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The fun of reading and watching stories for me often is reviewing and analyzing them, it’s not just about the enjoyment of watching and reading. Thus, I am always eager to have a new opportunity to do reviews. Lately, I’ve been writing some reviews of ancient films for my friends at tardy critic.com

If you like my writing and want to read more of my stuff, check out their site. A movie gets reviewed once it’s ten years old, or even twenty or thirty, far away from all of the hype and fanfare of when it first came out in theaters. So far I’ve written reviews of 10 Things I Hate about You, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Sherlock Holmes.

Happy reading! Also, who is totally watching Trains, Planes, and Automobiles and Pieces of April for Thanksgiving this year?

Split: A hit

Ever since M. Night Shyamalan’s surprise success with The Sixth Sense and the twist ending that no one saw coming, his movies have been both highly anticipated and also scorned. For an artist, success on a first project is both a blessing and curse. The blessings are obvious, future projects will be funded and you already have an audience waiting for them. The curse is that whatever you create in the future won’t be same as that initial project, and future projects are more likely to be seen as worse, not better. It’s basically the “one-hit wonder curse,” and many bands, especially, have found it’s probably better to be moderately successful at the start and grow from there.

Much of the hype around Shyamalan has disappeared over the years, which is only good for him, I think. Twist endings work one time, and then the next time everyone’s expecting it and trying to outthink the writer or director, and if they correctly guess the ending, they somehow think they “beat” the artist and sometimes even declare the work as no good, simply because they were able to guess the ending. We’ve all probably been guilty of this mentality at least once in our lives, and it really makes no sense, as the audience isn’t supposed to be competing with the artist. At least most of the time.

That all being said, Shyamalan still loves his twist or surprise endings, but it has definitely garnered mixed reviews, sadly, much of them negative. I thoroughly enjoyed Signs, The Village, Devil, and Unbreakable, but thought The Last Airbender was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. Other films like The Lady in the Water and The Happening, seemed as if they were meant to be clever, but didn’t deliver on that promised cleverness. Even though there’s been many of his films I don’t enjoy, I do try to give him a chance when I can.

(Spoilers ahead) The other day I borrowed Split from the library. Not only is it a Shyamalan film, it also stars James McAvoy who is a master of the acting craft. I’d previously seen trailers for the movie and knew it involved someone with a split personality, but not much else. It also looked scary, so I wasn’t sure if I was in for a ghost story like The 6th Sense or if it would be more of a general thriller.

Split is about a person with multiple personalities, all stemmed from child abuse, as is often the case. It’s a psychological disorder that some think is really demon possession or hallucinations, and some think just isn’t real. Real or not, this disorder has been used time again onscreen often to great effect, like in Identity starring John Cusack. Knowing Shyamalan’s love of twist endings, I wondering if the movie would end along similar lines.

The story starts right away, with little introduction to the characters. Three teenaged girls are being given a ride home by one of their dads, but someone comes up and knocks him out and gets into the driver’s seat. It is “Barry,” James McAvoy’s character, or as we come to find out his true name: Kevin. The man abducts the girls and locks them up in a basement somewhere. The plot follows a basic thriller of this type, with the girls making plans to escape and Barry threatening to assault them. A twist comes pretty quickly when the girls realize this man appears to have multiple personalities, one of them a woman, one of them a nine-year-old boy. Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, immediately starts trying to outthink their abductor. She seems to know that ordinary ways of escaping aren’t going to work here. It’s mentioned that Casey’s a bit of a loner and through out the movie we see flashbacks of her life, memories with her dad and uncle that slowly bring us to the understanding that she was abused when she was younger.

Kevin’s personalities are at war with each other. One of them repeatedly sends pleas for help over email to his current psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley). She is a woman who firmly believes that multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder does exist, and most of her patients seem to share this affliction.

While watching, I noticed a lot of unusually angled shots and close shots that seemed vaguely familiar. It also seemed as if Casey had a slightly doe-like appearance, which was interesting considering all of her flashbacks on her abuse were about going hunting. Near the end, her hunting skills come in handy as the story takes a more supernatural turn: Kevin has a 24th personality: An indestructible animal-like person. It turns a bit slasher film once this “animal” show up. Casey is the only one to survive and it’s because the animal sees the marks of abuse on her body. Because of this, he considers her pure, like him, and even under her own trauma-induced supernatural transformation.

