Archive for July, 2017

When I was a kid, I had a massive crush on Sherilyn Fenn. Or, more specifically, on her character of Audrey Horne. And who wouldn’t? She was that alluring combination of cute, calculating, and maybe even a little  crazy (although the “crazy” was downplayed significantly as the original run of Twin Peaks progressed) that whispered “I’m gonna take you down the road to hell, and you’re gonna love every minute of it.” A true femme fatale for the “Generation X” set. So, yeah, the older version of me that shambles around, half-dazed, through the world of 2017? He was extremely curious to see what David Lynch and Mark Frost were going to do with her in Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks:The Return/Twin Peaks season three — and, fully 2/3 of the way through, we finally have our answer.

We know all (or some) about her kid already, of course — Richard’s been rising holy hell for some time now, and in part twelve tonight, that finally comes back to bite his grandpa Ben (Richard Beymer — who seems to have cooled off his percolating “office romance” with Ahsley Judd a bit and gets a genuinely nice extended scene with Robert Forster’s Sheriff Frank Truman) in the ass. If Audrey knows about any of this, though, she seems completely unperturbed by it, and is far more concerned with the recent disappearance of a guy that she’s been stepping out on her perpetually-tired, workaholic husband (played by Clark Middleton) with. This appears to be an unconventional marriage, to put it mildly — the word “contract” is mentioned more than once — and, as such,  it makes for plenty of old-school “prime time soap” intrigue, but to have this all dropped on us this late in the game? Well, let’s just say I’m waiting to see how successfully Lynch and Frost are going to shoe-horn yet another subplot into the mix here on top of everything else (or maybe that should be subplots, plural, because at the tail end of part twelve we meet three new characters altogether and who they are and what they have to do with anything is anyone’s guess at this point).

Anyway, while Audrey’s long-awaited return may have been a highlight for me personally, there were plenty of other developments that merit a mention : Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) officially induct Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell) into the brotherhood — or maybe that should now be brother/sisterhood — of the Blue Rose (and we get our fullest explanation beyond the printed page of Frost’s “novel” as to what the Blue Rose is all about); Cole makes time with an exotic and alluring French mystery woman who sure knows how to take her time making an exit; Dr. Amp/Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) continues his love-affair-via-the-airwaves with Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie), whether he knows it or not; Harry Dean Stanton further reveals himself to be the guardian angel of Fat Trout Trailer Park, and perhaps of this entire series; Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh pop back into the picture to perform a sniper-rifle “hit” on poor Warden Murphy; Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan) and “his” boy, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) play a decidedly one-way game of catch in the backyard; Laura Dern’s Diane is discovered to be a double-dealer by Albert and cryptically exclaims “Let’s Rock” when officially deputized back into the FBI fold; Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) finally makes it down off the mountain — plenty to mull over, indeed.

Tonight’s show-stealer, though, has gotta be Grace Zabriskie as the long-suffering Sarah Palmer. The years have been every bit as hard on her as one would expect given the compound tragedy that befell her family a quarter-century ago, and her breakdown at a grocery store checkout lane is downright painful to watch. There are even hints dropped that the Black Lodge hasn’t had the decency to leave her alone yet — her ceiling fan is still doing “that thing” (whatever it is), she talks as if there’s another entity taking up residence within her body and mind, and Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) hears inexplicable noises in her kitchen when he drops by to check on her well-being (or lack thereof). She’s doing her best to hold it together — but is anyone’s “best” good enough under such circumstances?

Zabriskie’s acting is straight-up dynamite in this segment (who are we kidding? It always is), every raw nerve and strained-beyond-the-breaking-point thread on full display in a gripping and altogether unforgettable tour-de-force right up there with the best we’ve seen in this series. It’s not easy stuff to watch, by any means — but it’s downright impossible to look away from.

Wrap it all up with a return appearance from Chromatics at the Roadhouse and we’ve got yet another ridiculously compelling installment of the darkest and most irresistible siren call to ever play out on American TV screens under our collective belt. With six parts to go, the prospect of all of our myriad questions being answered seems remote, indeed, but I’m not really sure that’s the point — giving us a map and a methodology by which to find the answers ourselves (even if it takes another 25 years) is what Lynch and Frost are building towards, and in that respect, they’re succeding in a manner that’s equal parts harrowing and beautiful.

