As I sat down to write a review for this film, I found myself struggling with what angle to take. See, I think movie reviewers take a position on whether or not they like a film, whether or not they would recommend a film, then they find a clever or witty angle to present their position. Granted, I'm not a professional reviewer, although I'd love to be, but for now, I just do this for fun and I have an opinion on just about everything. But, be that as it may, there are a few ways to approach this and I'm not sure which is best. So let's just get the basics out of the way:
I didn't like this movie.
OK, having said that, now I need to find the ice breaker, the witty way of presenting my reasons why I didn't like it. I could go with:
Comedy is more and more a difficult sell, particularly in movies. In my opinion, the last really funny movie (outside of Bridesmaids, which lost me in the last act) was 2010's The Other Guys. Before that, off the top of my head, I gotta go with Meet The Parents, yes, all the way back in 2000 (note to self: rent Ted). Unlike drama, which reliably has a protagonist who is beset with any number of obstacles he or she must overcome and there is usually an antagonist, be it a person or an event, that is meant to undermine the protagonist, comedy is very subjective. I don't think anyone in comedy could honestly tell you why something is funny, let alone why something is funny to one person and not another. Comedy is more intimate; I believe comedy usually plays better on the small screen in small doses. Plus, comedy is subject to the changing times, the changing mores of society. What passes for mainstream comedy today most often consists of raunch, filth, shock and so on. Not saying I have a problem with that, but many comedies take the approach that the raunchier and filthier it is, the funnier it is. Not so. Something funny, with the right amount of raunch and filth, can be hilarious. But this movie is far from hilarious.
The Heat stars Sandra Bullock as the straight-laced by the book FBI agent Sarah Ashburn, the Stan Laurel to Melissa McCarthy's Oliver Hardy; the foul and obnoxious Det. Shannon Mullins. It's the mismatched cop story you've seen a million times except for the absence of Y chromosomes in the two leads. While Melissa McCarthy provides a few laughs, she is proof of what I said earlier: comedy, or rather what passes for comedy today, plays better in small doses. Putting aside the few and far between laughs McCarthy provides, this movie clocks in at 117 minutes, an eternity for a comedy, and McCarthy becomes so over the top obnoxious, I wanted to plug my ears at a certain point. Some of the funny moments are in scenes where she resorts to ad-libs; the funniest scene of the movie involves McCarthy's character arresting a john, played by Tony Hale (superb on Arrested Development and Veep). What makes it funny (as I attempt to explain humor after saying it can't be done) is that McCarthy approaches the perp with a charming smile and does her shtick to entrap the guy, but we the audience are in on the joke and we laugh at the poor schmuck who doesn't realize she's a cop. Because Hale is so brilliant, the two of them make the scene very funny. But unfortunately, that scene occurs at the very beginning of the movie and it's the only scene in which Hale appears. And as mentioned, McCarthy's shtick becomes grating fast, as in a joke that goes on WAY too long about her looking for her precinct captain's balls.
Inevitably, through an improbable series of events, Ashburn and Mullins team up to take down a Boston drug lord. Sandra Bullock, bless her heart, does her best to move mountains in order to make this movie work. It's not that she's not funny, she has sharp comedic timing, but I just couldn't help feeling bad for her, as the Oscar winner is made to strip off clothing, dance badly and shove a guy's head in her cleavage (as you watch this scene, remember the filmmakers want you to believe her character is a top notch agent). As she's made to wrestle the plus size McCarthy through a door. As she's made to wrestle McCarthy over a cell phone. Are you getting the pattern here? Then there's the inevitable montage sequence of drunken revelry, where we smash cut between vignettes of the two leads in various supposedly funny activities with the locals at a dive bar. But I give them credit for one thing: the montage doesn't take place in a kitchen while cooking and dancing as a 60s Motown song plays in the background.
