The majority of the film flows like most musicals do, from one extravagantly choreographed number to the next. Much ado has been made about the CGI fur and bodysuits the actors wear, and visually the film definitely leans on the creepy side. Even the mice and cockroaches have tiny human faces, truly the stuff of nightmares. But for all its wackiness, visual absurdity, and strange movement, most of the film was still a joyful experience and certainly one that you can’t take your eyes off. The songs turned out great, with rock stars like Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift providing memorable numbers, and veteran actors like James Corden, Sir Ian McKellen, Ray Winstone, and Rebel Wilson all infusing their cat with loads of personality.

“Cats” may be full of weird, but its heart is shown in numbers like “Memory”, “Beautiful Ghosts”, and “Mr. Mistoffelees”, and the finale of “The Ad-Dressing of Cats” is always a fan favorite that will have feline lovers heading home to hug their kitty companions. Hooper’s version of the story may be an ambitious mess with spurts of visual horror, but “Cats” is still a crowd-pleasing treat that evokes laughter, joy, heartache, and a rousing desire to sing at the top of your lungs.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” follows the lives of four sisters from the blooming time of teenage years into the world of adulthood. Taking place during a tumultuous period of the Civil War, Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) have their own distinct ways of viewing a world in which women’s opportunities for independence are scarcely low. The only paths to prominence were being the wife of a privileged husband, which left women in the predicament of being “property” with no sense of individual ownership, or being rich. Each sister has a sense of free will and distinct ambitions to go far beyond this limited vestige by focusing on their pursuit of the arts. Through seamless transitions between the past and present, these bonded sisters traverse romance, tragedy, family, and self-exploration.

Featuring one of the best ensembles of the year, the cast is a who’s who of gifted young actors/actresses and established veterans. Ronan, Watson, and Pugh are impeccable with a delightful charm and sit a level above the rest of the cast. Ronan is full of strong will and combustible energy that pulls the viewer into her inner wish to shatter the mold as an aspiring novelist. There is not one scene where she doesn’t steal the show. Pugh is a stellar sidekick, continuing her hot streak in 2019 that has seen her star in roles across several different genres. Watson plays her part with a silent elegance and really hits home in a couple of dramatic moments. Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Laura Dern all hold up their end of the supporting bargain with terrific turns representing relevant figures in the maturation of these sisters.

A certain amount of heartwarming compassion and charm is present in every little fabric of this adaption. Certain scenes will make you smile because of the easily discernible connection the sisters share or the little moments of moral humanity where characters are full of life and charity. This world is soaked with the beloved energy that the novel has carried for over 150 years; a rare case in which the film soars to the same heights of its literary companion. For a 759 page novel, the film’s pacing and actor mannerisms makesit easy to keep up with all of the important details, the switch between flashbacks and present time are handled with the utmost care and feel seamless. Jess Gonchor’s work on the production design is the equivalent of authenticity done right. House decor, horse-drawn carriages, fashion of the era, and street signs are carbon copies of what readers have imagined for decades as the words bounce off the page.

Gerwig handles writing and direction duties just as she did with her last great film, “Lady Bird”, and shows a greater sense of improvement and ease. It can be an audacious task bringing a well-received literary classic to the big screen, but Gerwig succeeds immensely. “Little Women” is an entertaining homage that carries a modern feel while keeping the personality of a timeless period piece. This is a film that speaks to all women in the celebration of autonomy and uniqueness while delivering laughs, developed character arcs, remarkable cinematography, and a winner’s circle of award-worthy performances. I’m still surprised with how much I enjoyed my time at the theater.

Rating:


Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.