Saturday, October 1, 2016

Too Much TV: GOMORRAH (2014 -?)

Inspired by Roberto Saviano's dangerous expose of organized crime in Naples, and presumably also by Matteo Garrone's film adaptation of Saviano's book, Stefano Sollima's TV series debuted in Italy in 2014 and reached the U.S., subtitled rather than dubbed, on the Sundance Channel this summer. By the time the first season premiered in America, a second season had wrapped in Italy, with more reported on the way. Sollima is the son of the late Sergio Sollima, who directed some decent crime films back in the 1970s along with his better known spaghetti westerns. Perhaps fitting for a second-generation director, Gomorrah is a blend of old and new. It's still relatively new in its deromanticized portrait of Italian organized crime, leaving behind the stylish men of respect for tattooed goons in hoodies like you'd see just about anywhere on earth. But at its heart the TV Gomorrah is a familiar sort of family saga of tragic dimensions, anchored by powerful performances by Maria Pia Calzone and Salvatore Esposito as a mother and son struggling to hold their crime family together after Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino) is sent to prison, and even better work by Marco D'Amore as the man who comes between mother and son and eventually becomes a mortal enemy to both.

Gennaro Savastano (Esposito) starts out as a spoiled, overgrown kid who idolizes one of his dad's best soldiers, Ciro Di Marzio (D'Amore). Don Pietro wants Ciro to make more of a man of his boy by taking him out on his first killing. Genny is eager but uncertain, impatient to prove himself yet prone to freezing at crucial moments. Tasked with killing a man, Genny manages to wound him but can't bring himself to finish the victim off. Shamed by his failure despite Ciro's attempt to cover for him, Genny wipes out on his motorcycle and the accident leads to Don Pietro's arrest. Caught speeding on the way to the hospital, Pietro is caught carrying drugs by cops who refuse to be bribed or intimidated. At first it looks like Pietro will keep running things from behind bars but the state isn't as pliant as it used to be. As he's forced into solitary confinement, it becomes Genny's responsibility to lead the family. Ciro sees this as his big chance to be the power behind the throne as Genny's top adviser, but Genny's mother Imma (Calzone) doesn't trust Ciro. Lady Imma, as she's usually called, is not your grandmother's mob wife. She knows full well what her husband does and has some strong ideas on how to run a mob herself. She effectively becomes Don Pietro's regent and makes a point of marginalizing Ciro. Imma has a global vision as well as solid plans for expanding operations on the ground, and she doesn't scruple at having people whacked to further her plans. People who dig the powerful women on American TV should see Imma as a sister-in-arms.

In her most drastic move to separate Genny and Ciro, Imma sends her son on a dangerous mission to Honduras to arrange for a new supply of drugs while sending Ciro to Spain to negotiate with an old enemy of his, Salvatore Conte (Marco Palvetti), whose mother's apartment was torched by Ciro in the first scene of the series. For a while, you wonder how ruthless Imma is, whether she's interested in either Ciro or Genny coming home. But each mission proves a success, despite some rough treatment for both men. Genny returns transformed by his ordeal: leaner, meaner and initially embittered toward his mother. But if Ciro thinks that things will improve for him, he soon learns otherwise. Genny is now determined to be his own master, and finally begins to reconcile with Imma when she explains that that was why she sent him to Honduras. Whether she expected him to return as vicious as he becomes -- he now can shoot a waiter in cold blood for reminding him of having been a fat boy -- is doubtful, but they soon join forces in Genny's scheme to put a new political regime, beholden to him personally, in power at the next election.

