REVIEW: “Brooklyn”

Brooklyn poster

Saoirse Ronan has quietly put together a fine acting career. For almost ten years she has steadily delivered one good performance after another. In 2007 she became one of the youngest actresses to ever receive an Academy Award nomination. But what is truly surprising is the fact that Ronan is only 21 years-old and with each new film she continues to mature as an actress. That has never been more evident than in her new picture “Brooklyn”.

This beautiful period drama is from director John Crowley and scripted by Nick Hornby. It’s based on Colm Tóibín’s novel about a quiet Irish girl given an opportunity to make a better life for herself overseas in 1952 Brooklyn, New York. There is nothing cagey or complex about the story, but it’s simplicity is part of its charm and it works mainly due to a captivating lead performance.

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn

Ronan plays Eilis, an Irish girl whose life is dictated by the people and practices in her County Wexford village. She’s quiet and cordial even when working for her cuss of a boss at a local general store. Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glasscott) knows there is nothing for Eilis in the village so with the help of a priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent in a superb bit of casting), she arranges for Eilise to travel to New York to create a new and better life for herself.

There is one key thing I appreciate about the story itself and Crowley’s direction. There are several opportunities for the movie to wander down a conventional and cliché path. When Eilise first arrives in Brooklyn she is clearly in a new world. But it doesn’t turn into your standard ‘fish out of water’ story. Her struggles, her loneliness, her homesickness – it is all handled and presented in a way that is thoughtful and genuine. But most importantly it serves the character without drowning the audience in overwrought depictions of her circumstances.

Her struggles ease a bit when she meets a nice, hard-working Italian plumber named Tony (Emory Cohen). Again, the movie could have ventured off into a number of directions including the predictable Irish/Italian relationship complications. Thankfully it does not. That’s not the story it wants to tell. Instead it unfolds into a sweet love story that allows us to see a number of new sides to Eilise. She becomes more comfortable and more confident. The longing for home slowly subsides and takes on a new form. We see a new and different young woman.


The idea of ‘home’ becomes one of the film’s central themes. Eilise is faced with a predicament that causes her to question where her true home is. Other people have no problems defining ‘home’ for her. The question becomes will she throw aside her newly found self-confidence to once again allow her life to be determined by the wishes of others? Or will she take the reins and define her ‘home’ and her life for herself?

“Brooklyn” maneuvers through a minefield of too much melodrama and sentimentality at times coming dangerously close to both. But it never overdoes it. Instead it focuses on its main character and everything works towards telling her story. And it is a lovely story. There is a rhythmic beauty to the storytelling and Crowley’s camera helps convey it. There are so many gorgeous shots that stuck with me well after the movie was over.

While the story is sweet and alluring and the film looks fantastic, this is mainly a sparkling showcase for Saoirse Ronan. I don’t know if there was a more sublimely expressive or emotionally earnest performance this year. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role any better and Ronan deserves all the attention that is certain to come her way. This is her movie and she makes it one of the year’s finest.



REVIEW: “Le Week-End”

Le_week-end Poster“Le Week-End” was one of my more eagerly anticipated films of the 2014 Spring movie season. My absolute adoration for the city of Paris combined with the intriguing story of a conflicted older couple was enough to get me onboard. This British drama marks the fourth collaboration between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi. While I’m not familiar with their other collaborative works, there are undeniable signs of quality and brilliance in “Le Week-End” even though the final product isn’t as captivating as I had hoped.

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play Nick and Meg Burrows. In light of their 30th wedding anniversary, the couple takes off to Paris, France – the place of their honeymoon. It doesn’t take long for us to see that their marriage is on life support and Nick especially hopes this trip will resuscitate it. Years of pent-up emotion and complex feelings boil to the surface and Nick and Meg try to navigate the waves the best way they know how.


“Le Week-End” isn’t a formulaic run-of-the-mill couples drama. It has a very grounded sensibility and its approach to storytelling is unique. Much like the struggling relationship it depicts, “Le Week-End” features a number of mood shifts and knotty emotional moments. There is a stinging realism to Nick and Meg’s relationship that separates the film from most other movies of this type. The movie also moves at a fairly slow pace and there are moments where nothing much happens. That’s not always a problem but there are times where it works against the picture.