With all the animal talk, I did start to think that the girls were being held at a zoo, so was pleasantly surprised to have guessed that correctly. I didn’t guess the twist at the end, though, but found it awesome. We’re shown an average diner with a TV playing the news and talking about how this man killed people, and because of his disorder has been nicknamed The Horde. As a couple people are talking about it, they say it sounds a lot like Mr. Glass, a bad man from a few years ago and also the villain in Unbreakable. And there he is, Bruce Willis’s hero from Unbreakable sitting next to them.

Unbreakable is my favorite Shyamalan movie, though many find it slow. The ending of that film reveals it to be a comic book origin story. I’m not a huge fan of comic books and rarely read them, but I love movies based on the superheros from them, and it was great to see how such a story could play out in a not so cartoony world. Something about Bruce Willis’s quiet strength in the movie is thrilling. Split is now part of this same world and I understood why some of the shots and angles in the film seemed familiar–they were to look like comic book panels.

For me, Split was definitely a hit and I hope that Shyamalan continues to make more films of this nature. James McAvoy did a superb job playing Kevin, and much of the time I forgot it was him, so engrossed in his character was he. Like Mr. Glass, since Kevin believes he has super abilities, he therefore does. Thankfully, this isn’t how the real world operates, but it’s interesting that these two characters who have had such a hard life use that to justify their villainy. Now that does happen often in the real world. I’ve noticed in Korean dramas that there is also this tendency to portray characters who undergo trauma as developing special abilities. It works well for stories, but the message it’s sending is dubious, perhaps glorifying trauma and abuse to a status it doesn’t deserve. Victimhood isn’t something to crow about, it’s something to heal and recover from, a view which I think Shyamalan shares, as so far the victims of circumstance have chosen to become villains rather than heal.

Looking forward to eventually watching Glass, another of Shyamalan’s films in this comic book world. Sadly, looks like it’s promos call it the final chapter in this series.

The Lady Vanishes: Thrilling

Growing up, and having a love of mysteries, the story of The Lady Vanishes was always somewhere in the corner of my mind as something I wanted to watch. A few years ago I was thrilled to find the Alfred Hitchcock version on Netflix, but as there was no proper context to what was going on and the heroine seemed situated at the hotel for a very, very long time, I gave up on it, certain there was a thrilling tale in there somewhere but that I just didn’t have the patience to watch it through.

As I was certain the newer, 2013 version by the BBC would be faster paced, I decided to give it a try, and watched it twice because it was so enjoyable. Now I’m plowing through the book by Ethel Lina White and loving that even more! Want to read all her stuff now.

The BBC’s The Lady Vanishes stars Tuppence Middleton as Iris Carr, a young, wealthy orphan who spends her days partying and traveling with her friends. In this version, too, there is time at the hotel before the mystery on the train ride home begins, and it is so because that’s how White wrote it. The group is vacationing somewhere in Eastern Europe and happen to upset a couple of spinster sisters and a Reverend and his wife that are also from England. As someone who has lived and traveled abroad, it is somewhat disconcerting to find either yourself or your countrymen behaving badly elsewhere. We like to think we can be taken as individuals, but all too often our behavior is lumped in with all Americans, or wherever you come from, even if it’s just big city vs. little city. At any rate, Iris soon tires of her friends, sends them off ahead of her, and that is where the real story begins.

Although the movie was very exciting, there wasn’t as much background for some of the minor characters that I would have like to see and I’m happy to report that the book has a lot more on them, including explaining some actions that can’t be fully grasped by watching the movie. I say this in especial consideration of the two spinster sisters. After hearing their side in full, I am very sympathetic to their point of view not to interfere, wrong as it may have been.

Middleton did a great job playing Iris and was Iris rather than having to stretch to act as her at all. Too, Tom Hughes was very suited to play Max Hare, Iris’s helper and romantic interest, and Alex Jennings made a great professor, though the movie never really gets into his fear of hysterical females, which is quite amusing in the book. One wants to know just what he’s experienced with his students at Cambridge. The only false step in casting was perhaps making the possible villains too obvious, but then the book makes them rather obvious as well, though from Iris’s standpoint.

