Do you have permissions?

So, as I plan a month of doing sweet FA I have begun writing a new screenplay (to go with the other unfinished one never to see the light of day…) to occupy my time. This is not as challenging as it sounds however, I managed national poetry writing month and wrote almost all of my last novel in a month too – though I was unemployed at the time… aaaah, the good old days… – especially as screenplays are necessarily shorter and having Final Draft has made formatting a piece of piss. So along with my newly bought Ukulele which I ADORE, I got started but then I was given pause to think. To what end was I writing this? Well I never write for an audience or even with the idea of getting published I just write what I want to read/see but both of these screenplays are resolutely ‘British’ (imagine that word in eighty foot concrete letters) so it would help if they were both British made (again, not that they are getting made, it just helps to see how it would look in my head. Production values and so forth). Which in turn presents an interesting problem…

Now, a lot has been made of the closure of the UK Film Council, and rightly so I might add, and with Film Four barely treading water and BBC Films doing less and less yet pumping more and more into the Moffat-Machine of Dr Who and Sherlock Holmes there is little to give us hope for the Great British Film industry. BUT WAIT! Teeeeeeeechnically there is no British Film Industry. Allow me to elucidate before you all come riding at me on your high horses;

Let’s name a few recent ‘British Films’ shall we? Slumdog Millionaire and King’s Speech seem obvious as they both won Best Picture awards and were UK Film Council funded. How about Atonement and Hot Fuzz? Or Harry Potter? Maybe Quantum of Solace? Now before the nit-pickers start – Yes, they are all ‘British based’ films either having offices here, a cast from here, or crew from here BUT all of my examples are American funded. Slumdog is Warner ‘Independent’ funded, King’s Speech is the Weinstein Company, Working title is owned by Universal who made Atonement and Hot Fuzz, MGM made Bond and Harry Potter is Warner Bros proper. What this means is, that whilst any other part of a film may be multi-national and bi-lingual, the people with the purse strings are all American. Now, in the ‘Pro’ corner this is good as it brings a lot of work to Britain and our own back lots etc and a lot of that is a creative and industrious streak far removed from our Trans-Atlantic chums. However, in the ‘Cons’ corner is this –

Do you know what an ‘Executive Producer’ does? All films have them as well as a Producer. The Exec. is just that. A studio executive. He is the guy from the studio who signs the cheques. Without ever having met one, I hate these people. Hollywood (and make no mistake, it is only Hollywood. Whether Japan, Bangkok or Tunstall, Hollywood will have a controlling stake in whatever motion picture is being made if it is released in the west) and its studio that is paying for the film, will send the exec to oversee and report back on any decision made by the director. With such a large investment at stake they want a film that will sell to the widest demographic (I hate that word) possible so they need to run it by ‘marketing’ *spits* first. This is what people mean by ‘Designed by Committee’. “If it doesn’t play to the under 12’s, get rid of it”, etc. Execs will shadow the director and assert pressure on risky decisions not to be made and generally make the film industry a homogenous mess. Want a good example of one? Watch the beefy extras on the Lord of the Rings Special Edition. The weasely little guy you’ve never heard of expounding about how wonderful the whole experience was and sat just behind Peter Jackson or somewhere in shot whenever the camera cuts to the director, is him. Another good example of this is the top-notch making-of Documentary on the Blade Runner Ultimate DVD. The financial and political wranglings are fascinating.

This is a very ugly portrayal however, some execs do have a genuine interest in new and original works. Alan Ladd is notable for putting money where his mouth was and it paying dividends, namely with Star Wars, Aliens, Blade Runner and A Fish Called Wanda, all risky ventures at the time but making ridiculous returns on investment. Proof, if it were needed, it is risks we need to take no matter what the industry. Also, loathed as I am to say it these days, Spielberg has championed various brilliant ventures by getting them money; Gremlins, Poltergeist, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Letters from Iwo Jima, True Grit and *ahem* the Flintstones were all great films (except the Flintstones obviously) he put money into. This is unfortunately very rare in the film industry these days. Present a risky venture to a studio and you may as well be asking to burn their house down and rape their over privileged children.

