Category Archives: Netflix

BANDERSNATCH (2019) – BLACK MIRROR / NETFLIX REVIEW

BANDERSNATCH (2019) – BLACK MIRROR REVIEW

Directed by: David Slade

Produced by: Russell McLean

Written by: Charlie Brooker

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Will Poulter, Asim Chaudhry, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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Choices, choices, choices! We all have so many choices to make every day. Some simple; some much tougher. We didn’t have any choice over whether we were born, but now we are here there’s a myriad of daily selections we get to make. Do we get out of bed? Do we eat? Do we wash? Do we find the strength to get in our car or on the train and face the horrors of employment? Do we engage with violent abandon by calling the driver who cut us up at a roundabout, “a wanker!” Do we wear our clean underwear today or re-use yesterdays? Do we have a salad or burger for lunch? Do we start smoking again? Do we regret having children? Do we tell our partner we love them? Do we have the last beer in the fridge? Do we try and change our life? Do we just give up? Do we watch the new drama box-set or a Netflix special by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. So many tough choices!

Thus, you’ve had a shitty day with so many choices made and you sit down in front of the television in the hope you can switch off your brain. But that darned Brooker won’t let you. The televisual provocateur and his production team are cruelly requesting, for your entertainment, that you make MORE choices. If you’re young enough to remember those: “Go to page 47 to see if your spell vanquished the demon – or go back to page 666 to find out if you are the conqueror of the Universe”, type books, then Bandersnatch is THAT in television form. You may also be used to multiple choice computer games the likes of which I played myself as a kid on the Spectrum 128k computer. This is also the inspiration for Brooker’s twisted vision. But is it any good? I would choose YES! Bandersnatch is dark, hallucinatory and involving “fun”.

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The story/stories are set rather aptly in 1984. Our main protagonist is a grieving and troubled teenager, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead). Stefan is obsessed by a “choose your adventure” book called Bandersnatch.  Inspired to turn it into a computer game, he soon descends down a veritable black hole mentally, physically and emotionally. The fact that we are vicariously responsible for the characters’ journey create a real sense of dread, doubt and suspense. It’s very clever and immersive and no doubt the writing of it must have been a tortuous process.

While it may not be for some I was engrossed by the show as it felt at times I was living in a Philip K. Dick story. Dick’s novels are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal with reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place with unreliable narrators or confused protagonists who are existing in some real world, imagined or manufactured nightmare. Paranoia, anxiety and depression infect Dick’s world and Brooker captures that vibe brilliantly in Bandersnatch. However, it’s not also without humour too, albeit incredibly dark sarcastic humour.

Brooker and his filmmaking team achieve a style over substance triumph with Bandersnatch. I have only gone through Stefan’s narrative once but it gripped me from start to finish as an experience. The drained, urban and suburban 1980s colour and council-estate-grey look suited the psychotic breakdown of the main character. Nonetheless, at times, the dizzying twist of choices did take away from the emotional journey of the character. At one point I was so in the meta-hole the whole trip made me feel quite queasy. Having said that, I will be going back into this meta-adventure again; after all, the choices like in life seem endless.

Mark: 9 out of 11

THE CINEMA FIX: 12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

I love television and watched a lot of it last year on most terrestrial and streaming services; especially the BBC, ITV, SKY and NETFLIX channels.  I must admit I am way behind on many AMAZON and ALL 4/CHANNEL 4 programmes so will be rectifying that this year. Indeed, there are probably some glaring omissions because of this.

For comparison I include last year’s favourite TV shows. This year I have not included South Park (Season 22) as it was not as good as prior years, despite clearly being one of the funniest shows around. Also, Doctor Who does not make my list as there were too many average episodes. Lastly, a special mention to The Walking Dead (Season 9), which at the mid-season break had somehow pulled itself out of the torpid decline that occurred around Season 6. It may make my 2019 list once the latest season has finished screening this year.

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2017

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO
FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4
GAME OF THRONES
(2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU/CHANNEL 4
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12 – NETFLIX
LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC
LEGION (2017) – FOX
MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX
SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS
STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX
THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2018

ATLANTA (2018) – SEASON 2 – FOX

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BILLIONS (2018) – S3 – SKY

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BLACK MIRROR (2017)NETFLIX

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BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC1

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THE DEUCE (2018) – S2 – HBO / SKY

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HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – S2 –C4

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HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX

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INSIDE NO. 9 (2018) – S4 – BBC

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KILLING EVE (2018) – S1 – BBC

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PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL (2018) – BBC

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BIRD BOX (2018) and ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS 

BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS

Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so many visitors in a saturated online market.

For my final reviews of the year I have decided to double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add them to my 2018 favourites.

So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in January. Happy 2019 in advance!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BIRD BOX (2018)

Directed by: Susanne Bier

Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN!  I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.

