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Archive for the ‘Jake Gyllenhaal’ Category

Nocturnal Animals

03 Jan

Nocturnal Animals – written and directed by Tom Ford. Melodrama. 116 minutes Color 2106.

★★★★

The Story:  The jaded owner of a chichi art gallery on the rocks, as is her marriage, reads a novel by her first husband which proves he loved her.

~

It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. It is a kind of revenge story that makes Venetians lick their chops.

Amy Adams plays the remarried wife reading her first husband’s novel, and we see the novel enacted by the author of it. Three hoods attack its main character and his wife and teen-aged daughter on a lonely road. He is helpless to help them. They rape and murder the women, and would kill him if he had not escaped into the desert. Then he meets a local policeman ardent to do the attackers in.

What’s important in noir is to keep all the scenes tight-lipped, and this the writer, who is also the director, fails to do. The big scenes over-last their stay. The result is that they cascade from the cliff of drama into the puddle of melodrama.

But the film does provide Amy Adams with another selfish woman to play, and as usual she does this well. She doesn’t grip me as a leading woman, however. As a character lead, yes, but she lacks the general gusto great leading ladies possess.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the fictional husband and the real husband. He fudges his big scene in which the three hoods take over his family and his car partly because it goes on too long, as does the finale where he gives the slayer his due. Opposite him is Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the killer, played in full snicker Richard Widmark manner. Both scenes end up in coyness as their thread is unreeled too long to sustain. But he also has great big dolloping scenes, just the kind an actor in his thirties loves to play. It is a performance bound to justify the large size of his following.

The performance that holds one, however, is Michael Shannon as the detective. He plays it so close to the vest, you think he’s going to burst out laughing at any moment. It’s a wonderful construction, filling the screen with our attention every time he appears.

If the director were as ruthless as the characters I would have liked it more. I like to like things more. But I can also like to like things not so much, as here. Don’t be put off on my account, though. Check it out. See for yourself.

 

Everest

14 Oct

Everest ­– directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Docupic. 121 Minutes Color 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: Four commercial climbing expeditions join forces for the sake of safety as they take their clients up to the highest elevation in the world.

~

Well they certainly found the perfect actor to play the lead. Jason Clarke, an Australian actor, brings to his role the requirements needed to hold the entire story together. Because there is that within him that allows you to believe that he holds the entire expedition together. It is he who has the foresight to see that five expeditions cannot embark on the same day, and gets three of them to join with his group. This actor exudes the compassion, expertise, and common sense which makes us go along with him on what is, after all, a $65,000 ticket to a thrill for the climbers.

The film takes us into the depths of the mountains, and I wonder how they ever managed to film it. I was astonished. I was held. I kept learning. I felt present on the spot.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays an expedition leaders, a rapscallion. And John Hawkes plays a climber on his last chance to make it. Josh Brolin plays a climber addicted to mountaineering. The great Icelandic actor, Ingvar Eggert Sugurösson plays a leader who never uses oxygen and who does jim-dandy without it. He alone is clean-shaven, which helps his performance, for it is often hard to tell one character from another, since all the men wear beards which cooperate with the snow and the oxygen-masks to disguise them. But you can identify the characters by their parkas. And the director makes the back-and-forth of the perils they meet as clear as can be in all that white.

The female actors are particularly strong. Keira Knightley as Clarke’s pregnant wife, Robin Wright as Brolin’s. Elizabeth Debicki as the base camp doctor holds the fort with the wonderful Emily Watson who plays the base camp manager. What a treasure she is!

I won’t tell you the story, because I did not know it myself when I saw it. But I surmised that things did not turn out well for all these people, or the film would not have been made. It’s beautifully done. The mountain itself looms above it all, deciding who will live and how and who will die and how.

The peril is threefold. Steepness. Oxygen deprivation. Cold. I am a cold person, so the last of these interested me most, in that some of the characters are clearly more comfortable with cold than others.

Of course, by cold, I do not mean nasty, narrow, cruel, prudish, or mean. Cold is a temperature of love of life and a latitude for moving through it. Hot blooded people are colorful, bold, and tempting. But the cool ones love the reserves in themselves, and the path therein to their souls and their callings. So I like snow. I like ice. I like to witness the perils inherent in them. The perseverance. The melt.

Also, I saw it in 3-D, which helps, I think. Anyhow, I recommend it, as, of course, I do the film itself.

 

Southpaw

28 Jul

Southpaw ­– directed by Antoine Fuqua. Sportsdrama. 123 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: The Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion falls on evil days and rises once again.

~

All boxers are born punchdrunk. They would have to be thickheaded to stand the blows to their heads and thickheaded to imagine a fight could ever solve whatever drove them to want to fight to begin with.

