"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Bohemian Rhapsody: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. If you are a cinephile looking for great cinema, look somewhere else, but if you are a Queen fan looking for some mindless fun, this is the movie for you.

Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Antony McCarten and (sort of) directed by Bryan Singer, is the story of Freddie Mercury, the iconic lead singer of the band Queen, and his rise to the top of the rock world and his struggles once he got there. The film stars Rami Malek as Mercury, with supporting turns from Lucy Boynton, Gwylim Lee and Ben Hardy.

This past Tuesday, after doing my civic duty and voting to Make America Great Again in the morning, I had my entire afternoon free, so I ventured down to the local cineplex to check out Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury bio-pic.

Mercury’s band Queen, is, in my not so humble opinion, not the greatest rock band of all-time, but it is in the neighborhood. They aren’t The Beatles, Stones or Led Zeppelin, but they are more The Doors, The Who and Pink Floyd adjacent. While I am not a Queen super fan, I do enjoy the band and consider Freddie Mercury to be the greatest singer in the history of rock and one of the most original front men to boot.

Mercury is a fascinating figure who took the androgynous pose of the likes of Jaggar, Bowie. and Plant and turned it up to 11, becoming a closeted but widely acknowledged gay rock star when being gay was not so warmly embraced as it is now.

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What made Mercury and Queen so appealing is that they simultaneously took themselves way too seriously but not seriously at all. Mercury was the consummate showman, and his flamboyant stage act, with his perilously short shorts or impossibly tight pants along his awkward movements made him a sort of court jester of rock and roll, but it was his extraordinary voice that also made him King (and Queen) of rock. Mercury’s vocal power and range is unmatched by every other rock singer who has ever pelvic thrusted across our collective consciousness.

Queen were one of the great bands because they were able to take the genre of arena rock and infuse it with a healthy serving of prog rock which resulted in the most anomalous, avant-garde, radio friendly anthems to ever come out of the genre. Brian May’s titanic guitar sound combined with Mercury’s sublime voice and Roger Taylor’s thunderous drums (and stellar backing vocals) added together to make a first rate and stunningly original band, the likes of which we will certainly never see again.

Which brings us to the film Bohemian Rhapsody, which is more a bio-pic of Mercury than of the band, but the two are forever intertwined. The problem with Bohemian Rhapsody is that for a story about an exquisitely unconventional band and man, it is a painstakingly conventional and standard film. Bohemian Rhapsody cuts a lot of corners and softens a lot of edges to spoon-feed a rather trite and contrived story, and personally, I think a phenomenal talent and complicated human being like Freddie Mercury deserves a hell of a lot better.

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Bio-pics are tough to make, particularly about music legends, and Bohemian Rhapsody falls into every single trap that lay before it. The film doesn’t tell you about the man Freddie Mercury, it simply recreates the myth. The myth is fun but it isn’t interesting because it isn’t real. Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) was a real person and had all the baggage that goes along with that. The better movie is the movie that tells us the story of Farrokh, not the one that recounts the well-known exploits of Freddie.

An example of a bio-pic that succeeds in crossing the myth and man divide was Oliver Stone’s electric The Doors. Stone was able to dig deeper into the myth of Jim Morrison and find the lost man/little boy at its center.

A lot of people commented after seeing The Doors that Val Kilmer, who starred as Morrison in the film, “looks so much like Jim Morrison”, which is funny because if you actually look at the two men, Val Kilmer looks nothing like Jim Morrison. What made people think he did is that Kilmer is a terrific actor, who in the early 90’s was at the height of his powers. Kilmer created his own Morrison and audiences accepted it because his work was thorough, genuine and grounded. Kilmer played Morrison the man, and then wore the mask of the Morrison myth on top of that, which made for a compelling piece of screen acting.

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In contrast, Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, is hamstrung by a very limiting script that never allows him to fully flesh out Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara the man, and so he is left to play Freddie Mercury the myth. To Malek’s great credit, he does a stupendous job doing so, particularly during the musical performances. Malek brings Mercury to life on stage to such a degree that it is deliriously infectious. Like Kilmer, Malek has only a passing resemblance to Mercury in real life, but with his undeniable commitment to character, aided by some very effective fake teeth, Malek visually transforms into a remarkably believable version of Mercury (so much so in one particular scene that it is actually creepy, as Malek/Freddie lies in a blue bed and looks like a corpse) which is heightened with his exquisite recreation of Mercury’s stage presence and persona. (As a weird aside, speaking of Freddie Mercury look-a-likes, one of the doctors on my cracked medical team looks like he could be Freddie Mercury’s blond younger brother…seriously…and truth be told he could actually be related, I don’t know as I don’t know his backstory. Anyway, I find his Freddie look-a-like status distracting and oddly unnerving when trying to have a serious conversation with him. He is an extremely nice guy and very good doctor, I just wish “Fat Bottomed Girls” wouldn’t get stuck in my head every time I interact with him. Although to be fair, one of the other doctors on my cracked staff is quite an attractive woman with a decidedly voluptuous bottom, so maybe I shouldn’t blame all of my Queen ear worms on Freddie Mercury’s little brother.)

The supporting cast of Gwylim Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello all do solid work as well and look strikingly like their real-life band counterparts Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

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The supporting actor who stood out the most though, and by a mile, is the luminous Lucy Boynton who plays Mercury’s girlfriend Mary Austin. Boynton is an alluring and captivating presence who jumps off the screen. Her role is pretty under-written but she is able, through sheer magnetism and artistic determination, to create a multi-dimensional character which would have been absent in lesser hands.

The only other film I have seen Boynton in was Sing Street, where she was equally beguiling. Boynton is blessed with being a charismatic yet approachable beauty with a deft and subtle acting touch. She certainly has the ability to be an actress of note and I look forward to seeing where her career takes her as the sky is the limit.

As for the directing of Bohemian Rhapsody, officially, everybody’s least favorite pedophile, Bryan Singer, is the director. But Singer was fired after two thirds of the shoot was completed when he simply vanished and didn’t return to set after the Thanksgiving break. Apparently Singer was dealing with personal some issues, I wonder if they were related to his insatiable (and illegal) sweet tooth when it comes to his sexual partners….hmmmm?

