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bob the moo
(list no longer kept up-to-date....sorry)
Nicely silent and stark, but not that engaging
The life of an individual is played out from childhood to grave in an abstract film which sees the child come out into the world to cut down and move trees as wood. The animation of this is impressively done in stark blacks and whites, with plenty to appreciate on that front. The narrative though, offers little more than the concept I just described. The 'life cycle' short film is not new, and here it doesn't add much to what others have done. I didn't take much meaning from it - perhaps others will connect to the images and ideas immediately, but I did not. This left me coldly watching it go through the process without much feeling. The animation gave me something to appreciate in the film, as well as how stark and silent it was in tone and style, but otherwise it didn't do much for me
Stick Man (2015)
Nicely paced peril and distress, but done in a non-threatening, family-friendly way
I've not read this book but recently watched this with my toddler. Knowing it comes from the same place as Room on the Broom, and most recently, Zog, I was surprised that it had quite a downbeat tone. Essentially the plot sees Stick Man getting into bad situations, each one taking him further from home and into greater danger. I was surprised on watching that it wasn't lighthearted, it wasn't funny but that it played quite dark. Okay it has the rhyming dialogue that these type of things have, and the animation was rounded and likeable, but the material had that tone to it, and there weren't any laughs to break it up.
Reflecting back, it maybe played well for what it did, because it produced something based on danger and loss, but did it in this animated way that was easier to digest. I can imagine children being a bit saddened, before the magic of the end produces a happy ending, but they will not be overly frightened or threatened by it. My toddler understood the importance of Stick Man's family, and why his situation was bad, but she didn't get upset or bored by it - in this way I think the balance was good and the film's tone carried it off well. Not one of these films that I'll come back to loads, but an interesting change from the other BBC/Donaldson animations.
Right Place Wrong Tim (2018)
The gory ending is almost a let down but the first two acts are very good
Inside an early 90's British sitcom (limited scenario, quick innuendo-laden dialogue) we find ourselves in a scene where a father and daughter trade overacted dialogue, to the laughter of a captive audience. When the lead character arrives with a recognizable catchphrase, all is on track as a normal episode - until the same character walks on from the other side of the set.
This opening period is a good start for the film, and is instantly recognizable as an only slightly exaggerated version of light entertainment from the period. The cast deliver it in the style of the period, and it is only the lead character (Tim) who seems not to totally fit in. The shift in tone when the duplicates start to arrive, is well handled (and occurs with a shift in ratio and appearance), but it is the brief period of trapped horror from Purnell that makes it really engaging (she is great throughout). It then gives way into a fairly disappointing conclusion, but its brevity and shock value help it. Enjoyable for what it was, although I wanted more of Purnell in the middle, and for a stronger third act.
Has its moments but a bit obvious and leaves its strengths till too late
Sundays opens with a driving lesson which is played out with close shots, furtive looks, and suggestive fingering; all to the sound of an anthem from Erasure. On one hand it feels like it is trying to be subtly suggestive, but then on the other hand it is clunky as anything. So when the 'twist' comes it is not really a surprise but rather a relief that the viewer doesn't have to pretend that it is mysterious. From here the film gets better as it allows us the Brokeback moments of character. Bifulco does well with this, but the film offers him too little too late really. These moments make it worth a look, but the weak opening and rather direct line means it is much more limited than it would have you believe.
Colorful and enjoyable, even if the message will be writ a bit large for adult viewers
This last Christmas the animation from the BBC was another in a handful of film adapting Donaldson's children's books. This one sees a young dragon learning his trade, and when he keep messing up, there is a young girl around to help him out here and there (a girl who also is struggling to learn her 'trade'). The structure of the lesson allows for an engaging episodic approach to the film, and the events are played out with humor. Not really laugh out loud funny often, but amusing and cheering across it all.
The animation matches the style of the book well, and looks great - Zog himself is a nice character and none of these dragons will cause bad dreams. The plot ends with a positive message which applies to everyone, but in particular leans into the female character for its delivery. It is a very positive message and it was only the cynic in me that rankled a bit at how clunky it was played out - very direct. Of course then I remember I was watching a children's film based on a children's book, so probably it deserves a pass. The voice cast feels overly starry; they do well but some of them feel almost like distractions - they are cast for this film as an 'event', which I suppose is fine as they do work.
