Category Archives: Movies

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Indy Can Still Take Us on a Wild Ride!

Indiana Jones is back – and it’s a Very Good Thing!

Indy has faced many obstacles in his life, but never before has he been considered a potential threat to national security! And let me tell you, it really bugs his @$$!

The problem arises because of a [former] friend who helps a covert Soviet team steal something highly magnetic from Area 51. The consequences of that incident even lead to Indy being put on “on indefinite leave of absence” from his teaching job – the timing of which is conveniently perfect for him to meet a Brando/Dean/Fonzie wannabe named Mutt Williams [Shia LeBeouf], who says his mother told him that Indy could help them. Indy is further persuaded by the KGB goons who try to grab him and Mutt [which leads to the revelation of one of the most poorly kept secrets in the history of cinema…].

It seems that an old colleague of Indy, “Ox” Oxley [John Hurt] may have found the location of the legendary lost city of gold – and the Commies want something that should also be there – something that ties in with the object they nabbed in the film’s opening. “Mother” turns out to the former Marion Ravenwood [Karen Allen] is as feisty as ever [if she could have duped her guards into a drinking contest, she might well have escaped].

Now we come to the key to the whole film – the Crystal Skull of Akator. Spalko believes it’s one of thirteen and when united with its fellows will give the Soviets the ultimate weapon. She’s sure of this, because it speaks to her. Apparently she’s a bit on psychic side…

Crystal Skulls Cast

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the kind of adventure that many of us would kill to have, if only they didn’t happen in some wonderful parallel universe that looks like our own but has as much magic as science. There are chases [and we never even think to question how there could be two parallel roads next to each other in the Mayan jungle]; sword fights on jeep hoods [see parallel roads], and strange and wondrous artifacts, like the exquisitely beautiful, if oddly shaped crystal skull. There’s even a lost city [and a pretty cool explanation for why our modern satellites have never encountered it].

Every Indy film is very much of the time in which it takes place: Raiders and Last Crusade, set in the forties, dealt with Nazis, as well as supernatural artifacts; Temple of Doom [set in the late thirties] was a pulpy adventure that revolved around a Kali death cult. So it’s no surprise that Crystal Skull uses the trappings of the cold war as the basis for its story [and riffs on the best known film cold war allegories for its trippy conclusion].

Even when it’s dealing with exposition [as in most of the middle act], Indy 4 entertains by making the “Basil Exposition” character [John Hurt’s Oxley] interesting – and tossing in some action or surprise every time things look to be slowing too much. Many of the best allusions to the previous films happen here – watch for a great gag with a snake, in particular.

Though there are some significant CG effects used in the film, a lot of the best stunts are practical, and Ford can be seen, clearly, doing more than enough of Indy’s stunts to make us believe it’s still him when a stuntman takes over. Even little things [like the over-the-top meaty sounds of the fist fights] perfectly recapture the feel of the previous films.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is much better than I was expecting [and I was expecting a lot!]. Steven Spielberg does what he does best – marrying action and adventure to interesting characters. He keeps the film moving and provides some wonderful sights along the way.

If you want to put it in terms of the entire series, Crystal Skull fits in, quality-wise, at about the same place as Last Crusade. The two films even deal with daddy issues, so that’s a pretty natural conclusion.

Final Grade: A-

Movie Reviews – Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – Michelle’s Review

If you have read my reviews for any length of time you will know that one of my many film bias is an extreme dislike of talking animals in my movies. Generally, they creep me out and take me right out of the experience. The one exception to that rule was The Chronicles of Narnia. I didn’t think that was a perfect film, but I liked it well enough to go and read all of the books. I always thought Prince Caspian was a pretty weak book. It was too short, the lead character Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) was a whiney little #$## who didn’t do much in it, but the book’s biggest sin was it didn’t really delve into what it must of been like for the Pevensie kids – High King Peter Pevensie (William Moseley), Edmund Pevensie The Just (Skandar Keynes), Lucy Pevensie – The Valiant (Georgie Henley) and Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) adjusted to the idea that they were adult Kings and Queens trapped as powerless 13 – 16 year old children. The book missed an opportunity to explore this dichotomy. When we first see the Pevensie kids we see how they are adjusting – not well. Peter is getting into fights over the most minor slights and it’s up to Edmund to protect his back. And that’s the beautiful thing about this movie – it’s how the Pevensie family has become so close to each other and wise. In the first film they were typical one dimensional kids and the kid actors were clearly out of the element.

