Minority Report
A Beautiful Mind
Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Planet of the Apes
America's Sweethearts
Jurassic Park III
Legally Blonde
Older reviews
Minority Report
Starring: Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Spielberg's last effort, A. I., was a terrible sci-fi film that contained a very simple plot combined with dazzling special effects and a superb cast of lesser known stars.  So he follows that up with another sci-fi effort with a box office superstar known more for eclipsing his projects and consisting of a convoluted, mind-twisting mash of intricacies, with special effects that are nothing to write home about... and creates a masterpiece.

Well, he still is Steven Spielberg, and he goes to show he still have the chops to deliver an amazing film just when you think he's fallen by the wayside.  Somehow that's reassuring, like seeing Rocky get back up off the canvas and wade in knowing he may be down but he most assuredly is not out.

Minority Report contains a whole lot of things, not the least of which is a plot hole big enough to drive a blockbuster through it (see end of review for full details, which also contain a spoiler) and yet manages to succeed in the same sort of marvelous way that a magician's trick does: against all odds and improbable in the extreme.  I was at all times entertained and completely enthralled by every concept in this film, even though they were mostly inferior to the lofty ones put forward in Spielberg's earlier, much inferior, effort.

The basic plot (from a Phillip. K. Dick short story) you've already surmised from the T.V. ads: Cruise is a cop who solves "pre-crimes": murders that haven't yet happened but will, predicted by a trio of spooky precogs who are infallible.  Things are fine until one day they predict Cruise will become a future murderer of someone he's never met.  

At that point the oldest plot device known in police drama occurs: Cruise must solve the crime before he is apprehended.  The twist here of course is the crime hasn't yet occurred, and there is no particular reason why it should, and so Cruise must solve that mystery as well.

The 90 minutes or so of the film is filled with splendid chases and split-second timing (along with humor that's been missing from most of the last 10 years of Spielberg's work) that leave you literally on the edge of your seat, all punctuated by a wonderful John Williams score that is anything but typical John Williams.  Then just when you think you've reached the end of the film it suddenly turns a corner and you find there is a whole lot more to go (the film runs almost 2 1/2 hours)  While you'll probably spot the bad guy a long way off (I certainly did) the resolution is a challenge to guess, and will leave you satisfied.

At least until you get home.  Then you may start to wonder about something, and the next is something you do not want to read until after you've seen the film, so go out and spend the money (really, if you like movies you will have to see this) and then come back and we'll talk...


Back?  Okay, the problem with the film, one that you probably won't notice during the film, is really huge, but somewhat difficult to state.  Let me try it simply: if you wanted to frame someone for a future murder of someone he had never met and never would, how would you go about it?  In other words, there is no way you could actually get the two people together without exposing yourself (something that doesn't occur in the film).  So we have a future event dependent upon the future event itself, a paradox the filmmakers have neatly sidestepped by pacing and other tricks of the trade.  But a trick it is: this is a piece of logic that should not have happened.  Cruise would never have been in that hotel room unless he saw himself in the hotel room, and he never would see himself there unless he would go there...  I think you can see the problem.

I actually don't mind the film has this huge flaw -- it's kind of endearing, a sort of Monroe birthmark on the face of what was a superbly entertaining effort.  But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.


Worth Seeing? I'm not in the minority by reporting yes!

A Beautiful Mind


Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly.

Directed by Ron Howard

There are movies the less you know about before you see them the better, and this is one of them.  Therefore, I won't spoil it for anyone by revealing any more of the plot except to say it's the true story of a mathematical genius who has a difficult time with life outside of his work.

Russell Crowe delivers a performance both understated and stunning, and is a sure lock to pick up the Oscar in a few months.  It's equally matched by his love interest, Jennifer Connelly (who's grown a great deal more interesting since she played the ingénue in such films as The Rocketeer) and will almost certainly hold a gold statue herself from the academy's spring fest).  Their scenes together are among the film's most interesting (and provide a great deal of the sly humor in this otherwise very serious film).

