YEAR-END MOVIE REVIEW: THE BEST OF PINOY CINEMA 2019

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1. RICKY DAVAO (F#*@bois)
2. SOLIMAN CRUZ (Iska)
3. VANCE LARENA (Dead Kids)
4. JC SANTOS (Miracle in Cell No. 7)
5. JOEM BASCON (Write About Love)
6. JOHN ARCILLA (Miracle in Cell No. 7)

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1. TUESDAY VARGAS (LSS)
2. ANNA LUNA (Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon)
3. JACLYN JOSE (Circa)
4. IANA BERNARDEZ (Metamorphosis)
5. ELORA ESPAÑO (Kalel, 15)
6. MERYLL SORIANO (Culion)

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1. ELIJAH CANLAS (Kalel, 15)
2. LOUISE ABUEL (Edward)
3. JANSEN MAGPUSAO (John Denver Trending)
4. CARLO AQUINO (Isa Pa, With Feelings)
5. GIO GAHOL (Sila Sila)
6. ROCCO NACINO (Write About Love)

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1. RUBY RUIZ (Iska)
2. MERYLL SORIANO (John Denver Trending)
3. JUDY ANN SANTOS (Mindanao)
4. ANGIE FERRO (Lola Igna)
5. SARAH GERONIMO (Unforgettable)
6. LIZA SOBERANO (Alone/Together)

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1. HEIST SCHOOL (Julius Renomeron, Jr.)
2. ANG GASGAS NA PLAKA NI LOLO BERT (Janina Gacosta, Cheska Marfori)
3. SA AMONG AGWAT (Don Senoc)
4. THE SLUMS (Jan Andrei Cobey)

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Written by: JUN LANA, KEAVY EUNICE VICENTE, ASH MALANUM
Directed by: JUN LANA, PERCI INTALAN

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Written by: CRISANTO AQUINO, JANYX REGALO
Directed by: CRISANTO AQUINO

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Written by: JADE CASTRO, SIEGE LEDESMA
Directed by: JADE CASTRO

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Written by: WANGGO GALLAGA, KOOKAI LABAYEN, DWEIN BALTAZAR
Directed by: ANDOY RANAY

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Written and directed by: ADOLF ALIX, JR.

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Written by: JEN CHUAUNSU, KOOKAI LABAYEN
Directed by: PRIME CRUZ

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Written by: THOP NAZARENO, JOHN PAUL BEDIA
Directed by: THOP NAZARENO

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Written and directed by: JUN LANA

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Written and directed by: ARDEN ROD CONDEZ

MABUHAY ANG PELIKULANG PILIPINO!!

 

MOVIE REVIEW: ISA PA, WITH FEELINGS (Prime Cruz, 2019)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Isa Pa, With Feelings:

1. As a certified reality-competition junkie, one of my favorite shows is that cheesy, Eezy Dancing-like US program called Dancing with the Stars. If the title isn’t a giveaway, it’s a dance competition program where washed up film and TV stars and/or B-list celebrities from other arenas (music, sports, politics) are willing to make fools of themselves (sorry, I mean learn the art of dance and prove their worth) on national TV.

In a previous season, America’s Next Top Model hottie Nyle DiMarco defied all odds by giving stunning performances week after week before finally winning the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Oh yeah, he’s Deaf by the way. Imagine not being able to hear the music (relying on just vibrations) and still move in perfect rhythm with his professional ballroom partner like he’s the king of the dance floor. It would be an understatement to say that I was in tears after his every number.

I had the exact same feeling of awe and (tears of) joy when Deaf Gali (Carlo Aquino) performed that lovely contemporary routine with Hearing Mara (Maine Mendoza) during this film’s climactic dance recital. Teacher Geleen Eugenio really taught them well.