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Here, they are very self aware and self assured as both actors and characters. There are times when you watch this movie where you can really see the duality of their personalities. You get that yes while they may look like kids, they truly are the former great Kings and Queens that they once were. It’s in their eyes, the way they move, and how they act. These kids could never had pulled this complexity of emotion off in the first film, but here it’s as if they were born to play these parts. The change in Edmund and Susan are the most pronounced. Edmund is a bad ass, calculating warrior that will do anything to protect his family, especially his brother Peter. While Susan has grown to be quite the fighter herself, the camera loves her and director Andrew Adamson showcases her perfectly, especially during the sweeping battles. When Susan breaks out the bow and arrow it’s a thing of beauty and pleasure to watch. As far as the animals go, I had the biggest concern for the noble mouse Reepicheep, I didn’t care for his character in the book, but he’s great in the film.

In one of our many emails, I think Sheldon summed up why Caspian works so well the best – it’s because the filmmakers chose to “make Caspian, naïve, rather than whiney.” And that subtle change makes all the difference in the world. Caspian comes across as stronger in the movie, more pro-active, not someone who just let’s things happen to him. He’s also self-involved at the most inopportune times. I like the fact that the film really played up the rivalry between Peter and Caspian. In the book Caspian just let Peter do everything without complaining or standing up for himself. Here Caspian calls Peter on his sometime “arrogance.” The writers Andrew Adamson (screenplay), Christopher Markus (screenplay), and Stephen McFeely took the best of C.S. Lewis’ work and expanded it to make it better. It’s a shame that Peter and Susan won’t be in the next film, because they will be missed. Everything about Prince Caspian is just right in terms of cinematography, scope and vision; the tone is dark but hopeful, and epic but intimate. While watching the battle scenes, the only thought going through my mind was, I hope the final Harry Potter film is a 10th as good as this was – . Bring on Eustace and Dawn Treader!

Final Grade A

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally posted 5.17.08

Movie Reviews: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian – Bigger, Brighter, Bolder… and Better!

Disney’s second Narnia movie is an improvement on the first one. The story is bigger, the colors [both in terms of set and effects design and in terms of performances] are brighter, the storytelling is bolder.

The story involves a race of Adam’s Sons [humans] called the Telmarines, who have conquered Narnia and hunted the Narnians [they think] to extinction. Prince Caspian X [Ben Barnes] is the heir to the throne, but not of age. Instead, the kingdom is ruled by his Uncle, Miraz [Sergio Castellito] – at least until his aunt births a son. Then Miraz sends men to kill his nephew so that he can begin his own line of royalty. His tutor helps him flee and gives him an ivory horn to blow only as a last resort.

Ready for war

In a London subway station, the Pevensie children are about to take a train to school when the station falls apart around them, leaving them standing in Narnia – but not the Narnia they knew – Caspian has blown the horn. While they’ve been home for a year, Narnia has passed through 1300 years! Now, they must help Caspian regain his kingdom and save the denizens of Narnia.

One of the reasons that Prince Caspian works so well is that the creative team [writers Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus and Andrew Adamson, who also directed] took the key elements of the story and built an epic tale around them without feeling the need to be slavish in their adaptation. Another reason is that the four actors who play the Pevensies [Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Anna Popplewell and William Moseley] are quite brilliant [which marks a drastic change for Popplewell and Moseley, who were pretty wooden in the first film]. Ben Barnes does a nice job as Caspian, who came off as whiny and a bit of a wimp in the book but comes across as a bit naive but brave here.

