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Not a chick flick -- guys will like it, too
Although called a female comedy, this is chock full o' laughs for the guys, too. Co-written by Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumolo (who also has a small role), "Bridesmaids" stars Wiig as the woebegone near-spinster who has a knack for picking losers as her lovers. It was directed by Paul Feig, and co-stars Maya Rudolph as the bride who picks Wiig's character as Maid of Honor. This was Jill Clayburgh's last movie before her death from cancer. Somebody picked great music for the movie, and the Wilson Phillips performed at the end.
The writing and the performances knocked my socks off. "Bridesmaids" was nominated for Academy Awards for best original screenplay and for best supporting actress for Melissa McCarthy for her role as Megan. Although McCarthy shines, I preferred Rudolph's performance, but I don't pick 'em for Oscar Awards. Both Rudolph and Wiig are alums of Saturday Night Life, and the movie abounds with others from SNL. Judd Apatow is credited as producer, although there is a string of names of other producers of various sub-types.
Casting was stellar. I don't know how much Allison Jones had to do with it all, but she deserves an award for picking the right actors for the roles. Casting Jon Hamm as Ted, Annie's jerk boyfriend, is only one of the strokes of genius in this movie.
This is not a momentous film worthy of preservation for the eons, but it's a drop dead funny laugh-out-loud movie. At two hours, it'll fill up an afternoon quite well on some dreary cold day you don't want to go out.
Repo Man (1984)
Punk is a strange genre.
Released in 1984, "Repo Man" is at the confluence of punk rock and generic brands. Starring Emilio Estevez as Otto, "Repo Man" is the hip story of disaffected youth. In the early 80s, men were still wearing wide lapels, paisley ties, and coiffed hair, and our hero in "Repo Man" has a buzz cut and a pierced ear sporting a cross. And when he drinks beer, it comes in a white can that says "BEER," and the can has a huge UPC on the side.
In addition to Mr. Estevez, we have the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton and Sy Richardson as Otto's mentors in the car repo business. Otto's fellow repo men are named Bud, Miller, Lite, and Oly. If you can see "Repo Man" on the big screen, I recommend it because the signs in the background are part of telling the story of the punk esthetics, with Mr. Stanton's voice over and Mr. Richardson's smooth lyricism. Read all the signs.
Among the strange things about the punk movement is how modern it still is. Compare the costumes here with, say, "Earth Girls Are Easy," a film released four years later. The costumes in EGAE are hopelessly dated, but you'd be hard pressed to put a year on "Repo Man" based on how people dressed.
And unlike EGAE, "Repo Man" still holds up. It's a funny movie still.
Chelovek s kino-apparatom (1929)
A remarkable movie decades ahead of its time
This is a remarkable movie. I saw the version with music by The Alloy Orchestra and commentary by Yuri Tsivian, and I recommend that version highly. The Alloy Orchestra has captured the spirit of the movie with great fidelity and virtuosity.
"The Man with a Movie Camera" was directed by Denis Kaufman, who took the name Dziga Vertof, which means spinning top, a nom de film which is entirely appropriate in this movie. The movie was edited by Vertof's wife, Yelizaveta Svilova, and for the most part the man with the camera was Vertof's brother Mikhail Kaufman.
"The Man with a Movie Camera" is the "Koyaanisqatsi" of 1929, and certain of the music reminds me of Philip Glasses music in that film. (Other times the music reminds me of Edvard Grieg.) The movie starts with the beginning of a day in several Soviet cities, including Odessa, and progresses to the end of a day. However, the unimaginably swift cuts and editing make it a swirling montage of work, play, sports, and rest. Vertof, Svilova, and Kaufman take us on the whirlwind of Oz, and we realize we're not in Odessa anymore.
I don't know whom to credit, so I'll refer to the trio. They took serious risks in putting the camera in places it wasn't meant to go. They show us Kaufman on the side of a train at full speed, standing on the doors of a convertible speeding down the street, on a motorcycle in a race as he steers the motorcycle and hand cranks the camera, climbing a tall chimney, and much, much more. We see him in a firetruck filming an ambulance, then we see the ambulance from his point of view, and it cuts back and forth showing him filming, showing what he's filming. We see the theater where this film is being shown, watch it being projected on the screen, watch the audience watching the film, watch it with them.