When Genny's man wins it looks like all's well with the Savastanos, but Giro is tired of being trod upon. Seeing no room for advancement with Genny and Imma in the way, he decides to bring the whole thing down by secretly provoking a war between the Savastanos and the Contes. Until this point you could sympathize with Ciro because for all his amoral ruthlessness he has seemed a good soldier and faithful to Don Pietro, and you could argue that first Imma, then Genny, have treated him unfairly. But in the last hours of the first season Ciro proves himself a monster, goading a dumb kid into killing a Conte man, on the assumption that Genny will be blamed, then trying to blot out his trail by killing the kid. When the kid proves elusive, Ciro kidnaps the kid's girlfriend and tortures her to death to find out what she might know. The kid ends up in Conte's hands and confesses that Ciro put him up to the killing, while Imma receives a cellphone that luckily recorded Ciro's kidnapping of the girl as she was trying to send a message. This sets up a showdown between the show's two real masterminds, Imma and the "Immortal" Ciro, as Gomorrah builds to a suspenseful climax -- in fact, a double cliffhanger -- that tests Imma's ability to think steps ahead of Ciro and Ciro's survival instincts and pure luck. To go into more detail would spoil a show that doesn't deserve such treatment; the final hour is one of the most exciting hours of TV I've seen in a while, and I regret to report that it had me actually rooting for one group of brutal murderers and drug dealers to defeat another. That's really a tribute both to Marco D'Amore's success at playing a slow-burn villain and a natural empathy for family that Sollima and his writers exploit masterfully. It's good to know that Season Two is already in the can, though I wonder what can be done with so many in the large cast eliminated. Now it's just a matter of how soon Sundance wants to release it. For me, it cannot be too soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Herschell Gordon Lewis's prophecy

"If you live long enough you become legitimate," Herschell Gordon Lewis said sometime in the 21st century. By then Lewis, who died this week at age 90, had been canonized, after a fashion, as a cult film director whose pioneering, primitive gore movies from the 1960s had only grown more camp over the years. Lewis was in the "nudie-cutie" business until he and David F. Friedman realized there was less risk in over-the-top violence filmed in "blood color." In his heyday as a showman Lewis reveled in the establishment's contempt, though he felt some contempt himself toward his own amateurish auteurism. Yet he had, arguably, made history, inventing a subgenre of horror film in which the display of blood and fake dismemberment were ends unto themselves, while everything else about the show was open to contempt. History only embraced him with the advent of home video, long after he had quit movies to become a direct-marketing specialist. Inevitably, he could not ignore history and returned to filmmaking in the new millennium without really adding to his legacy. Many people consider his best film -- best being very much a relative term -- to be Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), a redneck parody of Brigadoon in which the South rises again to avenge itself on the Yankee, a mocking promise of the eternal recurrence of the nation's congenital evil and an almost pitiless portrait of our cluelessness about the threat -- all without really bringing race into it. This film presaged yet another subgenre, that of the reclusive, murderous redneck, that in turn has shaped (or distorted) perceptions of the South and rural folk in general. For our purposes, let this preview, uploaded to YouTube by our old friends at Something Weird Video, serve as Lewis's monument, and a preview of a perpetual American attraction.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter Eight: WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS

The Spider lay unconscious between two closing electrified gates as Chapter Seven ended. As Chapter Eight begins he effects a clever escape by waking up, standing up and stepping out of the way.  He may have been embarrassed by getting kayoed by one of The Octopus's goons, but he counts the night a victory because he prevented the gangsters from breaking into the vault. Fair enough.

In his civilian identity, criminologist Richard Wentworth is convinced that The Octopus is receiving information from the inner circle of business leaders with whom Wentworth and Police commissioner Kirk regularly consult. To test the hypothesis, he has Kirk invite the men to a dinner at which Wentworth will announce new tools and tactics in the war against The Octopus. Once he relates that a demonstration will take place at the airport, the Octopus's man (we don't see his face) rather blatantly punches holes in a dinner role and has a waiter take it away. The roll is conveyed to a driver outside who recognizes the punch patter as a coded signal directing the Octopus gang to the airport -- where the police are waiting for them. Updated by radio, Wentworth informs the diners that the airport has already been attacked, in vain, but neither he nor Kirk noticed the business with the roll. Still, their task becomes much easier now. Kirk can put tails on all the business leaders rather than flail all over town looking for leads.

The Octopus makes another attempt to draw The Spider into the open, spreading a rumor that his top henchman Steve Harmon (Marc Lawrence) has defected and is on the run. As Blinky McQuade, Wentworth learns where Harmon is holed up. As The Spider, he calls Harmon and negotiates a meeting. Mutual distrust realistically prevails, but each man is willing to take a chance on a meeting in the park. Each also hedges his bets. Wentworth plants a dummy Spider on a bench for Harmon to shoot, while Harmon has men in hiding for when the real Spider shows up -- in a tree. The encounter proves inconclusive as Harmon shoots his way free. Harmon's pretty smart for a serial goon but he doesn't use his head after all this to investigate how The Spider got his number.