Like most of the Donaldson animated films, not the deepest or most impacting film, but enjoyable, accessible, and with a nice easy message.
The Punisher: The Whirlwind (2019)
S2: Good action, but messy plot and uneven tone make it only 'okay'
I wasn't overly taken by the first season of the show, but it offered enough to make me come back for more. The first episode or so doesn't waste any time to throw us into a standalone story where Castle help a teenager, only to become the target of all manner of highly trained killers. The reasons for this are deliberately obscured, but it helps because when it is finally revealed, it doesn't mean too much. We follow this thread for a few episodes, then we jump back into New York, while the first plot is put on the back burner aside from a few aspects of it.
This movement between characters and plots is part of the season's several problems. The messiness of it means it doesn't have the strength in through-line that it needed. Related to this is the usual problem that 13 hours is just too long for the content. This produces the feeling that it is being drawn out in some ways, but has the bigger impact of the drama feeling like a 'lull' ahead of the next action scene - where really it needed to be building towards them, not just waiting for them. The action is good though, not consistently unfortunately - and it does get its best scenes delivered early in the season. At its best the brutality brings real impact to the action, but later it too often feels like it is wallowing in its morbidity, or doing it in lieu of anything else.
The cast put in good work. Bernthal is a strong lead, and able to do more when asked. A lot is on Barnes this season, and although the script doesn't help him all the time, he does well. Stewart is enjoyable as an addition, although it feels like he is off in his own thing doing a character disconnected from everything else for the majority of the season. Revah is better in this season. Whigham and Lima are okay, but the plot asks them to sell quite a lot. Production standards are high, and everything looks good, but it is the writing and being asked to run longer than it should have done that makes it a weaker season. The good bits make the whole 'okay', but as with season 1, it is only consistently that, and not more.
Nice use of old technology to form basis of old-school chiller
This short film is essentially a jump-scare short, which is not a genre light on entries if you look around. Polaroid did produce the director of the Child's Play reboot (if this is a good thing) and this short shows a good control of tone and spooky mood. The film runs longer than you'd expect, but does so because it takes its time to setup the characters of the two leads. This has dated a bit already, but it does engage the viewer to make them more than two screaming starlets.
The actual horror plays out in a familiar way, with the unseen, the half-seen, the suggested, and then of course the sudden fast-moving appearances. It is well done though, and I liked how the film used the old technology to produce an old style ghost story for the most part. The chills are well done, and they make the jump scares seem less cheaply bought than some recent big films. Nothing earth shatteringly new, but worth a look for what it does well.
Runs too long, but its strength is that it finds the universal in the new
At first Pocket annoyed me. The film is played out from the view of a teenager's iPhone, so we see what the camera sees, what the screen shows, etc. In doing this we see a lot of vapid teen nonsense and porn, and there are lots of cultural touchpoints - from Captain Marvel through to a reference to the subreddit of deepfriedmemes. This aspect of the film didn't do much for me, but it did lead to material which was much more universal, while also staying within the world of the phone.
It is this material that works best because it gave me something I could relate to, and the technology only made some differences, but not core differences. The tension of the 'seen' message, the thrill of the glimpse of skin, the fear of the irl contact - all of it is recognizable and connects, even if I didn't own a smart phone until I was in my late 30's. The film does run too long though, and spends too long constructing its delivery route (I didn't need quite so much "general" stuff in there, nor some subplots that seem unnecessary) but at its best it is well done due to how relatable it is.
The Little Drummer Girl (2018)
A bit too slow in the first few episodes, but the tension picks up in the latter half
Sunday nights on British terrestrial television tend to be a mixed bag; you get a mix of period dramas, softly delivered murder mysteries, exotically-located dramas, and celebrity-driven drama miniseries. Little Drummer Girl is one of the last of these, and is looking to repeat the success of The Night Manager. It doesn't quite have the zing early on though, although it does have the class from the start. The first hour or so is slowly delivered, and not always clear where it is heading. The quality of the production and cast help carry it through, and it does get easier to enjoy after this.
Once Charlie's involvement is clear, and dovetails in with the other threads, the story improves. It has an urgency and relevance to it then, and more connected with me as a viewer. The story picked up a lot as a result, although it did still have that slightly "important" feel to it that I'm not sure it totally deserved, or that it committed to. The final half of the episodes are strong though, and make for balanced and engaging television. The cast have quality in depth, although I confess I was not a massive fan of Pugh - which is not ideal for the lead role, but she was better as the episodes settled in.