2. There’s something about Maine’s smile that can light up an entire room. When Mara woke up on the day of her licensure exam and started prepping by nonchalantly dancing around in her condo, the oldie in me wanted to slap her silly for not taking things seriously (neng, make or break moment ito mag-last review ka o ayusin mo ang mga requirements na dadalhin mo hindi ito Carefree commercial juskong mahabagin), but the growing hatred simply disappeared as soon as she grinned from utter embarrassment (oops, cutie neighbor alert!). Also, (insert “super gwapo ni Carlo nakakababa ng self-esteem leche” here).

Even with a few noticeable acting tics (mostly broad reactions to look funny) carried over from her Kalyeserye days, I was happy to see that Maine was able to flex her dramatic skills here. As in magaling talaga siya that I literally said “And galing naman” in every scene where she was required to cry (after seeing that she failed the exams, during that touching moment when she hugged her mom after a heartbreak, and that entire “Gali, mahal kita eh” sequence). It was also fun to see her DubSmash skills put to good use during that hilarious “Matitikman nila ang ganti ng isang api!” reenactment.

(Of course, Carlo was amazing as well because I cried every time he cried and laughed every time he laughed and turned into a teenage girl every time he smiled. If you still need more words to describe his performance here, simply look up all the synonyms of exceptional in the dictionary.)

Side note: As a lapsed fan, kinikilig ako na 2019 is actually the year of AlDub. Ang laki ng growth nina Alden and Maine as artists in their separate projects. Sana the rest will learn from this, risk on new material, and continue to explore outside of their standard love teams.

3. One of the things that I loved about this film was all of those moments of silence, not just to let us better understand Gali’s perspective, but also because we didn’t need an intrusive musical score to make us feel things in every poignant scene. The amount of restraint here considering that this was still a commercial local rom-com was truly commendable.

4. It was nice to be reminded that we should be grateful for things that we usually just take for granted. One of my pet peeves whenever I have food delivered at home would be the constant buzzing of the doorbell (because seriously, once or twice should suffice). And yet there are people in the world like Gali who wouldn’t even know that he had a package waiting outside his room because there was just no way to properly notify him. I guess it’s true that you will always meet someone who will definitely put things in perspective.

Speaking of, that entire Christmas lights concept turned me into a weeping mess. After exposing us to simple things that end up as major challenges faced by the Deaf community (Gali’s expressions said it all during that entire package fiasco), it was a joy to see him smile (and tear up) after Mara’s plan worked. Loved the callback on that one, too. That uber romantic slash heartbreaking scene involving a famous pop song and blinking lights would probably end up as my favorite moment in Philippine Cinema 2019.

(Plus points for completely wiping out the trauma of the use of Christmas lights in Stranger Things.)

5. It was amusing to watch the audience imitate and learn some basic phrases during the couple’s Sign Language 101 sessions. I mean, isn’t it great that we would all walk out of that theater knowing another way to say “Hello”, “Thank you”, and “Sorry” with the proper expressions and emotions? Of course if I were Mara, I would have asked Gali to teach me the most important words first (curse words, naturally!) because that’s a pre-requisite in every new language.

(Another side note: In college, I had a lot of Filipino-Chinese classmates from Xavier and they told me that the most important phrases to remember were “piao si di siao siao” and “di lanciao bin”. Surely I’m all prepped for that return visit to Shanghai.)

6. Sad facts: i) There are not enough Deaf schools in our country, ii) Most parents of Deaf kids do not know how to sign, iii) There are insensitive people in the world like Vangie Labalan’s character who referred to Gali as “di mo aakalain na may diperensya”. (Tawagin ulit ang Undin, please!!)

7. Burning questions:

• Whatever happened to Mara’s dreams of becoming an architect? Will she finally prep properly and take that exam seriously? Did her father (Cris Villanueva) roll up that tarp and keep for future use?

• Why didn’t we get a payoff on those sign language sessions? Is Mara’s niece still waiting for that special surprise?

• Is “Were you worried about me?” the newest pick-up line?