Meanwhile, Kirk recruits Nita Van Sloan, Wentworth's girlfriend and The Spider's henchwoman, to help shadow the business leaders, since she has innate society connections to their circle. The Octopus strikes preemptively, driving Kirk's car off the road and snatching the dazed commissioner. Nita jumps free before the wreck and witnesses the kidnapping. She hops on the running board of the kidnap vehicle, and that's the last we see of her this chapter.

Despite the debacle in the park, the Spider still wants to bring in Harmon, and The Octopus orders the doubtful Harmon to arrange another meeting, albeit with plenty of backup. Harmon is now to meet The Spider on a double-decker bus in broad daylight. In one of the serial's most ambitious stunts. The Spider makes the meeting by swinging from the roof of a fairly tall building onto the open top of the bus. Unfortunately, from there we cut to Marc Lawrence and a stuntman fighting on an immobile bus against a process shot. It's a fairly elaborate set-up that involves a car driving alongside the bus, into which The Spider tosses Harmon before diving on board himself. Harmon fights for control of the car but only manages to drive himself, The Spider and the hapless driver into the ocean, ending an eventful chapter that has more than one cliffhanger if you also count what's become of Kirk and Nita. The Spider will survive, of course, but come back next time to see if this was Steve Harmon's last stand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A WAR (Krigen, 2015)

The team of writer-director Tobias Lindholm and star Pilou Asbaek resume the war on terror in their follow-up to 2012's Kapringen (A Hijacking). Denmark has been part of the coalition occupying Afghanistan and training anti-Taliban forces since 2001. A Danish officer, Claus (Asbaek) tries to maintain ties with his family at home while dealing with the stresses of war. When his men give first aid to an Afghan child, the girl's family is targeted by the Taliban as collaborators. Claus refuses to shelter the family in the Danish base overnight, promising them that his unit will secure them and their community the following day. The troops arrive to find the family massacred in their beds. Moments later they come under attack themselves. With one man wounded badly in the neck Claus needs to neutralize the threat before a medevac can arrive. He has a rough idea where the fire is coming from, but the rules of engagement require visual confirmation before an air strike can be ordered. Even though he can't see a gun or gunmen, he affirms that he has "PID" and the attackers are blown away. The medevac arrives and the wounded, temporarily mute trooper survives to communicate Don't Look Back style with his buddies from a British hospital.

Claus soon learns that there were 11 civilians in the building that was bombed. His troops carry recording devices, one of which caught him telling his radio man to say he had PID. The recording appears to implicate Claus in a war crime if a panel interprets it -- as would be correct -- to mean the radio man should lie. He's recalled to Denmark for the hearing and a family reunion, his wife urging him to perjure himself to spare himself (and his family) four years in prison. The most he can bring himself to do is fudge his testimony, telling the prosecutor that he can't recall exactly when he got the crucial PID. Fortunately (I suppose), one of his men steps up and commits the necessary perjury, testifying (to the prosecutor's furious dismay) that he provided the PID by seeing a muzzle flash from the doomed building. It's pretty transparent perjury; the prosecutor rightly asks why it never occurred to this soldier to mention this exculpatory detail for months before the trial. But it gives everyone else what they seem to want: an excuse to acquit Claus. Claus, however, doesn't feel particularly excused. Asbaek and Lindholm make us feel his shame at having to be saved by lies without having him express it. There's a laconic quality to Krigen that makes it easy to imagine an American remake directed by Clint Eastwood, especially since it resembles a kind of cross between American Sniper and Sully. While audiences clearly will empathize with Claus, considering his action in Afghanistan perfectly justified -- the shooting stops once the bombs drop, after all -- but that same empathy complicates the conclusion once we understand that our hero doesn't share any sense we have of his vindication. Instead, he's haunted by the sight of his youngest son's bare feet peeping out from under a blanket, mirroring the dead feet of that Afghan boy whose fate he sealed by refusing his family shelter. The rules of engagement may say one thing about his responsibility for lives lost, and public opinion may say something else, but it looks like Claus may be his own harshest judge. His future is left to our imagination, but our ability to imagine it plausibly is a tribute to an actor and auteur who have become a team to watch whenever they get together.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Serial Pulp: THE SPIDER'S WEB (1938), Chapter 7: Shadows of the Night