We see many scenes of Svilova in the process of editing the movie, with some scenes ending in a freeze frame then pulling back to see her hand on the film as she cuts and splices it. Several scenes show her selecting scenes to insert into the film, then we see the scenes.
For some reason, I find the right word to be metajuxtaposition: we see "The Man with a Movie Camera" from so many points of view that it's almost like watching Joss Whedon's "The Cabin in the Woods": we don't know where the movie starts or ends, where watching the movie starts or ends, where making the movie starts or ends. We don't know if the audience we see watching the film is us or them. Are they the audience, or are we? We watch the cameraman filming the movie; we see what he's filming; we see the film he shot.
The trio used jump cuts, some as short as one frame, double exposures, freeze frames, extreme close ups, extreme long lens shots, tracking shots, stop-motion animation, split screens, and much more. The movie was an incredible work of considerable brilliance by the trio, all the more impressive for being produced in 1929.
It's a short movie of about an hour, and I recommend watching it with the music, then turning on the commentary and listening to Tsivian describe the film for the ultimate metajuxtaposition. Dr. Tsivian is a professor at the University of Chicago.
Les émotifs anonymes (2010)
Funny French romantic comedy
Directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris in 2010, this is a French romantic comedy starring Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabelle Carré as the star-crossed lovers.
Actually, they're neurotic. The gist of the movie is that they're both so neurotic, neither can find a relationship of any kind. The movie follows Angélique Delange (played by Carré) in her search for a job that doesn't make her faint, and she meets Jean- René Van Den Hugde ( Poelvoorde) who hires her as a sales rep for his chocolate factory.
The movie is laugh-out-loud funny almost all the way through its girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy plot. Their neuroses are played for laughs, of course, and each has enough foibles to keep you, if not in stitches, then at least in laughter. The movie has no depth, no lesson, but it has the light touch needed to keep things moving. If you want a very funny movie to while away an hour and a half or so, "Romantics Anonymous" is your ticket.
Sommaren med Monika (1953)
So breathtakingly original in 1953 it's become a cliché.
One of the problems with reviewing "Summer with Monika" almost 60 years after its release is that it's breathtaking originality has become a part of our film lexicon.
"Summer with Monika" has many scenes which are familiar now to us but which were startlingly new in 1953, breaking rules with the full intention of shattering them. For starters, let's look at Monika looking at the camera. The convention was for the cast never to acknowledge the presence of the camera, leaving the audience to believe it wasn't there, that the audience was directly watching and experiencing the scenes projected on the silver screen. If you've been watching the movie, the context here is very disturbing, and Monika's frank gaze at you, directly at you the viewer, is both disturbing and challenging. Monika the character is breaking the rules by committing adultery, and she's challenging you to take her to task. She's flouting the rules openly, and she's not going to take your objections. And Bergman is breaking the rules by having his character stare out at you in confrontation and in conspiracy with his rule- breaking. Bergman is challenging you directly to acknowledge the wrongful deeds of his character yet still accept her as a human being. "Yes, Monika has done this; so what?"
Adding to the stare is Bergman's use of music. It's sprightly jazz, bright, fast, and happy. However, as Monika's stare continues and unsettles us, the music fades a little and we become aware of a humming sound; something sours in the sound of the jazz. Underneath the freedom of the drums and clarinet, something lurks that suggests that all is not so happy after all.
This had never been done before. When Fosse did it in "Cabaret" twenty years later no one was shocked; the stare into the camera with souring music has become a part of our vocabulary. Woody Allen mentions Bergman often, and he mentions seeing "Summer with Monika" in his late teens and how it affected him in an interview on YouTube. It's sad to say, but Bergman's freshness in 1953 had become our cliché only twenty years later.
"Summer with Monika" stars Harriet Andersson in the title role and Lars Ekborg as Harry, Monika's lover for a summer. Monika is a curvaceous 18-year-old, and Lars is 20, and they meet in a coffee house, two loose ships adrift the night. Monika is smitten by Lars because he doesn't put his hands all over her the way the other guys do; she sees him as sweet. Both have jobs they hate, home lives that are stultifying, and neither has much money. They decide to run away. Harry's father has a boat, so they take it for the summer and visit the islands around their native town of Stockholm. They challenge the status quo, exclaiming that they'll never knuckle under to the grind of everyday life like all the grownups have. During their summer of love, they fight occasionally but always make up, they live for the present, and the trip seems romantic without many struggles or tribulations. They enjoy freedom, sun, and each other. Of course, they run out of money, and they're reduced to scavenging mushrooms and stealing food from farmers.