I can certainly appreciate the deliberate pace and the occasional idling that we get throughout the film. On the other hand, there were times when I really wanted the movie to kick into another gear. The very thing that sets it apart from other movies of this type is the same thing that kept me from truly loving the film. I also left with a number of questions that the ending never answered or hinted at. It’s not that it is a terrible ending, but I can’t say it was all that satisfying.


I can say that Broadbent and Duncan were extraordinary. Both are seasoned performers and their chemistry is spot-on. The way they develop their characters and expose their flaws and frustrations is nearly flawless. Even when the script shortchanges them (and there are a small handful of weird moments), Broadbent and Duncan rise above the material. I also really liked seeing Jeff Goldblum appear as an old acquaintance of Nick’s. He is a fine actor who I believe always adds good moments to a film.

While “Le Week-End” may not be the brilliant film I was hoping for, it’s still an easy movie to recommend. It makes pretty good use of one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the story of Nick and Meg is certainly an interesting one. But I really hoped that Michell would pull more from this magical setting and that Kureishi would give his performers more fluid material. But even these issues can be overlooked to a degree. “Le Week-End” strives to give us a movie that bucks convention and it puts two truly strong performances in front of us. Those are things I can certainly appreciate.


Flaunt It or Flush it – Spring Movies 2014


You certainly wouldn’t know it by the weather but the Spring movie season is upon us. The winter movie season is notorious for its flops, particularly in January and February. But usually things start looking up come Spring time. So here is how this works: First I’ll talk about Spring releases that I am genuinely interested in and want to spread the word about. These are films I’ll certainly flaunt. I’m also going to pick five releases that are (from my perspective) toilet ready. These I’ll flush. It’s Flaunt It or Flush It time again.


BUDAPEST1. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (March 7, 2014) – It doesn’t take long for Spring to get rolling. March 7th brings us one of my most anticipated movies of the year. It’s Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Anderson is one of the few comedy filmmakers who I think does it right. His quirky original worlds and subtle themes have always worked for me and it looks like we are getting that again. Ralph Fiennes leads what is one of the best looking ensemble casts of the year and he looks to be a perfect fit with this special brand of comedy. The trailer looks insanely funny and I can’t wait for March 7th.

NOAH2. “Noah” (March 28, 2014) – I’ve noticed several people approaching “Noah” with a bit of skepticism. I can definitely see why. But I also think this has potential to be an amazing film. As frequent readers of my site know, I’m a huge fan of Russell Crowe. I think this role is right up his alley. Plus there is the good supporting cast of Ray Windstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, and Jennifer Connelly. The big question is Darren Aronofsky. His past work makes me wonder what kind of approach he will take. On the other hand he is a fine director and if he respects the material there could be great results.

CAPTAIN3. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (April 4, 2014) – My deep roots as a comic book fan makes me a sucker for good superhero films. I was a big fan of Marvel’s first Captain American movie. This one looks like it could be even better. Ed Brubaker’s “Winter Soldier” story from the Captain American comic book series was one of my favorites of all time. It’s perfect for the big screen treatment and the early trailers look to be capturing what made the story so great. Chris Evans is perfect as Steve Rogers and the addition of Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford are intriguing. Plus this is set to be the first big tie to the next Avengers film. Sign me up!

LE WEEKEND4. “Le Week-End” (March 14, 2014) – This is a film that has been on my radar for a while. It has already opened up overseas and it makes its United States debut on March 14. This British drama from director Roger Michell follows an older married couple who celebrate their 30th anniversary by going to Paris. Their intent was to rejuvenate their marriage but things don’t go as planned and they are forced to build back their relationship from the ground up. The wonderful Jim Broadbent and Lindsey Duncan play the lead roles which automatically attracted me. The trailer shows a great wit and some beautiful Paris locations.That’s enough to excite me.