• How were they able to afford those condo units? And who do I need to call to replace our doorbell with blinking Christmas lights?

• With lines like “Puro de lata ang kinakain mo, magkaka-UTI ka!!”, is Mara’s mother (Lotlot de Leon) actually related to mine?

• What was that siomai stand doing in a party, aside from serving as product placement for SIOGO? (Sio clean! Sio good!)

• Gali literally jumping to Mara’s condo was a metaphor that he was taking a leap of faith on their relationship, yes?

• Will the LTO permanently suspend Mara’s license for being so accident-prone?

• “Mahal ba talaga natin yung jowa/asawa natin ngayon kung sino at ano siya, o minahal lang natin siya dahil lagi siyang nandiyan para sa atin?” (Require your significant other to answer this in less than five sentences.)

8. Ganda ng communication gaps shown throughout their love story. The use of cellphones in lieu of spoken words and signs (ang inspired nung text messages flashed between their condos), the times they both felt OP while in two different parties (although the Deaf crowd felt more welcoming, no? Well, except for that intrimidida girl), and the acceptance of their differences plus sacrifices they were both willing to make with that touching “Then I’ll be deaf for you” line. Wala talagang hadlang kapag mga puso na ang nag-uusap. ❤️

Rating: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: ANG MANANANGGAL SA UNIT 23B (Prime Cruz, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

Ooh, Wong Kar-wai aesthetics set to a hipster soundtrack! Most visually-pleasing (that labia majora wings reveal was awesome!) among the three Prime Cruz films, but also my least favorite.

There wasn’t enough story to latch on to that I kept wondering if the chicken oil (?) she used to rub on her burning loins was stolen from Mang Inasal. I’m all for an interspecies love story so it was unfortunate that the movie ended just when it was actually getting better.

Rating: ‪★★☆☆☆

(Originally published August 20, 2017.)

MOVIE REVIEW: THE DEBUTANTES (Prime Cruz, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on The Debutantes:

1. I still haven’t forgotten about the clunky twist of last week’s Last Night and now we get another movie that hinged on the big reveal of an ‘imaginary’ being. Are our writers running out of original ideas to surprise the audience?

It probably would have been more acceptable if the said twist wasn’t so obvious the moment you see young Jona Soquite (or at least who I thought was her). Seriously, why would ‘siblings’ with a huge age gap have that twinning kind of severe BANGS (yes, nagsusumigaw) anyway? The only mystery left was whether she was the evil side of Carrie, er, Kate (a competent Sue Ramirez), or a completely different entity altogether (answer: sadly, the latter).

2. I had this discussion recently with a filmmaker friend on the lack of creative main titles in recent films (especially Star Cinema ones). We would usually see the same old cast names in red (or white) Times New Roman or Comic Sans fonts that clearly revealed the lack of originality or how much the final product was rushed.

One good thing about this movie was that it had a good opening credit sequence with blood flowing/dripping endlessly on various objects like a flower (cattleya?) or on the lips that would figure prominently later on. Reminded me so much of the Emmy-winning design for Six Feet Under.

3. Although the bullying and the public humiliation reminded me of Carrie, the similarity ended there because it was hard not to sympathize with the Mean Girls when this was obviously not an outright revenge flick. How could I cheer for the eventual deaths of young, irritating girls when Kate wasn’t the one doing the killings?

I never really rooted for a maligno, except for this one time when the Undin hid in the toilet bowl and preyed on the loudmouth landlady played by Vangie Labalan.

4. Speaking of Mean Girls, I couldn’t get why Ivy Aguas wannabe Jenny (Jane de Leon) was considered the Queen Bee. She didn’t look or speak the part and Michelle Vito as Candice had more of the Regina George vibe (although the latter was also a terrible actress so maybe that was the reason?).

To be fair, the Jenny character was a hoot. I laughed out loud when she said, “Hey guys, as you all know it’s my birthday. Yeeeees! Happy birthday to meeeee!!”.