After an inexcusable delay we return to the cinematic exploits of Richard Wentworth, Norvell Page's epic pulp crimefighter better known as The Spider. Regular and patient readers will recall that this Columbia serial pits Wentworth against The Octopus, a masked supercriminal with a possibly fake limp who seeks control of the nation's utilities through terrorist means. We last saw Wentworth in costume brawling in an open car with minions of The Octopus until the car plowed into an electrified transformer fence. What you didn't see last time was Wentworth diving out of the car to avoid electrocution. Before leaving the scene, The Spider makes sure to leave his brand on one of the corpses in the car.

The gangsters want to kill Johnny, the newsboy introduced last episode who can identify one of the gang believed dead. They create a traffic distraction while three of them head for Johnny's apartment. Seeing this, Wentworth quick-changes in his car and prepares to go into masked action in broad daylight. Questioned on this by Ram Singh, Wentworth explains: "Warrior, when immediate action is necessary the police are too handicapped by rules and regulations; therefore The Spider must strike at once." He goes up a fire escape, frightening one of Johnny's neighbors, and comes in through the window to surprise the would-be kidnappers. He shoots one and grabs another while the third flees without Johnny. A cop alerted by the neighbors screams comes up the fire escape to get The Spider. Our hero was going to interrogate the gangster he captured, but the wrongdoer is more useful now as a human shield, soaking up the cop's bullets. The Spider dashes away, quickly doffs cape and mask, and in mufti bursts in on the cop begging for protection from the pursuing Spider. The cops shove him out of the way, not noticing the suspicious bundle of clothes he's carrying. Wentworth might have mentioned to Ram Singh that The Spider's services are necessary because cops are dumb, but perhaps that would have been belaboring the obvious.

Soon afterward, Wentworth and Ram go back to the garage they know to be an Octopus base and walk into an impromptu trap set by the star henchman (Marc Lawrence). I'd given this guy credit for quick-thinking earlier but I take it all back now. He has Wentworth and Ram Singh in his power and orders them into a car for delivery to The Octopus. He searches Ram Singh and claims one of the Sikh's throwing knives, but doesn't bother searching Wentworth. He sends them into the car, but our heroes promptly go out the other door, giving themselves cover as Wentworth pulls out his pistol and opens fire on the gang. Jackson, another of Wentworth's assistants, moves in and puts the gangsters in a crossfire. They take out one of them and get some info on maps and banks out of him before he expires.

It might have been better not to tell The Octopus about this debacle, but someone did and now the big man is ticked off. He chooses to blame the people he assigned to watch Wentworth, who lost him before he went to the garage. He singles out a specific whining gangster for death by belly gun before moving out with his new plan.

The good guys know that The Octopus wants to rob a bank, but there are a lot of banks in town. Where to start looking? Fortunately, the villain makes things easier for the crimefighters by having his minions go crazy in the streets, smashing fire hydrants with their cars all over town. By process of elimination, Wentworth deduces that they'll hit a bank in a district where they haven't been wrecking hydrants. It then becomes easy to single out the targeted bank and rewire its alarm system. The Octopus apparently has sent his men to rob a bank owned by another supervillain. Its alarm system includes a battery of clearly labeled tear-gas bombs installed in the ceiling, and an electrified gate.

The situation deteriorates rapidly for the robbers, and on top of that The Spider shows up with guns blazing. Inevitably, though, our hero gets clumsy and lets a gangster bop him in the back of the head. Down he goes as the would-be robbers make their getaway, just as the electrified gate is about to close on the helpless Spider. And as usual Columbia throws all suspense off the cliff by telling us what Wentworth will be up to in the next chapter. I'll save those details for next time, if you don't mind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pre-Code Parade: BEYOND VICTORY (1931)