Dexter Fletcher was hired to complete the film and considering the mess this movie could have been with the hapless Singer at the helm followed by a substitute teacher trying to piece it all together, he does a passable job.

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a great movie, but to its credit it is a fun one. Fans of Queen will love the movie, they won’t learn anything new or gain any insights into Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara but they will get a sanitized ride along with the band through the ups and downs of their roller coaster to the top of the music business.

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As much as the first hour and 40 minutes of the movie is rather lackluster, thanks to Rami Malek and the music of Queen, the final 30 minutes pulsates with a vibrant life. The concert footage is not shot particularly well, and it isn’t a great piece of filmmaking by any stretch (as opposed to say, Oliver Stone’s dynamic direction of concert scenes in The Doors which is magnificent), but the music of Queen that erupts during the climactic concert footage is impossible to deny. At my screening there was a palpable sense of joy mixed with some melancholy at watching Freddie Mercury back from the grave to slay dragons from the Wembley stage once again. As underwhelmed as I was by the majority of the film, the final concert scenes had me leaving the theatre with a bounce in my step.

In conclusion, if you are a Queen fan, even in passing, you should grab the nearest Fat Bottomed Girl or Your Best Friend and Bicycle Race to see Bohemian Rhapsody, I mean why not? It is fun, it has Queen music, it has Rami Malek giving a solid performance and it boasts the incandescent Lucy Boynton. On the other hand, if you are not a Queen fan, or if you are a cinephile looking for serious cinema, Bohemian Rhapsody is not a Killer Queen, dynamite with a laser beam and certainly isn’t guaranteed to blow your mind, it is just a case of Another bio-pic Bites the Dust.

©2018
















The Old Man and the Gun: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this rather dull and insipid bit of psuedo-nostalgia in the theatre, but if you stumble across it on cable feel free to watch it if you want…it is entirely harmless and toothless…which is what is wrong with it in the first place.

The Old Man and the Gun, written and directed by David Lowery, is the ‘mostly’ true story of Forest Tucker, a career bank robber. The film stars Robert Redford as Forest, with supporting turns from Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

I like David Lowery as a director, I don’t think he is Scorsese or Kubrick or Malick, but he is an interesting filmmaker. I found Lowery’s last venture, A Ghost Story, to be a really daring art house film which is one of the reasons why I was excited to see Lowery’s latest project The Old Man and the Gun. Even the graphics for the advertisements and trailer of the movie were intriguing to me, as they had the look and feel of a 1970’s Robert Redford movie, most of which were pretty darn good.

And so, I headed to the theatre hopeful that Lowery and Redford had recreated some of the movie star’s 1970’s magic in what could very well be his last film. Sadly, The Old Man and the Gun does not live up to its premise, its collection of talent or even its marketing.

The Old Man and the Gun is the flimsiest of nothing-burgers that is so devoid of substance and drama that it plays more like a 90 minute commercial for itself than an actual cinematic experience

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The Old Man and the Gun is a shockingly dull and derivative affair, and it is a remarkably mainstream enterprise considering the director’s last picture bent space and time while starring a ghost with a sheet over his head and was highlighted by a women compulsively eating a whole pie in a single take.

The Old Man and the Gun is, to put it as bluntly as I can, nothing more than an old person movie in every single way. Old people love seeing movies about old people…especially old people doing un-old people things like robbing banks (1979’s Goin’ in Style or the 2017 remake) or being astronauts (Space Cowboys) or something equally moronic. Old people will love this movie because it is a lot like them in that it has no teeth and moves real slow. Old people will like this movie because it is little more than an hour and a half of watching Robert Redford be charming…oh and Sissy Spacek be charming too..and, like prunes and Matlock, old people like that sort of thing.

The most damning thing I can say about this film, or any film really, is that there is not a single real or genuine moment in this entire movie. Everything in this maddeningly unsatisfying film is manufactured horseshit that feels more at home in a Lifetime movie or on the Hallmark channel.

Robert Redford is an often under-appreciated actor, and it wasn’t just his 1970’s heyday that highlighted his talents, as his work in 2013’s All Is Lost was also a reminder of his stellar ability. But in The Old Man and the Gun, Redford looks and feels every bit his 82 years and has most definitely lost a step. Redford matches the listless pace of the film and coasts through the movie on “charm autopilot” from start to finish.

While Redford is most definitely charming, his Forest Tucker character is not even remotely a real human being, even though he is based on a real person. The film never sheds any light into the real Forest, preferring to skim the surface and play things for cutesy shits and giggles.

Redford and Lowery had a chance to really create something special with Forest Tucker, to dig into the character and unearth his soul, but instead they chose to take the safe and easy route and make a entirely forgettable film.

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One of the foundational problems with the movie is that Lowery’s script, like his direction, is tepid and flaccid. There are numerous opportunities to explore deeply dramatic and relevant themes throughout the story, such as Casey Affleck’s character, Det. John Hunt and his interracial marriage in early 1980’s Texas, or the darker side of a sweet-talker like Forest Tucker who makes his living committing armed robberies, but Lowery ignores these things and instead chooses to make a stultifying elderly romance.

None of the talent assembled for this movie is able to overcome the insipid script or their under-written characters, as Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek and Tom Waits all give rather rote and lethargic performances.

The Old Man and the Gun is a dead-eyed failure of a film because it is only about the Old Man and not his Gun or his relationship with his Gun, and on top of that the Old Man has no scars, no wounds and ultimately no soul. The film suffers terribly because of its decision to focus on the vapid, the vacuous and the shallow.

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Towards the end of the film, Lowery gives us a montage of Forest Tucker and his history of breaking out of prison. It is the only remotely interesting thing in the entire movie and that is because that sequence is basically an homage to Robert Redford’s career and a tip of the cap to his monumental filmography.