 

So, this is it — the end of the quietest, most underappreciated trilogy to come out of the Hollywood blockbuster machine in who-knows-how-long has arrived, and to make a long story short : it doesn’t disappoint. Not in the least. In fact, it exceeds even the loftiest of expectations.

So that’s me giving away the plot a bit early, I guess, but hey, if you’re still reading this, chances are you were every bit as fond of this series as I was, and for long-time fans of the franchise, not only did it rinse the taste of Tim Burton’s doomed-from-jump relaunch from our collective palette once and for all, it went considerably further by re-imagining the premise in a bold and entirely believable new way, delivering compelling performances, and making better use of CGI than — shit, anything ever, I don’t hesitate to say. It really has been “all that,” hasn’t it?

What makes the 21-st century iteration of one of sci-fi’s most beloved properties stand out hairy-head-and-shoulders above its competitors in the mega-budget popcorn movie game, though, is its entirely magnificent characters, specifically Andy Serkis’ Caesar. He’s really been the heart and soul of these films all the way through, and in War For The Planet Of The Apes, it’s his show all the way. No offensive intended to the likes of Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, and Toby Kebbell, who all knock it out of the metaphorical park as Bad Ape, Maurice, and Koba, respectively, but as much as this series has been about a world in transition (to say the least), it’s also been about Caesar’s own highly personal journey, and while I’m a little bit choked up at seeing said journey come to an end, director Matt Reeves does his star simian justice and gives him a highly emotional send-off rife with moral, emotional, and physical conflict that caps off by — well, shit, that would be telling, but to say Caesar’s final fate is equal parts heroic, intimate, and entirely in keeping with his arc sums things up pretty nicely, in my view.

New human characters make their mark, as well — Amiah Miller’s Nova transcends the typical “little girl lost” stereotype in her heart-rendingly sympathetic role and Woody Harrelson radiates the menace that can only come from a man already shattered beyond repair and with literally nothing left to lose as The Colonel, but again, for all this greatness — and make no mistake, these actors are indeed great, as are the fully-fleshed-out characters they’re portraying — it still, at the end of the day, all comes back to Caesar.

And maybe Maurice, too. Come on — who doesn’t love Maurice? Who isn’t going to miss Maurice? Who doesn’t wish they could grab Maurice right off the screen and take him home to watch over their kids?

Okay, none of us can have Maurice. But intelligent drama, thick-as-L.A.-smog tension, hair-raising action, amazing scenery and shot composition, and complex philosophical questions are surely not too much to ask for, and War For The Planet Of The Apes offers all that in such generous supply that fans could almost be forgiven for thinking the studio was giving them a gift here — until you remember that you’re the one paying them twelve bucks or whatever to see it.

Not that I’m complaining mind you — this flick, as with its two predecessors, is worth every dime and then some to see on the big screen, as it’s epic stuff all the way. Reeves and his co-screenwriter, Mark Bomback, manage to hit precisely the right notes at precisely the right times with such skill that one could almost be forgiven for thinking they make it look easy, even though the logistics of a production on this scale are anything but. There’s a mind-boggling amount of genuine artistry at work here, and no director since Spielberg’s heyday has managed to make the multi-million-dollar spectacle feel as personal as Reeves does. Everything about this climactic final battle for the future of planet Earth is dripping with the sort of import that screams “this is it!!!!!!!!!,” but it never falls prey to the emotionally distant, bombastic trappings that ensnare most “epic event” cinema. This is everything you wanted — maybe even needed — the final chapter of the Apes saga to be, and I’m honestly hard-pressed to remember the last time a franchise has taken the time to say “thank you” to its audience in so heartfelt and earnest a manner.

So, yeah — see War For The Planet Of The Apes. Or see it again, as the case may be. Then tell me there’s no such thing as “movie magic” anymore.

