Review: Straight Outta Compton

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DIR: F. Gary Gray • WRI: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff  • PRO: Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, David Engel, F. Gary Gray, Bill Straus, Tomica Woods-Wright • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Billy Fox, Michael Tronick • DES: Shane Valentino • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Corey Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr, Aldis Hodge

 

N.W.A (Niggaz wit Attitude) are a group that could not have started in any other time or place. The political and racial tensions that followed the crackdown on drug-related crime in America in the late 1980s meant that the hip hop world was ripe for more aggressive voices. And, boy, did Dr.Dre, Eazy-E, Ice-Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella rise to the challenge. Straight Outta Compton is unique to biopic genre in that the traditional ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, though utilised, gets brought to new levels. Director F. Gary Gray skilfully examines the context in which N.W.A became the most prominent rap groups of the era- the police brutality, the systematic racism, the poverty, and the gang violence- with an unflinching eye, refusing to tiptoe around important issues. The film also very much points fingers at certain figures in the music industry; point blank accusing them of corruption and all-round crappy behaviour.

Chronicling the years between the groups founding in 1986 to Eazy-E’s death in 1995, the rise and fall of N.W.A is made all the more compelling by the casts astounding performances. All relative newcomers to the industry, Hawkins, Mitchell and Jackson in particular serve as highlights in the film. The characters feel real, which is important, considering that they are based on real people, with real emotions. Giamatti also turns in a reliably good performance as the group’s scheming manager, Jerry Heller. As is always the case with biopics, the question of what real-life events were fabricated to make a good film is hard to ignore. And yet, the tone of the film rings sincere throughout. True, some of the more unpleasant actions of the characters are glossed over (or downright ignored, like Dr. Dre’s history of violence against women), but one only has to look at the film’s producer credits to understand why that is. Problematic though that is, it does not take away from the fact that this is one of the best films about rappers currently made.

Even those who have limited to no knowledge of the history of rap will find this an engaging and well-acted drama. For long-life rap fans, it will give you a new appreciation for the genre and the events that inspired some of its most famous tracks. Recommended!

Ellen Murray

16 (See IFCO for details)
146 minutes

Straight Outta Compton  is released 28th August 2015

Straight Outta Compton  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

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Review: Love & Mercy

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DIR: Bill Pohlad • WRI:Oren Moverman, Michael Lerner • PRO: Jim Lefkowitz, Oren Moverman, Bill Pohlad, Clarie Rudnick Polstein, Ann Ruark, John Wells • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman  • ED: Dino Jonsäter • MUS: Atticus Ross  • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Dee Wallace

 

Bill Pohlad’s biography of Beach Boy Brian Wilson delivers an on-point, touching and insightful portrayal of his life both personally and professionally.

The fact that the film is set both in the sixties and the eighties is enlightening. Wilson’s struggles with his mental health erupt around the time of seminal album Pet Sounds in the sixties, and by the eighties he has reached the depths of his psychosis.

A young Wilson, played by Paul Dano, is a clearly fraught, yet brilliant musician. He is struggling to overcome many obstacles, including unwilling band members, and an extremely unsupportive father. His intrepid musical ability is before his time, and some believe it to be too risky. This frustrates Wilson, and frustration is a key theme throughout this film. He is frustrated by his illness, his father and his music – and both Cusack and Dano capture this frustration perfectly.

It is clear that Wilson’s genius is somewhat spurred on by the on-going voices and noises in his head. These voices and noises seem to inspire him, and are the inspiration for much of the Beach Boys unique sound. Several scenes in the studio give an extremely authentic feel to the film, and parts feel quite documentary-like. For music fans, it is an insight into how some of the best sounds of the sixties developed.

As Wilson ages, John Cusack takes over the role. From here, it is evident that the illness has now dominated much of his personality, and changed him completely. There is hardly any lucidity left.

For this reason, using another actor to play an older, sicker Wilson was an excellent move. Had Pohlad used just one actor, his descent into madness would not have been as remarkable. John Cusack plays the aging rocker with a finesse and believability that hone in on the extent of his demise since the swinging sixties.

Similar to the sixties there is a constant barrage of people surrounding Wilson. Be it his manipulative Doctor (Giamatti) or his entourage, it seems that no matter what decade, there are always people telling him what to do and making decisions for him.

There are also some extreme highs in the movie, and it is not all incredibly depressing. A beautiful relationship develops between Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and elements of this are quite sweet. This, blended with scenes that are extremely difficult to watch like Wilson in the depths of a sedative state, and in the grips of mental breakdowns, combine perfectly to leave viewers with a definitive view of his turbulent life.