If you really want to pay tribute to the great actor and movie star Robert Redford, go watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, The Candidate, Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men, The Natural or All Is Lost and stay aware from the insidiously vacant and nostalgically saccharine The Old Man and the Gun.

©2018




Burt Reynolds and the End of the Movie Star

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 38 seconds

Burt Reynolds died on Thursday at the age of 82. A review of his career reveals a great deal about not only the man, but the current state of Hollywood.

Burt Reynolds was once the king of Hollywood. For a period of time in the late 70's and early 80's, Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star on the planet. From 1978 to 1982 Burt was the top box office draw for every single year, a five year run that in the history of cinema is only matched by Bing Crosby's 5 year run in the late 1940's.

What makes Burt Reynolds magnificent box office run all the more a monument to his star power and charm is that the movies Burt churned out during this stretch were absolutely abysmal. Here are the films that Burt Reynolds sold to the public to become box office champ for a record five years straight.

1978 - The End, Hooper. 1979 - Starting Over. 1980 - Rough Cut, Smokey and the Bandit II. 1981 - The Cannonball Run, Paternity, Sharkey's Machine. 1982 - Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Best Friends.

That is a Murderer's Row of completely forgettable, horrendously awful movies. But the cinematic atrocities that are those films only act as incontrovertible evidence of the tremendous mega-movie star Burt Reynolds really was. Audiences didn't show up at movie theaters to see these films for any other reason than to get to hang out with Burt for two hours.

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Burt's formula for success was simple...just be Burt, the fun lovin', handsome, good ole boy that he was, who guys wanted to be and women wanted to be with. Didn't matter the story or the character, as long as Burt was on camera people would pay money to see it. Burt was...well...Burt...sort of a one man Rat Pack, with Bacchanal Burt as the Pope of the Church of Shits and Giggles, which is why he was such a sought after guest on The Tonight Show or any other talk show.

Burt's films, particularly the mind-numbingly awful Cannonball Run movies, are reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven franchise, in that audiences are basically paying to watch famous, good-looking rich people have fun with each other. Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen are a way for regular folks to get to hang out with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon for two hours and feel like part of the crew. Audiences get to watch these "stars" dress up, be witty and outsmart everyone and get to be in on the joke.

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Burt Reynolds film's are the same formula as Ocean's Eleven except Burt didn't need a bunch of other stars, he was big enough and bright enough to carry a movie all on his own. Sure, he'd have Mel Tillis or Dom DeLuise caddy for him, but Burt didn't need them, he was doing them a favor and kept them around because they made HIM laugh.

Burt was so big from '78 to '82 that if you melded George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon at the height of their careers into one, you'd still have to add in Matthew McConnaghey in order to have it all add up to be even remotely close to peak Burt Reynolds. That is stunning for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that it shows how staggeringly magnetic Burt Reynolds was back in the day, but also the shocking dearth of movie stars walking the planet now.

Could any actor working today draw audiences with the cavalcade of crap that Burt Reynolds was churning out during his heyday?  Not a chance. Tom Cruise is the closest actor since Burt to capture the public's imagination in the same way, he has been a box office champ 7 times over three decades (80's, 90's, 00's), but Cruise never accomplished it in consecutive years never mind five years running. 

Unlike Burt, Cruise has benefited by starring in the big budget Mission Impossible franchise and in a few Spielberg extravaganzas. Even Cruise's earlier, more critically acclaimed work, was a result of his being secondary to his directors. Born on the Fourth of July is not a Tom Cruise film, it is an Oliver Stone film, and the same could be said of Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick) or The Color of Money (Scorsese).

Burt Reynolds didn't work with big name directors, in fact, remarkably enough, Burt actually directed two of the film's in which he starred during his box office championship run, 1978's The End and 1982's Sharkey's Machine...that is absolutely insane.

When it comes to the "movie stars" of the current era the proof is in the pudding, and today's pudding shows us a paucity of stars so stunning that the cupboard is basically completely bare.

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Tom Cruise has a big box office hit this year with his latest Mission Impossible monstrosity, but without that franchise or a big name director, Cruise's ability to attract audiences on his own has diminished in striking ways over the last twenty years. Since 1996's Jerry Maguire, Cruise has been under performed on his own without the friendly confines of a big budget franchise or the assistance of name directors, like Spielberg and Kubrick, who overshadow him.

Many thought George Clooney was the heir apparent to the movie star throne, but he isn't ready for the crown as shown by the recent poor box office results of Tomorrowland and Monuments Men, and as the Ocean's Eleven films show, he needs not just one other star to help him over the finish line, but a cornucopia of stars.

Brad Pitt had his moment in the sun but was always more of a second rate Robert Redford than an imitation of Burt Reynolds, and has never had the box office impact of either man.

Matthew McConnaghey has churned out similarly awful films to Burt's sub-par canon, but he has never even remotely approached the star wattage or box office prowess of Burt.

Leonardo DiCaprio is often considered a movie star, but Leo is much more of an actor than a movie star, and his inability to open films on his own without the benefit of a big name director like Scorsese, Spielberg or Christopher Nolan is testament to that fact.

Studios have figured out that nowadays it is about teaming auteurs like Scorsese, PT Anderson, Inarritu or Tarantino, with name actors in order to generate profits. The auteurs alone, or the stars alone, just don't cut it anymore, so the studios combine them together.

The film industry has changed dramatically in other ways since Burt Reynolds ruled the roost, as studios have discovered it isn't the stars that make a movie, but the characters, and so studios have slowly transitioned from building movie star brands to creating big budget franchises. Boiled down to its essence, this approach is basically, It doesn't matter who plays Batman, people will see a Batman movie.

As a result, actors try and attach themselves to these franchises in order to become "movie stars"...but the truth is the actors are, like sports stars for people's favorite teams, just wearing the jersey. These sports stars could be traded to another team and wear another jersey next year, so the fans aren't really rooting for the players, they are rooting for the laundry.