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly grasps this as his basis for the character’s energy. It’s been used before in Kid Galahad, Rocky, The Fighter, and Wallace Berry’s 1931 The Champ of which this film is a dead ringer – the story of a fighter who puts his life together for his young son, the appealing Jackie Cooper, in this case for a daughter, the appealing Oona Lawrence. Southpaw is as dated as the antimacassar.

It is essentially an old-fashioned Victorian melodrama – at least it becomes that once Rachel McAdams is out the picture. While she is in it, the writing is superb. Once she is out of it, the writing degenerates, as it has to, to feed the dastardly plot. Cary Grant received his only Oscar nomination for playing the same ne’er-do-well parent in George Stevens’ Penny Serenade. But the present film gives Gyllenhaal no such Oscar scene as the famous one Grant played with Beulah Bondi.

But it does provide the four principal players with acting roles each of them makes wonderful.

As the twelve year old daughter, Oona Lawrence strengthens every scene she plays. Rachel McAdams, holding the reins on her out-of-control angry husband, has just the right touch. After all, her husband is puerile; he can’t help it. Forrest Whitaker’s acting improves with every film I see him in: he has lost the bid for pity which once marred his work.

However, these characterizations exist apart from the melodrama they are forced to pass through. 1-2-3 Melodrama declines subtlety of characterization; it requires types. So, although the work the actors do is worth the film-time, it is impossible to root for the outcome, because we already know what it is. If the lady is tied onto the railroad tracks she will be snatched from under the wheels of the train in the nick.

Gyllenhaal’s work is somewhat sideswiped by having to bear this melodrama-load.

He claims to have accepted the role because it was about a man learning to be a father. Of course, it is no such thing, though that is a value we are asked to accept. Nor is it about a man learning anger-control, although that is a value we are asked to accept. Anger-control takes a life-time to ingrain. It isn’t even a story about a man rising from the dregs of defeat, although this is also such a value, because we never believe in that defeat’s convenient, clumsy arrival as a plot convention. The material is mangled by the dead sentimentality of its form which is claptrap and a  sham.

What makes it work is watching Gyllenhaal and the other actors work.

Gyllenhaal gives his character a voice as though scabs lined his vocal chords. Not every actor can generate a character-voice; Bette Davis never could. This voice allows you to wander into his character and find inside his Billy Hope a mother-wit and a grasp of values, alongside of a gruesome swagger and a plodding gullibility, the bravado of a big-horned ram and the docility of a lamb.

Gyllenhaal is truly ugly in the ring. So we are not asked to pity a pretty face. He wears an undergrowth of short red beard, his teeth are blackened, his hair is shorn on the sides like a con’s. Billy Hope is a character so well made you wish it could have been supported by a story that did not sabotage it. Melodrama forces care. So, alas, we cannot care.

I don’t know why we are not told that a left-handed boxer is at a great disadvantage in the ring and in what way; that could have been a drama element for us. But, at least, we are taken through Gyllenhaal’s training by Whitaker; so we learn something of ring tactics, footwork, and the fact that good fighters don’t destroy opponents with haymakers. All it takes is the force of a five pound jab to knock the brains of an opponent into a coma.

All the information Gyllenhaal has given on Terry Gross ‘s Fresh Air, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, has enlarged one’s respect for this actor’s clarity of wit and the inevitability of his calling.

Fights in fight movies are stories within stories. In this film, they are superb. But the larger story that houses them in Southpaw is prefabricated.

I recommend the movie, but not over Mark Wahlberg’s The Fighter. Wahlberg makes his character modest and withdrawn. Gyllenhaal’s character is volatile and brazen, inside of which is an intelligence just daring to peek out. They are both wonderful actor performances. Southpaw is well worth seeing therefore, even though one wishes its larger story was as true as its fights, or as the acting of its actors is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Donnie Darko

27 Apr

Donny Darko – directed By Richard Kelly. SpookyDrama. 133 minutes Color 2001.

★★★

The Story: A teenage boy sleepwalks his way into a unlived life.

~

The Gyllenhaal kids are in this one, she the easy one, he the difficult one. Which is not to say he is the bad guy and she is the good girl, she nice, he nasty. No, they do not exist in these realms at all. One day fifteen years or so from now, when they are pushing fifty, they may play the brother and sister in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, but until that time we shall simply have to wait. Nice and nasty doesn’t apply to them. Her face is raised to the world, his face is hang-dog. There’s mystery enough in that.

If she delights to have fun, and he is reluctant to have fun, well then, there lurks in him a smile withheld for a more honest and more understanding gathering. Drew Barrymore as his English teacher offers it. So does Katharine Ross as his therapist. But the only one giving him the quality of attention his frown demands is his girlfriend, nicely played by Jena Malone.

The film is one of those messes written by the man who directed it. Will people never learn? Do not direct what you have written, because you will invariably direct everyone but the writer. But another reason prevails for its being a mess.

The director is by nature conventional and to try to be unconventional makes a movie about time-travel – not realizing, time-travel is a thing conventional directors conventionally try.