Do you want to know a great independent British film of the last few years? Kick-Ass. You know, that film set in America with everyone speaking in American accents, with American actors based on American comic book archetypes. Yet the director is English, the guy who wrote the comic book is Scottish, the two leads – Aaron Johnson and Mark Strong – are both English actors and the screenplay was by Jane Goldman who is also English. The film was distributed by Universal but not made by it, it was self funded by Vaughn. Do you want to know an easy way of telling an independent movie? What rating is it? Studios get twitchy about non-genre films being above a 12A Certificate, as if you go above that you wipe out a massive audience share for anyone younger than 15. Unfortunately this means you get films that squeeze past certification on technicalities. Now I am no prude but Hanna should have been at least a 15, with the man bled upside down, pierced by arrows not to mention a young girl murdering people with her bare hands. It was a 12. As a twelve-year-old I would not have understood the subtleties of that film but instead been thoroughly disturbed by the tone and menace in it. Same with Dark Knight. That should have been rated higher but because studios want the biggest possible audience they will bribe or cajole the Certification Board into getting a 12A. I blame Tim Burton. Batman was a 15 certificate but he argued the board down (rightly) to create a new certificate – the 12 – to get the target market. Me *ahem*. Kick Ass made no such submissions by having gratuitous violence and a 11-year-old girl who says “Cunt”, something a studio exec would (and did) point-blank refuse. It paid off. The net gross in the USA was $48 million plus a further $47 million worldwide. For a film costing £28 million, that ain’t bad.

Another tell-tale is when Hollywood remakes something. The Grudge, the Ring, Let The Right One In, Edge of Darkness and State of Play are all ‘foreign’ films (or popular television serials) remade for the American market as it was proved to have sold well and they want the money off that. They can’t buy the original so they buy the rights and make their own. This is when you see the watering down and hamstrung production values rear their head. Sure they look glossy and expensive but never in the right places…

The point I am trying laboriously to get to is that the ‘thriving British Film Industry’ was not dealt a death-blow by the closure of the UK Film Council, merely a severe wound. The British Film Industry however IS crippled by ‘Permissions’. Permissions are what we are allowed to show in cinemas. Again Hollywood has a controlling stake in most cinemas and as such only grants permission for its films to be shown in them. Actual British Films are classed as foreign films by the cinemas, believe it or not and Odeon and other chain cinemas are required to show something ridiculous like 90% Hollywood or studio funded films. Whilst I admit I am not an economics expert and not too sure on the exact financial/political ins and outs of this, does that not seem weird? We need permission to show our own films? That seems a little backwards, especially considering we used to have the Behemoth of The Rank Organisation on our shores.

Admittedly, These quote unquote British films do bring a lot of work here and are still British in the sense we populate the production but the net gain of return on investment? Very little. If we were to remove permissions this would free up cinemas to show a far more diverse field of films from all over the world but we like Hollywood’s money (understandably) so why not kill off The UKFC and save some money there and let Hollywood keep pumping money into much-loved ‘quaint’ British productions?

BECAUSE THAT’S STUPID! We used to make idiosyncratic and normally boundary pushing films, now we don’t because the men with the purse strings don’t want to take the risk. If (somehow) I were to get one of my scripts picked up by anyone, I would have a hard time selling them. One is an almost silent spy thriller about Mathematics and the other is a horror about the downfall of society. I think they would be worthwhile movies but they won’t sell. So in short; Who am I writing for? Me or The Market?

I’m not. I’m writing because I think the story should be told.

Which is the attitude most men in suits used to have. Taking a risk and aiming for the stars is something mankind has always done and I believe whole heartedly film as an artistic medium is suffering badly because no one is allowing for this and therefore there is no growth. Inception is one of my favourite films but that film would NOT get made were it by anyone else. A plot that dense with themes that complex does not get picked up by studios. Nolan got a free ride because Dark Knight made more money than God. Again, it paid off. $823 million that film made. Nolan apparently had the idea for that film when he first started out as a director/writer but KNEW no one would buy it. This is sad. I would love one of my scripts to be made (mainly by me) but, without wishing to sound immodest, my scripts assume people don’t want to watch a robot tearing up Chicago for 3 hours. I love films with subtlety and pacing as well as big explosions and chase scenes and these are what I write. Hopefully.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. My point is, we really do need to support the more adventurous films and filmmakers out there or we’ll be getting ‘Hotel for Dogs’ till eyes start to bleed and we all start dragging our knuckles to the cinema with our forehead keeping the rain off our feet.

