Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Romantic Comedy Commentary Part II

Finally, yes, I bring to you the second half of my romantic-comedy movie marathon - with reviews of Kate & Leopold and Serendipity.

Kate & Leopold
I was a bit more excited about watching this, as opposed to Serendipity, for four reasons. 1) Hugh Jackman's in it. 2) Hugh Jackman boasts an English accent. 3) Hugh Jackman plays a noble aristocrat. 4) The plot is nicely science-fictional in nature. When I finished watching this movie, I realized I'd forgotten a few things, namely 1) Meg Ryan's in it, and 2) Ew! Incest subplot! Ew ew ew!

I couldn't believe how these two yummy Hugh Jackman movies were so hampered by ridiculously annoying heroines. Someone Like You's Ashley Judd was a damp, whimpering mess, but at least she seemed like a decent person when she was taking her meds. Kate & Leopold's Kate, played by Meg Ryan, is a washed-out, shrill, selfish shrew (say that three times fast!).

The movie begins in the late nineteenth century, as Leopold, Duke of Albany (Jackman! With an accent!), is distracted from watching the ceremony commemorating the under-construction Brooklyn Bridge by a bizarre man (Liev Schreiber) who takes pictures with his disturbingly modern camera and giggles whenever the construction workers mention that the bridge will be "the biggest erection in the world". Leopold gives chase, but loses the man. Leopold then returns to his uncle's mansion, where he and dear old Uncle have a spat about the nature of the aristocracy (Unkie needs Leopold to marry someone loaded because the Duchy is strapped for cash, Leopold hates being born to priviledge and would rather be remembered for his actual accomplishments).

Leopold is put into an even deeper funk when he catches that same strange man, in his own house, taking pictures of his sketchbooks (in which he's drawn his personal ideas and inventions). Again the man runs away, and Leopold again chases him - all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Leopold, ever the hero, tries to catch the man when the dude tries to jump off the bridge, but he's given an eyeful of mace in return, loses his grip, and falls into space.

Flash forward to the present. The man turns out to be a modern-day freaky-deaky scientist named Stuart, who discovered a rip in the space-time continuum, and promptly used it to follow his great-great-great grandfather around in the 19th century. What he wasn't expecting, however, was that his great-great-great grandfather would follow him back to the present. Leopold, upon recovering his senses, is understandably freaked out, and so is Stuart's ex-girlfriend, Kate (Meg Ryan with brittle hair and weird-looking lips).

Of course, Kate is freaked out for a different reason. She's not a huge fan of Stuart's theories, especially since their own four-year relationship did not terminate all that amicably. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that she loathes him, with a fierce, irrational, and shrill intensity - however, her contempt for the four years she wasted with a guy who was too geeky to pay the rent is not enough to incite her to go looking for an apartment that isn't directly above his. In fact, she uses this to her advantage, by bursting in at all hours of the day to squawk and rant about how much of a prick Stuart is, and it is during one such rampage that she meets Leopold.

Naturally, Leopold's (however tenuous) connection to Stuart immediately labels him as nutjob asshat in her eyes, but her assumptions are eventually dissuaded by the fact that Leopold is everything that she is not. For one, Leopold is honest to fault. Kate is in marketing, a job that is perfect for her gigantic ego, complete self-absorption, and her love of all details superficial and unimportant that make her okay with being a big fat liar. Leopold is perfectly polite - to the point where he will always rise when a lady leaves the table (even if anyone with taste and class would be hard-pressed to called Kate a lady). Kate is crass, loud and vindictive.

Leopold is, in fact, such a dashing, kind-hearted, tolerant, thoughtful man that it is nigh impossible to come to terms with the fact that he finds Kate attractive. Notwithstanding the fact that proper 19th century tastes would have thought a person styled as Kate is (short hair, sleeve-less dresses, pantsuits) to be either a girlish-looking man or a whore, Kate is so unapologetically rude to him for 70% of the movie I expected his delicate aristocratic ears to be steaming within an hour of their introduction. Somehow, though, he thinks she's adorably spunky and free-thinking, so unlike those vapid rich bitches he had to court back home. Whatever.

While the unrealistic relationship is one of the sharpest sticking points, the other is the theme of incest that hangs over the plot like a bad stink, even if it's never actually brought up. At the beginning of the movie Stuart introduces Leopold as his great-great-great grandfather, but he doesn't get to spend a lot of time with him, since Stuart spends much of the film in the hospital after falling down an elevator shaft (funny time-twist: since Leopold went on to invent the elevator, after he's yanked into the present, every elevator in the world vanishes/stops working). Since Kate has to babysit Leopold while Stuart recovers in the psychiatric ward of the hospital (he gabbed a bit too much about how he manipulated the space-time continuum), Leopold falls in love with her.

Love has limits, however, and inevitably Kate crosses them when she tries to impose her truth-is-relative-in-marketing-bullshit ideas on Leopold when he refuses to help her advertise a disgusting diet butter product. With Stuart's help, he returns to the past as a man heartbroken enough to give in to his uncle's demands to marry one of the rich girls at his party. Meanwhile, Stuart examines some of his photographs of the past a little more clearly, has an "OHSHIT!" moment, and rushes off to show Kate that she is in one of the photographs - somehow, she was meant to go back in time to be with Leopold. Learning her lesson (a little too conveniently), she jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge and through the time-rip, to arrive just in time to prevent Leopold from proposing to some vapid rich bitch.

Of course, Stuart never seems to realize the fact that if Kate was destined to go back in time to become Leopold's wife, than he just spent the last four years boinking his own great-great-great grandmother!

Essentially, Hugh Jackman was delightful as the Duke of Albany, a convincing romantic hero, but Meg Ryan's Kate had very little going for her so I found it hard to believe that a romance between them could spring up within the course of one week. C+

While this movie was much less offensive to me than Someone Like You and Kate & Leopold, it wasn't very heart-string-pulling. While this is partly because Hugh Jackman has nothing to do with this movie, and partly because its characters aren't as well-drawn as the couple in Fever Pitch, this movie, while not repulsive, still contained a whole lot of m'eh.

Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) meet for the first time when they both grab the same pair of black cashmere gloves during a Christmas season shopping frenzy. A cute, pleasant, but relatively unexceptional date follows. Despite the fact that Jonathan has a girlfriend and Sarah has a boyfriend, Jonathan asks for her phone number. Sarah responds with a bunch of hippy-dippy fairy-tale nonsense about fate - how people can still choose, but that coincidence has a way of giving people signs about what choices they should make if they want to be happy. So when she gives Jonathan her number only to watch him lose it a heartbeat later in a gust of wind, she assumes Fate is annoyed and wants them to back off.

Jonathan, being rational, calls bullshit. Sarah decides to give him more of a chance, and asks him to write his number on a five-dollar bill while she writes her number on the inside of a first-edition copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. She then proceeds to pay for a packet of mints with the five-dollar bill, and promises to sell her book to a used-book store. Thus, she explains, if they're meant to be together, Jonathan will find the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, or that five-dollar bill will find its way back into her hands.

Again, Jonathan calls bullshit, so she relents, drags him into a hotel, and gives him one more chance. They'll each pick a separate elevator, and choose a floor at random. If they're meant to be, they'll choose the same floor. Fate, at this point, performs the first of a series of teases that occur throughout the film: Jonathan and Sarah actually pick the same floor (23), but a bratty kid hijacks Jonathan's elevator and pushes all the buttons, so that by the time he reaches 23, Sarah has left in a huff.

Seven years pass, and our would-be lovers haven't met up again, and are in fact engaged to other people. Sarah turns out to be a therapist and is engaged to a fruity shinai (flute) player named Johan (played by an amiable John Corbett). Jonathan, a producer for ESPN, is about to marry a decent girl in three days. Both heroes are relatively melancholy about their place in life - Sarah, in particular, has abandoned her Fate-obeying beliefs, having learned her lesson after seven years of never finding that five-dollar bill.

Jonathan, after spending an afternoon drenched in Fateful Sarah-references while trapped in a taxicab (advertisements with Sarah on them, an annoying biker singing "Sarah....Sarah...") suddenly discovers a sudden desire to restart his search for Sarah. The rest of the movie is a series of teases as Sarah and Jonathan, in their renewed hunt for each other, come within inches of finding each other, only to be miss each other at the last minute. Honestly, they share the screen for about ten minutes of the movie. That's it.

While the characters are fine, if a little nondescript, the theme of the movie is kind of cloudy. What, Fate didn't want them to get together when they were young and only mildly attached to other people, but when they're both about to embark upon permanent relationships with people who love them, Fate suddenly steps in and says, "Drop the dorks, it's time to shack up!" ? I mean, being a girlfriend who gets dumped for another girl seems a mite less painful than a fiancee whose betrothed cancels their wedding to hook up with another woman, don't you think?

Honestly, the film never discusses what those seven years apart did to make Jonathan and Sarah's impeding reunion more important. The film never even shows how the fiancee and Johan deal with the painful surprise that the people they believed to be their soulmates, the people who were days away from promising to be with them forever, are in fact perfectly willing to throw all their love away in order to chase down a person they spent three hours with on one night seven years ago. What was the point of all this? In some cases, Fate is even cruel - for instance, Jonathan's fiancee gives him a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera for a wedding present, not knowing that she is inadvertently handing him the Fateful copy with Sarah's phone number in it. Way to make a woman the unwitting instrument of her own heartbreak, eh?

Finally, the movie wasn't all that funny. Parts of it were cute, I guess, but really, the characters were all more or less blah. There was nothing particularly interesting about either of them to explain why a meet-cute that lasted less than three hours would be enough to occupy their obsessions for seven years. I personally found the loosey-goosey shinai player to be more interesting than John Cusack. Heck, I found Jeremy Piven to be more interesting than John Cusak. I could definitely watch a romantic comedy with Jeremy Piven at the head. For being inoffensive, mildly entertaining, but not exactly gripping, Serendipity gets a solid B-.

Well, well, well - it appears that for my first ever Romantic Comedy Marathon, the first prize ribbon goes to the American version of Fever Pitch, which was a delightful, funny, relatively realistic comedy with a very delicious Jimmy Fallon in it. Yes, I said American version. As one of my helpful commentators pointed out - there was actually a British version that came out first, in 1997, which starred Colin Firth as a man in love with a football (soccer to you Yanks) team, as well as his girlfriend. If I can find it, I might want to try to watch that, too.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Life Sucks

Double Rejection! Yesterday, not only did I receive a (surprisingly prompt!) rejection letter from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but I also didn't get the Little Mermaid solo. Out of thirty girls, I was one of five callbacks. And of the five callbacks, I was one of the two asked to sing again, while the choir director went on at length about he wished he could fall on his sword instead of having to choose between the two of us (my competitor actually suggested we alternate between concerts and on tour, a suggestion I now wish I had supported and brought before the choir director).

We were very close (the director said), but I lost out because apparently I'd taken too much liberty with the solo rhythm (I think I stretched the "sure...she's got everything" line too long)and there were going to be instruments other than the piano accompanying the soloist who couldn't adjust to the soloist's speed. So I'm Number Two, which seems appropriate, because I feel like shit. I got really emotionally invested in this solo - I've auditioned, won, and lost solos before, but this was The Little Mermaid. There will doubtless be other solos, but not another Little Mermaid - at least for several years. I felt this solo was perfect for my particular voice type, so now I'm left thinking: if I can't get this solo, how in hell am I going to get any other solo in the future? I've had several good long cries over the last six hours while meditating on that subject.

There's still hope, I suppose. As Number Two, I'm the understudy - so if Number One gets sick or can't perform, I can get the part. A sympathetic choir member also informed me that I had a pretty good chance of getting an opportunity to sing the solo on tour, because after the fourth day Number One will probably be hella tired. As much as I'd like to wish that Number One got sick, or decided she didn't want the solo and wanted to give it to me because I clearly wanted it so badly, or realized that she'd won an all-expenses paid trip to Paris but could only take it the week she had to go on tour (not being able to go on tour being a disqualifying factor - I still might have hope on that one because Number One appeared to be surprised by that condition. Choir Director said, "You're going on tour, right?" Her response, "Well...I am now."), but I doubt it's going to happen. As hard as I find it to believe that someone might have wanted this solo as much as I did, I can only give Number One the benefit of a doubt and assume she is ecstatic at getting such a wonderful solo. I also doubt that she'll catch an awful cold and lose her voice for both the Mini-Tour Concert and the Annual Concert (both of which are recorded, with the better sounding performance ending up on the Annual CD).