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Honestly, I don’t know how Gabrielle Bell does it. And I mean that on two levels.

On the first, purely technical level, her stringent adherence to six-panel grids on each page and “mid-range camera” perspective means that she draws full figures in almost every panel. When you think about that what that means in terms of sheer labor and dedication to craft, it’s just straight-up nuts. Admirable, absolutely, but nuts. Not many cartoonists could handle the workload, much less maintain it at her remarkably prolific pace.

It’s on the second, thematic level, though, that she deserves even more special recognition  — that’s because as a memoirist, her ability to take an honest, unflinching look at both her own life and the lives of people around her is unequaled in the contemporary “alternative” comix “scene.” She doesn’t go out of her way to make anyone look bad, that much has…

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The first ten minutes (or thereabouts) of part elven of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three were all about what I thought was going to happen : I thought that at least one of the kids out playing catch at the beginning, who make a very grisly discover indeed, was going to get hit by a speeding car coming out of nowhere; when the domestic drama that Amanda Seyfried’s Becky is currently (or maybe that should be always) enduring finally reaches a boiling point that sees her long-suffering mother, Shelly (played by Madchen Amick) going for a ride on the hood of her own vehicle, I thought something far worse than a skinned knee was going to happen to her when she was finally thrown from it; when Becky bursts into the motel where she thinks her  two-timing old man is to be found, I was absolutely sure that somebody was gonna get shot — maybe even several somebodies.

But no, the timely intervention of Harry Dean Stanton’s Carl (wait until you see how he hails a ride into town) and the wise advice of busybody Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) saw to it that disaster was averted — with no small assist coming from Deputy Bobby Briggs (Dana Ahsbrook), who really is our central figure of audience identification (as well as, officially, Becky’s dad — although I can’t see how that would come as a surprise to anyone) for what part eleven is all about, a point to which we will return momentarily.

First, though, it has to be said — some bad shit really does go down, it goes down in Buckhorn, South Dakota, and Matthew Lillard’s luckless high-school-principal-turned-paranormal-blogger Bill Hastings is on the business end of it. Our fivesome of Feds and their friends (Lynch’s Gordon Cole, Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfield, Chrysta Bell’s Tammy Preston, Laura Dern’s Diane Evans, and Brent Briscoe’s Detective Dave Mackley) have — uhhhmmm — “escorted” the hapless Mr. Hastings back to the scene of his supposed “crime,” only to discover a vortex portal to the Black Lodge, an uncharacteristically overweight (but characteristically ethereal) Woodsman, and the dead, headless body (I’m sorry, but Lynch’s “she’s dead” line is fucking priceless) of the woman he supposedly killed. Within moments, though, the aforementioned Woodsman sees to it that Hastings himself joins his former paramour on “the other side,” and his method of dispatch is — well, let’s just call it grisly in the extreme, shall we? Poor Bill — but then, we’ve been saying that about him from the outset.

Other stuff happens, too, and plenty of it — Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan)’s Mr. Bean routine and timely purchase of a cherry pie (a “damn good” one, at that) save his ass yet again after his boss, Bushnell Mullins (Don Murray) unknowingly sets him up for a date with death at the hands of Robert Knepper and Jim Belushi’s brothers Mitchum; Amy Shiels keeps on just plain killing it as Candy; Catherine E. Coulson’s Log Lady helps guide Michael Horse’s Deputy Hawk though an ancient Indian map that he, in turn, guides Robert Forster’s Sheriff Frank Truman through; Lynch gets to talk about “the policeman’s dream” (you’re looking at it in the photo above) — but while all that definitely matters, I really do want to get back to Bobby.