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“We are such stuff…”

*SPOILER WARNING*;

Proceed no further if you have not seen Inception as this film will be discussed in detail. And while we are talking about it WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T YOU SEEN IT?! Seriously. Get yo’ ass to a cinema, bitch.

Anyway…

As I believe I mentioned waaaaaay back in my Inception review, I wanted to do a post (I refuse to use the word ‘Blog’ as a verb) about dreams. So here it is.

For anyone who knows Shakespeare (and if you don’t YOU SHOULD) will know the title is taken from the gorgeous speech in Act 4 of the Tempest which ends with the beautiful and eloquent line “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with sleep”. I heartily endorse these sentiments from a fantastic piece of literature.  I was having an online discussion (yeah, man, I was on Skype. I’m just that 21st century. Deal with it.) with a friend of mine and she mentioned various philosophers whom she’d read including Satre. I agreed he was good and suggested Carlos Castenada as someone worth investigating. Castenada was the “creator” of Nagualism which is the belief that through dreams and meditation you can attain a transcendent reality. The first book is great. The others, less so. Anyway, upon explaining this to my friend her immediate response surprised me. I had taken her (until that point) for not only an intelligent and literate person but also someone with an open mind but when she came back with the simple “Dreams don’t mean anything” I was piqued. Not least because even if you do not share my beliefs on the subject saying dreams “mean nothing” is fairly stupid anyway, even if they mean you’re hungry or need a pee that is still a meaning. Anyway, I bit my tongue and she steered the conversation away from the subject but this did make me think a little harder about my own love for my dreams. This curiosity was further pressed on seeing Inception which deals solely with dreams and in their realm.

Dreams are, to my mind, the purest form of self there is. In my Favourite Film of All Time Ever a character says “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”. The “real” world is infinitely more important and wonderful and brilliant but there is clearly more to us than that and Dreams are our way of observing this. How do I know or rather, why do I feel this way (I don’t know anything for certain)? Because I am so much happier having dreamt the night before, even if it is a nightmare. There is no other way of feeling the rush of emotions and depth of emotions you do in a dream. For this reason alone I love them but also all your joys and fears are revealed in equal measure by your dreams too, which, consequently, gives one a unique appraisal of what drives you on and holds you back. Dreaming can create empathy too. How many times have you observed a scene from afar in a dream, like a film, only to be thrust into the head of one of the people you were watching a second ago, thus giving you their terror/anger/sadness/happiness? Dreams free us. People who are wheelchair bound or blind speak of being able to walk and see again in dreams. Dreams help us solve problems. The phrase “Sleep on it” has come into common parlance for that reason; “Not sure? Better sleep on it.” Even if you don’t agree with any of that dreams and REM sleep are essential to our mental wellbeing and our physical health. You don’t sleep for a week, you go mad. Don’t sleep for two, you will die. Fact. Unfortunately dreams are unquantifiable and cannot be measured and as such, are very unscientific and in this new Age of Reason if it can’t be proved, it doesn’t happen.

Still, dreams DO happen and if we didn’t have them the world would be a much poorer place. Half our songs, stories, films, works of art and certain ideals would not exist were it not for dreams and I, for one, love that. Dreams are utterly intangible yet felt by everyone. ‘Dreamlike’ is an adjective we all understand and puts us in exactly a frame of mind to accept things usually considered incredible. As that wonderful line in Inception says (even if it is so appallingly read by Leonardo “I’m overrated” DiCappucino) “Dreams seem real while we’re in them, it is only when we wake we realise something was strange”. Whatever my beliefs on a corporeal or astral plane are, the fact is dreams are there and, as such, should not be so easily dismissed. In that film the entire caper rests on planting an idea in someone’s head via a dream i.e. Inception. To do this they utilise their ‘Mark’s’ relationship with his father and the pay off to this is so simple yet so perfectly realised it brought a tear to my eye. This is as much a testament to Christopher Nolan’s writing and Directing as it is to our own knowledge of dreams. The simple use of a paper windmill and Cillian Murphy’s reaction to it outstrips Rosebud by a mile purely via its context in my opinion. That really is the power of dreams, it is our consciousness and emotions at our most basic level. A ’20 go to 10′ of the soul.