About the only thing wrong with this film (which will win the Oscar for Best Picture despite being an inferior film to Lord of the Rings -- Hollywood will never give such an award to any portrayal of something as "frivolous" as Middle-Earth) is the end.  Director Ron Howard has taken the time necessary for us to care and worry for these characters, and the last fifteen minutes events and time are so compressed it feels as if he suddenly looked up at the clock and said "Oh my gosh!  I've spent two hours and the film isn't done yet!"  The most satisfying part of A Christmas Carol is after Scrooge has been reformed and we bask in the glow of his happiness; Howard has wasted a lot of potential here by rushing things and not letting us appreciate the good moments our heroes have earned.

As it is, it's a terrific little film that will interest any adult thinking individuals (for the rest, like the people in the back row behind us who wondered loudly after the picture was over just what everyone had been chuckling about at times, I would recommend renting any of the excellent Adam Sandler films, curling up on their hideabed sofas, and laughing themselves silly in their mobile homes).

Worth Seeing? If you have a mind, you'll find this film beautiful.

Lord of the Rings

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm

Directed by Peter Jackson


Once upon a time, a long time ago, a group of explorers set off on a Quest.  The Kingdom had fallen on dark times, and an evil spirit pervaded the land.  Our intrepid band of heroes, bound by love for each other as well as the duty to themselves, traveled through dangerous territory, beset by creatures and obstacles that would have defeated lesser souls. They travel directly to the lair of their greatest enemy, despite the incredible risk involved.  Their eventual triumph was possible because of their devotion to each other, to the fellowship this mission inspired.

 This, of course, is the story of The Wizard of Oz, a series of books predating those written by J. R. R. Tolkien by a few decades.  It's more than a little possible Tolkien was influenced by these books.  Then again, the story described above could be applied to any number of stories both before and after the Lord of the Rings trilogy was written.

I'm not going to go into the background of the books because, for the enthusiast it would be redundant, and for those who are not familiar with them it really doesn't matter.  One of the very nicest things about Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (to use the full title, since this is the first movie in a trilogy) is you don't have to be one of the Tolkien faithful to enjoy or understand it.  Indeed, while I have a passing familiarity with the story (through my wife's explanation as well as seeing the animated versions made a quarter of a century ago), I found the movie to be very complete in its explanation of all I'd need to know of middle-earth and the enormous amount of characters and races that inhabit it.

Often even before we see a film we type it in our minds: "This is a science-fiction film, this one's a comedy, this is a very serious drama..."  Sometimes that first impression isn't true -- we may see a film we think is science-fiction, like Galaxy Quest, but understand that it really is a comedy.  So I'll tell you something surprising about Rings: while it contains a lot of scenes involving magic, Orcs, special effects of all kinds, this really isn't a Fantasy film, any more than Galaxy Quest is a sci-fi film.  Rings is first and foremost a drama, a very good drama about the honor and relationships among people who try their best to deal with moral issues.  Some of them will succeed, some of them will fail, but all will try and in their efforts we learn a lot about ourselves as well.

And in that service the acting is absolutely superb, from the smallest supporting characters to all the main leads.  It's no easy job for a movie to give enough screen time to the nine major characters of this film, but they do that with time to spare for all the rest of the cast.  I would not have wanted this movie to be one minute shorter than it's nearly three hour running time if that meant any scenes from any characters would be eliminated.

The best test I have for any film is how soon do I want to see it again.  With Rings it will be just as soon as possible.  My only problem is how I will be able to wait until the next movie is released.


Worth Seeing? Yes, this movie Rings true.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Maggie Smith

Directed by Chris Columbus

Harry is an interesting film -- a film whose catchline "Let the magic begin..." could easily be turned into a wish mantra ("Please, let the magic begin!").

It starts off promising, with a satirical opening reminiscent of the kind of sensibility from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  In that, far more magical, film, the young hero lives with his two sets of grandparents and mother, and they all share the same (rather small) bed.  Here we have Harry (played with wide-eyed perfection by Daniel Radcliffe) living in a small room under the stairway, dominated by his tyrannical aunt and uncle.  Before long we learn that Harry is special indeed, and we begin a series of fanciful adventures that end with him triumphant.  But we hardly ever come back to that tone set at the beginning, just the first of the many problems this film has.