XMEN5. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (May 23, 2014) – Yet another Marvel comics superhero movie, but it’s another one that looks really good. Bryan Singer is back and he’s bringing the whole gang. The cast members from the original X-Men films including Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, and Ellen Page meet the cast members from First Class including Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult. Throw in some brand new mutants and you have a huge cast of characters. This could blow up in Singer’s face, but it could also be a spectacular film.


TYLER PERRY1. “Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club” (March 14, 2014) – Tyler Perry is becoming a regular on these lists. This Spring he graces us with what looks like the corniest, dopiest, and most cliched movie of his career. I never judge a movie solely on its trailer but it gives us one goofy line, lame gag, and eye-rolling moment after another. Supposedly a group of mothers come together after an incident at school and they become big buddies. Then they partake in a host of silly antics and dopey romances which is supposed to be fun and entertaining. Well I can’t imagine this thing being fun or entertaining.

BLENDED2. “Blended” (May 23, 2014) – If an Adam Sandler movie is released it automatically gets consideration for this list. Perhaps that isn’t the most objective approach but Sandler has a track record that I can’t shake. His consistency would be impressive if it didn’t involve stupid and unfunny movies. I have no reason to believe that “Blended” will be any different from the other garbage he churns out. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is a turning point in Sandler’s career. Maybe this is the film that gets him back on track. Personally I don’t buy it and I can see this as a flusher all the way.

HAUNTED3. “A Haunted House 2” (March 28, 2014) – Can someone please explain to me how a crappy movie like last year’s “A Haunted House” could inflict a sequel upon us? Well, I guess if you have a $2 million budget and you pull in nearly $60 million at the box office a sequel is inevitable. I guess the better question is how on earth did that thing make $60 million? The first film was completely unwatchable and this new thing looks like a carbon copy of it. Sitting through the trailer alone is as entertaining as having a root canal. I know there is an audience for this movie but I promise you it doesn’t include me.

OTHER WOMAN4. “The Other Woman” (April 25, 2014) – I suppose there may be a decent idea stashed away somewhere in “The Other Woman” but to be honest I can’t find it. Three woman come together under the bind of being cheated on by the same man. According to the trailer their quest for revenge features dopey missteps, vomit jokes, lame anatomy gags, and an assortment of other things that I don’t find remotely interesting. This is a comedy that could potentially squeeze out a laugh or two. But personally I think it looks like another clichéd and formulaic comedy that will probably find an audience despite its mediocrity.

NEIGHBORS5. “Neighbors” (May 9, 2014) – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Seth Rogan in a raunchy comedy. Look, I know this guy has a big following but I don’t get it. This time he and Zac Efron rip off the great Belushi and Aykroyd comedy from 1981. Rogan’s one-trick pony act features the same vulgar, juvenile nonsense that we always get from him and his friends. I know there is an audience out there who will find shooting firecrackers out of your butt and an infant baby chewing on a used condom as funny. I find it to be another example of how void of smarts and originality Hollywood has become when it comes to comedy. This is a flusher through and through.

REVIEW: “Moulin Rouge!”

MOILIN ROUGE POSTEROn the surface there’s nothing about the 2001 romantic musical “Moulin Rouge!” that would draw me to it. I’m overly picky and less enthusiastic about musicals than any other movie genre. Baz Luhrmann’s schizophrenic style of filmmaking isn’t something I naturally gravitate towards. Also Nicole Kidman is an actress that I appreciate but who has never really blown me away. So I sat out during the movie’s release and eventual Oscar run. “Moulin Rouge!” would go on to earn 8 Oscar nominations including a Best Actress nod for Kidman. It would win two for Costume Design and Art Direction.

It’s been over 10 years since the release of “Moulin Rouge!” and I’ve finally caught up with it. It’s funny, it wasn’t the music or the popularity or the Oscar recognition that finally got me to sit down and give this film a shot. It was my very real and deep-seated affection for the city of Paris. This proves to be fairly misplaced motivation. The beauty and essence of Paris is never explored or injected into the story and my overall “Moulin Rouge!” experience danced between stimulation and tedium.