But as I said, one of the secrets of comedy is to know when to get off the stage. Hell, Seinfeld devoted a whole plotline to this concept with the Costanza character, and we all agree that Seinfeld knows a little about comedy, right? 117 minutes, jokes and bits that go way too long, setups and scenes that become repetitive, etc. I mean, how many different times can we see one guy with a gun get the drop on another guy with a gun before it gets boring? And there are really big missed opportunities as well. Take for instance the scene where Mullins introduces Ashburn to her family. Of course, the family members are as loud and obnoxious as she is; but unfortunately, characters that could've been funny are grating from jump because we've already been subjected to McCarthy for nearly an hour. They do wring some small laughs out of the Bah-ston accent, but at this point in the film, it's just more annoying characters. Take another scene where the movie decides to take a grisly turn and we get to see an emergency tracheotomy performed. Could've been funny, but as this movie does all too often, it goes for forced shock value as opposed to coaxing a laugh. Take yet another scene where Ashburn is stabbed in the leg not once, not twice, but three times. Laughing yet?
You want more unfunny repetition? OK, well, there's a scene which follows a needless subplot about Mullins's evidently numerous flings as guys plead with her to take them back. See, it's supposed to be funny because she's so fat, yet all these guys want her so bad! Get it? Yeah, maybe the first time, but twice? However, it was cool to see the reunion of McCarthy and real-life husband Ben Falcone (the air marshal from Bridesmaids). But much like the ridiculous subplot, the scene kind of goes nowhere. And then there's the subplot about a black street dealer who gets arrested not once, but twice, and gets a watermelon thrown at him. Seriously. No, I didn't make that up.
I haven't really delved into the plot. There's a reason for that. It's because it makes little sense and it really doesn't matter. Even if the movie were good, it wouldn't matter because the point of this film is to laugh at the two mismatched characters. But there's the rub: IF the movie were good. And it's not.
OK, I could take that angle. Or, in keeping with the spirit of the film, I could take a ruder, raunchier angle:
What the hell is going on with Sandra Bullock? Why does she keep appearing in lame comedies? Jesus f**king Christ, didn't she learn ANYTHING from All About Steve? I mean, she's a f**king Oscar winner! Is she aware that the Oscar clique consisting of Halle Berry and Cube Gooding, Jr. is one that she DOESN'T want to join?
And what the f**k's going on with her face? In certain lighting and in some camera angles, she looks like f**king Joan Rivers. Not that I would kick her out of bed for eating crackers, she's still got a smokin' body, just check out the scene where director Paul Feig makes her debase herself by ripping off her clothes! Man, I've got some swollen goods she could take into evidence! I'm just disappointed they didn't make her do a striptease since that's the "thing" now. Just ask Jennifer Aniston or Gwyneth Paltrow. And THANK--GOD they actually wrote dialogue into the script as to why McCarthy is not required to strip. That would've been a tragedy. The filmmakers make it clear that McCarthy's girth is meant to make us laugh by putting her in weird situations where her size is a detriment. And she seems all too eager to please in that endeavor.
This movie just ain't that f**king funny. 2/5 reels
P.S. I don't know if it was the speaker system in the theater where I saw this, but even the sound was off. There's a club scene where the music is mixed way low and the crowd walla is non-existent. It literally sounds like it was shot on a soundstage and they forgot to foley the scene. This happens in a few other scenes. And the rap background music seems unnaturally loud, further amplifying the unnecessarily crude lyrics. It seems forced and out of place, particularly when they go into a Boston Southie bar. Rap music in a Boston corner bar, really?
Superman and Tony Stark face off over Man Of Steel.
Ever since I started reading the Walking Dead comic book, I've become a fan of the genre, even though I've never understood how zombies work. Aren't they comprised of necrotic tissue? If so, how do they manage to shuffle for such great lengths? Wouldn't they decompose or succumb to environmental extremes like heat or cold? How does dead muscle tissue allow them to ambulate? Or in the case of modern zombie films, including World War Z, how are they able to run like Kenyans in a marathon?
So that raises a nitpick question I have about this film. Are the creatures here really zombies? At the beginning of the film, we see people being attacked, and within seconds, they turn, rather violently, in herky-jerky spasms, I might add. So, I'm led to believe there's no death involved, rather viral mutation. And the fact that Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane goes globe-hopping to find Patient Zero as well as the source of the pandemic makes it seem like a disease rather than preternatural undead activity. For those of you who read the book, maybe you can clear that up for me. And if you have read the book, my understanding is you probably won't like the movie because it diverges from the source material significantly.