I've never read any of the books and had no preconceived notion of what to expect -- what I saw was a rather charming if boring film that would probably entertain most children under the age of 8 or so.  Above that and they'll be wanting some action, and it's here that Potter most disappoints.

Even the scenes which are meant to be dramatic and exciting, like the fight with the Ogre, the chess battle or (most boring of all) the climatic confrontation with the villain have all the excitement of, well, let's say a real chess match.  You can't lay all the fault of that on the screenplay -- while it's obvious Steven Kloves (a particularly odd choice for this movie, considering his other writing credits such as Fabulous Baker Boys and Wonder Boys are very adult movies: perhaps the producers were thrown off by the "boys" in those movie credits) was attempting to be faithful to the book by including far more material than was necessary for this film (it runs 2 1/2 hours and seems every bit of it) the scenes are there.  In the hands of a more capable director (Chris Columbus has written some of the most boring children's movies of recent years (Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes) and directed only one real standout film (Home Alone)) this movie would come alive.

As it is it's most interesting in the small scenes -- the interaction between the three students as they become friends, the mysteries of the school as it is first introduced, Harry discovering the secret behind his past.

The film ends with Harry leaving his beloved school, the place he thinks of as home, and going back to his evil stepparents.  This is a very odd ending (it should have ended back at the house award ceremony), a complete downer to all except those who've read the books.  But then again, I guess this movie isn't designed for anyone who hasn't read the books.


Worth Seeing? Only if you've read all the books and are not looking for any excitement in your movies.  Otherwise, stay tuned for Lord of the Rings.

Planet of the Apes


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by Tim Burton

Hollywood loves to remake classic films and why not?  They have a sure-fire, familiar scenario, and they have actors and directors who grew up watching (and loving) the original.  Indeed, most of the people working in film today are working there precisely because they became addicted to so many great, earlier films.

It sometimes borders on the obsession, as when Spielberg remade A Man Called Joe (as Always) -- the original wasn't very good but it touched something in his heart and his remake became a labor of love (and just a labor for those of us who had to watch it).  I believe something similar is at work here.

How else to explain remaking a film that had been pretty well done to death (five sequels and two television series)?  Was there truly anything about apes acting like men we needed to explore again?  The short answer is no, and unfortunately you have to sit through what seems like five hours (but is only slightly over two) in order to discover that. 

All this despite the fact there is some good work going on here.  Yes, the ape makeup is remarkable (although truly not a quantum leap over the remarkable work done on the earlier series -- more like a point release of the software rather than a new version).  The performers under all that makeup are really great -- Paul Giamatti (doing his best Jim Carrey) as riotous ape entrepreneur, Tim Roth (given full reins here to chew up all the scenery, nearly literally) as the lead chimp villain, and Helen Bonham Carter as the female ape who, well, goes ape over the humans.

And Helen sums up exactly what's wrong about this movie -- she is truly wonderful, and the emotion and range she brings to this role despite the not inconsiderable handicap of all that latex are stunning.  But I'll now provide another Kelley Rule of Thumb: when the character in your movie with the most humanity is an ape, you have a Problem.

The problem, of course, is Mark Wahlberg.  Publicists for some reason want to keep harping on the fact he's had no formal acting training.  Note to publicist: don't overstate the obvious.  As a much better writer observed once, Mark runs the acting range of emotions from A to B.  During a critical moment we are supposed to believe he's pondering his fate (or whatever): we know this because he sits on a rock.  If he sits too long on that rock, it might be hard to tell them apart.

Because you don't get any feelings from him, you also don't develop any feelings for him.  How unlike this is from the original!  Charlton Heston's astronaut was vibrant, dynamic, full of life and indignation at being stranded ("A planet where apes evolved from men!?").  Even his small cameo here (as Tim Roth's chimp father) has in it's few seconds more range than all of Mr. Wahlberg's performance (and I use the term loosely).