So again, life sucks.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Romantic Comedy Commentary Part 1

At last, I have returned to my screenplay, Safety Boyfriend. Without telling you about the actual plot, it's a romantic comedy about romantic comedies, so for research I went out and rented four this weekend to get a feel for the formulas of the genre. It was pure coincidence that two of the four happened to have Hugh Jackman in them. Pure coincidence, I tell ya... By the way, movie spoilers ahead:

Someone Like You
The first that I saw was Someone Like You. In this film, Jane (Ashley Judd), a talent scout for a talk show, falls for hunky coworker Ray (played by Greg Kinnear). Their relationship starts out great, despite the fact that Ray has not actually terminated his previous three-year relationship by the time he and Jane start dating. Can you say red flag?

Finally, Ray tells Jane that he's left his girlfriend, and she starts making plans to move in with him. However, surprise-surprise, at the last minute, Ray unceremoniously dumps Jane without giving her a reason, and she's left homeless and very messily heartbroken. Partly because she needs shelter and partly to spite Ray, she moves in with another coworker, Eddie (the yummy Hugh Jackman), even though she's not at all approving of his caddish manwhore ways. Now, she and Eddie are not in a relationship - Eddie can't afford his apartment without a roommate, so she's agreed to pay the other half of the rent, so long as there's no nookie.

While Hugh Jackman is extra delicious in this movie, Ashley Judd does an excellent job of killing the enjoyment factor. Her Jane isn't just an emotional mess, she is extremely public about how much of an emotional mess she is, which results in a lot of disgusting, inappropriate, and entirely unfunny tantrum scenes in which she chews out Ray, Eddie, and be-cocked human beings in general. Part of the plot of this movie is that her bitterness over the breakup has caused her to believe that men are cows - not pigs, but cows. See, the movie introduces how male cows, apparently, only mate with the same cow once - and cannot, under any circumstance, be induced to re-mate with the same "old cow." The betrayed Jane begins to apply this to men, believing that they cannot be monogamous or faithful, and that she and millions of other unlucky women are "old cows," forever doomed to watch their bulls leave them for "new cows."

She sinks so deeply into this belief, that when her equally bitter journalist girlfriend Liz suggests that Jane write a column about her theory in Liz's magazine, she does so - the kicker here being that Jane decides to write under the false identity of an esteemed, elderly doctor of psychology, so that readers will take her vengeful ramblings as scientific fact, as intelligent readers surely wouldn't if they thought they were the vengeful ramblings of an emotionally fragile twentysomething woman who has absolutely no knowledge or experience in male psychology and is writing only from her own painfully neglected errogenous zones, which they are!

Anyway, the first hour of this movie was almost enough to make me want to give up altogether - as lovely as Hugh Jackman is shirtless, there is nothing remotely entertaining in watching a needy, spiteful sadsack make an ass of herself in public. The last half manages to redeem Someone Like You, not into a movie that I myself would watch, but at least into a movie that has some sense and heart behind it.

When Jane has yet another spaztastic shrieking and crying fit in front of Ray and her boss, talkshow host Diane - Diane actually takes her aside and chides her for making everyone suffer for her bad relationship. In a very satisfying monologue, Diane reveals how her inability to reveal her feelings to her own significant other resulted in her own devastating breakup - the difference being that, she kept it to herself, because she knew she had a professional life to keep up that would not stand by and wait while she had a good cry. In a marvellous twist, Diane goes on to relate how she won her boyfriend back by finally expressing her feelings, and lo and behold, her boyfriend was Ray, and that was why he left Jane!

Now, this revelation doesn't help Jane very much - indeed, it sends her over the deep end because it basically refutes her entire "old cow, new cow" theory - that Ray didn't leave her for some New Cow, but dumped her in favour of an even Older Cow. Her delusional denial of Diane's story also irritates the hell out of Eddie, who, despite manwhoring every now and then, has been nothing but supportive and sympathetic and helpful during Jane's crisis. He's had his own share of nasty breakups (including one with the last tenant of his apartment), and he doesn't take kindly to having his gender equated with cruel, useless animals. When he finally confronts her and tells her - Hey, I'm a man, and I'm not like that! she breaks down and cries, again, but this time it counts because she's finally touched upon the core of her distress - she relied so faithfully on the New Cow/Old Cow theory because she wanted to convince herself that guys left her because it was in their rotten, bestial natures - she didn't want to consider that they left because something was actually wrong with her.

So, along comes more crying, and more sexy Hugh Jackman comforting, and finally, Jane goes on national television and apologizes for the nasty, biased bullshit she peddled under the guise of a scientific authority. She also realizes that Ray is not the only fish in the sea, or bull on the pasture, or whatever, and that guys aren't always pigs, or cows, or whatever, but can still participate in happy marriages (cue the infertile-sister-with-adoring-husband-subplot!), and consider her beautiful after she's spent the last ninety minutes of my time wailing like a banshee on a caffeine high. For her, that estimable gentleman turns out to be Hugh Jackman's Eddie (well, duh), and cue happy ending!

I have to say, I really disliked this story in which the majority of the female characters are basically bitter, envious harpies who are painfully attuned to the ever-present winding down of their biological clocks. There is nothing more repulsive to me than the twin choruses of "I need a man, I need a man" and "I hate men, I hate men". However, because the movie eventually concedes that these kinds of women are not in the right frame of mind, I'll give it a pass. Also, the movie could have demonized the Ray character - and did so for the second act - but eventually revealed him to have more realistic motivations. He wasn't a bastard, and he wasn't some wishy-washy I-can't-decide type.

The relationship between Eddie and Jane was also amazingly subtle - to the point where I was almost expecting the movie to end with them as friends, not lovers. Eddie starts out as disbelieving, then becomes sympathetic, then comforting. There wasn't a huge out-of-the-blue OMG-HUMP-HUMP love scene that made no sense, but only a realization from Jane that Eddie treats her the way she deserves (or more than she deserves) to be treated. Grade: B-

Fever Pitch
After the suffocating depression of Someone Like You, the sprightly Fever Pitch was a breath of fresh air. My sisters saw this movie back in Jasper during the Thanksgiving before last, and insisted that I watch it, and boy, am I glad I did.