He’s obviously a guy who’s learned from his past mistakes. Once a low-level drug dealer and Ben Horne’s lackey, he’s now in the business of busting his former friends as a duly sworn officer of the law. Previous installments have shown the deep sense of regret with which he views his less-than-glorious past, and we also get more than an inkling that there was much he wanted to say to his father before the Major’s his untimely demise. He’s done his level best to perform what we’d call a radical course correction on his life — and for that reason, it rips his heart out to see that his ex-wife is still running around with stereotypical “bad boys” (specifically Balthazar Getty’s Red, as we learn tonight), and that his daughter seems to have a lot more of her mom in her than she does of him. Bad habits being passed down from generation to generation are never a pleasant thing to see play out before one’s own eyes, and how much of that comes down to nature vs. how much of it comes down to nurture is the central question Lynch and Frost are asking in this segment — a point driven home when what first appears to be a (yes, you’re reading this correctly) drive-by shooting at the Double R turns out to be the accidental discharge of a carelessly-placed firearm from a vehicle stopped at a red light outside. Bobby quickly goes into heroic deputy mode, only to find that the kid who may have been handling the gun is wearing the same redneck-ass camouflage hunting garb — and has the same flat, distant, emotional affect — as his idiot, peckerwood, MAGA father. Are we then, in fact, doomed to become carbon-copy clones of our parents — or are they doing their level best to ensure that’s all we become, because it’s all that they themselves know how to teach us?

The incessant honking of a car horn and a child with a grotesque mystery illness stomp all over this reverie before we (and Bobby) have too much time to ponder it, but the question lingers in the back of the mind long after the credits (accompanied this time out by a piano-playing Vegas lounge lizard) roll, and it’s among the most profound — and perhaps ultimately impossible to answer — that Lynch and Frost have asked in this series to date.

 

Who’da thunk it — apparently all it takes to get the “Marvel Zombie” crowd to like Spider-Man flicks again is to bring ’em under the banner of the MCU. Or is it?

To be sure, director Jon Watts’ Spider-Man : Homecoming theoretically should give the fans that were pissed off about Sony still holding the cinematic rights to their favorite web-slinger everything they want : it’s fairly light-hearted, reasonably fun, well-cast, and directed in the sort of unimaginative, risk-averse “house style” first laid down by talentless hack Jon Favreau (who’s on hand here as Peter Parker’s Stark Industries “handler,” Happy Hogan) in Iron Man and since followed to a proverbial “T” by all Marvel movie product. Sure, plenty of liberties are taken with Spidey’s origin story — no mention of Uncle Ben, no talk of great power going hand-in-hand with great responsibility, Tony Stark (the by-now-perpetually-annoying Robert Downey Jr.) is shoved into the proceedings for, let’s be honest, superfluous at best reasons — but hey, them’s the breaks when you’re trying to shoehorn Marvel’s most famous character into their interconnected universe this late in the game. And besides, none of those changes seem seem to really bother the die-hards, because at this point it’s all about brand loyalty for them more than it is a franchise staying true to its roots.

A funny thing happened on the way to this flick taking in its inevitable billion dollars at the worldwide box office, though : a not-inconsiderable percentage of the very troglodytes Marvel Studios and Sony hoped to win back with their new co-production deal turned on the so-called “House Of Ideas” in a big way.

The reasons for this are as simple as they are simple-minded, and so pathetic I don’t wish to go into them in great detail — suffice to say a quick Google search for “SJW Marvel” will turn up any number of mouth-foaming rants, either of the written, spoken, or streaming variety, featuring emotionally and intellectually stunted middle-aged white guys bitching about the fact that their once-favorite entertainment conglomerate has become “too political,” “too liberal,” “too preachy,” “too PC,” etc. Yes, apparently the company that has for decades produced — and continues to produce — mind-numbingly stupid comics and films featuring reactionary bloodthirsty vigilantes such as The Punisher, Wolverine, Bullseye, Foolkiller, etc. just isn’t right-wing enough for the “Make Marvel Great Again” crowd.

Then again, making Marvel “great” isn’t what they’re concerned about in the least — the post-Kirby Marvel comics they grew up reading and now speak of in reverent whispers were anything but. In fact, by and large, they sucked. But, Captain America sidekick The Falcon aside, they were essentially all-white stories, and these days, with characters like a Muslim-American Ms. Marvel, a female Thor, an equally female Wolverine, a black and female Iron “Man,” etc. running around, things are getting a bit too diverse for the “Trump troll” segment of fandom.