Much is being made now of the "surprise" ending of this movie (which I won't reveal).  It's only a surprise if you've never seen a film over the last oh, say, 30 years or so.  Otherwise you'll not only know exactly what's coming, but wonder what the heck the point of it was.  The original had an ending that tied everything together and made perfect sense: this ending is gratuitous and dumb. 

Worth Seeing? As long as you make sure you rent the far better original and watch it immediately afterwards.


America's Sweethearts

Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack

Directed by Joe Roth

A romantic comedy needs as its core two people you desperately care about, two people who are unlikely to hook up and yet, by the end of the movie (against all odds, of course) come together for that screen filling, popcorn selling, ticket buying incredible closeup of a kiss... (to paraphrase another, better, movie).

The biggest problem with America's Sweethearts is that it doesn't have that, although it has all the other pieces it needs (and gets them right).  It has the wise-cracking third role (here, Billy Crystal as the movie studio PR man pulling the behind the scenes strings), the kind of role Eve Arden made a living playing, it has some terrific comedic characters (Stanley Tucci's mercenary studio head, Hank Azaria's riotous Cuban gigolo) and, of course, the third wheel in the love triangle, the bitch goddess (played to unexpected perfection by Catherine ZJ).

She is one-half of the Sweethearts, and John Cusack plays the other half, the leading man (and separated husband) to whom she may or may not still be in love with.  Julia Roberts is her long-suffering sister/personal assistant who has admired (and loved) John from afar.  John is somewhat smitten with Julia as well, but is so blinded by his desire to win his wife back he can't see that Julia is really the Right One.  Will these two find each other?

Who cares?  That's truly the problem, because Julia and John seem better suited as brother(in-law) and sister than anything more serious.  There is so little chemistry between the two that you start thinking about how this movie might have been.

For, you see, Robert Downey Jr. was to have originally played the John Cusack role.  Bobby had a little problem, though (called substance abuse if you're politically correct -- basically he's a junkie loser who's squandered away his considerable talent) and was replaced just as the movie was to go into production.

I really really (really) like John Cusack -- I think he's one of the most underrated actors working today -- and in such films as High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank he has demonstrated a charm and talent that it's a pleasure to watch.  I've enjoyed his career ever since his first major role, in Sixteen Candles, and I was hoping that this film would give him his first chance at playing a traditional leading man.

But John is much better at being the quirky, unconventional hero, and he shows here he just doesn't fit in the standard mold.  Add that to the fact that Julia Roberts is one of the least likely people to play the shy wallflower of a sister/assistant who finally decides to stand up for herself and you have a total dud for romance.

I'd have love to have seen this film with Downey (who would have been much more believable as the handsome movie star type) and some truly cute actress, say Meg Ryan or perhaps Ashley Judd (as she was in Someone Like You) in the Julia Roberts role.  Then this movie would have had magic.  As it is, it's just funny (albeit at times, very funny).

Worth Seeing? If all you want is a comedy without the romance.


Jurassic Park III


Starring: Sam Neil, Bill Macy, Tea Leoni

Directed by Joe Johnson


The rule of thumb is the third movie in a series that involves large, dangerous beasts, such as Jaws 3, Aliens 3 or even Rocky 3, is a very bad movie indeed.

Usually the good ideas that made the first movie so good are dissipated -- for the most part the first sequel consists of the same themes with fewer of the original characters.  By the time the third one is made, it's become a franchise, and you're lucky to have one of the original characters (with perhaps a cameo or two by someone from the first two).  Indeed, the third movie is usually the sequel killer -- if the fourth is made it will bereft of any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

But rules are made to be broken, and in this case they are broken with the same force the large spiny dinosaur that is the central villain in this piece disposes of the fence that holds him in.  This is one terrific movie, much much better than nearly all the reviews will have you believe.

Part of the reason it's so good are the dinosaurs, of course.  They are absolutely wonderful, and much more at center stage than in either of the two previous movies.  The technology has advanced to where it's no longer possible to tell what's animated and what's a model -- I do quite a bit of 3D animation and I didn't have a clue.