As to the vanishing lady, the story is simply better if you know nothing about the mystery or where it’s going, at least the first time watching. I found the film riveting a second time as I like train settings as well as movies set in the 30s and 40s, and really even if you know the truth you do wonder if Iris is really going mad. It’s fun to imagine what one would do in such a situation, how you would convince doubters to your point of view and all that. It’s funny also to think that often we don’t care about helping strangers until suddenly we do and find we will move heaven and earth if necessary. Sometimes we do act as God’s hands in saving others, even if the rest of the time we’re rather selfish.

High recommendations on both the film and the book (originally called The Wheel Spins), but I haven’t yet read the ending of the book and am curious to see if the film changed the ending. Sometimes screenwriters change the ending for no apparent reason and it irks me to no end.

Dilwale: Big Heart in Name, Small Heart in Storytelling

Once upon a time my favorite actor was Shahrukh Khan, or SRK. I didn’t love Bollywood so much as I loved him, and I’ve seen many of his movies and once in awhile take the time to catch up on the ones I’ve missed. Happy New Year, for example, was quite entertaining. This time around I decided to give Dilwale a try, and I have to say it was disappointing. For all of its ambition, it wasn’t ambitious enough. “Dilwale” means big hearted, but despite all of the flashy cars and settings, there was little “heart” in the film.

Dilwale‘s adequate if one just wants something vaguely Bollywood to watch, but the story, a mild takeoff of Romeo and Juliet, leaves little room for either the audience or the actors to breathe. We jump from one thing to the next with little to no transition time and zero time to let the love stories sink in. Love at first sight can work, but it doesn’t here. And the use of tropes from Love Actually and Romeo + Juliet just feel hokey, stale, and not heartfelt at all. I don’t believe any of these gangsters are actually Catholic or religious at all. By far, the worst thing about the film is the editing, which appears to be done with no skill at all. The best parts come from Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, who are an onscreen dynamo and saved this film from being totally throwaway. Their chemistry and devastating stares kept me watching, but only just, as their romance wasn’t allowed to bloom. The other two leads, although attractive, had zero charisma or chemistry.

Some bits I really liked–the car chase scenes and some fights scenes were pretty good, as was the five-minute date. “Five minutes of heart” actually describes the film well. That seemed to be all the time the director could allow for between showing off the gorgeous locations, cars, and trying-so-hard-to-be-cool action scenes. It was nice to see SRK onscreen, though. With the actors one has really liked, seeing them again is like watching an old friend. He is an entertainer like no other, as is Kajol. She’s beautiful all while still rocking that unibrow. How fun would it have been if her character actually was the bad guy? How awesome would it have been if the film was set in India where the characters had real roots and real consequences to deal with from their actions? Dilwale seemed like a large-scale production, but it was all for visuals disconnected to both storytelling and meaning. If they had gone for pure fun, like the last song at the end, at least it would have been entertaining. Oh well. Sometimes you hit it out of the park, sometimes you don’t.

The Legend of Cambria: Ad Review

Sometimes one surfs the internet and just comes across something so random yet so amazing that one has to share. I live in Minnesota and we have a great company here called Cambria that makes kitchen countertops and the like. I’ve never visited one of their stores, but their buildings are always impressive and the main campus off of Hwy 169 in LeSueur always has impressive Christmas lights.

Please note that although I think Cambria is an awesome company, this is not an ad for them and I am not affiliated with them, nor have I had the opportunity to work with them. One kind of needs a house or office in which to purchase and install countertops.

Anyway, I was looking at their website today, which is cambriausa.com. On it, they have this movie called The Legend of Cambria and I thought, oh it’s a fun little ad based on medieval legends or something, and then I started to watch it and realized, A) it’s actually about 40+ minutes long, and B) is amazing in its production quality. I literally could not keep my mouth from hanging open. The scenery itself just makes one want to jump into the screen. It is the fantasy lover’s fantasy world.

The story is told in voiceover and has a Lord of the Rings appeal to it. There was a lot of magical elements thrown in that I didn’t really get, but they looked cool, and I’m thinking the plot’s based off of a Welsh legend of some kind, but will have to do more research to find that out for sure.