In Fever Pitch, corporate exec Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) falls for likeable math teacher Ben (SNL's Jimmy Fallon). The first obstacle that comes up, surprisingly, is money. Her working-girl friends are initially iffy over the concept of their up-and-coming girlfriend going out with a lowly educator. Of course, once they actually meet her jovial and handsome beau, they relent - but a different nagging question arises: he's thirty but still single - what's the matter with him?

While his closet isn't full of garbage bags full of a life's worth of toenail clippings, he does have his own obsessions. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, he comes out and tells her the truth in the first act of the movie, without her having to ask him. A lesser movie would have had him hide it, would have included a bunch of tiresome and unfunny scenes of Ben going to drastic lengths to keep it a secret, only for it to be revealed in the third act, forcing Lindsey to accept him and his faults, point-blank, or kick him to the curb, which she wouldn't, because a lesser movie would have obviously pandered to the ridiculous happy ending.

Ever since he was seven, Ben has been a Red Sox fan - a fanatically loyal Red Sox fan. His apartment is carpetted, wallpapered, and decorated with Red Sox paraphernalia. After his baseball-loving uncle died, he inherited a lifetime's worth of season tickets, and he's gone to every game. He even goes down to Florida at the beginning of the pre-season to watch his Sox practice. He's honest about his interest - he even acknowledges that his devotion to his team has kept him out of a lot of meaningful relationships, and it's a nerve that's been rubbed pretty raw by rejection. When Lindsey appears unfazed, he's elated - but he neglects to remember that he and Lindsey began their relationship in the fall, after baseball season. She knows and loves Winter Ben - but how will she react to Summer (i.e. Baseball) Ben?

Lindsey doesn't know a whole lot about the Red Sox (and is initially teased about it by Ben's "summer family" - i.e. the people who've had season ticket seats next to his for the last twenty years), but she catches on and becomes more interested in the sport, even though her friends are worried that Ben is "colonising" her (that is, forcing her to abandon her own interests in favour of his). Of course, no matter how she loves baseball, she'll never be the fan that Ben is. Ben is the type of guy who covers his ears and hums in public when someone close to him starts talking about the Red Sox scores of a game that he's taping. He's the type of fan who'll neglect family obligations and social get-togethers if the Sox go up against the Yankees that day. He's also the type of fan who'll high-five the man who caught a Red Sox foul ball, and only afterwards check to make sure that his girlfriend, who was beaned by that same foul ball, is okay.

She's also, if I've neglected to mention, a career girl whose office is in the midst of a shake-up, and if she wants to snag the promotion she's always wanted she's going to have to develop her own obsession towards work. At first, she sees this as a win-win - with a baseball fan boyfriend, the Red Sox will keep Ben from feeling neglected when Lindsey has to devote her time to her job. Naturally, however, the relationship still becomes strained.

However, Ben is not a complete idiot. He loves the Red Sox whole-heartedly, but the movie never makes him into some cartoonish, Homer-Simpson-esque buffoon who is so selfishly attuned to the game that he forgets his girlfriend completely. He wants Lindsey to love baseball, because he loves her, and if she loves baseball she also loves that large part of him that loves baseball, too - and that's a part of him that's the most often been rejected by other women. In the middle of the film, the couple have a brief pregnancy scare - and Ben's reaction is to go out and buy Red Sox onesies (awww....), while Lindsey's is to rethink how much Ben is putting into their relationship. She respects his baseball love, but whenever she wants to go a party or whenever her friends have birthdays and anniversaries, she doesn't want to have to check the game calendar to see if Ben will go with her.

What does Ben do? He actually compromises, because he genuinely cares about Lindsey. As one of his students puts it, "You love the Red Sox, but have the Red Sox ever loved you back?" One of the reasons Ben loves baseball, as he puts it, is because it's safe - you can't have a good baseball career if you're lucky or rich, but only if you're good. It's his comfort zone. But Lindsey promises him a different kind of zone altogether - one that won't get rid of baseball, just one that will include other things as well as baseball. So he calms it down. On a night when the Sox are playing the Yankees - a type of game he usually never misses - he decides to go to a costume party with Lindsey. They have a great time, stay out late, and when they're out on the street waiting for a cab, he doesn't plug his ears when a nearby radio announces the baseball scores - six nothing Yankees, so far. After a few "home-runs" of their own, he tells Lindsey this was the best night of his life.

However, Ben eventually finds out that while he was out with Lindsey, he missed what might have been the best Red Sox game in history - in which the Sox make 8 runs in the last inning to win the game. People are partying in the streets, his friends are estatically screaming at him over the telephone, and newscasters are reporting Boston's longest conga line. Ben's repressed obsession kicks in, and frustrated, he lashes out at Lindsey, blaming her for changing his behaviour, for twisting his Red Sox loyalties. Lindsey, incredibly hurt, dumps him.

Lindsey and Ben reconcile, once again, through compromise, empathy, and understanding. Ben, feeling betrayed by the Red Sox and his own relationship with them, decides to sell his lifetime season tickets in an effort to get Lindsey back. Lindsey, finally equating her love of her "safe" job to his love of his "safe" game, runs onto the baseball diamond in the middle of the game to get his attention, because she loves his heart too much to allow him to cut away the part of it devoted to baseball.

What's most pleasant about Fever Pitch is that the couple is happy for most of the movie. There aren't really any villains in this film - there's one unpleasant yuppie couple (the wife, who's a friend of Lindsey and is a little too competitive, and the husband, who is the one who tries to buy Ben's season tickets), but that's about it. The movie isn't how a couple get together - they're already together. Fever Pitch is how a couple learns to work around and love the other's quirks is way that's easily relatable, not to mention how they learn to sacrifice parts to save the whole.

Drew Barrymore is a delight, as always, and (unlike Judd in Someone Like You and Meg Ryan in the next-to-be-mentioned Kate & Leopold) is not selfish or shrill, and doesn't play some stuck-up working-girl who has to give up her career in order to discover true love. She keeps her job, she loves her job. She works a little too hard at it, but that's something she needs to deal with, same as Ben. I loved how the baseball-love and work-love were paralleled - the movie didn't make the Ben character a freak that Lindsey had to "tame," but instead a kindred spirit whose passion was simply directed elsewhere.