Love and Mercy depicts the irony that was The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson impeccably. The music they created in the sixties was uplifting and vibrant. It was for dancing and surfing (even though they couldn’t surf…). But behind that unique sound that defined a generation was a man struggling with paranoid schizophrenia and slipping deeper into a psychosis, made only worse by the lifestyle and drugs of the time.

Sixties Wilson uses his music to express himself, and to appease the voices in his head, but it is not without its cost to his personal life, which is revealed by Cusack.

Both Cusack and Dano play the part of Wilson in their own different ways. Both actors capture his child-like innocence, and combine it with the very dark side of his illness. These contrasts work well to depict the life and loves of an artist whose music has been enjoyed for over fifty years, and no doubt will continue to be enjoyed for many more generations to come.

The fantastic soundtrack, exceptional writing, and of course true story mean that Love & Mercy is not just for fans of The Beach Boys, but for fans of music in general, particularly those with a penchant for a troubled genius.

Katie Kelly

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
121 minutes
 
Love & Mercy is released 10th July 2015
 
Love & Mercy– Official Website

 

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Review: San Andreas

Dwayne-Johnson-San-Andreas

 

DIR: Brad Peyton • WRI: Carlton Cuse • PRO: Beau Flynn • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Robert D. Yeoman • MUS: Andrew Lockington • DES: Barry Chusid • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson

 

Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is an ace chopper pilot for the LAFD, and we meet him when he squeezes his bird down the side of a mountain overhang and – of course – has to strap on the harness to save his buddy and the driver of the SUV that hangs by a thread….

 

It’s an impressive start to what’s clearly going to be an action/adventure/thriller and, like many of the best disaster movies, will see Los Angeles and San Francisco come under the hammer – in this case, not one but two massive earthquakes, and then a tsunami for good measure.

The destruction starts at the Hoover Dam in Nevada though, and right there is earthquake expert Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), whose worst fears are confirmed: there are hotspots aplenty and the San Andreas fault is ready to snap; he races onto live TV and sends out a warning.

 

But snap it does. In LA, Ray’s almost-degree-nisi wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is having lunch at a high-storey hotel when the quake hits. Destruction follows, but luckily Ray is in the air and, with some fancy flying and some athletics from Emma, he manages to save her from the roof.

 

In San Francisco, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) has just said goodbye to her new friends – stuttering Brit Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his cheeky/irritating little bruv Ollie (County Donegal-born actor Art Parkinson) – when Frisco gets flattened, and she’s trapped in car in an underground car park.

 

Smitten Ben and plucky Ollie go to help, and now the story splits: this trio are trying to head for higher ground, while Ray and Emma have decided to fly tout de suite to save their daughter – but there are many, many obstacles to overcome before they’ll even get close….

 

Not known for their scientific accuracy, this disaster movie certainly doesn’t disappoint in that area – though of course what we’re there to see is the (movie) world of these California landmarks falling about our ears (even in 3D).

 

Of course, there are many, many moments when logic, reason and rationality just leave the building (and “dramatic” moments that just get a laugh). We don’t see much blood, lost limbs or crushed people either, and as for “The Rock”, he has a Superman-like ability to fly a plane, a helicopter, to skydive, to dive underwater, to steer a speedboat – all without a scratch. In fact our family and their new British friends get barely a scratch despite enduring unimaginably dangerous circumstances.

 

It’s what we expect though, and while Johnson and Daddario try their best with the halting, awkward, cheesy moments – and nothing’s ever said about Gaines taking the LAFD helicopter and flying it away from all the L.A. citizens he is paid and legally avowed to help save – it can’t be argued that there are plenty of “oh my god” moments here. What did you expect?

 

James Bartlett

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

114 minutes

San Andreas is released 29th May 2015

San Andreas – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Saving Mr Banks

SAVING MR. BANKS

 

DIR: John Lee Hancock  WRI: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith  PRO: Alison Owen, Ian Collie, Philip Steuer  DOP: John Schwartzman  ED: Mark Livolsi  MUS: Thomas Newman CAST: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell

Saving Mr Banks tells the story of how the very uptight author Mrs. P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) was persuaded by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to allow him to adapt her most famous work, Mary Poppins, to the big screen. The film centres on the seemingly irreconcilable culture clash between the pernickety British-Australian author and the gosh-darnit informality and enthusiasm of her American wooer. Travers despises vulgarity, which, for her, might neatly be summed up as everything that Disney produces. As the insistently “Mrs.” Travers shoots down the reasonable suggestions of Disney’s long-suffering writer and composers, we discover that many of the details she cherishes in Mary Poppins resonate with her own experience growing up with her loving, but alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) in Allora, a remote town in Australia. The Disney Machine circa 2013 gets under our skin and cranks up the lump-in-the-throat factor to show how 1960s Disney got beneath Travers’ hard exterior and cranked up the lump-in-the-throat factor to win her over. The seduction of Travers makes us conscious of how we too are being seduced. It is our inescapable awareness of the calculation behind this effort to win her—and us—over that robs the film of the poignancy it longs to evoke with its flashbacks to Travers’ childhood.

Thankfully the lighter aspects of the story win out, because the grittier aspects of reality on show—Farrell’s alcoholism and Travers’ loneliness—are so filtered through coats of movie gloss as to feel quite unreal. The film stays afloat on deft performances from Thompson, Giamatti and especially Hanks, whose avuncular Disney blots out some of the more recent and less pleasant revelations about the real man behind the House of Mouse.

It’s nice to see the official Disney logo on an original drama, but it’s a shame that its backwards-harking vision—nostalgically mining Disney’s own filmography—makes it a piece of Disney’s larger project of looking the past to come up with material to fuel its dream factory today. Whether it is the purchase of Lucasfilm, the sequel (and prequel)-isation of Pixar’s earliest and best work or the Disney Infinity “multi-platform experience,” the world’s most successful film studio is no longer venturing outward in search of material, but rather has turned entirely inward, and is fracking its own landscape of licenses to generate “content.” It would be sad if this nostalgic strategy were to someday throw up a Saving Mr Hanks and the serpent choked a little harder on its own tail.

Tony McKiver

PG (See IFCO for details)

125  mins

Saving Mr Banks is released on 29th November 2013

Saving Mr Banks  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Parkland

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DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman  PRO: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Matt Jackson, Bill Paxton, Nigel Sinclair  DOP: Barry Ackroyd  ED: Markus Czyzewski, DES: Bruce Curtis, Leo Trombetta  MUS: James Newton Howard CAST: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti

Parkland appears 50 years after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. It takes its title from the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken for treatment after they were shot. There are some points of interest, but they’re limited.

 

Writer-director Peter Landesman makes his feature film debut. His script draws on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book Reclaiming History, which documents all aspects of the assassination and runs to over 1,600 pages (that’s 1.5 million words!). The book’s length reflects the array of material that has been published about JFK, ranging from conspiracy theories to eyewitness accounts. Its scope presents quite the challenge to a filmmaker: what can be said that hasn’t been said already? Oliver Stone dazzled audiences in 1991 with his three-hour epic JFK; those expecting a conspiratorial thriller in Parkland shouldn’t hold their breath.

 

Landesman’s short film plays more like a TV drama, drawing on generic detective and medical dramas. Comedian Ernie Kovacs quipped that 1950s television was a medium because it was neither rare nor well done. Landesman’s treatment unfortunately feels more like the latter. He avoids the conspiracy theories, eschews examining President Kennedy’s politics or his legacy, and focuses instead on the more “human interest” aspects: the medical response at the hospital, Abraham Zapruder’s famous 8 mm recording, the investigations commenced by the FBI and the Secret Service, and the reactions of Oswald’s mother and brother Robert.

 

Parkland attempts to inject some interest into events that are really sideshows. When the President died in the hospital, what happened next? A coffin was required, the priest administered the last rites, and there was some dispute between the federal and state agents as to whether an autopsy should be carried out in Dallas. How appealing viewers find these aspects will determine how much they enjoy the film. The period detail, sets and costumes are good, the production budget well spent, but the film still feels lacking when it ends.

 

Its point remains elusive. A dramatic presentation should have some insight into the human condition, people’s emotional involvement in events.  The film’s multi-narrative approach makes this difficult. It introduces myriad characters, rather like listing names for photographs in a book. The players often have little to do other than looked horrified or sad. There is no drama. The filmmakers look for it in the wrong places. Finding space in an aircraft for a coffin was hardly the day’s most pressing problem.