Let me tell you a story;

I have a favourite dream. My first was when I was about eight, I was wandering around an American Neighbourhood in the dark and I was on a long road then I just remember jumping and shooting off into the sky and flying low over the roofs of the houses. I remember the stomach churning dips and dizzying highs like they were yesterday. Similar dreams kept me throughout my school years. Wonderful dreams of jumping from the roof of my hated school then bouncing from the floor and literally “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”. I liked it when I could slow my descent and felt all blood lift in my head like when you’re on a plane and it takes off. Another favourite was when I was in a giant trampoline the size of a Cathedral and bounding around in the air, plummeting to the soft and bouncy ground which would cannon me up again.

These dreams were so common and so enjoyable I came to write a screenplay about it. I am still convinced it is possible for us to fly, we just haven’t evolved there yet. I love to watch films where people fly and where it feels like it does in my dreams. ‘Soar’ I called the screenplay and when I’m a successful film director I will make it.

It was the day before my Nineteenth Birthday. I wanted to go up to London for the day and have look for some music books and go to Denmark Street. I had also booked a ride on the Millenium Eye at Sunset. So I headed into town whereupon my father met me at Leicester Square. I’ll never forget that. He was living elsewhere at the time and I can only imagine he had lots of work to do that day (being a Saturday) but whatever else there was he could have done he came and he met me and spent the whole day with me. That was the kind of father my Dad was. He did everything he could for his kids. While we were out he bought me some ‘extra’ Birthday presents that I spotted and he bought saying he’d give them to me tomorrow. A few hours before sunset Dad asked if I wanted to go to the Cinema. Of course I said yes. We went back to Leicester Square and went into the Empire to see ‘HULK’.

It got a lot of stick that film but I rather enjoyed it. The end was a little un-inspired though. Anyway in the last third of the film Hulk is bounding across the Sierra Nevada away from pursuing Helicopters… And there it was. Flight as I had dreamed it. There’s a wonderful shot where you see the Hulk jump from one giant stack of red rock in the desert and bound into the air. It then cuts to a shot of his face as he falls/flies. The wind ripples his hair and cheeks as his eyes close and the music stops and all you can hear is the rush of wind. That was exactly what my dreams were like. It was at that moment my Father leant over to me from the seat next to me and said simply;
“I can do that in my dreams.”
I had to watch the DVD to find out what happened immediately after that as I was so stunned by this I didn’t pay attention. At the age of nearly 19 I had never felt so close to my Dad.

2 years later, I was at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge sitting by my father’s Bed and staring out at the flatlands from the window we were at. It was a spectacular view and Dad had always said how much he loved the land of England especially the Fens. It was a rare moment we had alone that week and I didn’t say much to him just how I loved him and was going to miss him. I remember him waking up though, briefly, and staring out the window at the flatlands. He didn’t look at me just out the window at the view then went back to sleep. I only hope he dreamed he was flying over those lush and verdant lands he loved so much before he died.

I haven’t dreamed I was flying for 6 years.

My final thought;

Calvin & Hobbes are a wonderful pair of cartoon characters and they taught me a lot about life but none more so than this strip from the 10th anniversary collection. I heartily recommend you read all their published work and read the author’s comment on the strip below.

Goodnight. x

Inception’s Reception

Okay. Having spat out the last of my bile and the week from Hell being finally OVER, the moment you’ve all (not) been waiting for…

Upon leaving the cinema last night my overriding feeling (other than – “holy-shit-that-was-the-most-awesome-thing-I’ve-ever-seen!”) was that movies suck these days. I don’t mean Inception sucks I mean pretty much every other movie, blockbuster or otherwise, out this summer has been utterly tepid if not down right shite. Inception proves incontrovertibly what can and should be done with cinema and story telling in general. All the greatest artist we know and love today were innovators (by and large). Many say they ‘re-wrote the rules’ I never got this. Shakespeare doggedly adhered to Iambic Pentameter, Picasso was a very fine portrait painter to begin with and the Beatles were a Rock ‘n’ Roll covers band for years, it is the fact they used these rules and expanded on them exponentially that made them innovators. Taking what was old and easily understood and then updating them in the most incredible ways so the audience/public would follow them into these bold new realms. Cinema is still way behind. We took a massive leap forward 11 years ago with the one-two combo of Episode I (yes that Star Wars was innovative assholes!) and The Matrix in the same summer. They were both cerebral – a fact that worked against one and for the other – and both practically re-invented digital effects and what was possible with special effects. All anyone has done since is tread water. We’ve been given the keys to the ocean and the best most directors can do is splash around in the shallow end.