And Jimmy Fallon - ooooooh, Jimmy Fallon. So cute! So very, very cute! Why isn't he in more movies? More movies that don't suck, I mean. I know he's in that upcoming Factory Girl flick, but what after that? We can't subsist on Pepsi commercials alone, Jimmy! He was sincerely adorable in this film, kind-hearted and funny and compassionate and flawed. A lovely movie detailing the evolution of a couple. A

Once I am done watching Serendipity (the last of the four films), I'll return with a double review of that and Kate & Leopold. Stay tuned!

Aspirations of Greatness

It is Sister #2's birthday today, so if you find the time, please feel free to psychically transmit some good vibes in her direction, since she has had the severe misfortune to have the anniversary of her birth coincide with her grade 12 diploma examinations. Such used to be my trouble, but no more - now that I'm at University, my birthday takes place the week after Winter Term starts, when there's absolutely no homework to be done.

As for me, I've been practicing for the upcoming Little Mermaid callback audition. I think I might actually have a shot. I've also, er, rethought (at my mother's insistance), my particular plan to grab my Bachelor of Arts diploma in a year and a half and tramp off to the Kingdom of Unimpeachable Moral Character and Unimpeded Creative Progress, Los Angeles, in order to become an Instantly Famous and Wealthy Screenwriter.

She actually suggested that I try taking some Screenwriting programs at one of our nation's fantastic film schools, like the Vancouver Film School. Tuition's pretty pricey, but since I've been able to pay for about 75% of my tuition this year and have at least 50% of next year's tuition practically in the bag (once "My Brother's Own Words" goes to press), my parents are less adverse to financially helping me in that area.

I know I must appear to be horribly flighty (or gullible) to so firmly agree on one idea, only to be easily swayed away from it, but my particular idea hasn't been killed, only postponed. While I haven't decided exactly on the Vancouver film school yet (as opposed to the others in Toronto and such), I'm sort of basing my expectations around their curriculum. A year's worth of studying at one of those schools would actually give me the one thing that would have proven to my severe disadvantage if I'd rushed off to L.A. without it: knowledge of how the film industry actually works. Plus, I'd have gained contacts with other writers, and I'd be introduced to the Canadian film industry, which is supposedly quite active in Vancouver (as is the American film industry in Vancouver - ha ha!).

Some people have advised me not to place too much importance on a film school education, so I don't think I would want to go for, say, a four-year screenwriting program - but a one-year program with contacts and stuff might do me a world of good. Plus, I'd gain the experience of living away from my parents without having to start in the Kingdom of Unimpeachable Moral Character and Unimpeded Creative Progress, Los Angeles.

Once I finished, I could start out small in Vancouver, or if I really discovered my potential, then I could run away to Los Angeles and sell my brilliant romantic comedy script. Seriously, it's good - everyone that I've related the general plot to thinks it'd be a great movie. Ha ha ha ... Now I just have to learn to pitch it.

And as for more writing news - I finally received the CICADA edit for my novella "My Brother's Own Words." Reading back on it, I have to say I was a little embarassed. Sure, it's only been two years since I wrote it, but my style's changed a lot since then - for instance, I used an assload of ridiculous speechtags like "offered, relented, chuckled". Thankfully, the edits toned down a lot of the floridness of it. I okayed the edits (suggesting only a few word changes), and the editor says that if I'm lucky, my novella will make it into the March/April 2007 issue of CICADA Magazine!

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I auditioned for the solo of my choir's Little Mermaid medley for our upcoming spring concert, and only learned at the last minute that by auditioning for the solo, you are automatically guaranteeing that you are going to go on tour. All soloists, and handbell ringers, by volunteering for those positions, are needed on tour to provide consistancy. Thank God I have a steady enough job, that I can take a week off in advance for this tour and not lose my employment.

Anyway, I was about fourth or fifth in a line of about thirty to thirty-five girls total, all of whom have seen the movie since they were five and whose greatest wish since that age has been to BE the Little Mermaid in all of her red-headed-rebellious-sixteen-year-old-fishy-glory. When I started singing, I was taken aback because the pianist was playing the song a lot slower than I was expecting it to be sung (making it more ballad than Broadway), which cramped my "acting" attempts at first, but eventually I caught on to the rhythm and finished the song with an appropriately belting last note ("I want mooooOOOOORRREE!"). Once I was done, I walked out of the room and down to the busstop. I thought I aced the audition, but only for about a hundred feet, and then I started thinking about all the things I must have done wrong with it. I was stilted for the first few long lines, my last note wasn't loud enough, I didn't act the part as much as I wanted, maybe I used too much vibrato and was a little too opera...

Needless to say, the first thing I did this morning was check my e-mail for a message from the choir director - and lo and behold: he chose five girls for callbacks, to come back and audition for the role next Wednesday. And I'M ONE OF THE FIVE! Good news: I still have a big, big chance to get the role - and he's stated that he wants the song to be very belty and Broadway! Bad news: Now I have to wait and pine and rehearse and worry FOR ANOTHER WEEK. Gah!

As for my writing, listening to a certain song from Dreamgirls somehow gave me the inspiration to start up again on my "Safety Boyfriend" screenplay, which has reminded me how much I love writing screenplays, which has me more than ever convinced that it's what I want to do for a living.

I'm actually seriously considering moving to L.A. after I graduate, and just going for it. I know it's cheesy, but in all the biographies and stories I've read of people who've made it, they all got it because they went for the throat and took a huge risk. They knocked on the Big Man's door and gave them their script, or started as the lowliest of the production company's receptionists to climb their way up, or pulled every string they owned so that someone would listen. I know I'm a great writer, and I've loved movies my whole life and I don't think there's anything else is this world that I could be as good at than screenwriting. I also think that I don't have much of a chance if I stay in Edmonton as a librarian while writing screenplays on the side.

I think this is what I would like to do - go to LA, and wait tables or fold khakis for the Gap or send millions of e-mails in an office building while writing like a madwoman at night, research the industry and take my screenplays to every agent or director or production company I can. There's no better time to do it than after I graduate - to take a risk while I'm young and foolish and resilient so that if on the unlucky chance I end up a catastrophic failure I can still recover, try out grad school again, and write novels in the evenings after cataloguing books in the afternoon. I have a family who loves me and would support me if I really needed it (although I would make every effort to make sure I didn't really need it until I actually really needed it, of course), which would not be the case if I waited for ten years until I had job security and tried it out at thirty or forty.