5. I also couldn’t understand how Miles Ocampo ended up with this group of bitches considering that her Lara character seemed like the typical goody two-shoes. Sure, she lived alone in a humongous house and had an annoying fringed bag that screamed social climber, but her personality just didn’t seem to fit with the group. Was it because she was too dumb to know the difference between Geometry and Calculus and the group needed a budget Karen Smith?

6. Why would Kate agree to wear a revealing halter top when she had visible scratch marks on her back? Also, why didn’t she even bother to check how loose those strings were prior to attending a party full of privileged brats?

In this day and age of social media prominence, who would still post a public status of them embarrassing other people? Have these kids already forgotten about Ate Amalayer, or the Kuya that threw a hissy fit in Alfamart and got knocked down by a loaf of Gardenia, or the Sisteret that wanted to hog all the chairs in Starbucks? A documented case of bullying sounded like an instant lawsuit to me.

7. This was a Prime Cruz movie so of course it looked good. I really loved the use of saturated colors and I hope that it wasn’t just a product of SM Cinemas’ poor projection. I kinda missed his cool soundtrack though and the songs were mostly utilized during the end credits.

8. I really don’t get how these onscreen characters would cut their own hair and they’d always end up with salon gorgeous looks after. If I were to handle my own haircut, my mother would most probably ask if I recently had ‘tipus’ (uhm, thyphoid fever).

9. Why would a traumatized Kate immediately attend the wake of one of her bullies? Was it because we needed a scare scene involving a coffin? And why was Candice wearing a stylish cover-up and pekpek shorts there? Jenny should really have risen from the dead and slapped her silly for stealing the limelight (and for lack of respect, naturally).

10. Most of the horror elements were familiar tropes (they basically replaced the hair braid coming out of Naomi Watts’ throat in The Ring with a necklace; the jump scene when somebody would open a fridge and a person would be standing behind it was used twice, the other with a locker; the setup where the ghost would pull on the blanket of a sleeping person looked straight out of The Conjuring) and even impressive scenes like when the engkanto came out of Kate’s mouth looked similar to the one in The Possession (or one of the Ouija movies). I spent most of the time chuckling at how bad the death scenes were staged.

11. That was one dirty toilet bowl. Candice, please ask your maid to check the Coke hack on Facebook pronto.

12. This was the type of horror movie where a person in a pool would see the moo moo and decide to swim to the other side instead of getting her ass out of the water and fleeing for dear life. Congratulations Shayne (Chanel Morales) for winning this month’s Darwin Award!!

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

MOVIE REVIEW: BABY DRIVER (Edgar Wright, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Baby Driver:

1. That coffee shop scene early in the film where the barista smirked when Ansel Elgort said that his name was Baby reminded me of the time when I used to work as a manager for a customer service account in a call center. One of my basic tasks was to ensure that each associate got assigned an “appropriate”-sounding call name. The uniquely cool ones like Baby Juice or Shangri-La or Miracle Boy had to be changed into more “pleasant-sounding” generic nicknames. We also couldn’t use real names that sounded like terms of endearment such as Love, Sweetheart, Honey, and yes, just Baby (even if a quarter of our population probably used this as a name/nickname) lest callers began thinking that they actually dialled a phone sex hotline.

On a different note, I was so hooked on that B-A-B-Y song that I wanted to jump in my Subaru, put on my Wayfarer, and play that song on blast while driving around Commerce Ave. (okay, done with my social-climbing exercise for the day).

2. A lot of people would most likely look like an idiot doing that swaying dance routine with the windshield wipers, but Ansel had the right amount of charm to make it just the cutest thing ever. I could probably watch that one long continuous take of him singing and dancing during a coffee run on a loop for days. (Bonus na lang that he could also prepare a mean sandwich. Mukhang masarap sya.)