I didn't read the book (I plan to now) but in what I've read about the differences between film and novel, it strikes me that, while this was a very effective horror-thriller, the filmmakers may have missed a chance to do something really unique with this quickly-becoming-played-out genre to make it stand out from the 28 Days Later, I Am Legend, Dawn Of The Dead series of films, and of course not to mention the awesome Walking Dead program. My understanding is the book's narrative unfolds through a series of reporter interviews and news reports in the aftermath of the Zombie World War. Imagine how original this film would have been, had it been presented like a documentary; the zombie set pieces could've been shown in flashback or in vignettes as the interviewees recount their stories. I remember only recently, after I became somewhat of a fan of zombie lore, I bought Romero's classic Night Of The Living Dead on DVD and I was amazed at how ahead of its time it seemed. In that film, the zombie onslaught is reported very realistically over TV and radio; that technique was effective back then and it could've been put to good use here.
But despite the fact that towards its conclusion, the film becomes just another series of horror cliches, the cliches are presented masterfully. I like the fact that it starts out very innocuously, where we see the Lane family rising out of bed, preparing to take on another ordinary day. Without warning, in the middle of Philadelphia gridlock, the zombies attack. Perhaps in reality, a zombie uprising would garnish a little more advance attention, but I imagine it would probably happen as suddenly as portrayed in this film. As an allegory, much like a cold virus overtakes me with no advance notice, so might a zombie apocalypse. Right away, we see how zombies are quickly able to overrun the global population. Apparently, these zombies don't take the time eat you; they bite and move on. Once you're bitten, you turn. The efficiency of it allows the zombie horde to increase exponentially. And these zombies can move. They jump, they hurl themselves, they climb over each other, they move like a swarm of insects (cleverly alluded to in the opening credits).
But as I mentioned, the film moves along and serves up a series of derivative set pieces, but they're so well done, I kind of didn't care that they were cliched. Tense and exciting scenes included the refueling of military air carrier in North Korea, the overtaking of Jerusalem (if zombies are attracted to noise, it's probably not a good idea to shout your midday prayers over megaphones), a zombie attack on a plane ("I've had it with these motherf**king zombies on this..."--no, no I won't go there), and most effectively, a standoff at the World Health Organization.
I was a little conflicted by the scene at the W.H.O. You have this film which does manage to stand out from all the other zombie films and TV shows because this is the first time I've seen a zombie apocalypse on a global scale. Usually, we're dropped in the middle of the story after the zombies have infested the world. Here, we get to see humanity address the crisis as it unfolds. Considering the Walking Dead, one could imagine that this film takes place in between the time lawman Rick Grimes is shot and after he wakes up alone in his hospital bed. I really liked seeing the onset of the pandemic, and seeing things before they completely go to hell. I also, once again, liked the worldwide scale this film presented. So, I was slightly disappointed that so much of the weight was reduced to a scene at the W.H.O. But once the scene unfolded, I got over that disappointment quickly. It's a great setup, which I don't want to spoil, it's a thrilling series of obstacles the hero has to overcome. I will say that the W.H.O. has some of the noisiest doors and machines I've ever seen in an office. But I wouldn't have expected any less in a sequence like this.
There are places where the filmmakers drop the ball and some things are a little hard to swallow. Unless young Hispanic boys are not really attached to their parents, one would think a kid would evince a little more sadness at losing his entire family. And I'm going to start sitting near the front when I book my plane tickets because apparently sitting in front makes it possible to survive a crash where the front of the plane splits off from the rear, burst in flames, and rolls over a couple times. And the outcome of the W.H.O scene might ring a little false, as maybe our protagonist is a little too lucky with a choice he has to make, but overall, none of these leaps take away from the entertainment value of the film.
I'd forgotten how good an actor Brad Pitt is, because even though he still maintains some pretty boy features and he sports a hippie pageboy haircut, he managed to make me believe that the U.N. would send a retired investigator into these deadly zombie hot zones. It's not an original piece of work by any stretch of the imagination, but it's an entertaining entry in the zombie pantheon. 3.5/5 reels
More reviews at Lightning Strikes!
Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980
Um, it's Star Wars.
Seriously, do I need to say more? Oh, maybe I do. It's ORIGINAL trilogy Star Wars. Anything outside of that--OK, I won't get started. But we all know that this is still the best of all the Star Wars films.
This is the film that gave us dialogue that lives in pop culture history.