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For example, Chris Pratt is a "big movie star" right now, and to his credit he can carry a movie, but no one is dropping $14 to go see Chris Pratt, but they will pay to see Chris Pratt in Jurassic World or Guardians of the Galaxy. Same is true of the other Chris's...Chris Helmsworth, Chris Pine and Chris Evans...otherwise known as Thor, Captain Kirk and Captain America. Those guys are decent enough actors, but no one rushes out to see them in anything unless they are playing their signature franchise roles.

What is staggering to consider is that Burt Reynolds could have been an even bigger star than he was. Burt notoriously turned down the role of Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise and John McClane in the Die Hard franchise, which if he had starred in those films only would have extended and expanded his box office dominance to such exorbitant heights as to be ridiculous, adding at least $4 billion more to his overall box office tally.

Besides making poor movie business decisions, Burt also made bad artistic decisions which hurt him in his attempt to score prestige points. For instance, besides turning down Han Solo and John McClane, Burt also turned down the role of Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, which won Jack Nicholson an Oscar and may have done the same for Burt.

Burt Reynolds as an actor, was, to be frank, pretty dreadful, mostly because he just didn't give a shit. Burt was more interested in having fun and feeling safe rather than pushing himself as an artist. Burt the actor liked to take the easy road, and for the artist, that road ultimately leads to nowhere.

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That said, Burt he did rise to the occasion twice in his career, in the two best films he ever made. In the 1972 classic Deliverance, Burt embodied archetypal masculinity to a tee and elevated the film to great artistic heights. Burt's performance as Lewis Medlock, the bow wielding alpha male on a river adventure in the backwoods of Georgia, gave audiences a glimpse of his acting potential. Sadly, it would take another 25 years before Burt ever even approached the same level of artistic achievement in PT Anderson's 1997 masterpiece, Boogie Nights, as porn impresario Jack Horner.

Burt's Jack Horner is an extension of Lewis Medlock, he is like Zeus, a great father to the panoply of gods and goddesses atop the Mount Olympus of porn. Horner is Medlock grown old, still the dominant alpha male but using his brain more and his phallus less.

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In one of the great displays of foolhardy hubris, Burt, who admitted that over his career he only took roles he thought were fun, hated the greatest film in which he ever appeared, Boogie Nights. Burt ranted that he didn't like the movie or the director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Burt's public distancing from the film no doubt led to his losing his only chance to win an Oscar, as he was nominated but refused to campaign and ended up losing to Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), and ended up scuttling what could have been his acting renaissance.

If Burt didn't have such a pedestrian taste in film, such a voracious appetite for the inconsequential and such a artistically myopic outlook, he could have been not just the George Clooney + Brad Pitt + Matt Damon + Matthew McConnaghey of his day, but also the Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis of the 80's/90's and a multiple Oscar winner to boot...which would have made Burt Reynolds the biggest movie star of all-time. Instead what we got was bacchanalian Burt, boozing with buddies, chasing skirts and ultimately chasing his own tail.

In conclusion, even though Burt Reynolds was a mega-movie star for a period, the likes of which the film business has rarely ever seen, it is difficult not to lament Burt's career with a quote from the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, "For all the sad words of tongue and pen, The Saddest are these, 'It might have been'."

©2018

 

 

 

Irishness, Cultural Memory and The Curse of St. Patrick's Day

The following article is republished from St. Patrick's Day 2013

What does Irishness, cultural memory and the curse of St. Patrick's day have to do with acting? Well, let us begin with this statement: the key to great acting is specificity.  Be specific in action, intention and character and you can bring life to any part no matter how big or small. The converse is also true, generalities will suffocate any part in the crib, from Hamlet to the third extra on the right, leaving it lifeless and limp.  St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of the  generalities and dumbing down of what it means to be Irish,  and that is the 'Curse of St. Patrick's Day'.

Irish characters in film and television for decades consisted of little more than the kind hearted policeman, priest or nanny who loved to drink, sing or put up his/her dukes, all with a charmingly lovely Irish lilt to their sing song speech.  These characters had as much depth and complexity as an Irish Spring soap commercial.  This image of this rosy cheeked lad or lass has been the defining one of the Irish for the majority of time that film has existed.

St. Patrick's day celebrates this version of Irishness.  As the saying goes, "everyone is Irish on St. Paddy's day"...yeah...well, not so much.  Wearing a green Notre Dame shirt and drinking yourself silly doesn't make you Irish, no matter what the culture at large may think.  Irishness is not an idiot puking on their "Kiss me I'm Irish" pin in the gutter, trust me.

We, the Irish, are just as much to blame as anyone for our own misrepresentation. We Irish, and by 'Irish' I also mean Irish-Americans, embrace and celebrate our own self-destruction.  Drunkenness is not something to hang your hat on, especially when the Irish culture is rich in so many other ways. Yet we do celebrate drunkenness anyway with an uncanny pride. Have the drunken fools chugging their green beers ever read James Joyce?  George Bernard Shaw? Samuel Beckett? William Butler Yeats? Odds are they haven't, and would never associate Irishness with those writers, or with any intellectual endeavor.

Which brings us to the point, what is Irishness?  Irishness is deep, dark and complex. Hell, Freud once said of the Irish,  "This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."  If you've stumped Freud you've got to be pretty complicated. So what makes the Irish so complex?  Well, Irishness is defined in part by over four hundred years of occupation by a foreign power and the helplessness, shame and anger that come with occupation. Irishness is massacres, famines, insurgencies, civil wars, sectarian violence, hunger strikes, brutal discrimination and segregation and near cultural extermination. In contrast, Irishness is also defined by staggeringly great works of art, intellect and spirituality.

Want to know true Irishness? Read the plays of J.M. Synge or Sean O'Casey, or read the novels of James Joyce or the poems of Yeats.  Read about the rich history of the place and it's people, from the Celts to St. Patrick and St. Brendan all the way to Michael Collins and Bobby Sands. Want to know the experience of Irishness in America?  Read or see any of Eugene O'Neill's plays, but check out Long Days Journey Into Night and Moon for the Misbegotten in particular. Or if you just don't want to read, watch a Jim Sheridan film, try In America or In the Name of the Father. Or watch Hunger by director Steve McQueen or Bloody Sunday by Paul Greengrass.  These will teach you more of what Irishness is than any St. Patrick's Day parade or crowded Irish pub.