 

Where there is tension, the film misses the mark. It falls into shouty melodrama that lacks conviction. Jackie’s grief is sidelined: she disappears midway during the film. James Badge Dale, playing Robert Oswald, can’t convey his character’s conflict between love for his brother and the damage Oswald’s involvement brings on their family. His unaffected blue eyes fail to register any sign of torment. Celebrated actors contribute little: Billy Bob Thornton, as secret agent Forrest Sorrel, Jackie Weaver, as Oswald’s mother, and top-billed Zac Efron, as Dr Carrico, who treats President Kennedy, don’t make much of an impression in their small parts.

 

Paul Giamatti, playing Zapruder has fleeting good moments, but Landesman mishandles them. Poor integration of live action and archive footage jars early in the film , when Giamatti appears alone on-screen in what must have been a chaotic scene, 30 yards from the motorcade. Later, Landesman cuts pointlessly from different shots of Zapruder when he’s at home with his wife. The use of unconventional angles and jumpy cutting just serve as a pointless effort to give dull material some edge.

 

Zapruder’s story, that of the “world’s most famous home video”, might have resonated in an interesting way today, when ordinary people can easily record images of protests and political violence on their phones. The print media, Life magazine, the New York Times and others, hound Zapruder for use of the disturbing images he captured, and he struggles with his responsibility for such powerful pictures.The Kennedy assassination was a major media event, and Walter Cronkite’s and other broadcasters’ recurrent commentary, along with TV news footage, play a prominent role in the film, tying the various elements together. TV news came of age and demonstrated the medium’s capabilities, and the film reflects the shift.

 

There are worse films than Parkland, but its weak handling and glib dramatic interest make it unappealing as a cinematic attraction. It might make for a passable TV programme.

Disappointing.

John Moran

12A  (See IFCO for details)

93 mins

Parkland is released on 22nd November 2013

Parkland – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgPjt_BRLvY

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Cinema Review: The Ides of March

DIR: George Clooney • WRI: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon • PRO: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver • DOP: Phedon Papamichael • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney

Idealism and politics are a sad mix – the latter dying by degrees as the former rises.  Many lives have borne this out, and movie after movie engages with new ways to give the age-old warning that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Ides of March is, thus, not telling us anything that we didn’t already know – but that is not really the point. This is not strictly the story of a Democratic nominee’s fight for the White House, but more the tale of one man’s struggle to be either good at his job, or a decent person.

Ryan Gosling is, of course, this man – playing Steven Meyers, the junior campaign manager for Democratic candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney – also helming), under the tutelage of veteran trail-master, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Running against another Democratic party member, Pullman, for the presidential nomination, the team are pushing an ideal of perfection – Paul, as the old-hand, doing what needs to be done to win, and Steven wishing only to do what he believes in. Pullman’s character doesn’t get a look-in, as it is his campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who provides the real test of wills with Steven. This political melee is documented by Marisa Tomei’s hardnosed NY Times reporter, Ida, and forced to a head by Evan Rachel Wood’s beleaguered intern, and possible political Waterloo, Molly.

The Shakespearean title underscores the film’s commitment to using the panic of time, (the race for the Ohio nomination forms the backdrop), as a tool to emphasise the impression that tragedy is looming. Based on a stage production, Ides makes one crucial change to the play in having Senator Morris visible as an actual character, setting up the ideal with one clear goal – to tear it down. Clooney, of course, inspires confidence by just being Clooney, with Steven believing everything he says, and his toppling is equally convincing. Through a relationship with Molly, Steven begins to find his world unravelling, beginning with a disastrous meeting with the opposition. Giamatti’s Duffy is harsh and cynical, pointing out that the Democrats have played fair for too long – and it’s time they learned to roll in the mud with the elephants. And descend into mud they do. With much more in the unsaid than anything spoken, the film sweeps through its non-action with brooding camerawork, and a droopy-lidded Gosling intensifying every scene. Something is most certainly rotten in the state of Denmark, and Gosling plays the erring Hamlet to Clooney’s Claudius with perfection – the embodiment of foreboding, he gives what is essentially a hackneyed story some real power.

The Ides of March was slated for production in 2008, but Clooney has commented that he held production of the film after Obama’s election because, and I quote, ‘people were too optimistic for such a cynical film.’ Though there is nothing new in the story, considering the wealth of heavy-weights combining onscreen, not watching this movie would hurt far more than watching it. Steven and Morris’s denouement face-off is especially blistering, and Gosling’s mute horror, perfectly captured in extreme close-up, leaves a bitter aftertaste for political believers. Seductive ambition, indeed.