"I am your father."
This is the film that gave us one of the best improvised lines of all time.
Leia: "I love you!" Han: (all together now) "I know."
This is the film that established Han as a "scoundrel." This is the film where not much was made of a sister kissing her twin brother full on the lips (we weren't aware at the time, but I don't recall hearing any "ewwwws" when Luke and Leia's kinship was revealed in ROTJ. And don't try to sell me that this subplot was planned all along). This is the film that introduced us to Boba Fett, and although I wasn't taken with him, I know my friends, along with legions of other kids, loved the character. The film where we first see Luke and Vader duel! And perhaps best of all, this is the film in the hallowed franchise which proved that sometimes it's better for visionaries to delegate rather than remain hands on, as George Lucas, for whatever reason, relinquished the director's chair to Irvin Kershner.
The movie first crash lands on the icy surface of Hoth, where whites and blues mix to create a vast desolate but beautiful landscape.
Then there are arachnid evil probes and impressive elephantine AT-ATs.
New rebel fighter ships retrofitted for the cold.
Here it is the year 2013 and the Battle In The Snow still does not look dated, at least not to me.
(Bonus points if you can tell me what current insanely popular pay TV show the actor playing the Imperial commander appears in).
Then the movie drops us in the middle of a murky, damp and misty swamp in the Dagobah system, where we meet a diminutive pop culture giant who has a funny way of speaking and is a master of the Force.
After that, we travel to the beautiful cloud city of Bespin, a warm locale that always looks lit by "golden hour" sunlight.
Ironic that the most inviting of the three locations proves to be the most dangerous. I loved how this movie transported me to all these contrasting environments, a theme which continues in the subsequent sequel and the prequels (but we don't speak of the prequels, ever).
Then there are the visual effects. I don't care what anybody says...the asteroid sequence in Attack Of The Clones, with all its weightless CG, gargles monkey balls compared to the asteroid sequence in this movie. It is NO CONTEST.
Now, go back and watch that clip again, and this time, listen to the music. Listen to how brilliantly John Williams's score meshes with the visuals. I contend that when you consider the visuals (which were completely non-CGI!!) as well as the music, the asteroid sequence is the best scene of all the Star Wars films. The score for this film, in my humble opinion, contains some of the best motifs in any of his work. It is absolutely beautiful. Outside of the title march from Superman, this is by far my favorite soundtrack by any film composer. How many times as a kid, when you were playing good guys and bad guys, did you hum this ditty:
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And then, there's the love theme. Williams created different love themes for each of the three original films and they're all great, but this is one is magnificent. It evokes classic Hollywood dashing heroism, undying love and a touch of adventure. I mean, I cannot adequately express how this piece of music affects me, it does something to me on a genetic level; I melt, I soar, sometimes I well up, I'm taken away with this music. Here's a clip from the soundtrack, "Rebel Fleet/End Credits," which is heard at the end of the film; it's all brilliant, but listen to the movement at :58, then go to 4:45 to hear how absolutely beautiful this theme is:
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I mean...wow. Williams's use of brass, timpani, swelling strings and his signature touch of pizzicato counterpoint, in this case with wind instruments (I'm guessing flute and piccolo) is just--I want to meet this man before I die. I could write an entire article on how John Williams inspired my love of music. The themes he creates for Yoda (heard at 2:28), for Lando Calrissian (heard as the group first meets Lando on Bespin and are walking through the city, right before C-3PO wanders off and gets shot), are all masterpieces.
Then there's Yoda. Can you even remember a time when you DIDN'T know who Yoda was? Do you recall wondering, who the hell is that pointy-eared green thing that's stealing Luke's food? Can we move this along so we can find out who Yoda is? This film introduces us to one of the most well-known, oft-quoted characters in the history of pop culture. And compare the maquette in this film to the fully CG Yoda in Clones and Sith. Do you REALLY want to go there? The Yoda in this film gives a fully realized, nuanced and excellent performance. He comes close to stealing the show from the human actors. It is difficult to fathom that this is merely a puppet that has Frank Oz's hand shoved up it's ass. Well, Frank Oz also provided the voice, and he KILLS it. The only performance from a non-human character that is equal to or better than this is Andy Serkis's Gollum. That's it. Just like the asteroid sequence, this puppet demolishes the CG Yoda of the prequels.