A troubled production from the last days of the Pathe studio, before its merger with RKO Pictures, John S. Robertson's Beyond Victory is noteworthy for its precocious penchant for flashbacks and a cynical attitude toward World War I that was actually fairly typical of its time. The nearest thing the film may have to an auteur is James Gleason. Now known primarily as a character actor, Gleason was a playwright and sometime scriptwriter who collaborated with Horace Jackson on this project, which went through major edits after Robertson finished principal photography. Is Gleason responsible for the comic tone that redeems the picture? Possibly. Is he responsible for his son Russell being cast alongside him as an American soldier? Perhaps more likely. Was the film's flashback format his idea or Jackson's? I dunno, but whoever came up with it, it's what makes the movie distinctive. We follow a group of American doughboys into battle in 1918, and as they come under fire, some of them taking mortal wounds, we go back in time to see why each went to war. For the youngest of the group (Russell Gleason), enlisting was a form of rebellion against his mother, but it gets him killed. Wealthy Lew Kavanaugh (Lew Cody) tricked himself into signing up. Juggling two women, he tries to blow one off over the phone by telling her he's enlisted, but the other woman is in the room eavesdropping. Now Lew has to live up to his lie and his lover's pride, but it gets him killed. Jim Mobley (James Gleason), introduced early as something of a comic-relief dolt, joined to get out from under his overbearing wife, a vaudeville knife-thrower (ZaSu Pitts). He survives. Bill Thatcher (William "not Stage" Boyd) goes to war even though he loves a German girl (Lissi Arna). He not only survives but gets the girl, who finds him in a German Red Cross hospital when the Armistice comes.

Interestingly, our two survivors have the worst reasons for fighting, as far as the film is concerned. While the boy has understandable psychological motives, and there's a sort of farcical logic to Lew's decision, Jim and Bill seem simply to have been brainwashed by American propaganda. In one of the scenes that most likely bears Gleason's particular stamp, he tries to explain his motives to an ignorant but instinctively skeptical ZaSu Pitts, who lowers her voice somewhat from her usual Olive Oyl whine to express a more aggressive personality and is actually made to look almost pretty from certain angles. Her ignorance of current affairs only serves to expose the Gleason character's more dangerous ignorance: his uncritical parroting of pro-war, anti-German propaganda. While Bill Thatcher is  our top-billed hero, his ignorance comes across as even more pig-headed and sinister. His lover, the German girl, opposes war; she supports neither Germany nor the Allies. But whenever she speaks against war, Bill snaps at her that to oppose war is to be pro-German. In the present, on the battleground of a ravaged town, Bill has been redeemed by losing his illusions. He tells Jim that he stopped believing in war propaganda after failing to find any little girls' severed arms in Belgium, that being a detail of anti-German "black" propaganda. In short Beyond Victory pretty much tells American movie audiences that World War I was a big con. To go beyond victory is to transcend artificial enmity, as when Bill and the German girl reunite and reconcile. That sort of reconciliation will be harder for some people than others, as Gleason shows in another standout scene in which Jim seems ready to pick a fight with all the wounded Germans in the Red Cross hospital -- and gets a knife thrown at him for his trouble, just like at home. The film ends flatly, aiming at a more comic than tragic tone as the German girl chides Bill and Jim for killing her countrymen as if the two Americans were mere naughty boys. But Beyond Victory definitely gets its point across, and it reminds us that the salaciousness of Pre-Code cinema wasn't the only thing that Hollywood would eventually have to suppress.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of a great generation of Iranian directors, some of whom have found filmmaking difficult in the Islamic Republic, which predictably has failed to recognize that its filmmakers are its best ambassadors to the world. Makhmalbaf has been an expatriate for years now, and 2014 found him in the Republic of Georgia filming The President, an international co-production and a fable aspiring to global relevance. Often brilliant, it flounders at the very end, uncertain both of how to end its story and of what moral to draw from it.

The President of an unidentified nation where the people speak Georgian (Misha Gomiashvili) is, in fact, a dictator whose spoiled, diabetic grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili) addresses him as "Your Majesty." The President is raising the boy because his own son, the boy's father, was killed by terrorists some time ago. To distract the boy from his unhealthy desire for ice cream, the President shows him the kind of power he'll inherit. With one phone call, he can have all the lights in his capital city turned off, then turned back on. He lets the boy try. The lights go out, then come back on. Cool! He orders them out again, but this time they stay out. The President reclaims the phone and gives the order, but he's left in the dark, except for the feeble glow of explosions throughout the city.