The Legend of Cambria is advertising, really long advertising that goes beyond being just an ad. It talks heavily about the fight of good versus evil, in a more pagan sort of way, but it makes one think: What’s really important? Just the thought of how much money and work went into producing it is mind boggling. Since I don’t really watch the Oscars anymore, I didn’t know they actually played this at the Oscars and Colin Farrell is the narrator.

I’m just still reeling and thinking, “It’s just a commercial, an ad.” Also, in considering my book series, a stunt like this is something that Sandra Vale of Vale Studios in Trolls for Dust would try to pull off. In thinking of future advertising endeavors for my series, The Legend of Cambria will definitely stick in my mind. You can also watch it on YouTube, and you’ll notice in the comments that people are thinking this is an actual series. Now that’s a compliment of the highest order. That’s my ultimate goal for Trolls for Dust, that it be so good that people would wish it was an actual TV show.

Alright, back to my whittling away at my next fairy tale story and TfD Season 3. Plan to have notecard #9 out for “The Stolen Necklace” tomorrow, but the ideas have to simmer a bit tonight. Happy Friday!

5 Quick Drama and Movie Reviews

As has become my viewing habit, I tend to bounce around between shows and stories rather like a pinball.  One plot line captures my attention, and then a song or actor in the story leads me to another movie or drama that I start right away, and then something in that work will inspire me to look into a similar story or a different writer, director or actor, and so on.

This happens with books, too, and I find it hard to just stick with one story, drama, or movie straight through and am usually reading or watching up to twenty stories at the same time. Hopefully, this means I simply have a busy mind. ūüôā ¬†In any care, here are a few quick reviews of recent dramas or movies that I’ve watched.

  1. Till the End of the World.

This is a Chinese movie about a millionaire and a scientist that survive a plane crash in Antarctica and have to survive the elements. The CGI leaves a bit to be desired, and the movie’s not super dedicated to realism, but it’s a fun and a sweet love story at that. Mark Chao as the rich man Wu Fu Chun really wins the audience over as he braves the elements over and over, coming to love his environment at the same time. He also has uncannily resemblance to Korean heartthrob Choi Si Won (recently in Revolutionary Love) in parts. The female scientist, played by Yang Zi Shan, doesn’t have a lot to do, but her knowledge is instrumental in instructing Wu’s continual expeditions out into the cold and ice.

2. Our Town.

Our Town is a Korean movie from a few years ago. This story is extremely disturbing, with graphic levels of violence that had me covering my eyes half the time. So I probably missed a lot of the visual cues in the story due to that. ¬†Our Town is essentially a study into the criminal murder’s mind, specifically those murders that do so in connection to a childhood trauma. ¬†It has a slow feel like many noir films, and the environment is dirty and gritty and leaves you wanting to scrub away the filth after. The story has no positive light in it, except to say that trauma begets trauma, and is forthright about just how disturbed the minds of serial killers actually are.

I like murder mysteries and especially detective stories where they have to hunt a serial killer because I love the unfolding of the mystery. I like to watch the detectives put everything together. While that is fine and good, most murder mysteries often make murder into something mundane–the physical aspect and the horror of the killings are often glossed over to focus on the mystery. Our Town really plays up just how repulsive these killers actually are, and how sick of mind, and how tortured their inner soul. It is a mirror for the viewer: These people are truly ill and depraved, so why do we like watching these kinds of stories in the first place? Is it the mystery aspect? Is it so we can tell ourselves we are better than them? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t recommend this film unless you are calm of mind and have a very strong stomach.

That being said, the direction and acting are all outstanding, and I am disappointed to find that this appears to be director Jung Gil Young’s only work. If you know actor Ryu Deok Hwan only from shows like Faith (The Great Doctor), you will be dumbfounded by how scary he is in this. While the other lead character, played by Oh Man Seok (Squad 38) and Lee Sun Hyun (Pasta), are clearly haunted by their collective past, Ryu’s character copes by thriving from it.