It has its tonal and pacing problems, but it picks up, and the quality of the production carries it in the meantime.
Avoids easy politics by putting the crisis right in the face of the viewer
This Oscar-nominated (at time of writing) short film aims to put a first-person perspective on the human toil of the migrant crisis of crossings from Libya into Europe. It opens with the recovery of a body back in Libya (one of many), and then joins a non-profit organization running boats rescuing those on overcrowded and precarious boats. In the second half it presents some first hand interviews to understand why people are willing to risk their life to get across the sea.
In watching it, the lack of commentary is very obvious. We do get talking heads, and of course the makers have their political opinion, but it doesn't have anyone pushing a bigger political point. Of course it feels like it is very much leaning one way - but I think that is less politics, and more humanity coming through. I confess at the start I was ready to play devil's advocate on the bigger picture, and be annoyed at any simplistic suggestion that everyone should be allowed to travel to Europe for a better life - and I do doubt this is the solution; however what the film does well is to force the viewer to say that in the faces of young men and women fleeing slavery, abuse, and mistreatment - all in a place where even those not facing those things don't have a great time of it.
I imagine the film will annoy those that come from a place further to the right of me on the spectrum, but really the film is balanced. It is hard to watch because it puts you on the boats and it does a good job of simply saying "okay, tomorrow we'll fix world poverty and replace unchecked dictatorships, but in the meantime, what do we gain by leaving these people to drown?"
Nice animation style, but a bit obvious in content and goal
Seems this film has had people in fits of tears, and suggesting not to watch it in public etc. The plot is a small cat that befriends a pitbull that is used for dogfights, and it is animated to allow them as much cute character to clash with this dark scenario. I didn't find it worked for me and I wonder if it was that it always felt it was trying too hard for what it was after.
This very obvious approach/goal put me off and did stop me buying into the two characters. This being associated with Pixar makes that a surprise since they have a long record of making me emotionally connect to all manner of objects and characters who are not real but yet give me the feels. Here though it was a bit much, even if I did like the animation style.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
Big bright colorful entertainment, although doesn't have much to it in depth
I still remember watching the first Incredibles film and liking it for what it was, rather than what it had been marketed as. I liked its darkness, and how much of the character and plotting seemed aimed at someone much, much older than the marketing had suggested. By contrast, Incredibles 2 seems much more interested in keeping things light and fun. This makes it a slightly 'lesser' film in terms of the detail and observational elements but does make it easy viewing. The plot sort of follows a journey for Mrs Incredible, but it doesn't really build it so much as use it - likewise any emotional knock-on for the other characters is the same. In terms of what plot it uses to get with this, it is obvious enough in terms of twists and direction, but it does the job.
That job is producing plenty of enjoyable action and funny moments, and does so for most viewers of most ages. The lack of darkness helps this slickness, and the 1960's vision of the future design adds to the sense of fun with its nostalgic references and look. The voice cast are all solid, even if several of them are essentially doing what they are famous for (Jackson, Odenkirk). As a whole there is much to enjoy in terms of spectacle and laughs, but it doesn't run much deeper than that, making it a lesser film, but probably one good enough that you'll not feel the impact of that till you reflect back on it.
Convincing and engaging, thanks in part to a strong and telling opening
This film opens with a shot in a library, where we see a young man approach a woman. He tries and opening line and, despite the awkwardness, persists with the small talk all while his body betrays his eagerness and awkwardness, and the woman is polite but yet clearly uncomfortable. The man becomes more desperate and when the rejection of him has to be spelt out, he reacts with sudden anger. It is something I have not seen but yet it is something I recognize instantly because I have the internet and I use sites such as Reddit. Whether reading forums for Incels, or seeing their members pop up on more 'acceptable' forums such as MensRights or just meme pages, the character at the fore of this film is one I have seen many times.
This opening is well filmed in a very observational and distant style, and the performances are really brilliant in how natural and well-observed they are. The rest of the film fills in the blanks with fairly straightforward footage of the subculture, but it fleshes out the picture by showing how accessible 'normal' life is while also showing it so far away. It is convincingly made throughout and is all the more chilling for it.