I won’t deny that “Moulin Rouge!” has its moments. There’s a visual flare that Luhrmann has that’s undeniable. Here he presents a kaleidoscope of hyperactive visual pageantry. The colors and the pizazz leap off the screen as he moves from one shot to the next at break-neck speed. The problem is he milks it for all its worth, especially in the first half of the film. There’s an almost sensory overload as he bombards us with wild, raucous dance sequences, painted faces, and swirling dresses in a relentless parade of musical debauchery that had me ready to leave Montmartre and head to the more pensive and subdued Latin Quarter.

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Yet, just as I was ready to check out, there would be some little nugget that kept me there. Whenever Luhrmann would dial things back the movie would take a better turn and I could latch on. These are the moments where we get into the actual story. It’s set in 1899 Paris. A young writer named Christian (Ewen McGregor) moves to Montmartre with hopes of experiencing the true Bohemian life of the area. Christian is a wide-eyed idealist who has a special boyish obsession with love, something he has never truly experienced before.

Luhrmann instantly begins to lay out his unusual world. His depiction of Bohemian life opens up on a frantic sugar rush. He quickly baptizes Christian into this weird world through a wacky assortment of characters. He runs into an eccentric group of artists and performers who acquire his help in finishing their musical production. Their ultimate goal is to sell their show to Mr. Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the proprietor of the wild and rowdy Moulin Rouge. The biggest attraction of the Moulin Rouge is the beautiful Satine (Nicole Kidman) and Christian is instantly smitten with her. But Zidler has other plans for his most prized property especially after she catches the eye of a wealthy Duke and potential financier (Richard Roxburgh). If Christian is going to win her love he’s going to have to fight for it.

Listening to that setup of the plot you would think there was a pretty strong story in place but it’s actually a bit anemic. There is an interesting romance in there but it ends up being swallowed up by the injections of peculiar song numbers that feel terribly out of place at times. We get big show versions of everything from Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Clearly these wild song choices worked for many people but for me they got in the way of something much more interesting – the complicated romance between Christian and Satine. Luhrmann does allow the romance more breathing room in the final act but by that time I felt worn down by the relentless pomp and spectacle. Luhrmann hasn’t an ounce of subtlety and here he flexes his hyper-stylized muscle whenever he can.

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Even though the more interesting story is smothered for much of the movie, it still manages to stay interesting thanks to the fantastic performances of the two leads. Ewen McGregor is great and watching his character move from innocent naivity to someone who has the harsh realities of the world revealed to him is great fun. But for me it was Kidman’s performance that not only stole the show but kept the movie going. She was a key reason I wanted to sit through the patented teeth-grinding Luhrmann scenes. Kidman is the one performer who has a lot to do and I found her work to be fascinating. Broadbent was okay but his character was so wacky and it was hard for me to get passed that. John Leguizamo has a fairly nice sized role as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Toulouse-Lautrec was a noted French artist but in this film his scenes mirror what I would imagine an acid trip to be like. He’s all over the place and comes off as a clown. Now considering the difficult life Toulouse-Lautrec had, from his childhood struggles to his crippling health problems which resulted in his death at age 36, this portrayal of him could be construed as an insult. Either way it didn’t work for me.

Unfortunately that also sums up my overall reaction to “Moulin Rouge!”. It just didn’t work for me. It’s a shame really because under the heavy coating of Baz Luhrmann’s mind-numbing stylistic excess lies a romantic tale that actually has heart. It’s a romance that’s made all the more interesting by two deeply commited lead performances. But sadly that doesn’t erase the countless times I was rolling my eyes or checking the time. I know “Moulin Rouge!” has a following and if you can connect to this type of schizophrenic storytelling you’ll probably find a lot to like here. But for me it was a case of too much visual insanity, too many poor choices for songs, and not enough of the central romance. That’s enough to keep “Moulin Rouge!” off my rewatch list for quite some time.


REVIEW : “Cloud Atlas”

“Cloud Atlas” has already stirred up quite a discussion between moviegoers. It’s safe to say the film has earned its fair share of fans. But it’s also true that it has its share of detractors. To be honest I can see where people could either love it or hate it. It’s a highly ambitious picture that pulls off an incredibly clever storytelling technique. But it could also be viewed as a three-hour grind that features many of the Wachowski’s familiar self-indulgences. So how was it for me, a groundbreaking cinematic accomplishment or an epic sized disaster? Well neither, But I did find it a chore to sit through despite the things it does right.