So far, though, even the thought of moving out of my parents' house gives me the willies, but I'm going to spend the next year and half thinking this over, saving my money, researching the movie industry, becoming less of a lazy-ass writer, and looking up Los Angeles busroutes - oh yeah, and learning how to live on my own. I'm going to need to do that, heh heh. I'm so ignorant of even basic things right now - like paying income tax, or rent, or painting a fence or cleaning a bathroom....

I have a year and half to learn these things. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Happy Birthday to ME!

I'm 21 today y'all! Whoo!

So far, I've been having a fantastic week. Yesterday, my parents took me out to get me a "grown-up" present - a fancy watch that does not have an animated character on it. I had a little bit of indecision between the one I eventually chose and a silver watch with sparkling crystals along the bracelet with a pink mother-of-pearl face, but I eventually chose the other one because I wouldn't have wanted to wear the sparkly one on any but the most formal occasions.

It's lovely, dear readers - the bracelet is a mixture of silver and gold colours (brushed stainless steel that won't scratch), with a midnight-blue face, gold hands in the shape of isociles triangles, and a tiny, tiny diamond set in the 12 o'clock position. All day yesterday and today, my parents insist on asking "What time is it?" so that I can look at my beautiful watch and give them an estimate.

I went to my birthday party yesterday, too - probably the first of anything that could be called a birthday party for me since I was ten. My homies in the Sci-Fi club, and my friend M and her brother (whose birthday was on the 12th!) met me at the Mall, where we had dinner at Boston Pizza and then went to the movie theatre to catch a 9:25 showing of Arthur and the Invisibles. B, the Captain of the Sci-Fi club, gave me a gift certificate for Chapters (which I spent today on a copy of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn and a bargan copy of The Bachelorette Party), and M gave me an illustration she drew of one of the characters from my story "My Brother's Own Words" - a full-colour picture of Paulie, the boy who is half-parrot. I can't describe how important that picture is to me - that someone remembered the story I'd told enough to draw a fantastic picture of it. It's wonderful - she's a great artist.

The movie Arthur and the Invisibles was artistically beautiful, but narratively flawed. The story regards a boy, Arthur, whose grandmother faces eviction from her home unless he can find his vanished grandfather's secret stash of rubies. To do so, he has himself shrunk down to visit the land of the Minimoys - a tribe of tooth-sized elves who live in his backyard. The animation in these sequences was gorgeous, I loved watching it on the big screen. The story, however, was lacking in many places, to the point where I thought the ending was anti-climactic.

I heard somewhere that the playwright Chekov had a rule that if a dueling pistol is placed on the mantlepiece in the first act, it has to be shot in the third. Basically, if you introduce an element, it has to be made relevant by the time the movie is over, and this film had many elements that were introduced and not finished that it made me wonder if they were planning a sequel already. For instance, David Bowie voices the Evil M (funny, that's my Mum's nickname, too....), the villain of the film who has a contrived monologue-infodump scene where he explains that he used to be a good Minimoy king whose efforts to protect the kingdom of the Minimoys resulted in him being disfigured by evil magic. The Minimoy princess Selenia helpfully reminds him that he ALSO apparently GOT IT ON WITH A WEEVIL, which gave him more evil mojo. Anyway, the Evil M concludes his little rant by saying that the magical first kiss of a certain Minimoy princess (he comes just sort of saying "hint, hint, nudge, nudge") could free him from his torment and return him to normal, so of course I got all hot and bothered expecting my favourite "villain finds redemption" theme.

And of course it doesn't happen. The Evil M's plan to flood the Minimoy kingdom is foiled and he merely shakes his fist, abandons his (half-weevil?) son to drown, and flies away on the back of a mousquito. Of course, the princess doesn't use up her first kiss either - even with Arthur she's a bit of a cocktease. So I'm guessing that in the following films (if there are any - this movie rated an 18% positive rating on RottenTomatoes.com, ouch!), we'll deal with the Evil M and the kiss-kiss.

For today, I'm just going to sit back with the family, order some pizza with sausage, mushrooms, and black olives, and watch Idiocracy, which is totally on DVD now! Whoohoo!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat?"

"Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?"

Ah, The Little Mermaid. When I walked into the HMV with my Christmas money, I just knew that if I didn't buy it, in the next couple months it would be tucked away into the Disney Vault for who knows how long (like Beauty and the Beast! ARGH!).

Sure, it wasn't true to the Hans Christian Anderson story. While appreciative of the movie's charms, my mother remains puzzled as to why Disney saw fit to try and adapt this story into a children's film at all, rather than just make up a similar story about a Mermaid. To Mother, The Little Mermaid was one of the first books that made her cry. To those of who you haven't read the original, I'll break it down for you.

The mermaid trades her voice for her legs, sure, but did you know that every step she took was as painful as if she walked on knives? And that the prince ended up marrying someone else? The moral of this story came when Ariel's sisters show up, and tell her that she can escape the punishment for failing to woo the prince (none of this turn-into-kelp-with-a-face Ursula mojo - she fails, she turns into seafoam) if she kills the prince and allows the blood to flow onto her legs, which will turn her back into a mermaid. Ariel refuses, and she dies - in some other versions, she becomes a "daughter of the air", a kind of wind-sprite with the potential to earn a human soul and attain heaven, but either way she doesn't get her man. She sacrifices everything important to her for a man, and ends up punished for it. You could even say it was a cautionary tale for women, because she essentially abandoned her family's advice and allowed herself to be taken advantage of.

Sad, no? The movie is quite a bit happier than that. All respect to HCA, but I love this movie. This film was probably the movie that locked in my obsession with cinema. According to my parents, at five years old I only needed to see the movie once before I could recite entire passages from the screenplay and sing every song word-for-word from memory. I must have watched it a million times after that, which made for rewatching the film now quite an interesting experience. I hadn't seen the movie for about ten years, and throughout the movie I experienced a keen, conflicting emotion of being reminded of something while simultaneously knowing that I never forgot it. I must have locked all those memories away somewhere, and once the first song ("Fathoms Below") came on, the door was opened, and everything rushed back to the surface.