This movie makes my list because watching it transports me back to 1980 when I was just getting out of grade school, ready to enjoy the summer, completely carefree and eager to see the new Star Wars movie. So many things just blew me away in this movie, most of which I've already described. I was surprised at how dark it was; who would have thought we'd see a severed head in a Star Wars film? And I remember thinking, after Lando, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids fail to rescue the carbonited Han from Boba Fett, that the movie must be extremely long because surely, they're not going to make me wait for another two years to see what happens to Han. And then the end credits came up. And I was FURIOUS! I was LIVID! Oh, HELL NO! I HATED this movie for doing that to me.
But somewhere along the way, I got over it. And I paid to see this movie at least three more times (back then, in a pre-internet, pre-smartphone, hell, even a pre-VCR age, that's the only way you could see a movie, actually in the theaters). I'm still waiting to see a Star Wars that will top Empire Strikes Back; so far, the only movie to top this one is Empire Strikes Back, the special edition, with re-tooled footage. I don't mind the tinkering, as a matter of fact, I like seeing more of Bespin. There is one shot that bothers me, where Lando and Leia are running to save Han and they run by these windows which were originally solid walls. But other than that, as I've said, this is the best Star Wars yet. If J.J. Abrams wants to match this with his new Star Wars film, he better fire his Star Trek creative team (he should've done that already), and bring his A-game.
Okay. I don't usually allow myself to get hyped up for summer movies any more because nine times out of ten, I walk away disappointed. But you know what? I am all IN for Man Of Steel after seeing this new trailer. I'm begging the powers that be to let this movie live up to what I'm seeing here.
There's no question this will be filled to the brim with action. I only ask three things:
- Show me a more human Superman. As great as Christopher Reeve was, and is still the gold standard, I always felt his Superman was written too much as a hero and not enough of a human being (I know Superman's an alien, but he was raised from infancy on Earth). Reeve's Superman was a boy scout, with a child-like innocence and wore his emotions on his sleeve. "For the first time in my life, everything's clear," he says, his eyes moist as he takes Lois to bed in Superman 2. Ok, that's sweet and nice, but now it's time to see more of a regular guy who's a hero in the blue costume.
- Again, as much as I appreciated Reeve's performance as Clark Kent, the physical humor he adeptly played, I want to see less of a clown and more of a normal person who's just a bit socially awkward. Not a comic character (yes, I realize the irony in that statement).
- Let the movie be as much about the action as it is about the characters. Looking at the previous trailers, it looks like Snyder will give us some characters that aren't just contributing to action set pieces. Kevin Costner's delivery of the line, "You are my son," is heartwarming (I hate that word, but it always works so well). And I like how he suggests that maybe Clark shouldn't use his powers even when others are in jeopardy. Little things like that indicate that the script gets it right. I just hope that by the 2nd act of the film, these little character beats aren't jettisoned for all balls-to-the-wall action.
To me, Superman as a movie property stands above and beyond any other superhero movie. I never read Superman regularly growing up. I thought the character was silly and juvenile, what with Krypto, Superboy, Supergirl, Kandor in a bottle, Mxyzptlk, red K, green K, yellow K et. al. But when I saw Superman: The Movie and heard the John Williams score, I was all in as a little kid. Then I saw Superman 2 and it blew my head open. Superman was fighting super bad guys on screen! The president kneels before Zod! Superman flies up the Eiffel Tower and saves Paris! Granted that film is a little hard to watch now and a little boring, maybe because I saw it SO many times. As embarassing as it is to say, that movie did for me what the original Star Wars did for many filmmakers today: it was what inspired me to go into video/film production as a career. And ever since Superman 2, I've gone into a Superman film hoping to relive the magic of the first two films. Hasn't happened yet. Bryan Singer came close, but went off the reservation ultimately. So, that's why I say, at least for me, Superman stands above any other superhero movie. And if I'm going by the trailers, this new movie has the potential of making me feel like a kid again. http://qstorm.com/lightningstrikes
"My name is Stark...Tony Stark."
To paraphrase a well-known saying, this movie as a whole is not greater than the sum of its parts...but some of its parts are pretty damn good. That's what makes the movie a little frustrating. For every scene that blew me away, there were two or more scenes that made me scratch my head.