But there is much more to like about this movie than just special effects.  Perhaps it helps that Dr. Grant (Neil) was not in the second sequel -- seeing him here brings so much freshness and humor that just wasn't there for JP: The Lost World.  The script also has some very clever humorous lines, and wisely ties this version together with each of the previous movies.

So the plot isn't exactly Shakespeare -- just what did people expect?  It's not unbelievable (like the second one), merely unlikely at times.  And it's never preachy (unlike the first one).  The script does just what it has to do in order to frame all the wonderful excitement and action, so there is no wasted fat here.  Indeed, there is much about this movie that is vastly superior to either of the first two.

About the only negative in the movie is the Tea Leoni character -- she is annoying in the extreme, the kind of typical screaming heroine that might have been in fashion in the 40's but certainly isn't what we expect in our women leads nowadays.  Her behavior isn't necessary for us to be scared, as these action scenes are tremendously scary on their own.  Quite frankly, politically incorrect or not, I would have belted her somewhere in the first act and just told her to shut up.

But I can forgive that, and will go to see this movie again and again.  As will, I suspect, a whole lot of other people.  JPIV can't be too far down the road, and I'm sure it will be just great.


Worth Seeing? Of course.  It's Jurantastic.


Legally Blonde


Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Victor Garber

Directed by Robert Luketic


We might as well say it and get it out of the way -- "Clueless goes to Harvard."

Okay, we've said it (and we're not proud) but while that pretty well sums it up it is also somewhat misleading.  This movie isn't nearly as smart or as funny as Clueless.  Some critics are saying Reese is better than Alicia Silverstone (Clueless' smart blonde) but that isn't true.  She's definitely prettier, and she can pout with the best of them, but she's no match to that earlier, memorable character.

That said, this is a fairly enjoyable (albeit completely predictable) way of spending 90 minutes or so.  Reese is dumped by her boyfriend (in a very funny scene reminiscent of The Heartbreak Kid, but not nearly as heartbreaking) because she's, well, too blonde, and decides to go to Harvard to be near him and to become the woman he wants.  The main humor is West Coast Val Gal meets East Coast preppies, and it's pretty much milked for all it's worth.  This is strictly sit-com material, though, with nothing truly clever or rib-tickling.

I'm much more interested in seeing Reese in the rumored movie version of Honey West.  She has talent and looks, and just needs to find a better vehicle to display both.


Worth Seeing? If you're just like, totally, into the blonde thing.




Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Francis O'Connor, William Hurt

Directed by Steven Spielberg


Steven Spielberg got his start telling his family fairy tales around the dining room table, and with few exceptions has made a career out of making movies which explore fairy tale themes.  Some of his movies are rather obvious adaptations ("Once upon a time there was a monster who lived in the ocean...") and his movies often involve someone making a wish, whether it's Richard Dreyfuss' Close Encounters character's desire to travel to the stars (to the music of "When you Wish Upon a Star" playing in the background) to Robin Williams' Peter Pan wishing he could fly again, to Elliot wishing E.T. back to life.  Spielberg defines movies by wishes come true, and retelling the story of Pinocchio must have been irresistible to him.

But the Spielberg would so easily grant a child's fantasy to fly across the sky on a bicycle is light years removed from the director who made Schindler's List.  Such a man, who has dealt with the realities of the truly dark side of man's nature could not easily provide a happy ending to a fairy tale based in reality.  And therein lies the rub (and problem) with A.I.

This is a fairy tale, all right, but one by the Brothers Grimm rather than Hans Christian Anderson.  David will be abandoned in the woods by someone who can't bring themselves to destroy him, but unlike the classics it won't be some woodcutter but someone whose love and care makes that abandonment almost unwatchable. 

I think there are lots of reasons why the two letter A.I. is the antithesis of E.T.  In each there is a "child" who moves in a world removed from his family, but makes his own family along the way.  In each there is the lack of a father figure (how very chilling that David calls Monica "mother" but keeps referring to her husband by his first name.  David will love his mom, but will never know what it is to have a father).  Both Elliot and David will have various adventures accompanied by a doll-like "friend" who isn't human but provides love and understanding.