It’s practically impossible to give any kind of brief synopsis of the plot of “Cloud Atlas”. It’s basically six individual stories that take place at different points in time. The first story is set in the 1800s and follows a young lawyer handling business for his father on a voyage across the Pacific. The second story takes place in England during the 1930s as a young unfulfilled composer is hired to help an older accomplished composer create his music. The third story is set in the 1970s as an investigative reporter finds herself in danger after uncovering a nuclear energy conspiracy. The fourth story, set in 2012, follows a writer and publisher who finds himself in debt and in deep with some local mobsters. The fifth story jumps to a futuristic high-tech Seoul, Korea where a clone is believed to hold the keys to the future. The final story leaps further into the future where mankind is left to live in a barbaric caveman-like world.

Now there’s a process to watching “Cloud Atlas”. First the audience must adjust to the fractured form of storytelling. The Wachowski’s and co-writer and co-director Tom Tykwer don’t tell the six stories separately. Instead, the movie jumps from one story to another requiring the audience to keep up. For this to work, we first have to get to know the characters. For the most part the introductions work pretty well although I did struggle to connect with some of them. Once the characters and their stories are laid out then the audience can sit back and watch things unfold. This is when the movie was most effective. In fact, I found myself completely absorbed in what I was seeing during the middle of the film. Then the audience has to piece each of the stories together, some through more obvious and straightforward connections and others through more cryptic and allegorical meanings. This is another place where I felt the film really stumbled.

I want to start with the positives. The storytelling technique employed in “Cloud Atlas” could have potentially been a disaster. Earlier I used the word ambitious and for good reason. Taking pieces of six individual stories, breaking them up, and interweaving them together while maintaining a good strong narrative is an incredible challenge. I was blown away with how well it was done in this movie. We seamlessly move back and forth from story to story and the filmmakers are able to keep total control of the narrative. Even later when the transitions seem to come quicker and quicker, the broader story never loses its sense of cohesion. It’s intelligently crafted and executed and it serves as a great reminder of the power of cinematic storytelling.

There are also some amazing special effects and spectacular cinematography. The overall visual presentation of “Cloud Atlas” gives it a true epic motion picture feel and it beautifully captures the various time periods that it dabbles in. I loved the period-perfect look of the 1800s as well as the futuristic landscapes and technologies from the later period. Every place we visit in time looks and feels perfect. It also helps to have such a superb cast involved. The movie is loaded with strong performances from actors and actresses playing multiple roles. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Bae Doona, and Jim Sturgess all do great work in bringing this complex story to life. Each play a variety of different characters in the different storylines often in heavy prosthetics and sometimes in full drag. This is a good lead-in to some of my questions and concerns about “Cloud Atlas”. I’m not certain why it was necessary to have these actors play multiple roles. I’m assuming the filmmakers felt it added a sense of connection between the stories. Or maybe there was another underlying intention that I just don’t care to figure out. Regardless, do we really need to see Hugo Weaving dressed up as a husky female nurse?

Then there is the issue with how some of the individual stories end. There are a couple that I found quite satisfying. But then there are those that feel a little too tidy and borderline conventional as well as one that’s just flat-out silly. Also I never felt as though I made the full connections between some of the storylines. The movie simply doesn’t tie them together sufficiently. Now to be fair, a movie like this almost begs to be viewed a second time. I’m certain there are little nuggets of information that I missed. But the problem is that I’m not sure I want to tackle it again and that’s in large part due to the sometimes laborious 3-hour running time. Now I don’t mind long movies, but there were stretches in “Cloud Atlas”, particularly in the first and third acts, where the film seemed to be spinning its wheels. This isn’t unusual for the Wachowskis and I had a similar problem with their Matrix series. Much like those movies, this film at times feel bloated and self-indulgent. I also found the social commentary to be obvious and heavy-handed. Even in the instances where the message is good, they sometimes come across as blatant and contrived. Now to be perfectly honest, I’m not at all familiar with the source material, but I can’t imagine it being as glaringly in-your-face as the film can sometimes be.