Once again, the supporting cast is also first-rate. Peter Dinklage stands out as Trumpkin, a somewhat acerbic dwarf whom Lucy [Henley] describes as her “dear little friend.” [“That’s very patronizing,” he snorts]. Then there’s the mouse warrior, Reepicheep, voiced by Eddie Izzard – who is a bit put off by his foes’ lack of imagination [“Yes, I’m a mouse. Can’t you think of something more original?”].

So, the script and the performances are first-rate. But what about the effects? They’re also pretty stellar. Whether we’re talking the denizens of Narnia [a talking badger among them], or a spectacular creature who appears near the end, the effects are both first-rate and completely in service to the story.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is hit – a palpable hit!

Final Grade: A+

Son of Rambow: Little Film About Filmmaking and Making Friends Is Utterly Charming

Lee Carter & Will Proudfoot

Will Proudfoot [Bill Milner] is a member of a religious sect that doesn’t allow watching television, so when his teacher plays a tape for the class, Will has to sit in the hall until it’s over. Lee Carter [Will Poulter], on the other hand, is the school’s resident hellspawn, who is frequently ejected from class.

The day after Lee has boldly videotaped First Blood at the town theater, he is ejected from class at the same time as Will is sitting in the hall awaiting the completion of a class film. A series of incidents involving a tennis ball and a few less than white lies later, Lee and Will are on their way to becoming friends – a process heightened when a hiding Will gets to watch Lee’s bootleg of first Blood and prods Lee, a budding filmmaker, to film “Son of Rambow.” Before long, a seemingly cool French exchange student named Didier [Jules Sitruk] has become a lead in the film; Will has become cool by association, and friction develops between Will and Lee.

The parts of the film that deal with the growing bond between Lee and will, and the relationship that Brother Joshua [Neil dudgeon] tries to build between Will and his mother [Jessica Stevenson], are charming and real in a low-key way. Didier and his entourage – who have become cool by hanging with him – are a clever bit at first, but wear out their welcome before long. [A clever insight into how his fellow French students see him comes just a bit too late for us to care overmuch.]

Writer/director Garth Jennings has a knack to getting to the kernel of truth in each of his main core of characters and directs with a slightly stealthy, not quite sprightly touch. If you’re tired of summer blockbusters already, Son of Rambow will probably going to charm the socks of you.

Final Grade: B+

Iron Man – Do You want to live like Tony Stark?

MTV is running a pretty cool contest where you can live like Tony Stark or a weekend.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to win, it’d be a cruel joke to give you a taste of something I would never be able to get again. But I love the concept and like to see good marketing. From MTV of all people. Here’s a link to the official contest. www.ironman.mtv.com


VH1’s "Fabulous Life" of Tony StarkFunny bloopers are a click away

Speed Racer: Brightly Colored Fun!

Speed Racer

Let’s be clear on this – I have never seen any of the Speed Racer anime´ nor have I seen any of the manga, and am barely aware of vintage merchandizing. Now that we have that out of the way, I have to say that, as a Speed Racer virgin, the brightly-colored film by the Wachowski Brothers is a lot of fun.

Emile Hirsch rocks as the title character, a boy in the process of becoming a man – and a believer in fair play when it appears that there hasn’t been any in professional racer since, well, ever. His rock solid family [John Goodman as Pops Racer, Susan Sarandon as Mom Racer and Paulie Litt as younger brother Spritel], pet chimp, Chim Chim and girlfriend Trixie [a very anime´ looking Christina Ricci] give him the courage to turn down an offer to sign with the top team – at which point he learns of the real nature of his beloved sport. From there it’s only a matter of winning a couple of races [against an entire field of cheaters] and bringing down the Royalton Racing Team [the team he turned down]. Nothing to it – not!

While there’s not a lot of plot to Speed Racer, there’s almost always lots going on as Speed – with the help of the mysterious Racer X [sure it’s not hard to make the connection between him and Speed’s older brother, who is supposed to have died, but it’s a convention – just like nobody recognizing Superman behind Clark Kent’s specs. Deal with it and move on!]. The races are beautifully staged exercises in gladiatorial driving; the fight sequences really capturing the odd, freeze-frame style of anime´ and manga; the cast is clearly having more fun than should be legal, and the whole thing just feels good. The only real flaw in the film is that it’s just a wee bit too talky – but that hardly matters.