A bit too obvious in what it does, and the impressive technical polish doesn't help that impression
This is the third and probably final in this film series came out with a lot of fanfare, and although it had been 5 years, I was looking forward to seeing it, and at least had a child to make it feel more justifiable to be in the cinema for it this time. The second film was fresh in my mind and I enjoyed how it got darker and bigger than the first film, producing a quite thrilling story with real impact. Like the first film, I didn't totally think it got below the characters to produce something deeper, but the emotion of the story and the good work from Jonsi and John Powell helped to bring a lump to the throat when needed.
This third film certainly continues the scale of the previous films, and the impressive animation and technology behind it. Battle sequences, flight sequences, the design of the world and creatures, all look and sound great. The plot at a high level is also pretty good - a relationship/maturity step-change for both of our main characters, and a conclusion that is responsible but yet doesn't come over too hard for younger viewers. The problem with the film is that it doesn't perform well below that sweeping level, or outside of the impressive moments. The plot feels too familiar in its "dragons in danger from dragon-killing-supervillain" content, and it isn't helped that the food critic from Ratatouille isn't a patch on the alpha villain from the second one, nor that the sense of peril isn't there either. I was also surprised how few moments touched me or made me laugh - and Jonsi's voice alone normally gets me at least a little. Only a few moments drew a laugh from the cinema audience, although there were a few more moments where it was silent and maybe a bit upset.
A bit too obvious in what it does then, and not as good as the second film, but probably its technical strengths and audience investment in the characters and world help it work better than the writing deserves. In all a solid conclusion but not the stepup that I hoped following the second film doing just that on the first.
Doesn't do enough with what it has
In the core of this film is a man seeking to do more than he has to date, to put things behind him and move on. It is an engaging idea, engaging character, and in the one moment that it really does anything with this, you can see what attracted Robby Gee to the role. Outside of this one moment though, the film is mostly a mix of straightforward cliché, and tense standoff. Neither of these two aspects make the film into its own beast that is worth watching, even if it does have the accent and feel of its London setting.
Gee leads the cast well, and brings more to the film than is on paper, but the script doesn't help him enough. Instead it focuses on the mechanics of the scene and leaves him to do the work. He does okay but I wanted more at the core - more conflict of the man who is confronted by a world he is both trying to leave, and was part of creating. It is well made, and the location is well used, but it is too simple in its writing and doesn't play to the strength in character or actor that it has.
Five Minutes (2017)
Funny cringe with heart to the character
This short film is set in a modern school parents' evening, where couples breakoff and practicing talking then listening with others in the group. Tom is visibly distracted by the whole thing, and while others share personal details, he decides to do something different.
There is a lot of The Office in here, particularly the UK version, because it is cringe but with a flawed person at its core - so we feel awful for the situation, hate him, but at the same time understand him as a person and feel a bit for that. I've seen some suggest that the lead character here is brave for not following the touchy-feely norm of the room, but personally I took him to be unable to do so. He is detached from the group from the very start, and is essentially rolling his eyes as people say personal and heartfelt things out loud. When his turn comes and he plays a game with it, it is funny in the moment, and cringe-inducing to see the consequences, but I enjoyed knowing that it came from a real place and it did inform on his character. So rather than cheer him for his bravery, or hate him for his mockery, I felt for him and the mess he created - all of it being funny at the same time. Its not quite David Brent at his finest, but it is of that ilk.
Nice idea but a bit too spelt out in the second half
A woman goes to buy a bra and reluctantly accepts help from on the fitters, an interaction by which the fitting assistant becomes one of the few to learn of a secret that the customer has been carrying.
There is a nice emotional core to this film and it plays out best in the first half where the two actresses work with less. Whether it be unexplained stress of one, or the moment of realization that takes one from chirpy to tearful, it is well done and the two leads play it out with few words but good direction. Curse be the writing then, because when the dialogue really starts, it offers less to the viewer. Too much is spelt out in big letters, and the limits of the actors becomes more apparent as both struggle to sound natural and real. It is a shame because it limits what it was doing, making it end a lesser film that it may otherwise have been.