Iron Man 3 picks up where the Avengers left off, and Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD, after having been in a battle with alien invaders, a demi-god and after having flown into another dimension with a nuclear bomb. The problem is, this subplot, which could've been very interesting, is never really developed. Rather it's shoe-horned in merely as a callback device to tie it to the Avengers and thereby remind us that Avengers 2 is on the horizon. Now that Stark has incorporated artificial intelligence and autonomous mental control between himself, his suits and JARVIS, there's a great moment between a sleeping Tony Stark and Pepper Potts which demonstrates how dangerous Stark can be when mentally unstable. But again, it really goes nowhere. But mentioning JARVIS and artificial intelligence raises another conundrum I had with the film.
There were times in this film when I thought the title should have been Iron Suit as opposed to Iron Man. I mean, there are long stretches of this film where Tony Stark uses JARVIS's AI to control the suits remotely, which begs the question, at what point does Tony Stark cease being a superhero and rather becomes a Rockem Sockem Robot player? Is it fun to watch a superhero control his suits from afar, out of harm's way? Does it beg the question, if the suits can perform so well autonomously, why would Stark ever wear them in the first place? And, by the way, Stark should forget about designing Iron Man suits and patent JARVIS, who has one hell of a wifi network.
There are also stretches of this film where I felt like Robert Downey, Jr. must have lobbied to have a James Bond/Jason Bourne action set piece, because there are scenes where Stark takes out bad guys so efficiently without the use of his armor, you wonder if he could've chopped it up with Captain America on the heiicarrier in Avengers. Really out of character and one scene in particular plays like a parody of Bond. There is also an interminable middle act that features Tony Stark trapped in Tennessee (??) with the aid of a 13 year old boy who apparently comes from the Charlie Brown universe because we never see nor are given any indication that his parents exist.
Then there's the biggest, most egregious error this movie makes: the Mandarin. Chances are you know what I'm talking about by now, but I still won't spoil it. What I will say is that, even though Iron Man was not one of the comics I read or collected growing up, I was still furious over the portrayal of the Mandarin. What Shane Black did to this character is unforgivable. And it's irreversible. Again, not spoiling it, but let's just say now the Mandarin can never exist in the Marvel movie universe. And no, he doesn't die. But despite the unfortunate turn that the Mandarin character experiences, Ben Kingsley kills it.
Having said all this, there are scenes that are incredible. Tony Stark's house being blown up by the Mandarin, the standout scene of Iron Man rescuing passengers of Air Force One, a scene where Tony Stark acquires his armor piece by piece during an escape. The climactic scene at the end is cool, but is an exercise in overkill and bad guys become nothing more than videogame targets much like the Chitauri in Avengers. GREAT scenes. This, along with some pretty cool bad guys, makes the movie worth seeing. But you might find yourself wishing than Tony Stark would get the hell out of Tennessee and get back in the suit. 3/5 reels, 3D not recommended
Michael Shannon does Terence Stamp proud.
I wasn't expecting much from this movie and was holding out on getting excited...UNTIL THIS TRAILER! It's clear that Zack Snyder knows he has to remove the stench of Superman Returns!
Until this trailer, I was thinking, Zod AGAIN? Really? But after seeing still shots of Michael Shannon suited up and hearing him in the trailer, it's clear he's bringing it. Terence Stamp was excellent as Zod back in Superman II (the movie which, I admit is hard to watch now, but inspired me to go into film and TV production), but Zack Snyder looks like he understands he has to put his own stamp on this Superman outing, as does Michael Shannon, even though they're revisiting the Zod character.
The 2nd amazing thing is that it looks like Snyder is not using John Williams signature score. Again, that piece of music is what opened the door to my love of music (the 1st two albums I ever bought were Thriller and Superman II), BUT...the music I hear underneath the visuals in this trailer seems poised to supplant Williams's famous score. Well, maybe supplant is a strong word, nothing could replace that score. But, again, Hans Zimmer realizes he's gotta bring the thunder and I think this score is going to be a worthy successor.
I'm not going to get into how Superman is not REALLY Superman unless he has the 'S' spit curl and Lois Lane must always be a brunette...let's just say those were a couple of reasons this comic geek was disappointed at first, but now? I'm first in line to see this.