3. Aside from Monsters Inc. (“You and I are a team”), I was happy to see the references on my other faves here, like It’s Complicated, Fight Club, and The Little Rascals (although I still preferred the version of Alfalfa with his cowlick singing You Are So Beautiful to dear Darla).

4. Those impressive car stunts that could rival the ones in the Fast & Furious series! As if this movie wasn’t even cool and stylish enough already. More nganga lang ako. And that whole Tequila shoot-out. Worth the price of admission.

5. I knew that Jamie Foxx could not be trusted as soon as he showed up wearing that tacky King of Hearts sweater. I would rather trust that “puts the Asian in home invasion” guy even if he didn’t know the difference between Austin Powers’ Mike Meyers and Halloween’s Michael Meyers (or even Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees). Also, seeing those masks reminded me so much of the Betty Doll Bank Robbers from the underrated Sugar & Spice. Time for a rewatch.

6. Sorry Edgar Wright, but Prime Cruz beat you (twice!) on that colorful laundromat scene.

7. I had a bit of a problem with the last act when everything just went awry and people started growing a conscience. And inasmuch as I adored Debora (Lily Collins), I wasn’t completely sold on the romance and the idea that they fell in love even before their second date.

8. Baby cleverly used music to drown out the terrible memories of a traumatic event in his life. That definitely wouldn’t work with me since my playlist would mostly be weepies by Celine Dion and Sarah Geronimo huhuhu.

Rating: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? (Prime Cruz, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Can We Still Be Friends?:

1. I had an overwhelming sense of dèjá vu during the opening scene with Sam (Arci Muñoz) looking bored and restless while her long-time boyfriend Digs (Gerald Anderson) was intently watching a show on TV. When she started complaining about the fact that they never really did anything else (“chill lang nang chill”) and that she wanted to do something different, I realized that I had been in this kind of relationship. I had been faulted (and eventually dumped) for the apparent lack of excitement and opting for a quiet and relaxed (ergo monotonous?) way of spending our quality time together. In the next scene, when Sam complained that they were having problems paying their bills, my inner meanie almost exploded with the thought, “Ang lakas lakas mong mag-aya wala ka naman palang pera!”

In another scene, she asked Digs to pick her up after work and she kept bugging him to hurry up. (Nagpapasundo na lang, siya pa nagmamadali?!) But wait, there’s more! When Digz finally arrived, she actually wanted him to do a u-turn so that she wouldn’t have to cross the street. She even had the gall to call him inconsiderate when he didn’t oblige. (Tatawid ka na lang gurl anubanaman!!)

Uhh, why was I so affected when this wasn’t even about me?

2. People expecting to see #TeamLablab in another Always Be My Maybe would be hugely disappointed since this was actually closer to One More Chance (they even recycled the “Pwede ba tayo na lang ulit?” line). In lieu of kilig moments, it was stuffed with mundane scenes of a couple realizing after nine years of being together that they actually hated each other. Its depiction of the breakdown of a relationship (down to petty quarrels over empty water bottles returned in the fridge) was so realistic that I wish it stayed true to the promise of a story about exes trying to maintain a post-breakup friendship.

3. Did Arci re-dub her lines? I noticed that her delivery in the actual movie was normal compared to her pabebe voice in the trailer. It was definitely a good decision because it just made her character more grounded. She was still an effective actress here and looked really gorgeous, but I wish her lips weren’t too distracting. Weirdly enough, they reminded me so much of Vibora, the talking serpent of Valentina. Star Cinema, has that role been cast already? You could thank me later.

In the end though, this was an acting showcase for Gerald who continued to display such depth and maturity in his role. I actually shed a tear in that confrontation scene when he said, “Tama ka naman eh. Hindi ako ang taong magpapasaya sa’yo.” Dear fellow Popsters, is it time to finally forgive him? (Putting my foot down on that Budoy bit though because it was more offensive than charming.)