Gets the tone just right with the cast, style, and content - which carries it across some of its weaker aspects
This short film is set within an unhealthy friendship where one of the two women is hugely codependant on the other, while the other is not strong enough to see that and get out from under. When the latter seems to be heading off to live with her new boyfriend, the former scuppers this and seeks to introduce another element to the relationship to hold it together - the titular Buzz. This relationship plays out with an exaggerated sense of humor, but one that manages to still be weird and odd while selling the reality in which it is set. As a result, the female leads get to seem comedic but yet real and threatening - and it produces a nice mix in the film.
This tone carries it, because there aren't big laughs or an engaging plot, just that creeping sense of an unhealthy relationship and a guy stuck with it. It runs a little long for that to be the whole show, but it still works in what it does. The cast sell it, with all three being effective in different ways, and director Magee holds the film right on the point where the writers seem to have put it. Not a perfect short, but enjoyably comedic and creepy.
The Big Break (2018)
Just the right amount of teeth
Cake and eat it, this one. The film focuses on the LA acting scene, and plays out a breaking point for a writer/producer who becomes overwhelmed with the knowledge that he is faking it and surrounded by people faking it the same way. This leads to murder, as it does, and him and a friend go on the run from the police.
This short is based in a barbed, cynical dislike for the LA scene, and for the first half it gets its digs in as it shows the main character losing it over simple things. This is nicely sharp but yet not destructively so. On first watch I wanted it to go harder on this, but actually it gets the balance just right, because the second half embraces the clichés and excesses, producing an action movie that delivers all the tropes of the genre while also sending them up. As a result it loses some sharpness in the comedy, but is still enjoyably excessive in what it then does. It also feels a little self-indulgent, but the comedy and edge help it carry that off and produce an enjoyable enough short film.
Better Call Saul: Winner (2018)
S4: Continued great writing and characters
Season 4 picks up just after the fire at Chuck's house and follows Jimmy in his time barred from practicing law; a period in which he becomes a phone salesman officially and on the side. Meanwhile Nacho finds himself in continued danger as powerful players moved around him, and Mike takes the lead on Gus' project to build an underground facility to run cooks from. These threads all have strengths and weaknesses to them, but mostly the weaknesses are well compensated for and feel like non-issues in the main.
The thrust of the season is driven by the characters. The most obvious one of course is the titular Saul, who is more evident than ever in this season. I don't think it is about Saul Goodman being created, but more about that part of Jimmy becoming more evident to us, those around him, and to himself. The journey is delicate and very well played by Odenkirk; his performance is great, with endless understanding of his character. The delivery of the show around him only helps this with the way it is written, and the way in which flashbacks are structured to show past and future. Related to this, I felt a lot more for Kim this season, and really enjoyed how much Seehorn's performance added to the understanding of the character of Jimmy. Nacho's thread seemed much more functional than I would have liked, although it keeps the violence and drug-life in the frame. Similarly, I'm not sure Mike as a character moved too much, although our experience of him thus far maybe did; again the excavation etc project did feel much more functional than the main threads with Jimmy.
Functional or not, all the threads work very well, and as before the season is incredibly strong in the writing and performances. The technical delivery remains smart and sharp, and the whole thing has emotional weight and insight that only makes the action and style mean that much more.
A genre film with weight - good but feels better than it actually is
The caliber of director and cast got this film a lot of attention, and the critical response was mostly positive. On the face of it, you can see why, because it takes a generally popular genre of twists and turns and 'one big jobs' and delivers it in a much less 'capery' way than is normal. The characters are people, they feel and fear, hurt and lose, and they carry a lot with them from previous events in life. So it is a genre film with weight, and it was engaging in the way it did that. However the parts that engage all produce the feeling that the film should be better as a whole than it actually is.
The performances and the quality of the casting is a big part of this. They all bring a lot to their roles, and they make the material feel better by virtue of what they do. This creates the problem that the material is actually not that strong; it is still a genre film and it plays like one when you get below the surface - which reminds us why this genre is popular while also exposing weakness in this film. The reason most of these type of things are played a bit over the top, or as a caper, is that the spectacle or fun of it means the viewer allows it silliness in the plot; here though the events of the film didn't get that forgiveness because it told me it was being more serious and real. Related to this a little is the feeling that the film tries to cram too much in regarding characters and threads - so most supporting elements feel rushed or crammed in.