And Monika becomes pregnant. They talk about how they'll be different from their parents, Harry will get a job, Monika will stay at home and raise little Harry, Jr., and they'll still go out and dance and see movies. Harry actually grows up, and we are impressed with his new-found maturity as little Monika's father (it was a girl). He gets a job, goes to school at night and studies to get ahead at work. We see from a scene between his fellow workers that he's changed completely from the slacker he was at the beginning of the movie, and his workers recommend him for advancement. Monika, however, is dissatisfied. Harry is spending his time and energies at work and at school and not enough money on her. She buys a new suit for herself instead of paying the rent. Harry comes home a day early from an extended work trip and finds Monika in bed with his rival from before that summer with Monika.
One of the things I like about many Swedish films is the "wrap around." In "The Emigrants," directed by Jan Troell, Max von Sydow plays an emigrant to America who goes to seek the wilderness. At the beginning of the film, he finds his wilderness, and we see him falling asleep alone in a forest to the sound of loons. At the end of the film, we hear the sound of axes ringing as his fellow villagers are using them to chop down the trees and build cabins -- the wilderness-seekers have destroyed it forever by their very act of moving there.
In "Summer with Monika," our wrap around starts with Monika before she meets Harry staring into a mirror as a few drunks stagger around in the reflected background, and Monika adjusts her beret to make herself more becoming. At the end, we have the same mirror and the same drunks, but Harry is holding his infant daughter and he's become his father -- nothing has changed despite his summer with Monika other than the grind continues in the new generation. But Harry's stare into the camera isn't the challenge that we had from Monika. Harry's stare is his acknowledgement that he's his dreams are shattered, that he has become a part of the rat- race. Harry lost.
Teddy Bear (2012)
A view of the lonely journey to independence
Directed by Mads Matthiesen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Zandvliet, this is a disturbing movie about a very likable guy, the teddy bear of the title.
Dennis is a professional body builder, a huge hulking man who is a gentle giant of 38. He still lives with his mother in her home, and at first I thought she suffered from dementia because of the ultra politeness of Dennis's dealings with her, never arguing, doing whatever she said, sharing the bathroom with her in the mornings. However, it became clear that his mother was a controlling, very subtle monster who kept her son at a pre-school level in their relationship. Dennis is played very well by Kim Kold in what appears to be his first, maybe only movie appearance. Kold is indeed a professional body builder. His mother is played by Elsebeth Steentoft, a professional actress who is incredibly expressive without moving a muscle. Most of the cast have no other movie experience, and Matthiesen did a wonderful job getting a professional quality performance from everyone.
The plot of the movie is whether Dennis can separate himself from his mother, and I found my self rooting for him along the way. His disagreements with his mother never have raised voices, are based on her subtle manipulation of his feelings toward her, and require her to keep him as her little boy. She refers occasionally to men being disappointments and to Dennis's father, whom Dennis never knew, and her greatest reproof of Dennis is to tell him that he's like his father. The struggle for control over Dennis's freedom is never out in the open.
Dennis's struggle is as subtle as his mother's control, so the drama of his journey is without rage or tears. Just the lonely journey to independence that he should have taken as a boy, made more difficult by decades of manipulation by his mother. Kold does an excellent job showing the internal conflict without emoting. It's a very good movie.
I have the movie on a DVD from filmmovement.com, and the DVD contains two short features by Matthiesen. I don't know whether this is one sick dude or he just likes to explore sick relationships. One of the features is "Dennis," a short version of "Teddy Bear" which shows more of the relationship between Dennis and his mother. The other feature is "Cathrine," which explores the relationship between an overweight 16-year-old girl and a 33-year-old man. As in "Dennis" and "Teddy Bear," Cathrine's parents are controlling, but you can't root for a girl to break free with a man that old -- out of the frying pan and into the fire, I fear.
The Honeymoon Killers (1970)
Like Ed Wood and John Waters before they got good.