4. That gif-worthy Magic Mike scene ooh-la-la! It was just funny though that the production couldn’t afford Ginuwine’s Pony so they had to create a Rite-Med version of the song. Still, all that grinding had me shooketh.

5. Juan Miguel Severo is officially the ultimate success story in local cinema. In every movie, his character would always end up with the cutest onscreen boyfriends (here it was Markki Stroem). I wasn’t a big fan of his spoken word poetry in On the Wings of Love and I still didn’t like how it was utilized here as part of the wedding vows. As soon as he started reciting lines like “Pipiliin kita sa araw na hindi tayo magkasundo…” in full “Oh captain, my captain!” mode, my eyes started rolling wildly in their sockets.

6. Mannequin challenge proposal? Very 2000 and late. Besides, who would take the video that they would eventually post on social media?

7. I still could not understand the couple’s decision to co-habitate after the breakup. I couldn’t even be Facebook friends with an ex agad agad. Not surprised that it led to the requisite Star Cinema happy ending. In TimeZone. Oh, TimeZone. So many memories.

8. “Kapag kaya mong maging friends sa ex mo, either mahal mo pa talaga or di mo talaga minahal.”

Nope, definitely not true. With acceptance comes maturity. Sabi nga ng Little Mix, “Shout out to my ex…you made my heart break and that made me who I am.”

Rating: ★★★☆☆

FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: CINEFILIPINO SHORT FILMS – SET A (2016)

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Shorts A had a really fine line-up that started with the great OKTOPUS by JP Habac. It was a bittersweet take on growing old filled with old people beliefs, superstitions, and ruminations on life. It starred an excellent cast of local veteran character actresses (Vangie Labalan, Ruby Ruiz, Flora Gasser) that in the end left a powerful dare (“Minsan lang po kayo matanda”).

KUNG ANG ULAN AY GAWA SA TSOKOLATE by Galileo Sioco Te and Prime Cruz was a refreshing take on a futuristic world where memories were sold and companies created a new breed of domestic helpers and caregivers. The mother-daughter bond established at the start was so strong (with great performances from its leads) that it made the big reveal even more heartbreaking. I wish they were able to fix the blatant dubbing concerns, otherwise this was a really great effort. (And I just could not stop singing that song!)

With Dayang Asu and now DIGPAN NING ALTI, Bor Ocampo has clearly established a specialty on the dog-eat-dog theme. Except for the (intentional?) non-matching perspectives, it was a well-shot, gritty film that would make you want to see what came after the prologue. I especially loved the scene where the camera was possibly mounted on a bike going downhill (signaling the current state of its characters’ lives).

John Rhys Guarina’s KATOK opened with a powerful image: that of a young boy tied and blindfolded in a cramped back of a van. It was later revealed that he was part of a group begging for money and his sad life was filled with the constant knocks on windows of both vehicle owners and his syndicate’s owner. It was a short that clearly delivered its message.

My favorite short film of the festival was easily SAANMAN NGUNIT DITO by Cheska Salangsang. It was a heartbreaking story about a childless couple doing a constant trek and their conversations revealed their sadness, disappointments (“Masama ba tayong tao?”), and a glimmer of hope. I would have personally wanted it to end without the voiceover and just the chilling final shot that was open to interpretation, but it was an excellent short nonetheless.

LUNA by Rae Red was a sad tale of a girl already trying to fit in and be accepted. And then she got her period and her gender identity struggle was fully revealed. Interesting for the most part, but I would have wanted to see (and feel) more.

Ratings:

OKTOPUS (JP Habac) – ★★★★★

KUNG ANG ULAN AY GAWA SA TSOKOLATE (Galileo Sioco Te and Prime Reyes) – ★★★★☆

DIGPAN NING ALTI (Bor Ocampo) – ★★★★☆

KATOK (John Rhys Guarina) – ★★★★☆

SAANMAN NGUNIT DITO (Cheska Salangsang) – ★★★★★

LUNA (Rae Red) – ★★★☆☆