3. Dating Agency: Cyrano.

This is from a few years ago as well and if you love romantic comedies, this is it. Episode one is great in showing how matchmaker Gong Min Young (a delightful Choi Soo Young, so dour and subdued in Squad 38) is initiated into treating her profession as James Bond-style missions. It is based on a similarly titled Korean movie, which I haven’t seen. It’s fun to see how all of the various love stories play out and frustrating how reluctant the male lead (Lee Jong Hyuk from Chuno¬†[talk about epic story]) in showing his feelings or any passion whatsoever. We get a taste of what their romance could have been right at the very end, and it boggles the mind that the writer did not think to play it up more in the entire series. Maybe the James Bond plots were too much of the focus? The first half of the series is very enjoyable and reminiscent of romantic comedies past, but the second half veers off into a jumble of parts that may work separately, but don’t work together. The songs, specifically by Baby Cab Driver, are addicting. Altogether, the series is fun, but not a satisfying yarn.

4. Lawless Lawyer.

2018 seems to be the Kdrama year for procedurals and legal/detective plots. I am about halfway into Lawless Lawyer, about a young lawyer taking unorthodox measures to bring officials to justice for their crimes past. I haven’t seen Lee Joon Gi (Fly, Daddy, Fly) in many dramas, but he is outstanding as rebel lawyer Bong Sang Pil, and sells the action scenes really well. Bong Sang Pil is also unexpectedly funny in parts, bringing a bit of levity to the otherwise downer of a story. Seo Ye Ji (Hwarang) as his accomplice is great as well, with her low voice and no-nonsense personality.

What to watch it for, though, are the villains: Corrupt Judge Cha Moon Suk (played by Lee Hye Young of Boys Over Flowers fame), and her lackey An O Joo (peerless Choi Min Soo (Sandglass). That both these actors are good at playing the bad guys is an understatement. Choi, in particular, is one of those actors who always becomes a different character for his roles. The downside, and why I’m only halfway through, is that the writing is stuck in the power play between the judge and her lackey and seems to be on temporary repeat. Even the best actors cannot overcome this, and I’m seeing both Cha and Choi becoming bored with their characters. I will continue watching in the hope that the loop stops, but find everything else about the series refreshing and very watchable.

5. High School King of Savvy.

This was a second watch for me, and I found the second time even more enjoyable than the first, as I could really watch how masterful Seo In Guk (Shopping King Louis) and Lee Ha Na (Voice) are in creating their characters. They sold the age gap in a way few other actors can or will. “Noona” romances, or those with older women and younger men are fairly common in Korean dramas, but Savvy walks right up to the line, making their man, Lee Min Suk, an eighteen-year-old high school student (he would be seventeen in Western ages), falling in love with someone ten years his senior. Student Lee Min Suk finds himself in a rock and a hard place having to take on a double life pretending to be his corporate hawk of a brother.

Similar plots have certainly been done both in Hollywood and Korean dramaland, but Savvy takes it to another level as the Noona romance ends up being somewhat of a surprise, so awkward is Lee Ha Na’s Jung Soo Young compared to her streetwise younger sister, that at first we can’t imagine anything beyond a sweet friendship between her and Lee Min Suk.

If you’re stuck on the age gap, Savvy will be a hard watch and unbelievable; if not, you’ll see a masterful writer, director, and actors all slowly building the cases of Min Suk’s and Soo Young’s characters and how they are right for each other, because they aren’t right for anyone else. Min Suk is clearly bored by the high school girl chasing him, and bored by being a high schooler in general, except for his passion for hockey. Soo Young, in her innocence, doesn’t realize that though we all feel for him, Yoo Jin Woo’s (Lee Soo Hyuk) trauma, cynicism, and loneliness, would simply become her trauma, cynicism, and loneliness. Soo Young only begins to shine under the steady love and affection of Min Suk, and it is only her experiencing that real love, that she can shake off her embarrassment at being manipulated by Jin Woo.

High School King of Savvy also has a great soundtrack, minor characters, like Min Suk’s dad and grandpa, that will melt your heart, some of the best kissing scenes ever, and some of the funniest commentary on office life in South Korea. What to watch it for, though, is the acting of the leads, especially Seo In Guk. Seo is currently my favorite Korean actors, so I’m a bit biased, but, like Choi Min Soo, he has the ability to become another person onscreen, a feat few, more experienced actors, can accomplish. He sells the coming-of-age Min Suk in a way no one else could have, making him half in childhood, half in adult. For contrast, watch Big with Gong Yoo. As much as I love Gong Yoo in other works, Big was a misstep for him, as his teenager thrown into an adult life often acts as if he’s in elementary school instead of high school.