I don't know what color it is, or whether it's spring or some other season, but we have ourselves a revolution. The President evacuates the rest of his family as he prepares to fight, but his grandson refuses to leave. He wants to stay in the palace with his playmate and dance partner Maria. The situation deteriorates rapidly in a bravura sequence that belies any notion that the Iranian filmmakers are dull. The President's limo is chased through the streets by mobs as his loyalists gradually desert him, until its finally just him and the boy against an angry nation.

While the boy is terribly spoiled and utterly unprepared for the ordeal to come, the old man is a cunning, ruthless survivor who quickly cops a disguise by robbing a poor barber at gunpoint. Picking up a guitar elsewhere, he passes himself off as a minstrel, the boy becoming like an organ grinder's monkey. The old man becomes a master of hiding in plain sight, even pulling off a gag as old as the movies by disguising himself as a scarecrow in a field with his back to a revolutionary militia desperately seeking a million-dollar bounty. For a while it looks like the story is going to be about the old man's changing relationship with the boy, who must now call him "Grandpa" instead of "Your Majesty" for safety's sake, and who must learn to be practical and at least minimally tough, though he doesn't really seem to have it in him. Interestingly, the boy gets flashbacks but the old man doesn't.

While the old man and the boy arguably do become more like a real family, The President grows more concerned with the title character's long-delayed awakening of empathy for ordinary people. It soon becomes obvious that the revolutionaries are hardly better than the old regime. That should be no surprise, since most of the personnel are the same. In one horrific scene, guards at a military checkpoint rob a bunch of carpooling refugees, including the incognito fugitives, then turn their attentions to a bridal party. The commanding officer claims the droit de seigneur, while the bride, disgusted by the complete failure of family and friends to defend her, asks to be honor-killed, and is obliged. Later, briefly infiltrating a town, the old man looks up a prostitute he once loved -- he explains to the boy that she's his Maria -- only to be spurned because he never answered a multitude of letters she sent him imploring him for aid or mercy. He answers, with plausibility and complete honesty as far as we can tell, that he never saw any of the letters. During his odyssey -- he hopes to reach the coast, where loyalists are to pick him up in a boat -- he discovers many things he never imagined or considered. In a way, it's as much a learning experience for him as it is for the boy.

Later still, he falls in with some escaped (or liberated) political prisoners, many of whom can't walk because beating their bare feet was routine torture in the President's prisons. The old man comes alarmingly close to growing Christlike -- the ever-growing price on his head has already made him a parody of a folkloric outlaw hero -- as he washes their bloody, infected feet and carries one of his own victims on his back. It becomes his turn to forgive, albeit quietly, when he learns that one of the prisoners was involved in the conspiracy that killed his son and daughter-and-law. He fantasizes sacrificing his safety to take revenge on the man, but the fact is that a forgiving attitude is a practical survival skill in our protagonist's situation. So he delivers the man to his home, where his beloved is waiting -- except she didn't wait, so the man kills himself with a pitchfork to the throat. The burden the old man took upon himself was a futile one.

Finally, despite the scarecrow ruse, the old man and the boy are caught, pulled from a hidey-hole on the beach. Makhmalbaf clearly has the fates of Saddam and Khadafi in mind as a mob drags the President around, trying to make up its collective mind on how to kill him while one of the political prisoners desperately tries to distract the boy from the horror that seems inevitable. Another former prisoner makes a passionate speech against the planned lynching, making the predictable liberal point about the mob being no better than the man they'd punish. The old President is stoic, or resigned, throughout, waiting patiently as Makhmalbaf struggles to figure out what to do with him. We're left with the suggestion that the appropriate punishment is simply to make him dance for democracy, but we see the boy dance once more instead, as he has loved to do. This seems flat and unsatisfactory, but ask yourself what would have been more satisfying and you may find it hard to answer. The President has painted itself into a corner, or more literally it has forced itself to the water's edge with no option of retreat. There's no ultimate sense of a lesson learned, nor much of a political moral. Until that final flop it's a film well worth seeing, vividly envisioned by the director and cinematographer Konstantin Mindia Esadze, and commandingly performed by Gomiashvili. And if Makhmalbaf doesn't come up with a good answer for what to do with his President and tyrants like him, it's not as if the rest of us have come up with anything better.