For a movie with a candy-colored world [the bright, shiny color of fresh hard candy – not the pastels of rock candy], the emphasis is on the kind of grounding that a good family provides and the kind of justice that is most deserved – the justice of the untouchable evil being brought down by one man with a mission. This may be my first encounter with Speed Racer but it won’t be my last.

Final Grade: A

Redbelt: David Mamet’s Martial Arts Film Stings Like a Butterfly, Floats Like a Bee!

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David Mamet has studied Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for several years and, with Redbelt, he brings this side of his life to silver screen in a story that features his usual briskly vulgar language and crosses, double-crosses and scams – only in the staging of a martial arts movie.

The protagonist, Mike Terry [Chiwetal Ejiofor], is an instructor/studio owner whose business is suffering and really only survives because of the income provided by his wife, Sondra’s [Alice Braga] boutique garment business. When he comes to the aid of a movie star, Chet Frank [Tim Allen], in a bar fight, he winds up getting sucked into a series of cons that result in his finally having to enter a mixed martial arts tournament to save his studio and his wife’s business – and that doesn’t even take into account the messed up lady lawyer and an unfortunate accident…

With Redbelt, Mamet does a better job as director than as writer. Sure, we’ve got the typical Mamet wheels-within-wheels series of scams/cons and double-crosses – and the film plays to the idea of purity of mind in martial arts versus the crass commercialism of professional mixed martial arts. Unfortunately, after giving us some extremely good set-up, Mamet allows the film to fall onto a kind of clichéd physical battle between Terry and the man behind the tournament – with the master of his art in attendance, no less. The film could easily have ended before the final scene, though. That was a bit too much.

Overall, though, Redbelt is better-than-average Mamet [which is better than most writer/directors best]. He gets fine performances from his cast [many of whom, like Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon and David Paymer] are part of his repertory company. He balances the dialogue and action masterfully, and has a knack for making the most of his small budget. Some mixed martial arts fans in the row behind me said “Awesome!” more than once during the movie, so I guess the fight sequences were as good as they seemed. Redbelt is one of Mamet’s lesser works, but it’s certainly worth checking out – even for those who don’t really care about martial arts.

Final Grade: B-

Movie Reviews: Go Speed Racer Go! Michelle Loves the Heck out of Speed Racer!

Speed Racer was always one of my five wholly grails of films. Weirdly, I’ve never been that into the cartoon, but always thought it would make an amazing film. I was prepared to totally hate Speed Racer, everything that I saw of the film before I saw it sucked Chim Chim’s monkey balls which were then thrown in my face. The trailers were bad, the clips were amazingly stiff. Casting awful. CGI was crap. Clearly the directors/writers Wachowski‘s have lost their damn minds. Warner Brothers raped my childhood and I LOVED every psychedelic, trippy, vertigo induced minute of it. This movie capped off a fantastic film week that included Iron-Man and Son of Rambow. I liked Iron-Man a lot, but this is the movie that just punched me in the happy bone.  I had a smile on my face for days after the screening. Why did this work so well? In a word, despite the weird LSD induced colors this film was about something. It had a heart and soul to it. And I wasn’t expecting that in a summer blockbuster.  This movie is about family and love – of racing and each other.  Each race while fast, frenetic and colorful told the larger story. It wasn’t about just getting to the finish line as fast as you can.

speedracer3

From the opening graphics to the end closing credits the Wachowski’s nailed everything that was good about Speed Racer and elevated it to the 10th level. In a film like this the makers forget what was it about the original source material that drew people to begin with. For example in Mission Impossible two and three, they complete remade and destroyed the original, classic well known theme song. It’s a minor thing, but that theme is part of MI’s character. Just like in Speed Racer the classic theme is vital to maintaining the integrity of the show/film. Before I walked into the theater I saw an ad for that god awful Speed Racer cartoon on Nicktoons where they completely bastardized the original song. I thought for sure it would be used in the movie as well. The Brother’s W, not only kept the original theme but gave it this majestic orchestral score that put a huge grin on my face. They kept all of the musical beats from the series. Even the one modern version of the song that roles at the end credits is incredibly cool.