It’s also interesting to see Min Suk in contrast to Soo Young’s sister, Yoo Ah. Yoo Ah is just a little younger, but there’s a few scenes inserted into the story indicating that an “Oppa” (older man) romance wouldn’t work as well or be seen in the same light. There is a different standard when it comes to men and women in this area. Men are often seen as being far more sexually mature in their latter teenage years, despite the women often physically developing faster. What a person is ready for, I think really depends on the person (and of course the laws of the country), but it’s an interesting male-female contrast that the story notes, and a contrast that wouldn’t be as well accepted in other cultures where men and women (rightly or wrongly) are shown, or at least said to be equal, in every way, shape, or form. Having been a been a teenage girl, the contrast and male-female difference make sense to me, but I’m sure there are many who would disagree. In any case, Min Suk is clearly more mature than his male friends his age as well, so the difference with him in this story is largely relevant to his personal character, and not a statement that all boys in their late teens are ready for all of what adulthood entails. Savvy took on the controversy and committed to it, which is to the credit of both the characters and story, even it turns some viewers away.

Okay, back to proofreading Trolls for Dust, Season Two, and working on the next notecard for my notecard story. Happy¬†reading, everyone! ¬†–Pixie B.

 

Missing 9 review

Spoilers ahead.

The premise of the Korean show Missing 9 sounds great. ¬†It’s a bit of a LOST takeoff, a group of people survive a plane crash only to be stranded on a deserted island where-in Lord of the Flies antics ensue. ¬†I bring up LOST as an immediate comparison because for fans of that show it is impossible to not to see similarities, not only in the plot premise, but also in how the story is told. ¬†(The Missing 9 creators are clearly replicating at least the flashback-present time switchback). ¬†Missing 9, however goes more the direction of Lord of the Flies (and perhaps some Swiss Family Robinson) than heading off in the LOST no man’s land of science fiction. Although it would have been fun to see the Korean version of LOST with island monsters, time jumps, and the whole lot, not going in that direction is actually a strength of Missing 9. ¬†At least initially.

For the first few episodes the fairly simple plot of Missing 9, the brief history of the celebrities and employees of Legend Entertainment, their plane crash and subsequent stranding on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of China, works. And it even still works once the people are pitted against each other on the island. ¬†Where is fails is that one character ends up being a murderer bent on killing anyone who gets in his way. ¬†For episode after episode he is the sole bad guy and the sole conflict the rest of the survivors have to fight against on the island. The plot rapidly gets old at this point and I actually stopped watching it and simply read through plot summaries of the rest of the show. Talk about mediocre ending. ¬†I’m all for characters ending up happy, but partying with a murderer, even if he is soon to go back to prison, is a bit too much and actually makes light of what he’s done wrong.

Other things I liked about Missing 9 were the flashback scenes where everyone is dressed in beige or brown. It was an intriguing concept and it’s a shame it didn’t seem to go anywhere other than serve as a marker for which scenes were in the past. The soundtrack was better than most, both thrilling and nostalgic. The acting was also outstanding, especially the leads, Jung Kyung Ho (Falling in Love with Soon Jung), who is a very solid actor that exhibits old school charm (think Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant) and has complete mastery of both comedy and drama, and Baek Jin Hee (Pride and Prejudice¬†(Kdrama)) who was a spot-on heroine and “average man” for the viewer to follow. Kim Sang Ho (City Hunter) is always a pleasure to watch and brings a subtle grounding to the production. His characters are always relatable and always seem to have good hearts. Choi Tae Hoon’s villain had a good progression of onscreen presence, but never really became a totally “love to hate” bad character that would have shot him to acting stardom. If they had cast Choi as the lead and Jung as the murderer, that would have given the show an amazing dynamic because Jung does have eyes that just pull one in. He would make a terrifying and thrilling villain and Kim’s character would be completely torn over love-hate as would the viewers. I also think that Choi would have faired better playing the lead as it would have necessarily forced him to have more expression on his face.

Missing 9 sounded like a must-watch, but ultimately failed to deliver. Better K-drama thrillers are Signal (2016) (probably the best TV thriller I’ve ever seen from any country) and Tunnel (2017).