Inception is neither a remake, reboot, re-imagining, sequel, prequel or adaptation so already it is streaks ahead of almost aaaaaaaalllll the films out in the last 10 years without even having seen a frame but it takes that intent of deliberate unfamiliarity and runs with it. This is an Honest-to-God original movie. As I said above, you can see the influences, a lot of it has been done before but never like this and I have a horrible feeling this will be the last time it happens in a few years. Again. The reason for this is the reason a lot of (stupid) critics have maligned the film. “I don’t get it.” Has been the immediate response. Yes, fine. If you liked and understood Sex and the City 2 and Transformers 2 then no, you won’t like this film. Sorry. Bye bye. But as far as I can tell this is the kind of film that audiences and fans of all western cinema in general have been crying out for. A film that doesn’t patronise you, that treats you like an adult and doesn’t give you a predictable plot through line you can sum up on a napkin. Independent Cinema and European or ‘Foreign’ Cinema is always seen as ‘too-thinky’ or cerebral by the big guns of Hollywood but the fact they ran Four Lions, Persepolis and Dog-tooth in the city centre cinemas of Manchester means people like these films. Trouble is, people do want a bit of eye candy too. For that you go and see your Transformers blow shit up. What movie-makers should be doing is what Christopher Nolan does best. Makes grown up films. They’re not designed by committee, not butchered by studios, not meant to appeal to the widest demographic they’re his movies. And they’re fuckin’ AWESOME!

As such Inception is brain-fryingly complicated story – this does not mean, however it is confusing, it is not deliberately saying it is cleverer than you and if you can’t keep up then you shouldn’t be watching, it just knows you are film literate and should be able to follow, which you do – which I am not going to explain because A) It is too complex and B) It will ruin it when you see it and YOU ARE GOING TO SEE IT. Needless to say a lot of the exposition and explanation is kept at the front of the movie and about a 3rd of the way through it kicks into overdrive and utterly screws with your head. Without trying to give too much away, the last half of the film is technically set within 3 minutes while, for one character at least, it’s 50 years. If that sentence screws with your head imagine the poor bastard who wrote it and directed it and then had to edit it. That poor bastard is Christopher Nolan, a man who I can safely say has usurped Spielberg and Kubrick as my two favourites with this film. The editing alone should win every award for making a mind-bending idea feasible, understandable and amazingly viewable. The idea of a ticking-clock and a race against time has never been this palpable. The script, plot and narrative are so solid with so few holes you couldn’t fit a fag paper in. There probably are problems with it but only one person knows what it is and he’s gone mad. But it is Nolan’s Direction that should get the Prestige (pardon the pun). In Memento the twist(s) at the end are so reliant on the audience having paid attention to the most subtle little details and tiny shots you can be forgiven for not getting it at all but Nolan grips you with an intriguing and intense plot with interesting characters so much so that you miss nothing and, if possible, pay closer attention. Nolan uses brilliantly subtle motifs throughout to thoroughly ground the viewer so as they don’t get lost. Like a great composer these should all gel neatly at the end for a good climax. The best way to describe the way Nolan Directs this film is it is like throwing a thousand piece jigsaw in the air and marvelling as it lands on your table, complete. It’s like a magic trick.