It's in black and white, the opening scenes are not well-acted, and the sound is not good. After awhile I was thinking this would segue into a color film that would explain that this was an early film by Ed Wood or John Waters -- you know, before they got good. But no.
"The Honeymoon Killers" opened in 1969. I saw the movie on DVD, with an interview of the screen writer and director, Leonard Kastle. He said it was a direct response to "Bonnie and Clyde," which he despised. "Bonnie and Clyde" had Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the leads, of course, and glamorized Barrow and Parker and their violence. Kastle said he wanted to make a more realistic movie and picked a couple called "the lonely hearts killers."
Kastle said in the interview that he had just written an opera and that it was being performed in LA, when an acquaintance of his suggested that they do a movie. There was $150,000 available, so Kastle wrote a script, they hired new-comer Martin Scorsese to direct, and they started casting. They hired Tony Lo Bianco as Ray Fernandez and Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck. Lo Bianco is a recognizable face from the many movies he did in the 70s, and Stoler of course is famous for her role in "The Seven Beauties." The rest of the cast was drawn from local talent in upstate New York, when the movie was filmed.
Kastle said Scorsese was fired for taking too long; with a budget of $150,000, they had to shoot very quickly. The assistant director took over, but he was fired, too, so Kastle directed with the able assistance of cinematographer Oliver Wood. In the interview, Kastle said many of the scenes were filmed only once -- much of the movie was done in one take. I believe it. (The cinematography is excellent, by the way.) Lo Bianco was good given the material, and Stoler got better as the movie went on. In her opening scenes she was decidedly amateur; however, she got some real emotion going by the end.
The cast is amateurs, and the script is, too. I can't remember why this was in my list of movies to watch. Although the events depicted occurred in the late 1940s, no attempt is made to set the movie in that time; all the costumes and cars are current for 1969. An end card on the movie tells us that the couple was executed in 1951.
It gets rave reviews on IMDb and is called elsewhere a cult classic. It's beyond me why. It's interesting to watch a movie Scorses got fired from; according to the interview with Kastle, Scorsese directed the scenes at the lake. Given Kastle's sensibilities as shown in the interview, I can understand why Kastle let him go. I think it was the right decision. But it's interesting to contemplate "The Honeymoon Killers" as it would have been if Scorsese had been able to finish.
In his interview, Leonard Kastle says although he's open for another movie, no one in Hollywood has come calling. I understand.
The Fall (2006)
Fascinating film that doesn't quite work for me
A little girl and a handsome young man are in the hospital, she for a broken arm, he for a broken back. Alexandria (played by Catinca Untaru) and Roy (Lee Pace) pass the time by telling stories. Roy starts them out, but Alexandria visualizes them, so we have a cross fertilization which can be surprising and funny, but which is always breathtaking. Alexandria is about 11, and her visualization of the tales includes those around her, so (as in "The Singing Detective"), we have the hospital staff pulling dual roles as Alexander the Great, a princess, heroes, and villains.
The costuming is some of the best I've seen, and the cinematography (by Colin Watkinson) is wonderful. IMDb says Tarsem Singh disclaims all trickery -- what you see on the screen is what he actually filmed, with no special effects. The scenery and action is so breathtaking, I actually doubt this. It's that good.
I really liked the movie. On one level, it's a hospital story about the blossoming friendship between two people, one of whom is a little girl. Ms. Untaru is captivating as the girl, with no evidence of acting at all. Little Alexandria is utterly guileless as Roy cunningly uses her to collect morphine tablets for him.
On another level, it's a fantasy initiated in the mind of Roy who is killing time that lays heavy on his shoulders but kicked into fantastic overdrive by the bored little girl stuck in the hospital with a broken arm. Because of the intertwining of the characters in the hospital with her fertile imagination of the tale, we have some hints of magical realism as she encounters the characters in both the fantasy and the reality worlds she inhabits.