This brings us back to acting and specificity.  What do we as actors do if we are in a position where we are playing an Irish character?  Well, if the writer and the director both understand what true Irishness is in all its complexity, then you'll be allowed to build a rich, complex character devoid of any stereotypes or generalities. But  what should an actor do if the writer and director just wants them to be a stereotypical Irish lad or lass straight from central casting?

This is what you do, you fill the general with the specific. You build an internal life which is as rich as the Irish and their culture and history. If you are told to play a smiling, rosy cheeked, kind hearted cop/priest/maid, use true Irishness and Irish cultural memory to make the motivation and inner life more vibrant. For instance, use the cultural memory of four hundred years of foreign occupation that has taught the Irish to keep their true thoughts and feelings to themselves while projecting a joyous exterior to the world in order to keep their occupiers at arms length. So the cheery cop/priest/maid with a heart of gold actually has a hidden and much more vibrant inner life with which to keep the actor and their actions alive and engaged.  If you are playing a stereotypical drunken, brawling Irishmen, tap into the fire within that character that makes the Irishmen fight to prove himself and his manhood in an attempt to break free of the cultural shame and humiliation of being a second class citizen in his own country. If you are asked to play the stereotypical kind hearted, fun loving, witty Irishmen(or women), then feed that choice by tapping into the insecurity and low self worth of a poor, hard working people with the burning and desperate need to be loved by everyone they meet. This will help you 'raise the stakes' of your actions and be a driving force through your creation of the character.

These are just a few suggestions to get an actor to realize that there is much more than meets the eye when you have to play a stereotype. Sadly, more often than not, that's exactly what we are asked to play, but it is up to us to give depth, meaning and complexity to these parts. The actors greatest challenge is to give specificity to generalized writing and direction. Using the cultural memory and rich history of a characters nationality, religion or race is a great way to engage our imaginations and tap into different textures and colors when bringing a character to life.

So, have a happy St. Patrick's Day, but instead of wearing green and getting drunk, shake off that curse of St. Patrick's Day and go read a book by a great Irish writer, or read about Ireland's history, or go watch a film by a great Irish director or with great Irish actors.

 Now go forth and celebrate the tradition of the Irish in all its wondrous complexities.

Slainte.

©2016

Casting the Comey Affair

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Estimated Reading Time : 6 minutes 38 seconds

Due to a very, very serious, dare I say, life-threatening illness (a chest cold!), I have not been able to keep my not-so-adoring public up to date on my feelings regarding the goings on in Washington, Hollywood and the world these past few weeks. I was unable to cover the Comey hearing, the British election and now missed the Sessions hearing. Due to a truly heroic effort on my part, I was able to read a bit about all of those proceedings in my weakened state, and even saw some clips on the television. Of course, any insights I may have been able to provide are long past their used by date, once again proving I am a day late and many dollars short. 

That said, I am not completely without some relevant thoughts. For instance, the thing that instantly occurred to me as I watched the coverage of Comey's testimony was, "who is going to play him in the movie?". I promise you there are some Hollywood suits who are plotting a film or miniseries about all of these made-for-tv political events. So I put on my sleazy producer hat and started thinking right along with them. I came up with multiple casts for the film I have titled "The Comey Affair". 

Some are Oscar bait, some are box office beasts, some are desperate wannabes and some are quick money grabs, but all of them are being contemplated by some fat cat in an office here in Hollywood…I promise you that. So sit back, relax, and enjoy inhabiting the mind of a Hollywood power broker!!

Here are the films.

STAR EDITION : THE A-LIST

Directed by Steven Spielberg, and typical of his films, his "The Comey Affair" will have lots of flag waving and swelling music. The establishment media will lap it up and heap praise upon it no end, but in reality the movie will be as awful as Bridge of Spies or Lincoln…which is really, really, really awful. 

James Comey - Tom Hanks : Of course Tom Hanks plays Comey. Hanks is incapable of playing any other character but a condescendingly noble and morally and ethically impeccable man with a heart of gold, and so it is with his rendition of James Comey. Think Sully, Captain Philips and Bridge of Spies guy crossed with his Saving Private Ryan character. 

Donald Trump - Jack Nicholson : This is both Nicholson's comeback and swan song. A surefire nomination for Best Supporting Actor will follow Jack's peculiar and erratic performance. Nicholson's work as Trump will be sub-par, like much of his work over the last thirty years, but he'll be rewarded anyway because Hollywood likes their icons to go out on top. Jack's Trump will be a combination of his Whitey Bulger-esque character in The Departed and Nicholson himself.

Mike Pence - George Clooney : Clooney will co-produce along with Hanks and Spielberg, so he'll play Pence in order to boost box office. He will do his usual lackluster, smirky work but will be taken seriously for some mysterious reason. The media will fawn all over George as he recounts one of the myriad of impotent pranks he pulls on his adoring co-stars. Oh, George, you cad.

Jeff Sessions - Kevin Spacey : Spacey will do little more than reprise his House of Cards character Frank Underwood as Sessions with some Keyser Soze mixed in. Spacey will no doubt try and talk Spielberg into letting Sessions have a scene where he sings, hopefully he will be thwarted. Bottom line is that Spacey will chew scenery and try and upstage his esteemed colleagues…hell…maybe it'll work. 

Melania Trump - Julia Roberts : Roberts, like Nicholson, is using this role as a comeback of sorts. She wants to get back into the Oscar discussion, so she tarts herself up and turns Erin Brockovich into an aging Eastern European model. Her accent will be atrocious, but her push up bra will earn a Best Supporting nomination. Robert's work with Clooney on the media tour blitz will be vital in attracting the insufferably vacuous Clinton Cult Feminist audience. GIRL POWER!!

Ivanka Trump - Margot Robbie : Margot Robbie will struggle with the accent as well, namely losing her Austrailian one, but, as usual, she will no doubt do stellar, and under appreciated work as Ivanka. Robbie is a solid actress, and she will tell a story with her Ivanka that will be both appealing and unsettling. 