And that’s why this film was so great, they did a lot of nods to the original classic moments – The Monster Car, yep it’s there (doesn’t look so monster), Chim Chim and Spritle pretending to be a goon? Yep, it’s there. Speaking of Spritle, I’ve always hated those two in the cartoon, but here. They pretty much steal the film. Young Paulie Litt is at time hysterically funny. The way Racer X (Matthew Fox) is handled is perfect. I was actually fooled by the twist that really wasn’t a twist towards the end.  Emile Hirsch brings a certain charm to Speed. Some of his line delivery is stilted and emotionless. But the writing is so strong and enough is going on that you don’t notice it as much.  Speed Racer may not be Oscar worthy “best film,” but it’s the most fun I’ve had at a movie in years.  Every frame is infused with love and care. It’s an extremely rare A+.

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EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally posted 5.8.2008

Son of Rambow makes Michelle want to get off her ass!

Anyone who has read my reviews over the years, knows that I’m a sucker for films about the creative process and precocious British kid films. Writer/Director Garth Jennings, whose last film was 2005’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” has crafted a small, indie film that – dare I say it?  Should I say it? Why not? Is “This Year’s Juno.” It’s a smart, witty, inspiring little movie about a sheltered kid (think Amish) Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) who is introduced to movies in an over the top way. He accidentally watches a movie, not just any movie, Rambo: First Blood, and falls in love.  He somehow manages to make friends with the neighborhood bully Lee Carter (Will Poulter) who is making a movie to enter into a BBC Talent competition. Proudfoot becomes obsessed with Rambo.  Rambow works on several different levels, it’s a fun movie about the process of making a film.

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It’s about trying to move outside of your boundaries (in this case Proudfoot’s strict religious upbringing) and how you can find friendship and brotherhood in the strangest of places.  Jennings infuses this story with a thumping 80s soundtrack.  The film’s two young leads successfully manage to carry the weight of this film on their shoulders. A lot of times when you have child stars in films like this, they always come across as older and more mature than they should be. But this time through Jennings strong writing and the performances, everything seems to just fit. Although this film is set in the 80s, it has a timeless feel to it. Jennings does a great job of showing us Will’s home life without bashing his religion. He clearly has a loving family that’s only trying to look out for him. The film doesn’t preach whether it’s wrong or right, it just is.  If the first film that I ever saw was Rambo, my head would be turned to. While the two leads and the A story are strong, the film falters a bit when it Jennings becomes enamored of his french star Jules Sitruk who plays the too cool for the room french transfer student Didier Revol.

This is one of the year’s best films. Too bad it’s going to get crushed by Speed Racer, when it opens in limited release this weekend. I don’t know what Paramount Vantage is thinking opening this film in the busy May season.

Final Grade A

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
5.08.2008

Shane Felux Discusses his Sci-Fi thriller Trenches with Michelle!

I love stories like Shane Felux’s. He’s a regular guy who got together with some friends to shoot a little fan film called “Star Wars: Revelations.” The film became a cult hit on the web and attracted more than 3 million downloads in less than 2 months. It was featured in major media outlets like CNN, Entertainment Weekly, MSNBC and others. His follow-up “Pitching Lucas” won the George Lucas Selects and Audience Choice award in 2006. The first film to win both top awards. Now he has teamed up with the new ABC-Disney Stage 9 Project to bring his latest film, a sci-fi thriller – Trenches to a YouTube video near you.

Trenches is a 10 episode original series produced for Stage 9. Each 2-4 minute episode will be available in both SD and HD formats.

An interplanetary war between the Rossdale Alliance and the Kuzaa Federation has been raging for generations. Lieutenant Nathan Andrews is a soldier with a relatively simple mission: retrieve his fellow soldiers from a losing battle before being overrun by enemy forces. After a ravenous crash landing, he is stranded with a misfit squad of surviving soldiers while something evil and alien lurks in the shadow of the planet’s trenches. The squad of soldiers find themselves in a race against time where they will put aside an age-old conflict and band together in a last attempt at survival.