The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

ROMA (2018)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged danger of the era; however, Roma is more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.

Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His direction on both Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal; utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise, in Roma his stylistic choices are fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone. Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking, Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a simple, slice-of-life story.                                           

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

MANIAC (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

MANIAC (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Patrick Somerville

Based on: Maniac by Espen PA Lervaag, Håakon Bast Mossige, Kjetil Indregard, Ole Marius Araldsen

Developed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga & Patrick Somerville for Netflix

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sonoya Mizuno, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Maniac

What’s your view on striving for originality in storytelling and entertainment? It could be argued that there is no such thing and creators are simply moving creative chess pieces around the same board; or playing the same musical notes but in a different order. One perspective is that you prefer a writer or director to be bold and aim for originality; with the potential risk they alienate the audience. Some creators actually don’t care about the audience but many others do, preferring to connect emotionally within the casing of genre conventions. Personally, I prefer to be moved emotionally firstly and if the filmmaker or writer has presented their story in an impressive style then this serves to enhance the enjoyment of the narrative.

Cary Joji Fukunaga is a genre filmmaker who has established himself capable of developing impressive genre works such as: Jane Eyre (2011), True Detective (2014), and the brilliant film Beasts of No Nation (2015). Recently, he has also been involved in bringing It (2017) and The Alienist (2018) to the screen; although he did not serve as final director on such products. His latest directorial offering is an adaptation of a Norwegian comedy drama called Maniac. Over ten hit-and-miss episodes we follow the misadventures of a depressive and unstable Owen (Jonah Hill), and grieving pill-addict Annie (Emma Stone), as they enter a medical trial run by the secretive Neberdine Pharmaceutical organisation.

The trial itself involves taking a series of pills and the participants’ cerebral responses being recorded on a sentient artificially intelligent computer called GRTA. Here, Owen and Annie’s lives and minds become internally entwined as the story enables us to visualise their mental anxieties and re-enact their fears during the trial. Owen’s angst is caused by a family issue involving his brother, while Annie still blames herself for a family tragedy. The bizarre surrealist events are very effectively established, however, over the dizzying spectrum of several genre-crossing episodes we essentially get told the same two stories within the: crime, romance, gangster, fantasy and spy genres.

The performances are interesting. Fukunaga has created a world that exists somewhere in between the real and surreal and the future, past and current times. Because of this there’s a sense he has freed the actors from naturalism and at times created a stylistic distanciation. Conversely, Emma Stone was brilliant as always and she is skilled enough to make the strangeness resonate emotionally. However, I felt Jonah Hill, while giving a fine and committed performance, was miscast. Interestingly, Justin Theroux features in a curious turn as a Doctor on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Theroux is a fascinating actor who I think is sabotaging his career and could be the next George Clooney but continues to choose weirdo roles which serve his career no benefit. But hey what do I know!?  Maybe he’s having a lot of fun.

Ultimately, the postmodern stylings cloaked a pretty conventional love story and once again, with a Netflix show, I felt that ten episodes were stretching the narrative a tad. Fukunaga’s combination of different genres and eccentric characters plus a smattering a bloody violence and techno-humour is always interesting. Moreover, much fun is to be had from the references to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Lord of the Rings and many more films.  Nowhere near as brilliant as True Detective or Beasts of No Nation, Cary Fukunaga still impresses as a director even if Maniac is arguably style over content. Nonetheless, Fukunaga should still be commended for striving for a semblance of originality and ambition, rather than just go for an big payday on a franchise studio genre film.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE NETFLIX EQUINOX – HORROR FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

THE NETFLIX EQUINOX – HORROR FILM REVIEW ROUND-UP

Wow, Netflix just keep churning out the content; either original, bought and on hire. I just don’t know how they can make a profit; especially on their big-budget movies,which DO NOT get a cinema release. Perhaps it’s a loss leader gamble they hope will pay off in the long run? Nonetheless, Netflix remains a solid go-to-place for viewing pleasure.

So, over the last few weeks I’ve caught up on a number of horror films on Netflix; some good, some not too bad, and some dreadful. Anyway, here they are with marks out of the usual eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

APOSTLE(2018)

I felt that all the elements were there to make this a classic cult horror thriller and Dan Stevens was brilliant in it. However, his character was so rushed at the beginning I did not feel that connected to his drifter searching a religious cult for his kidnapped sister. Still, the film had some fascinating themes, searing gore and horror moments, which altogether made it well worth a watch.  