On another level, it's a swashbuckling hero movie where a team of five swear to defeat the evil doer who has done each of them a wrong. It's here, though, that the movie let me down. Each of the five is a character, and unlike "The Princess Bride," for example, there's no real warmth among them, no feelings between them, no camaraderie. Just five guys with the same goal. It's unfortunate, because we spend a great deal of time watching them strive for their goal, but I never had any feelings for them during their various ordeals. Because of that lack of emotion among the five heroes, it misses the sweeping epic saga-ness it should have had as we watched the epic grandeur of the settings and costumes (designed by Eiko Ishioka) and listened to the epic music (Beethoven's Symphony No.7 in A major op.92, 2d movement, allegretto, for example).
I recommend the movie in spite of that one shortcoming. It's based on a Bulgarian movie by the name of "Yo Ho Ho," which I've never seen or even heard of.
The Last Command (1928)
A romantic tale turns tragedy
The story is a romantic tale inspired by an actual Russian general who fled his country after the rebellion of the Communists in 1917. The story starts in 1928 showing William Powell as Lev Andreyev, Hollywood mogul casting a film about the revolution. He picks an actor based on the actor's head shot; the actor is former Grand Duke Sergius Alexander (played by Emil Jannings), formerly the most powerful man in Russia, head of the Russian forces fighting against the insurrectionists. The story then goes to flashback, where we see the Grand Duke inspecting his troops, watched secretly by Andreyev and Natalie Dabrova (played by Evelyn Brent) as they plot his overthrow and assassination.
Mr. Jannings won the first Best Actor Oscar for this role. "The Last Command" was directed by the incomparable Josef von Sternberg, who also directed "The Blue Angel" (again with Mr. Jannings), "Morocco," "Shanghai Express," "Blonde Venus," "Crime and Punishment," and more, many with Marlena Dietrich as his leading lady. Mr. Jannings was considered among the best actors of his time, and he shows why in this movie. Evelyn Brent plays a revolutionist conspirator with Mr. Powell in 1917, but the Grand Duke captures them, sends Andreyev to jail and Dabrova to the Duke's bedroom. It turns out that both the Grand Duke and Madam Dabrova want the same thing -- what's best for Russia, and he turns her to his point of view and seduces her. Or he seduces her and turns her to his point of view. In any event, he's a powerful man with a powerful personality, and she soon sees things his way.
This is a tragedy, and the Grand Duke's power turns against him when the revolutionists win, capture him, and send him off to be hanged. Dabrova secures his release, but, as the Grand Duke later puts it, he suffers a shock and ends up in Hollywood as a bit player. The tables get turned when Andreyev turns up as the director of a movie about the revolution, and Andreyev casts the general as the general in the movie. Because it is a tragedy, things go badly for our hero the Grand Duke, but von Sternberg gives us a bitterly happy ending out of it all. The three leading actors all give star turns, but for me the direction by von Sternberg is the star of this film. His long, lingering portraits, particularly of Ms. Brent, showed the emotion and depth of the characters. There are some plot points that don't quite make sense, but overall the movie still holds my interest after all these years.
I noticed that Herman J. Mankiewicz did the titles. There is a rumor that in the vote for best actor for the first Academy Award, the actual winner was Rin Tin Tin. The Academy (correctly, I think) decided that awarding the Oscar to a dog would make the award seem less than serious, and the first award for Best Actor went to runner-up Emil Jannings for his work in "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh." Herman J. Mankiewicz was a well-known writer, well- known for often biting the hands that fed him in Hollywood. Another rumor is that as punishment for one of his many sins he was ordered to write a script for one of the many Rin Tin Tin movies, so he turned in a script where the dog carried a baby into a burning house. The Mankiewicz family has a glorious history in Hollywood, and I recommend reading up on them.
I note that Jack Raymond as the cigar-chomping assistant director to Andreyev is a dead ringer for Josef von Sternberg.
In the movie being made by Andreyev, we see extras being assigned costumes and doing make up to play Russian army troops. The extras were in fact extras assigned costumes and doing make up to play extras playing Russian army troops.
Ms. Brent's costumes as the 1917 revolutionist were contemporary with 1928, a situation which she repeated in "The Mating Call," a movie she made the same year which was also set in 1917. I highly recommend "The Mating Call." Herman J. Mankiewicz has an uncredited role in and did the titles for "The Mating Call." Mr. Mankiewicz repeated this role in Citizen Kane.
Almost a silent movie
This is the first film I've seen by director Kim Ki-duk, and I'll put it in the "Magic Realism" genre. The movie stars Lee Seung-yeon as our hero, Jae Hee as our heroine. As far as I can remember, the characters they play never say a word to each other until the final scene.