Jared Kushner - Leo DiCaprio : Leo will make Jared into a quiet, reserved, nearly mute young man in public, but a crazed and maniacal wild man in private. Think of Leo's Jared as a cross between his Jordan Belfort character in Wolf of Wall Street, his Howard Hughes from The Aviator and Frank Abignale from Catch Me If You Can.

 

OSCAR EDITION

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson brings an artists eye to the proceedings, making his "The Comey Affair" a mix of There Will Be Blood, The Master and Magnolia. A taut and tense story brought to life by a stellar and sublime cast.

James Comey - Daniel Day Lewis : Lewis, a master, is tall, which is needed to play Comey, who is a towering 6-8. He also brings the skill and versatility to give the goody two shoes Comey some much needed inner life and turmoil. Lewis' Comey will be a cross between his Bill The Butcher in Gangs of New York, his Abraham Lincoln in the aptly titled Lincoln, and his Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and will be much more interesting than Comey himself.

Donald Trump - Brendan Gleeson : Gleeson is an often over-looked great actor. His subtle work and physical pseudo resemblance to Trump will make his performance as the President Oscar worthy. Gleeson's artistic furnace burns hot, and when put into the container of Donald Trump, will be down right combustible. 

Mike Pence - Gary Oldman : Oldman, like Gleeson, is an under-appreciated genius, and his Pence will have the exterior of his George Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, and the toxic inner life of Oldman's electric Sid Vicious. Oldman's Pence will be a ferocious wolf in delicate sheep's clothing.

Jeff Sessions - Chris Cooper : Cooper never fails to flesh out his character in the most insightful of ways, and his Sessions will no doubt be reminiscent of his closeted American Beauty character. Defiance and vindictiveness wrapped in the sing-song charm of the Old South.

Melania Trump - Cate Blanchett :  Blanchett's Melania is the beauty and the brains behind The Donald. Always at least three steps ahead of everyone else, Blanchett's Melania is playing chess, while Donald plays checkers. She let's everyone think she is a prop, but the reality is that she is the only one who knows how to manage the man-child that is her husband. 

Ivanka Trump - Jennifer Lawrence : Lawrence dazzles as Trump's darling daughter, bringing her to life with a mixture of her Rosalyn Rosenfeld from American Hustle and Joy Mangano from the accurately titled Joy. The dynamics between Ivanka and Melania in this film are both toxic and combustible. 

Jared Kushner - Ryan Gosling : Gosling's Kushner is an amalgam of his Dan Dunne from Half Nelson, Dean from Blue Valentine and Jared Vennet from The Big Short, and gives Jared a depth that he undoubtedly lacks. Struggling to keep up with Ivanka, Gosling's Jared bites off more than he can chew, and gets in way over his head with the Russians.

 

STANDARD STUDIO VERSION

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Directed by Some Studio Hack, this film will get lots and lots of hype, but will be terribly uneven because it is little more than a reenactment of events rather than an artistic pursuit. It will make a ton of money though, and God knows that is all that matters. It will run almost continuously on HBO once it is out of the theaters.

James Comey - Ben Affleck : Affleck has dark hair…so he's perfect as Comey! Or so the thinking goes with the Einsteins running Hollywood. Affleck's Comey is, not surprisingly, a bit wooden, a bit dull and a bit one dimensional….not unlike the actor himself! I'm kidding, I like Ben Affleck, but his work as Comey is less like his Batman, which I enjoy, and more like his Nick Dunne from Gone Girl, which I do not enjoy. 

 

 

Donald Trump - Matthew McConnaghey : McConnaghey sinks his teeth into The Donald and conjures up an over-the-top, make-up ridden performance that he thinks is wonderful, yet rings as hollow as his work in those atrocious Buick commercials. McConnaghey's real value will be in drumming up business for the film on the media tour, something at which he is very good. Alright, alright, alright!

Mike Pence - Liev Schrieber : Schrieber's Pence is just as quiet as the real man, but considerably more menacing. I would enjoy an entire film devoted to Schrieber's portrayal of Pence, but sadly, he is a bit player in this Hollywood monstrosity. 

Jeff Sessions - Scott Glenn : Glenn gives Sessions a complicated humanity, which is a sign of his great skill as an actor, but completely at odds with reality. Underused in the film, Glenn's talents are squandered in favor of more generic characterizations.

Melania Trump - Nicole Kidman : Kidman goes all in and gives an Oscar worthy performance as Trump's conflicted trophy wife. Sadly, Kidman's great work is overshadowed by a shallow script and her co-star McConnaghey's Trumpian histrionics. Much like her marriage to Tom Cruise, Kidman deserves a much better fate.

Ivanka Trump - Brie Larson : Larson is out of place as Ivanka, and struggles to find any sense and rhythm with her performance, sort of like her work in Kong : Skull Island. But thankfully Larson is still able to let Casey Affleck know she disapproved of his winning an Oscar…a show of true courage…so there's that.

Jared Kushner - Emile Hirsch : Hirsch is an inconsistent actor, but he conjures up his best work as Kushner, combining his Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild and Johnny Truelove from Alpha Dog to create a luminous portrait of the enigmatic son-in-law.

 

BAD IDEA/STAR VERSION THAT MOST DEFINITELY MIGHT GET MADE

Directed by some low level guy desperate for a shot at the big time, but he…and it is always a HE…is hired for the sole purpose of being Tom Cruise's lackey. The film spends more than 100 times its budget on marketing…and the film reflects that. 

James Comey - Tom Cruise : Cruise is more than a foot shorter than Comey, but even when the sign says you must be this tall to ride, Cruise never lets that stop him (Jack Reacher). Cruise turns Comey into someone who runs a lot, he is either being chased, or chases after things a great deal, for no apparent reason, but Cruise likes to run in his movies so he demands it happen. More Border Collie than FBI director, Cruise's Comey is a cross between Brian Flanagan from Cocktail and Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men. As short as Cruise is, he seems even smaller playing Comey.