The cast is superb. Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt being the scene stealers with the most fun moments and lines but I think Cillian Murphy is my favourite. Caine’s cameo is brief but essential, Marion Cotilliard is gorgeous and, frankly, terrifying while Ellen Page does a wonderful job of making a purely functional character believable and human. Page barely speaks a line that isn’t for the audiences benefit or for the Plot’s which is a shit role for most people but it is so well written and performed you warm to her immediately. The camerawork is so amazing I literally smacked-my-Gob at one point, that scene being the high point of the whole film for me. A gravity defying punch up in a corridor that makes Neo and Agent Smith in the subway look like a game of happy slaps. And not a single frame in CG. This was greatly enhanced by the IMAX screen but is incredible anyway you look at it. Honourable mention to the sound design team who never over do a gunshot and single-handedly made the most wince-inducing and realistic sound for someone getting hit by a car. In short, this is pretty much a perfect film for me with almost nothing wrong with it. Almost…

Okay, Cons; DiCaprio

WHY DOES THIS MAN STILL GET WORK?!?!? I HATE THIS GUY!! He doesn’t bloody change his expression! I feel like Will Ferrell at the end of Zoolander; “Has everyone taken stupid pills?! It’s the SAME look!!” Okay, prejudice aside, DiCaprio is at least functional but for fuckssake anyone could have delivered that performance. He is, next to Sean Penn, THE most overrated, under talented, overpayed, boring actor in Hollywood to my mind. I heard a great quote about Sean Penn which I apply to them both; “A man who confuses not smiling for acting”. I couldn’t put it better myself. Leonardo offers nothing to this movie whatsoever except a pretty face and a guaranteed £2 million gross. Whenever I mention the brow-furrowed dope I get the same-fucking-response every time; “Well he was good in The Departed and Gilbert Grape”. The Departed and Gilbert-fucking-Grape. Both roles were frickin’ Oscar bait at best and everyman-banal at worst. Okay, look at it this way. What makes a good actor? His/Her performance, right? This comes down to how you are cast (Meryl Streep, though brilliant would have made a lousy Harry Potter) and how believable you make that character to the Audience. The only reason DiCaprio portrays a floppy-haired, brooding, pretty boy with a permanently furrowed brow as if he’s constantly being asked questions on ancient egyptian algebra so well is because THAT’S JUST WHAT HE BLOODY LOOKS LIKE! His performances are about as nuanced as panel beating. There is a laughably poor moment when he is telling Ellen Page how dreams work where, to add emphasis, he raises his eyebrows. 1) This is the only time he moves his bloody face in the whole film 2) It’s so stupidly inappropriate it pulled me out of an excellent bit of exposition. I can only wonder what this film would have been like with a proper character actor in the lead. As it is, DiCappucino is merely functional. A boring locomotive behind which the emotional story is driven. People bang on about this being a career best for him, they’re probably right but it isn’t saying much. He certainly doesn’t ‘hold the movie together’ as another review stated. Those laurels go to Ellen Page.

Other than that twit, it rumbles in at a cosy 2 hours 20 minutes which is bold for such a complex feature and whilst I didn’t feel it, you need some balls to push the audience past the 2 hour mark and not have begun your climax/resolution ramp. This is largely down to the fact Nolan sets up an ending that amounts to little more than just a quick stroll but means so much and is so perfect but at the same time is a complete and fulfilling ending all in the space of about a minute and a half. As such the story rattles along at a cracking pace right up to the wire and crashes to a close with your brain being mopped up by the cinema attendants. This has stayed with me for the last 24 hours and really makes you ponder its main themes long after the credits roll. An admirable achievement. So much so in fact it had prompted me to want to write about my feelings on dreams in general on this blog which I will do in time.

There will be backlash too. There always will be. It’s going to be big and successful and it’s good and everyone will be talking about it so naturally anyone trying to look cool or different or just being plain antagonistic (I’m looking at my brother mainly here) will say it’s rubbish for a number of fairly minor or redundant reasons. I don’t care. Nolan has set the bar now and audiences will want to be challenged again and directors and studios are going to want to rip him off (if the Dark Knight hadn’t already made that an inevitability) so Cinema’s future has been made a little more bright and if nothing else, I got to see my own ‘2001’ or ‘The Birds’.

In short, grumbling  pretty-boy fizzog aside, this has slam-dunked in at number 3 for my all time favourite films and if it had lightsabers in it, it would have made number one. As a fan of Kubrick and Hithcock myself, Nolan is the best we’ve got in a mainstream innovator alive today and if he keeps doing his thing I will keep watching. And believe me I will be watching this one again at IMAX and then again and again when I get it on DVD. The most Mary Poppins film ever for me. Practically Perfect in Every Way.

GO AND SEE IT.

NOW!