So what’s any of this got to do with Spider-Man : Homecoming, you ask? I mean, didn’t we already establish that no one’s really complaining about the “updated” take on the character? Hell, aren’t some of these 40-year-old virgins downright thrilled about Aunt May being a good three decades years younger than she’s ever been and played by Marisa Tomei?

Well, yeah, they are — and they generally seem to be in agreement that the new tech-savvy version of the villainous Vulture, as portrayed by Michael Keaton (who’s punching way below his weight class in a second-fiddle role) is an A+ baddie and that Tom Holland hits the nail on the head in his infectiously likable turn as Peter Parker/Spidey (although for my money Pete should always be a little bit of a self-absorbed, self-pitying jerk, and Andrew Garfield got that part of the character exactly right) — what they don’t like is that he’s got a crush on a black girl (Laura Harrier’s Liz) and that another black girl (Zendaya’s Michelle/ M.J.) has a crush on him. They seem far less than thrilled that Pete’s best buddy, Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) and arch-rival Flash (Tony Revolori) are “insufficiently” Caucasian, as well, but that’s nowhere near as large and affront to these knuckle-dragging cretins than even largely- unrequited interracial romance is. Kinda makes you wonder if they’ve got got some issues they don’t wanna deal with, doesn’t it?

In point of fact, these supposed ” old-school purists” (or maybe that should just be racial purists) — who, again, voice little to no objection to any of the other, much more significant, alterations made to the franchise they claim to revere — have even taking to calling this film “SJW Spider-Man,” even though, in the chickenshit tradition of the MCU, nothing like an even remotely political statement is made by anyone in the movie at any point. Hell, in the overall scheme of things Mary Jane’s name being changed is probably a “bigger deal” than her race being changed given that Peter Parker lives and goes to school, as is customary for the character, in Queens, and there just plain is no such thing as an all-white, or even a majority-white, high school in Queens anymore. If you don’t like that fact, then don’t venture outside of Kentucky, or Alabama, or wherever the hell you’re broadcasting your racist YouTube screeds from, but don’t blame either Sony or Marvel (a phrase you’ll never hear me say again, I promise) for providing an entirely realistic 21st-century supporting cast for their newest star-in-the-making.

And while we’re at it, let’s acknowledge that Liz’s race goes some way toward helping the more-clever-than-these-things-usually-are script keep its massive third-act plot twist a secret. I’ll say no more for fear of offending the “spoiler police,” but for those of you who’ve seen this flick already, well — you know what I’m talking about. It’s a genuinely surprising twist that I sure as hell didn’t see coming, and neither did you.

Add in the aforementioned very-good-too-terrific acting, solid CGI work, some flawlessly-timed laughs (many coming our way courtesy of Chris Evans), and numerous well-shot-and-choreographed action scenes, and what you’ve got here — and I risk my “Marvel-hater” reputation by saying this, I know, but — is an enjoyable, if flawed, summertime popcorn flick. Sure, quality veteran performers like Tyne Daly and Bokeem Woodbine are utterly wasted in go-nowhere roles, and sure, there’s nothing happening here that breaks the MCU mold, and sure, the rank hypocrisy of those who praise this film to high heavens after bad-mouthing, and in some cases even boycotting, the frankly superior The Amazing Spider-Man (I’m only talking about the first one, mind you) is annoying as all get-out, but hey, who are we kidding? These things are what they are. And for what it is, Spider-Man : Homecoming isn’t too shabby at all.

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

I suppose it’s possible that I’m just showing my age here, but to me, the release of a new Gary Panter book still qualifies as a “drop everything” moment — especially when said book marks the concluding chapter of a long-running trilogy that’s followed a circuitous path from 1991 right up to the present day. So, yeah, when Fantagraphics Books dropped the long-awaited Songy Of Paradise this past Wednesday, it was indeed a very big deal.