“Cloud Atlas” is a difficult movie to process. It can sometimes be exhilarating cinema and at other times a frustrating chore. From a technical standpoint the film is astonishing. Both the visuals and sound design are phenomenal and the ability to capture the uniqueness of each time period is quite amazing. Even more impressive is the artistry involved in the unconventional storytelling method. There’s a crisp lyrical harmony to how we’re moved back and forth from one story to the next. Unfortunately there are a host of other problems, including those mentioned above, that keeps “Cloud Atlas” from being a really good film. But I haven’t asked the bigger question surrounding this movie. What’s it really about? Is it above love conquering all? Is it about choices and the blessings or consequences that follow them. Is it about a deep interconnection that all mankind share? I’m not sure, but in the end “Cloud Atlas” is a relatively small movie hidden underneath its lavish ambition and grandeur. It’s an exercise in style over substance that has enough flaws and misguided conceits to overshadow the things it does really well. That’s a shame.


REVIEW: “Another Year” (2010)

British director Mike Leigh’s latest project “Another Year” is a classic example of what you get when you create good characters and then just let great actors act. It isn’t a film that depends on an intricate or multi-layered plot, nor does it ever pretend to be something it’s not. In many ways this film is an observation.

As it’s title suggests, the movie follows a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri Hepple (Ruth Sheen), an older couple who have been married for years and still have a relationship rooted in their unwavering love for one another. On the surface watching an older married couple for a year may not sound all that entertaining, but as we are introduced to some of Tom and Gerri’s friends and family, Leigh quickly shows us the power of the couple’s stability.

Mary (Lesley Manville) is a middle-aged divorcee and co-worker of Gerri’s. She’s impulsive, overly chatty, a bit neurotic, and her life seems to have no direction. Ken (Peter Wight) is an old school friend of Tom’s who is a compulsive eater, an alcoholic, and is unhappy with how his life has turned out. Ronnie (David Bradley) is Tom’s introverted brother who is dealing with the recent death of his wife as well as his fractured relationship with his self-absorbed son. Each of these people with their own set of problems but who find an almost cathartic peace in the Hepple’s home.

I found this film to be a mesmerizing study of family and a testemant to the influence of love, compassion, and devotion. It’s a film centered around a firm and stable marriage, a rare thing to see in movies these days, that doesn’t depict it as stuffy or old-fashioned. While their wonderful relationship in many ways accentuates the flaws in the other characters, Leigh does a fantastic job portraying the Hepple’s as caring and sympathetic. They are impossible to dislike and their marriage is seen as something the audience and characters should envy.

Leigh really lets his actors go and the result is a film that feels genuine and authentic. Leigh’s unique style of character development employs dedicated one-on-one time with the actors and plenty of improvisation prior to the completion of the script. This approach seems to really connect the actors to the characters and it shows throughout the film. The dialogue is fluid and natural and it’s almost impossible not to be drawn in by the numerous kitchen table and back yard discussions. In fact at times I felt as if I was sitting at the table with them listening as each actor lose themselves in their character.

It’s hard to find many flaws in this movie. I did think it was a tad too long and it seemed to get just a little sluggish in the middle of the film. I was also a little frustrated at the ending. Granted, it allows the viewer to come up with their own conclusions and develop for themselves where one particular character is heading. But I had become so completely invested in these people that I didn’t want it to end on such a quick and abrupt note. Is that really a reasonable gripe or is it the byproduct of a great director selling his characters perfectly?

There is so much more that could be said about this picture. I could mention Leigh’s subtle but effective camera work or I could talk more of the great individual performances (I didn’t even mention Oliver Maltman who brilliantly plays the Hepple’s 30 year old son). But instead I’ll just say “Another Year” is a great film. It won’t resonate with those who restrict their movie tastes to fast paced action pictures or contrived and unfunny modern comedies. But I found “Another Year” to be intelligent, witty, touching, and most importantly real. I’ll take that from my movies any day.