The difference, of course, is that Elliot is human and David is not, and Elliot moves in a fairy tale world while David's world only resembles one.  Beneath all the neon and glitter and artifice of the future David inhabits there is no magic.  He may fly, but in a machine.  He may find love and acceptance, but it will not last.  He will visit the great and mighty OZ (a rather hammy performance by a 3D character voiced by Robin Williams) but unlike Dorothy, he finds no human solace nor magic path home.

One critic called A.I. frustrating, and I can understand this viewpoint.  A.I. is very close to creating all the Spielberg magic we've come to expect.  Time and time again it fails, but it does get close, much closer than most films made by most filmmakers.

There is much to admire here.  Haley Joel Osment is absolutely terrific as David, as is Jude Law as his traveling companion.  His other sidekick, the bear, is one of the more charming movie creations, avoiding all the cloying possibilities of such a character.  And Spielberg has woven a rich tapestry of ideas and themes (such as the persecution of minorities, the use of artificial substitutes for love, the quest for a meaning in life, and even a return to what alien life might inhabit this universe) that you never lack for something to think about.  I just wish I hadn't left the theater feeling as cold and empty as some of the artificial life portrayed within this movie.  David deserved better than he got, and 10 years ago Steven would have given it to him.

Spielberg quite rightly dedicated this movie to Stanley Kubrick, the late director who had intended to make this film for quite some time (he was working on the treatment when he died).  Interestingly enough, I think the film Spielberg made was probably exactly the film that Kubrick (a man known for making films that lacked human warmth, such as 2001) would have.  In that respect, it's quite a tribute.


Worth Seeing? As long as you're not bi-polar and in one of your down moods.



Voices: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow

Directed by: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

One critic called Shrek "critic proof" -- well, no movie is immune to criticism, but Shrek certainly comes close.

It is a movie that falls into that extremely rare category of a terrific family movie -- too often sacrifices are made in order to appeal to all ages that results in a disaster.  Disney's made a fortune walking that fine line and now Dreamworks seems to be taking the lead.

It has all the things that make a good family picture -- lots of visual humor as well as witty dialog (which is aimed far above most children's heads), great characters, a very simple to follow plot involving romance, adventure and, of course, a happily ever after that leaves you walking from the theater feeling much better than when you went in. 

About the only thing the picture doesn't have, in fact, is anything approaching unpredictability.  This isn't a requirement for a family film -- indeed, it can be a distinct liability, but it's lack here means the picture will not achieve the "classic" status of such films as The Princess Bride (a much more unconventional telling of a fairy tale).

Other than the fact that the lead is a Ogre (and discounting the rather small twist of an ending) this movie follows a tried and true formula to a "t": the unpopular but ultimately triumphing hero, the obnoxious sidekick who turns out to have the key to salvation, the two obviously meant for each other if only they would realize it, and a road trip where it all comes together. 

So if there aren't any surprises here, plotwise, at least the movie itself is filled with such a rich tapestry of background characters, throwaway lines and, above all, winning characterizations by the leads that we can forgive it.  Mike Myers is winning as the best green guy this side of the Jolly Giant.  Cameron Diaz's princess is both charming and resourceful.  And most surprising of all, Eddie Murphy's donkey sidekick is truly very wonderful (a real revelation considering he's playing the same character he played in Disney's Mulan, albeit this time with fur: as Mulan's dragon and even with limited screen time he really got on my nerves, but with a much larger role here he never becomes cloying or annoying, except to our lead).

A lot is being made of the animation in the film -- yes, it's groundbreaking in that it's 3D animation that no longer has to apologize for anything.  The art direction is also very beautiful -- some of the sunsets and scenics are like paintings come to life.  In that respect the animation should be admired.  But I think we've now reached a point in the technology where we don't need to mention it, which is about the highest compliment we can pay the animators (as Hitchcock once noted about cinematography, the best should be so unobtrusive we never think about it).

This is the kind of movie you may need to see more than once, to appreciate all you can't catch the first time.  But you won't lack for company -- if you run out of family to take with you, round up some neighbor kids and treat them (and yourself) to a lot of summer fun.


Worth Seeing? Even if you have to rent a kid to see it with.
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