It is still a good watch though, with McQueen's approach adding value in the same way as the heavyweight cast all do; however I'm not sure the quality links to the film as a whole, and I came away from it feeling that in any given moment the film was being better than it actually was. An interesting problem though.
Very well observed, constructed, and animated
I have watched quite a few animations recently where they have been technically very good, but have offered me very little in the way of feelings. Weekends managed to be a fantastic break from that, as it has so much heart and realism to it that it is as far from experimental as you can get. However it is still very creative, and technically the animation is great. The film sees a young boy going between parents due to their divorce, and follows the state of turmoil and confusion he finds himself. I read it is a very personal film for the writer/director, and I can believe it because it is incredibly well observed in the detail of the situation.
Without any dialogue, it tells us a lot about the parents, about the conditions and feelings in both homes, and informs how the boy is stuck with it. The choice of music, the man-cave aspect of the father's new home, the walk of the pickup/dropoff all contain detail which add to the viewing experience and make for a better film. The dream sequences and the structure of the film convey the sense of being in the moment with the boy very well, so even if it is not something you have experienced, it is still very clear and easy to follow.
Surprisingly grounded and real
The vampire genre is not one that is easy to do something different with, but V succeeds. We join a young woman living in London; she is a vampire, but she is also a young woman, and she speaks directly to camera in conversational tone about her life and family - while also occasionally engaging in vampiric activity, but mostly just talking. This kitchen sink approach works very well because of two main factors. The first is that the cinematography is never less than interesting. Presented in an intimate square ratio, the film has plenty of great shots whether it be wide ones which would be at home on a poster, or well lit fluid shots moving through a shop.
The second factor is that Karlsen is terrific in the lead role. She is utterly convincing and natural throughout, which is important at every stage. The film plays very 'real' but the conclusion turns into this even more than it had, presenting more information which then throws the whole film into a different light. This ending is impacting because of how well the film had played out in the lead up. Sometimes this sort of twist can cheapen a film, by making you feel that it had tricked you to approaching it in one way when really it could be taken another; in the case of V this is not true, and instead the conclusion strengthens it.
Interesting, engaging, and fresh short film, very much worth checking out.
Wears its 'experimental' label so proudly that it feels forced and deliberate
UNUM caught the attention of a short film curation team that I trust, and it did so probably because of how suddenly different it is; it does things that you would generally find in experimental films - technically and narratively (although the latter word is loosely used). I'm not really so deep into shorts that such an experience is like a blast of fresh air on a humid day, but I can see why the film appeals to some.
However it will be 'few' and not many, because the majority of viewers are just viewers, and this film is not for viewers, it is for itself and whatever festivals etc cater to such films. It is very deliberate in what it does, and in all ways it looks for the stylish but the obtuse, the visual but the 'challenging'. The narrative such as it is, manages to be both beyond me (on the overall picture) but yet also overly simplistic (in the 'food chain' element to the ending). The NSFW opening also pushes away by how out of context graphic it is - striking in its imagery perhaps, but it does still open the title with a creampie - dressed up as 'art' of course, but again the only reason I saw for how graphic it was, was that it had impact and shock value to a market that values those things over narrative substance.
It is just about worth a glance if you are a fan of experimental shorts that push to break norms, however if you are looking for anything more than this then you'll find that the film is not only not for you, but that it is makes deliberate efforts to be that way.
Too Cool for School (2015)
Not totally accessible but plays its teen drama well (TOTAL SPOILERS)
This 80's set short film plays out in a way that is different from the way it seems on the surface. It is a film of two halves. The first is typical 'bad boy' teen stuff, with the lead character skipping class, smoking, and making out with girls under the bleachers. The second half sees that character alone in his home when he hears what he believes is an intruder. At this point the film takes on a sort of horror tone which appears to shift the film, but in reality it links directly to the teenager we saw in the first half.
It does this by showing us the opposite of what we saw in the first half. Where we saw devil-may-care-loner, now we see a boy alone in his own house, disturbed by noises he doesn't know. Most tellingly, the TV playing static and porn, which seems to spook him by virtue of being on by itself, is a very accurate representation of what it is like to come face-to-face with graphic pornography when previously you though you knew it all because you touched a boob once. This is very well done because it is clear as day, but yet belongs very much in the horror setting. It is well played, stripped down, and effective - perhaps not the most accessible, but it worked well for me.