Donald Trump - Nic Cage : Cage envisions his Trump as his chance for a big comeback and goes all in. Covered in make-up, he gives a distractingly horrible performance, sort of a cross between…well…actually just like everything else he's ever done. Over-the-top and bombastic, with all the subtlety of an Elvis impersonator, Cage does the nearly impossible when he sinks even lower in the eyes of critics.

Mike Pence - Emilio Estevez : Estevez gives a nuanced, thoughtful and remarkably poignant performance as Mike Pence, and absolutely no one notices because he's Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise and Nic Cage are on set. 

Jeff Sessions - Nathan Lane : Lane plays Sessions as almost identical to his character in The Birdcage, which delights liberals everywhere, and infuriates Trump and Sessions.  

Melania Trump - Emily Ratajkowski : Radakoski is much too young to play Melania, but no one cares because she does numerous nude scenes and everyone forgets about how awful this film is for a few, brief, glorious moments. 

Ivanka Trump - Emma Watson : Watson's Ivanka is Hermione without the wand...which is a pretty accurate portrayal of Trump's most favored off-spring.

Jared Kushner - Taylor Lautner : Lautner's Kushner takes his shirt off in nearly every scene, even the ones in the Oval Office. There is usually no rhyme or reason why he does it, he just does it, and it seems completely appropriate. Lautner, just like Kushner himself, is not allowed to speak in the film, only take his shirt off and do pull-ups. 

 

 

WILD CARDS

And now…some out of the box choices that could be very interesting if they were given the chance. Along with some interesting directors like Steve McQueen, Gus Van Sant, David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky, these make for some intriguing combinations. 
 

 

James Comey - Colin Firth : Firth doesn't look like Comey, but he is a master craftsmen as an actor, and he could flesh out the lanky G-man's  more conflicted and complex inner life as well as any actor out there.

Donald Trump - Sean Penn : Penn would have to wear a lot of make-up, but he could be phenomenal in the role. Penn's commitment and volatile energy would be mesmerizing to see as Trump. Especially opposite Daniel Day Lewis' Comey.

Donald Trump - Al Pacino : Pacino could capture the essence of Trump perfectly, the braggadocio, the bluster, the hollowness. Pacino at his best could even make Trump a sympathetic character, which would be a Herculean task, but a fascinating one to watch.

Melania Trump - Angelina Jolie : Angelina would be a brilliant choice, a powerful, beautiful and wise woman stuck being a trophy wife to a buffoon who is the most powerful man in the world. This role could spark Jolie's artistic renaissance.

Melania Trump - Amy Adams : Adams is able to portray an existential sadness and melancholy that is so captivating it mesmerizes, and Melania may be one of the saddest and most melancholy women walking the planet. A daring casting choice, but one that I think would pay off "Big League".

Mike Pence - Kenneth Branagh : Branagh could play Pence's false humility and stifled arrogance to perfection. Pence isn't so much King Henry V, but someone who thinks of themselves as Henry V.

Jeff Sessions - Mark Rylance : Rylance has a soft energy to him, but it conceals the fire breathing lion in his belly, which is just like Sessions, the southern gentlemen, who would eat his own young in order to gain power.

Ivanka Trump - Saoirse Ronan : Ronan is as good as it gets as an actress, and her Ivanka would no doubt be an intriguing and layered performance that would reveal more about Trump's iconic daughter than even Ivanka is aware.

Jared Kushner - Joaquin Phoenix : Phoenix would instantly make Jared a very complicated, troubled and captivating character to behold. Phoenix would make the Prince of Trumpdom one part Freddie Quell from The Master, and two parts Commodus from Gladiator. A daring, and original piece of casting that would elevate any film bold enough to undertake it.

DISASTERS IN WAITING

Here are some really bad ideas for casting this film, that are most certainly being considered by the morons running Hollywood. 

James Comey - Colin Farrell : The studio wants a star and no one else will sign on, so they go with Farrell because, just like Comey he has dark hair!! I like Colin Farrell, but this is a catastrophe waiting to happen. 

James Comey - Brad Garrett : Garrett is very tall, maybe even taller than Comey himself, so you know some studio dope thinks he is the "right fit" to play the part. Of course, Garrett is also the opposite of Comey in every single way and completely ill-prepared for the acting challenge portraying him would bring. That said, it would be wonderfully unintentionally funny.

Donald Trump - John Travolta : Travolta would think this is his ticket back to the big time so he would ham it up to the extreme, just like he did on the People v. OJ Simpson as Robert Shapiro. This would be just another opportunity for Travolta to embarrass himself…and I am sure he would take it.

Donald Trump - John Goodman : Goodman is adored by Hollywood for some weird reason, so he'll get a shot to audition for the role. And even if he's terrible, which he will be, they still might give him the gig because, hey…he's John Goodman!

Jeff Sessions - James Spader : Spader would bring his usual smugness to the role and little else, but damn, he is really good at smugness!!

Melania Trump - Sofia Vergara : Vergara has an accent and wears skimpy clothes, so she'd be perfect as Melania, or so the thinking goes. But the fact that she has a Latina accent and looks as Eastern European as Oprah Winfrey will not stop Hollywood from casting her.

Ivanka Trump - Juliana Hough : Finally, a role that will propel Hough to the stardom that Hollywood has been trying to create for her for years. The only problem is that Hough can't act and certainly couldn't bring Ivanka to life with any believability. 

Jared Kushner - Toby Maguire : Maguire's doe-eyed Kushner would be so underwhelming it might actually make the real Jared Kushner look vibrant and virile. 

BAD MADE-FOR-TV

And in conclusion…the cast of the made-for-TV version of The Comey Affair. This would most likely end up collecting dust on the Hallmark Channel.

James Comey - Josh Duhamel : Duhamel is tall…JUST LIKE COMEY!!! So he gets the part regardless of the fact that he is one of the most insipid actors walking the planet. 

Donald Trump - John Heard : Heard's work as Trump would make his dreadful performances in the Home Alone series look like Sir Laurence Olivier at his peak. To his credit, he has the physique for it. 