To my delight, for my university Mixed Chorus' year-end medley number, we're singing a medley from The Little Mermaid. And there is one solo in the production - Ariel's favourite half-sing, half-talk "Part of Your World" segment. Once the director announced the date of the auditions for the solo, about two dozen others girls around me gasped as one and scribbled the date in their notebooks. I just know that in the auditions, everyone is going to be singing in the exact same affected way it was performed in the movie. ("Youwantthingamabobs? Igottwenty!") I publically announced I was willing to stab someone to get the solo. While not entirely serious, I am so earnestly lustful for that solo. I'm going to practice all week, which will doubtless a) annoy the hell of of my sisters, because the solo in only about six lines long (beginning with "Look at this stuff..." and finishing with the "I want mooore" crescendo before the rest of the choir chimes in), and b) cause my parents to flashback to when I was five, which they will probably tire of quite quickly, seeing as I'm due to turn 21 this Saturday.

But I really, really, really, REALLY want to get that part. Not only would I sing it at the year-end concert, but it would appear on the CD, and would get sung and re-sung a million times while on tour. I wants it! The last time I auditioned for a solo (last year), I didn't get it - to be fair, it was supposed to be a kind of gospel-improv thing, which went to a girl and a guy who were both able to ad-lib (with varying degrees of success). But this part - this is the part for me, and Mum agrees. This is to be a Broadway part, full of expression and power. I cut my teeth on Broadway tunes (and won first place at the Kiwanis Festival, Musical Theatre Category [age 16 and up] with Camelot's "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"), and in the choir I'm always placed in the middle row on the end, because I have an enormous, loud, carrying voice. And did I mention I've probably sung this song, like, a million times?

The thing is, I'm not going to be the only girl auditioning, and I can honestly say I have a far smaller chance of being the best singer in this kind of group. I want this part so badly I can't picture I'll do anything good if I don't get it. I can imagine myself feeling extremely resentful, probably hating the girl who does get the role, spitefully convincing myself that her voice is reedy and she's too breathy and she's obviously just imitating the original Ariel voice, singing louder than usual during rehearsals and performances just to show everyone how wrong they were not to pick me, not going on tour, skipping over the medley entirely whenever I listen to the eventual CD on my iPod...

Of course, the reason I'm writing all this down now, is so that if I don't get this role, I'll be prepared so that I don't do all those things. I probably will be incredibly depressed and resentful for a while, but I'm going to make a very great effort to be nice to the girl who does get it, and just enjoy singing as a group (because that's the entire reason I'm in the choir in the first place, because it's fun to sing with a large group of people), and singing properly in a group - I'm just as concerned about how the choir sounds as a whole, and I wouldn't sabotage the entire performance because of one solo. And who am I kidding? Of course I'm going to listen to the medley on the CD - it's just good music. I'll just try for the solo next year.

But I'd like to think I have a chance to get this solo. I'm going to run over every word, every note, every expression, about a million times this week because this movie, this song, this solo, means so much to me, and has meant this much to me for about sixteen years, in regards to the movies that I like, the music I enjoy, and the songs that I've sung. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Lofty Ambition

Today, after paying $5.00 worth of postage and International Reply Coupons, "Parasite: A Love Story" has been set adrift to wander through the twisting corridors of the Canadian Postal Service on the way to Hoboken, New Jersey, to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I thought I'd aim high once again. I'm not planning of making F & SF my go-to magazine right away, but I got such praise for "Parasite: A Love Story," and I felt it was such a stylistic departure for me (and especially from "My Brother's Own Words," which was the last story I sent to F & SF) that I thought I'd give it another go.

I got rid of my "What I'm Reading" elements for now - because it turns out that the reading I'm going to be doing for this year is bizarre and sporadic, and I'm going to be reading several things at once in order to keep up. No real problem for me, but it would be annoying to have to update those "What I'm Reading" things every couple of hours for accuracy. Once I'm back to reading for fun, I'll put them back up.

Our city is in the middle of a blizzard now, by the way. A real blizzard. The kind that has everyone speculatively whispering, "Did you hear about the blizzard? Supposed to hit tonight?" "What? I heard tomorrow night," before it actually happens. Doesn't happen that often in Canada, because we're used to snow and all. I woke up this morning to find four centimetres of fresh powder on my driveway, and taking the bus an hour early to get to class did absolutely jack squat because the bus ended up being two hours slow and I was late to class anyway. On the plus side, I was able to finish reading Gerthe's Faust on the way there, the translation of which was surprisingly easier to read than the Christopher Marlowe version (which I also recently finished).

Now I'm onto the Journals of Captain James Cook, which has so many seafaring symbols for policies and coordinates and wind-direction that it's like trying to read 18th-century NetSpeak: January 10th: Lnded on island 4 food & stuff, gay-a$$ natives try 2 frag us, stole r metal!!1! They r teh suk. >:-( But w/ r guns we pwnd them all, LOLZ. :-D Consequently christened the place Pwnage Bay due to our glorious victory.

After that, I'm going to read The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, who like JD Salinger is supposed to be a crazy recluse who is reported to send in his secretly-coded manuscripts using elaborate means in order to preserve his identity and privacy. Weird.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

SiteMeter And James/Jan Morris

I'm actually starting to really like SiteMeter - it's pretty interesting to be able to look up where the people who've seen my site live, or where they were referred (interestingly enough, one person apparently clicked on my blog while looking for "the buses in LA" on Google).

And I'm really enjoying Jan Morris The World. She really gives each place a personality, and she's not too proud to admit her mistakes, either. I just read her first essay on Sydney, where she basically destroys it, talking about how the people are cold and how obvious it was that most of them were descended from six generation of English scum (!). I think it was the first essay I read in the whole collection where she's quite mean about a place - I mean, her essays haven't always been positive, but the negative ones are usually more pitying because they describe war-torn places or extremely impoverished villages. The one about Sydney was just place bitchy. She does admit, however, how embarassed she was of her generalizations, and that takes some character.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Semester's Reading

Well, I finished Catcher in the Rye. It was an interesting read, in that the protagonist Holden becomes less and less sympathetic throughout the novel. I mean, the first couple of chapters are good - he was easy to relate to because his complaining was related to an uncomfortable environment, that is, his boarding school. Everyone's had a tough time at school, so it makes sense he would be very articulate about his unhappiness.