 

Sarah Griffin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

The Ides of March is released on 28th October 2011

The Ides of March – Official Website

 

 

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Barney’s Version

Barney's Version

DIR: Richard J Lewis • WRI: Michael Konyves • PRO: Robert Lantos • ED: Susan Shipton • CAST: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike

There’s been a lot of buzz about this movie: Paul Giamatti walked away with a Golden Globe for its titular role, as Barney Panofsky, a cigar-chomping television producer who does everything that any self-respecting, cigar-chomping television producer is supposed to do. Drinking? Check. Cigar-chomping? That’s already been covered. Womanising? Well, there is the small matter of three weddings. But wait, he can explain…

The story flits between present day Montreal and Rome and New York of the 1970s (the ageing effects achieved by Hair and Make-up are excellent and entirely plausible), allowing Barney to give his version of events, such as how he met the love of his life at his own wedding, for example, or became a suspect in his best friend’s disappearance.

There are some solid performances, notably from Rosamund Pike, who gives a subtly sympathetic performance as Miriam, Wife Number Three; while Paul Giamatti is wholly believable as Barney, who sheds the television producer cliché as the movie progresses and becomes a fully three dimensional, likeably-flawed character, although I did feel that some of the later, present day scenes could have done with some judicious editing.

The great strength of Barney’s Version, however, is that it balances an emotionally honest look at regret and mortality with irreverent farce (Dustin Hoffman has a few scene-stealing turns as Barney’s retired cop father, Issy Panofsky).

A touching comedy that manages to inject the indignity of ageing with plenty of laughs. And you’ll find yourself rooting for the rascal by the end.

Claire Coughlan

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Barney’s Version
is released on 28th January 2011

Barney’s Version Official Website

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Cold Souls

Cold Souls

DIR: Sophie Barthes • WRI: Sophie Barthes • PRO: Daniel Carey, Elizabeth Giamatti, Paul S. Mezey, Andrij Parekh, Jeremy Kipp Walker • DOP: Andrij Parekh • ED: Andrew Mondshein • DES: Beth Mickle • CAST: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, David Strathairn

There is a current trend in Hollywood for ‘Kaufman-esque’ type films, this being screenplays based on strange fictionalized ‘facts’ that deal with metaphysical matters in a quirky manner – Kaufman having provided us with Adaption, Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, all of which blur the lines between physical reality and mental surreality.

Stranger Than Fiction recently found itself being tagged as such, and now along comes the much-lauded Cold Souls – another ‘Kaufman-esque’ film.

Cold Souls posits a world in which it is possible for a person to have their soul extracted and replaced with another one. The company providing this service stores anonymous souls for those wishing to relieve themselves of the burden of their own. One such soul punter is Paul Giamatti, who, in true Kaufmann style, plays himself, an actor currently starring in a theatrical production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Giamatti, struggling with the role and going through a difficult period in his life, decides to give the soul swap a try, which of course goes horribly wrong.

Giamatti’s soul gets mixed up in a soul trafficking enterprise and, as a result, finds its way to Russia, where it has been transplanted into the body of a Russian soap actress. Giamatti sets off in pursuit.

Now, obviously this film has been influenced by Kaufman’s work; but to what extent does influence become crafty inventive plagiarism? Cold Souls makes a magpie of director Barthes as she steals Kaufman’s silver spoon. Unfortunately, with Cold Souls, she makes a wooden spoon of it. Whereas Kaufman’s ontological output plays clever games, wielding the dice of existential angst and absurdist humour, Cold Souls lacks a sense of itself and fails to deal with its initial intriguing premise.

The writer/director Sophie Barthes has re-fashioned a quirky film that sounds more interesting than it actually is. It comes across like the result of a dinner-party conversation fuelled by wine and ‘what if…’ conversations, after philosophy 101 evening classes. The film could have been much better had the resulting plot been abandoned and the original idea fleshed out and exploited more. Metaphysics is ripe for humour! Cue Woody Allen joke…

On the plus side – at least Barthes has made a film that gets a mainstream cinema release which extends beyond the usual dumbed-down, teenage-marketed manure that fills our screens. And of course, it’s always fun to watch Paul Giamatti; and he has a couple of scenes that allow his manic glazed look to get some laughs. But the novelty of the premise that lies behind the film rapidly runs out of steam before the movie even reaches halfway. Not as clever or as funny as it thinks it is, Cold Souls is more damp squib. Still though, better than two-thirds of the repugnant dross showing at the omniplex.

Steven Galvin
(See biog here)

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Cold Souls
is released on 13 Nov 2009

Cold Souls – Official Website

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