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BEFORE I WAKE (2016)

Having been impressed with Mike Flanagan’s direction of The Haunting of Hill House (2018), I decided to check out his other films. Before I Wake tells the moving story of an orphaned boy fostered by Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth’s grieving parents. This was a dream like and touching tale with a powerful element of horror which benefits from great performances by Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE BOY (2016)

Lauren Cohan stars in this gothic chiller which flirts between intriguing suspense and silly horror moments.  Cohan is Greta, an American nanny, who escapes to a big manor house in England, only to find herjob is to babysit a boy dummy for an eccentric old couple. Director William Brent Bell, despite the strange premise, gets a decent tune out of this story and I really enjoyed it; even when it goes pretty bonkers at the end.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GERALD’S GAME (2017)

Mike Flanagan directs again, this time adapting Stephen King’s psychological horror novel into a very satisfactory movie. Carla Gugino and Tony Greenwood play a middle-class and wealthy couple attempting to spice up their sex life with some role-play and bondage. Safe to say the “game” goes awry and Gugino must battle physical and mental challenges, plus a haunted past, in order overcome a grim and horrific ordeal.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

HOLD THE DARK (2018)

Jeremy Saulnier directs this ponderous thriller which centres on a search for a missing child on a Native American reservation. Jeffrey Wright, as a wolf expert and novelist, does his best with the paucity of material as Alexander Skarsgard sleep-walks through another role. Saulnier holds back a key piece of the narrative for no apparent reason and aside from gratuitous shoot-out in the middle I was bored.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE (2016)

Even the brilliant Ruth Wilson cannot save this horrifically slow and dull horror film which literally has NO story and hardly any scares. It is genuinely one of the worst and most pretentious films I have ever seen. 

(Mark: 2 out of 11)

THE INVITATION (2015)

Another hidden horror gem I found on Netflix, this moves slowly but with brooding dread and suspense. Logan Marshall Green portrays, Will, a grieving ex-husband invited with his girlfriend to a dinner party thrown by his ex-wife. Soon the dinner takes a strange turn of events as the odd behaviour of the hosts raises his suspicion and paranoia. Overall, this is a compelling movie directed withsubtle aplomb by Karyn Kusama.  

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

JIGSAW (2017)

Another attempt to re-do one of the best low-budget horror films ever made in Saw (2004), fails to engage or horrify. It is really just a pointless retread of everything we’ve seen before and while there’s some decent gore in it, the characters are paper-thin and one for franchise completists only.

(Mark: 5 out of 11) 

MALEVOLENT (2018)

Even the very talented Florence Pugh cannot save this bang-average medium-in-a-haunted-house story. The screenwriter Ben Ketai has some decent horror credentials but this one did not really make much sense narratively or emotionally. Lastly, Pugh’s brother in the film was so dislikeable that I could not wait for him to die horribly. 

(Mark: 5 out of 11) 

THE VAULT (2017)

This was almost a decent horror thriller as it had such a great premise. Bank robbers –includingFrancesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning – hold up a bank only to find ghosts haunt the Vault and are intent on hurting the criminals. Despite the horrific monsters in the basement and James Franco’s intriguing turn, the script doesn’t make much sense until the reveal at the end. But by that time I was too confused to care very much.

(Mark: 6 out of 11) 

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.

Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill

Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.

**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

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Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.

As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.

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Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.

Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.

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Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.

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I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.

Mark: 9 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Produced by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Robert Graf

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits and many more.

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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Soon to be appearing on the streaming behemoth Netflix, the Coen Brothers latest film is a difficult one to recommend to those not familiar with their quirky vision of humanity and existence. Set within the Western genre the film presents six stories seemingly unconnected but those which resonate resoundingly on the theme of death. The stories are called:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Near Algodones; Meal Ticket; All Gold Canyon; The Gal Who Got Rattled; and The Mortal Remains respectively.

The closest film this anthology resembles from recent times is the riotous black comedy Wild Tales (2014). Moreover, if you ever saw the Coens’ eccentric mid-life crisis comedy A Serious Man (2009), you may recall the prologue which depicted a short stand-alone piece about a ghostly dybbuk visiting a woman at night. Indeed, that story was seemingly unconnected to the film which followed, however, the Coens’ are such skilled storytellers you sense there is a link be it symbolically or thematically.

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Overall, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a genuine mixed bag, in a good way. Their mischievous alchemy combines genres – within the Western setting – such as: musical, comedy, horror, crime, thriller and even romance. Moreover, the filmmakers have reached into their decades of film experience and cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of: characters, songs, bloody deaths, jokes, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and spitfire action.

The cast are uniformly brilliant and as well as some familiar faces there are some newer actors added to the Coens’ stable of performers. Bill Heck, especially, in the story The Gal Who Got Rattled, impressed in his role as a likable cowboy. Overall, and in a similar vein to Hail Caesar (2016), this feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of say No Country for Old Men (2007) or humanity of Fargo (1996). However, the Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring between the lines.

Mark 8.5 out of 11