Lee's character (Sun-hwa) is apparently homeless; he posts take-out menus on doors then circulates back to see which doors still have the menus on them the next day. He picks the locks of supposedly vacant homes or apartments and spends a night or two -- he listens to the answering machine to see if people have said they'll be away. While he's there, he fixes whatever is broken and does the people's laundry. He finds one apparently vacant home in a very well-to-do neighborhood and breaks in. He wanders through the home, finds that the scales need to be repaired, does so, and plays some golf in the backyard before noticing that the home is indeed occupied.
It turns out the owner is away on business, but his wife (named Tae-suk) remains; she shows the bruises and busted lip of their last discussion. She's a prisoner in her own home, and our young hero is a free-spirit with no home. It's a match made in heaven.
The title of the movie comes from the 3 iron that Sun-hwa finds in the home occupied by Tae- suk and her beater. The husband comes home early, takes her to task for not answering his phone calls, and discovers Sun-hwa lurking in the back yard. Sun-hwa takes the 3 iron and drives several golf balls into the husband, knocking him down; Sun-hwa and Tae-suk make their escape on his motorcycle.
Our couple continues his pattern of handing out fliers, finding a vacant apartment, and staying overnight. Nothing much happens during these scenes with nothing being said, and yet we follow their meandering path with interest and feeling. Eventually someone discovers them and calls the police. The police investigate but find no evidence of any crimes, no thefts, only repairs and clean laundry. Tae-suk is returned to her husband, and Sun-hwa is sent to jail for breaking and entering where he serves a short sentence.
Now is where the magic realism comes in to play. Sun-hwa hides from his jailer, causing the jailer to beat him and threaten to kill him. Sun-hwa becomes better and better at hiding, becoming capable of standing behind the jailer out of his view no matter how the jailer twists and turns. Eventually, he becomes invisible to the jailer. The jailer constantly threatens Sun- hwa with death and beats him each time. When it comes time to release Sun-hwa, he is escorted down a tunnel to a light at the end of the tunnel.
Apparently Sun-hwa revisits each of the places he stayed with Tae-suk; I say apparently because there is evidence of his ghostly presence, but neither we nor the occupants ever see him, although the occupants are aware of a presence. He goes to Tae-suk's home, and while her husband can't see him hiding behind him, Tae-suk does see Sun-hwa and tells him she loves him. Her husband is shocked and pleased because he assumes she's addressing him. Tae-suk fixes her husband breakfast, placing bowls around him so that as he turns to one serving, Sun-hwa steals a bite from another, both husband and loved one being filled from the same offerings.
The husband leaves, and we see the lovers embrace, standing on a scale that reads zero.
We saw Sun-hwa fix the scale earlier. If we paid attention, we know his weight shown before he fixed it, his weight after he fixed it, and her weight after he fixed it. We saw Tae-suk take the scale apart after she was returned to her husband, so she may have restored it to its former error, and we know their combined weight would take the broken scale back to zero if they both stood on it. So we can imagine that the unrepaired the scale and their combined weights plus the error is the 180 kilos which takes us back to zero. Or we can imagine that the yin and yang of their love is weightless. Or we can imagine that he was beaten to death in prison and that he is, indeed, a ghost whose spirit lifts her body so that it, too, is weightless. It's an interesting film with a spiritualism that is not heavy-handed.
Because of the ending, we get to fill the movie with meanings and emotions of our own. Of the places they stayed, only one couple was happy, and they both return to it separately to spend some time again. It's an easy movie to put meaning into as we see the empty apartments and lives of others in Seoul. It's a fascinating and interesting love story.
The version of the movie that I saw is rated R in American. This is a travesty. There is no nudity, and there is no sex. Apparently two scenes caused the MPAA to lose its mind: in one scene we see him under a sheet looking at a book of photographs with a nude model; his hand is jerking back and forth under the sheet, so we assume he's masturbating. In another scene after Tae- suk was returned to her husband, we see them get into bed, both in pajamas. Her husband puts his hand under the sheet and demands to know if "he touched you there." Our assumption is that he's asking if she's had sex with Sun-hwa. Why this deserved an R is a mystery to me.