But he runs away, and keeps complaining. He bitches about every single goddamn thing (saying "goddam" every third word as well), and blames his own failures on everyone else. He's so depressed about all the "phonies" and "perverts" out there, and goes into such detail about how their phoniness is the reason he doesn't succeed in school or make any friends or have any happiness, that after the halfway point I was just dying to kick that pretentious little know-it-all prick in the balls. His sister even calls him on it - near the end of the book, she declares that he hates everything, and when she challenges him to name one thing that he likes, he clams up. He blames it on not being able to concentrate, but eventually calls on two things that he likes - his brother Allie (who is dead) and the time he spends with his sister.

Good Lord - when asked about what he likes, Holden relies on nostalgia, on things that are gone. He is almost literally sickened by difference and change, and wants everyone to be like him. I mean, come on. How can someone be so depressed at sixteen? I almost began to suspect he was taking stronger intoxicants than alcohol, because half the things that come out of his mouth sound like the utterly senseless bullshit that are always associated in the movies with being high. I mean, the title "Catcher in the Rye" - that comes from his dream job. When he thinks about it, his dream job would be to stand on a cliff, in front of a field of rye that children are playing in (apparently it's based on a poem), and just catch any kids that are veering too close to the edge. All fucking day. I remembering thinking, "Dude - are you high?" What the hell kind of job is that? Did you just imagine that at random?

Anyway, I was kind of glad I'm finished it. Whenever I read a book, I always end up getting the author's voice in my head, and I inadvertantly start narrating my life and describing things around me in that writer's style. And I really don't like having JD Salinger's voice in my head right now, because I keep inwardly describing things using the word "goddam" in every sentence, labelling perfectly young people as "old", and finishing every third phrase with "and all" (ex: "Old Sister #2 is such so goddam happy today, all sunshine and rainbows and all.").

Soon I'm going to be starting The World, which is a collection of Jan Morris' travel writings. I think it has the potential to be very interesting, especially since this chick used to be a dude. And boy, you sure can tell when you look at her author's photo!

After that, I'm reading another travel book - the journals of Captain Cook, which should be a fun read because a few years ago, I was given a book for Christmas called Stowaway, a fictional story about a boy who stows away on Cook's ship and shares his adventures. I can't afford to spiral read my textbooks this semester (spiral read = read one book each from each class, one after the other, then repeat), because I have more books in travel writing than I do in any other class, and they're also the biggest, meatiest books I have to read. Maybe I should go and start reading them now, while I have the time...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Counter!

My mum uses SiteMeter on her blog, so I decided I'd use it on mine because the new template sort of erased my other counter.

The only problem is that it's reset back to one. So, if you want a more accurate account of how many people have visited by blog since it started, just take the current number on the new SiteMeter and add 4000, and you'll get an approximation. Ah well.

Happy New Year

Yeah, sure, it's the fourth, so I'm a little late, so what?

As you can tell by my Reading Section, I've had to put aside the last books I have to review in order to start on the gargatuan pile of books I have to read for three classes alone. My Popular Culture Comparative Lit class hasn't even ordered its books yet, so there's going to be even more to read, unless of course the focus of the class ends up on being graphic novels again, which, unless they are different books from my Holocaust Graphic Novel class, I'm going to have to drop out and find another class. Sigh.

I had to read Interview with a Vampire for one of my classes (Popular Themes in Literature and Art), and for the most part I enjoyed it. Much better than the movie, which contributed mancandy and only mancandy - and not even good mancandy. If you've cast Antonio Banderas and Tom Cruise in the same movie together, there's absolutely no point in disguising the former as a man-geisha and the second as an obvious-fake-blond ninny. You are ruining the mancandy!

Anyway, while some parts of the novel confused me, the language was very beautiful, and allowed me to see just how much homoeroticism and borderline-pedophiliac-lust had to be gutted out in order to make the film "acceptable". Good Lord. I've been advised not to follow Anne Rice's books much further, as they tended "to get very porny," according to a reliable source.

Anyhoo, my writing is becoming a little more animated (meaning, I've actually started doing it again), and I finished my "Giant Story" and changed the titled to "Golden Opportunity." It has quite a depressing ending to it, which is a first for me, I think. But I think I managed to put an interesting twist on a fairy-tale formula, and I absolutely adore my final line, something that is also a rarity for me, since ending stories is not one of my strongest points.

I'm not sure what I'm going to work on next - Reading 'The Willow King' is calling to me. I can scarcely think about anything without applying it in some form or another to that story, because I based it on something fairly autobiographical (my relationship with fantasy novels and my two sisters). I also need to work on "Whiff," in order to rewrite it for On Spec. I think if I try rewriting it along the lines of the rejection letter's criticism (which I happened to agree with, eventually), it might turn out to be a quite different story, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I know I've got the writing chops to be published, so even if "Whiff - Take Two" turns out vastly changed, it will still be a good story, in my opinion.

I'm also going to submit "House Hunting" to my online Fantasy Group. I wrote it too close to the deadline to get any criticism on it before sending it in for the MacTaggart Award, so I'd like to get some feedback on it before I submit. "Parasite: A Love Story," I'm going to leave as-is, but since it's a trifle more science-fictional than my other stories I'm not quite sure which magazine to send it to. It has aliens it in, but no hard-science-fictional concepts, and romance is the focus and theme. I think I might try sending it to Fantasy & Science Fiction, since it's a little bit of both, and it's been at least a year since I sent them anything. I once received advice to not send stories to the same publisher everytime, one right after another, because if they keep getting rejected, they're going to start remembering my name and automatically associating it with rejection, which might bias them towards my stories as they get better.

Once "House Hunting" is critiqued and revised, I believe I'll try another magazine. I sent a story into Realms of Fantasy once, and got an open, empty envelope in return with no return address. I had no idea if it was a rejection or an acceptance (I strongly suspect the former, since they never renewed the contact), and I don't want to try them again for a while. I might try the new Fantasy magazine, or something weirder like Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. I could even try Challenging Destiny again. Or I could head over to the Golden Gryphon website and see if they're accepting submissions for anthologies. One of the many good things of having a Locus membership is that they keep me up-to-date on all the story magazines, and on the types of stories they publish - I think they're much more reliable than the Writer's Market books.