Some quick background is no doubt in order for those not in the know : Panter began this story — or, rather, this series of interconnected stories — 26 years ago in the pages of his Jimbo series from Bongo Comics‘ one-off (as in, created just for him) Zongo sub-label, but nobody (probably including the cartoonist himself) knew it was part of a larger, sprawling epic at the time. Fast-forward to 2004 and…

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While the rest of the world (or so we’re told) was busy soaking in the profound cultural rot that is Game Of Thrones this evening, I was busily thinking about a theory I’ve seen bandied about in recent days — we’ll call it the “Grand Unifying Theory Of David Lynch.”

I’m not at all certain who the originator of it was, mind you, but I first saw it advanced, and argued for reasonably convincingly, by my friend Jeff Wells (he of Rigorous Intuition renown), and it goes something like this : Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive actually take place in the same ficitional “universe” and Naomi Watts’ Janey-E character is Diane/Betty Selwyn from Lynch’s 2001 masterpeice film. Somehow. Some way.

I’m not saying I wasn’t sold on it from the outset. Nor that I was. But I definitely found it intriguing. I wasn’t ready to dismiss it out of hand any more than I was necessarily ready to accept it. And then who turns up on part ten of Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three tonight, but —

 

Wow, Bob, wow! The “Weeping Lady Of Los Angeles” herself, Ms. Rebekah Del Rio! Now, I’ll grant you, she wasn’t singing “Llorando” at her gig at The Roadhouse, but what the hell? She may as well have been. I’m sold, Mr. Wells (and everyone else) — I think.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, we saw a whole lotta the Horne clan tonight — scumbag Richard (played with with a permanent sneer by Eamon Farren) needs to get the fuck outta Dodge fast and beats up his grandmother, Sylvia (Jan Da’Arcy) for her safe combination while a newly-restrained Johnny (Robert Bauer) watches on, helpless to interv —-wait just a second!

I really do hate to say “I told you so,” but I called this one several weeks back — Richard is the offspring of Evil Coop and Audrey Horne. They all but admitted as much tonight. I might be samrt enough to keep up with this show after all. Now back to our regularly scheduled review —-

—ene as his toy companion intones “Hello Johnny, how are you today?” over and over again is ultra-creepy fashion. Ben (Richard Beymer) is still a bastard, though, and won’t send his long-suffering former wife an extra dime, while Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), for his part, remains lost in the woods, stoned off his gourd. The Hornes are all present and accounted for, then, with one increasingly-noticeable exception.

The double-cross is a big theme in part tens, as well : Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) are onto Diane (and each getting friendly with their female colleagues, Cole with Chrysta Bell’s Tammy Preston and Rosenfield with Jane Adams’ Constance Talbot); the aforementioned Richard Horne is in league with greaseball Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello), who’s about as good at covering the tracks of his malfeasance as the Trump family and is already caught red-handed by none other than Lucy (Kimmy Robertson); Anthony Sinclair (Tom Sizemore) is busy trying to pin his insurance company double-dealings on Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan), but while Mitchum brothers Bradley (Jim Belushi) and Rodney (Robert Knepper) think they’re pumping the former for dirt on the latter, they’re really both being played by Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler).

It’s a damn tangled web everyone’s weaving, to be sure, but somewhere in the middle of all this we get to learn that number-one superfan of Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn), Norma Hurley (Wendy Robie) has finally realized her dream of opening a store to sell her silent drape-runners; Dougie’s not only healthier than an ox, but a non-stop love machine, to boot, and Janey-E couldn’t be happier about it; Becky Burnett (Amanda Seyfried) is not only financially supporting her loser boyfriend, but getting beaten by him, too (lots of domestic violence in this one, much of it taking place in — shock of all shocks — trailers); The Log Lady (the late Catherine E. Coulson making a surprise and very welcome return appearance) has another series of cryptic clues for Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) that seem to coincide with, if not outright trigger, a vision of Laura Palmer in Cole’s mind — and there’s just enough time for Amy Shiels to flat-out steal the show in her role as Candy.

None of which, I suppose, offers much by way of evidence one way or another for “The Grand Unifying Theory Of David Lynch.” So maybe I still don’t know about that one, after all. But I do know that we got to see 91-year-old Harry Dean Stanton strumming his guitar and singing “Red River Valley” tonight. And I’m not sure anything else matters.