Mike Pence - William Peterson : Peterson has gray hair, so does Mike Pence! I actually am not sure if Peterson acts anymore as he is probably relaxing in his solid gold house and driving his rocket car…but if he wants the Pence part, it's his!

 

Jeff Sessions - Jim J. Bullock : Bullock has a southern accent…YOU'RE HIRED!!!

Melania Trump - Marg Helgenberger : Along with Peterson, this would be a nice reunion of the CSI gang, which might attract the older audience this tv version desires. 

Ivanka Trump - Kaley Cuoco : She stars on the number one sitcom in America!! Sign her up!!

Jared Kushner - Jim Parsons : Parson's Jared would actually be interesting to watch…of course it would be terribly written and shot so any worthwhile work he could muster would be drowned in a tidal wave of poop. 

Thus concludes my casting session for The Comey Affairbest case scenario...coming to a theatre near you Christmas Day 2017!!!! Or, worst case scenario, airing on the Hallmark channel Thanksgiving night!! 

Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars America!! We'll see you at the movies!!

©2017

Al Pacino : Top 5 Performances

 

On Tuesday of this past week (the 25th of April), the great Al Pacino celebrated his 77th birthday. Happy belated birthday, Al.

 Pacino enjoying the "Scent of a Woman" on his birthday.

Pacino enjoying the "Scent of a Woman" on his birthday.

A reader, the Minnesota Kid, sent me a story about Pacino that showed him galavanting on a beach somewhere on his birthday with a bikini clad vixen forty years his junior. Apparently Pacino has fully embraced the lecherous old man stage of his life…good for him. 

Since I missed Pacino's actual birthday, I thought I'd share with you, my gentle readers, my opinion on his five best performances of his career. Pacino is one of the all-time greats. His run of success in the 1970's was staggering from an actor's point of view. I greatly admire Pacino, he is an old-school, Actors Studio kind of actor. His commitment to craft and his dedication to his life's calling knows no bounds. I recommend any aspiring actors to watch Pacino at his best and notice what he does with his hands in particular. Pacino is great at telling a story and creating a character with his hands. 

Sadly, Pacino has become a bit of a punch line in the latter part of his career with some derivative work that borders on self parody, but that shouldn't over shadow the stellar work he churned out in his wondrous earlier years. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy my list of Pacino's best performances!!

5. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

Pacino had a hell of a year in 1992, winning his first and only Best Actor Oscar for his work in Scent of a Woman, and being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in Glengarry Glen Ross. Pacino's work in Scent of a Woman is much too showy for my liking. The whiff of performance hangs in the air during even scene he chews his way through. In contrast, Pacino's work as salesman extraordinaire Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross is a subtle masterpiece. Pacino wraps Roma in the blustery confidence of the hustling salesman, you can smell the cologne that encases him. Pacino alters his center of gravity with Roma, making him a somewhat top-heavy, chest-out type of character, who, like a predator, is always scanning the horizon for the weakest animal to separate from the herd. Pacino did not win an Oscar for his work as Ricky Roma, but he really should have. 

 

4. SERPICO

In 1972, '73, '74 and '75, Al Pacino was at the height of his creative powers. His work as truth-telling cop Frank Serpico in the 1973, Sidney Lumet directed film Serpico, is a testament to the creative roll Pacino was on back then. Serpico is a complicated character with a sense of honor, duty and loyalty, but he must grapple with whom or what he is loyal…is it to his fellow cops, or to the truth? Serpico chooses the truth, and it nearly costs him everything. Pacino once again uses his body to convey the heavy weight that bears down on Frank Serpico. As the film rolls on Serpico becomes more and more compressed in a permanent slouch, the cross of Truth he is bearing weighing down on him. Pacino was nominated, but did not win, the Best Actor Oscar for Serpico, but he was certainly worthy of that award. 

 

3. DOG DAY AFTERNOON

1975's Dog Day Afternoon paired Paicno with director Sidney Lumet once again to spectacular results. Pacino plays Sonny, a "gay" man who attempts to rob a bank in Brooklyn in the early 70's. Pacino's Sonny is as complex and complicated a character imaginable. Watching the pressure of the situation bear down on Sonny is a remarkable character study. Once again, Pacino uses his physicality to bring Sonny to life, he puts his center of gravity lower on his body, in his pelvic region, and lets that lead the way. Pacino's Sonny is desperate for validation, love and escape. He feeds off of the acceptance of others, whether they be his hostages in the bank or the crowd that gathers outside to egg him on. Watching Sonny chant "Attica, Attica, Attica!!" to the assembled crowd is one of the great iconic moments in cinema history.  

 

2. DONNIE BRASCO

1997's Donnie Brasco is one of Pacino's most underrated performances. Pacino is nothing short of brilliant as the down on his luck gangster Lefty Ruggiero. Pacino imbues Lefty with palpable desperation that seeps out of his every pore. This is, in many ways, Pacino's most profound and intimate performance of his remarkable career. Scandalously, Pacino was not nominated for an Oscar for his staggering display of genius in Donnie Brasco

 

1. THE GODFATHER I & II

It is impossible to overstate the masterpiece that is Al Pacino's work in the first two Godfather movies. Michael Corleone is one of the all-time, iconic film characters in cinematic history. That doesn't happen without the masterful work of Al Pacino. Pacino's transformation from the "good" son to the stone cold killer to the Don himself, is staggering. Pacino gives Michael a vivid and pulsating inner life that he occasionally let's pop out into the world, in explosive moments of rage at his wife Kay or his brother Tom. But even more chilling is when Michael focuses all of that power and force into a calm, collected glare. Pacino's brilliance is in making Michael Corleone a container for all of our darker ambitions while never making him into an obvious monster. Pacino's work as Michael Corleone isn't just his greatest performance, it is one of the greatest performances of all time. 

 

Happy belated birthday, Al!! I tip my cap to you for your lifetime of transcendent work!! Keep on frolicking until you can frolic no more!!

©2017