Trenches stars Mercy Malick as Captain Racine; Aaron Mathias as Lt. Andrews; Micci Sampery as Lt. Greig; Lev Gorn as Captain Traina; Hong Chau as Specialty Wing; Daz Crawford as Sergeant Verro; Kelley Slagle as Specialty Boyens; Scott Nankivel as Pfc. Janeski; Tom Reuel as Specialty Resnikoff; Orlando Williams as Msg. Drayce; Chaney Tullos as Private Del Amico; Paul Stober as Captain Samson. I caught up with Shane at the recent New York Comic-Con and had a quick Q and A with him. He’s a really cool and interesting guy.  Read the interview after the break.

Continue reading Shane Felux Discusses his Sci-Fi thriller Trenches with Michelle!

Movie Review – Iron Man Flies, but doesn’t Quite Soar!

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After a year of speculation, spoilers, and marketing hype. The summer film season kicks off, not with a bang and not a whimper. One of my most anticipated films of 2008 – Iron Man is finally here in all it’s technicolor glory!  I liked this movie a lot, technically it’s brilliant, acting is spot on, but it was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on what.  From the moment this movie was announced every decision by Director Jon Favreau has been spot on. Casting  Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was truly inspired. This film rests squarely on Downey’s shoulders and he takes the ball and scores a touchdown.  He was born to play this part. He’s perfectly sarcastic, vapid, yet brilliant and roguish. Could not have been happier with his performance.  In the Pantheon of Marvel Characters, Iron Man was always a major player in the Marvel Universe, but he’s never been a fan favorite and recently Marvel has turned Tony into a completely unlikable, know it all dick.  The movie version of Tony is more circa 80s Stark – pre-alcoholism.

When I first watched the trailer on my computer, it was the first time where I had concerns about this film. I thought it looked way too fake. But within the context of the film, everything works perfectly. Never once do you not believe that this suit is real. Favreau spends so much time showing the construction of this armor and the entire testing process that when we finally see him take off you buy into it. Stan Winston did an incredible job designing the Mark III Armor. It’s straight out of the comic book and is exactly how I always imagined Iron Man’s Armor in a live action film to look like. It’s a brilliant mix of CGI and practical SFX. But here’s my problem with the film, I kept trying to force a connection to it and wondering why I’m not LOVING this movie. I liked it a hell of a lot but didn’t LOVE it.  I think it comes down to the lack of real tension. Everything felt slightly plastic and a little too technical. With no real peril or villains.

When Stark does his first bit of Super-Hero work it’s against some nameless terrorist group. That is not clearly defined or established enough to make us care. All of the violence is done off camera as well. This leads to several weird edit moments where Iron Man is blowing up bad guys left and right, we see the repulser blasts, stuff getting blown up, but we never really see the bad guys get what’s coming to them, it’s all done off camera. I’m not one who needs to see blood and guts, but in a film like this it lacks an edge that it sorely needs.  It’s interesting the Favreau and his writers decided to go this route instead of using Iron-Man’s signature nemesis The Mandarin. He clearly wanted to focus all the attention on telling us who Tony Stark was before worrying about the villains. Which is where most Super Hero films falter.  Now that we have a clear idea who Stark is, Favreau can use the next film to give us Mandarin.  It’s funny, as an avid Iron-Man fan from back in the day, I can’t name any of Iron’s enemies, he doesn’t have a very good Rogues Gallery. Who would be good in this movie? Stiltman? Stingray?

The cast was perfect, Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes was done really well and Tony’s long suffering secretary Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) was nicely done. Jeff Bridges was barely recognizable as (Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger).  The movie’s only down moment came in final fight between Iron Man and Iron Monger was disappointing at best. Turned into a really lame Transformers rip-off.  Iron-Man is a great kick off to a front loaded Summer Blockbuster season and this is a fabulous start to the Iron-Man franchise. Bring on The Mandarin.

Final Grade A-

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 5.2.08