So what is a conventional persona supposed to do?

What they had better do is don’t try to be unconventional, but to adhere rather to the gift of conventionality they have been given, and, if they are no brighter than this director, what that means is to honor the strength of a strong story line, and seek out a strong story line to honor. That would set the matter of conventionality and unconventionality aside with an iron hand.

As it is, we have a foolish film about an oddball adolescent, played when Jake Gyllenhaal was 20 and just the right age. Gyllenhaal’s personal recalcitrance carries the picture. The picture does not carry the picture. It simply presents weirdness pretending to significance.

Inside this is cocooned an interested personality biding his time for a role more generous to his gifts, as, say, in Nightcrawlers.

He is well supported by Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all women you will note. Females rush to protect Jake Gyllenhaal. Men steer clear of him, you will note. It is the abiding subtext of many a Gyllenhaal film, most pronounce in his most renowned one, Brokeback Mountain.

 

Nightcrawler

23 Mar

Nightcrawler – written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Crime Satire. 117 minutes Color 2014

★★★★★

The Story: A petty thief steals his way into The Profession Of Paparazzi Of Gore.

~

The two best male performances I saw for 2014, and in perhaps the two best films, were Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler.

For once the writer of the screenplay has not botched the direction of the picture by forgetting to leave all that stuff out or by not having listened to someone who cast a cold eye beforehand, as Zanuck used to do. For the screenplay is masterful. And the direction is masterful. And the music is particularly masterful. And the casting is masterful. And the filming is masterful. And the playing is masterful.

Why would you possibly deprive yourself of this? Is it because it deals with ambulance-chasing video-vampires who sell their spectacular footage to the TV stations every night? Is it because it is a satire with no laughs? An exposé of how we drool over roadside kill and the crimson-dripping misfortunes of others? How the front pages fix their starshine on murder, misery, rape, crime, and sexual exploitation? If it bleeds it leads.

This is the motto of the studio head played by Rene Russo, so well cast by the director, who happens to be her husband. It is good to see Miss Russo back in business on the blockbuster screen. She plays this well-written part with all the humor, reserve, and savvy in the world. Boy, is she good!

The movie is, however, entirely the province of Jake Gyllenhaal who plays the smarmy but effective video-cameraman. He has lost 20 pounds to play the part of a sort of Zen master juggernaut of the night. Lithe, quick, unreadable, he has made of this character a stern robot, mouthing maxims from career manuals and community college TV management courses. He never speaks ordinary English. He is always a quote. It is an astonishing tour de force for an actor, for even when he breaks out of this humorless, manipulative mummery, he is, behind it, nothing less than insane. This we know.

So the suspense is: what will become of this nut? Will his sidekick, well played by Riz Ahmed, get shafted? Yes, but how? Will Russo outlast our Jake?

Gyllenhaal’s face is sculpted to a skin and a bone. With a little queue on his head, he is an ascetic of slime. If he is not human, it is not because he is insane, not because he is relentless, but because he is without fear. It is an emotion unknown to him, and his being without it gives us ourselves in our ghoulish eye which would gaze on death without horror. As though we were training ourselves for a genocide. A sweet immolation of everything and everyone. An eager 42-caliber finale served up as a free sample at any supermarket you go to at all.

Worth seeing, my dears.

 
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Posted in CRIME DRAMA, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, Jake Gyllenhaal, René Russo, SATIRE

 

Prisoners

27 Sep

Prisoners – directed by Denis Valleneuve. Police Procedural Suspense Thriller. Two little girls are abducted and cannot be found. 153 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★★

This picture trips up over the train of its final complexities. Even the great Melissa Leo cannot render the unnecessary exposition scene at the end. Motiveless malignancy is all you need. Rationales do not have to be given for human nastiness. Nastiness is a gift of God, and we all are capable of it, and that we are unites us with Medea, Richard III, and Iago in a way that excuses and personal history and reasons for villainy keep us away. Alibis don’t make an audience empathetic. They make us dismissive. Don’t tell me why Iago did it. He did it because, no matter what his “reasons,” he had the  means, the will and the bent to do it, just like the rest of us. If you find out his motives you diminish his size. Such is the case here.

But I go on too long, for otherwise what else but praise can be due to the director and writer for bringing this marvelous picture show to us. And what good fortune to have Roger Deakins film it in dank color. What a pallet he has! What a way of harvesting light.

The performances of all – Leo, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello are terrific. They rise to the writing like the grateful actors they are, recognizing good material at long last.

And to carry the sleigh we have the tandem horses of Jake Gyllenhaal as the investigating detective and Hugh Jackman as the father.

Jake Gyllenhaal is as moody as his sister is merry. He is the knight of doleful countenance, a melancholy Dane for our time. It is always necessary to see any picture he is in. He has that in common with few other actors of his generation – perhaps only Joaquin Phoenix. Gyllenhaal grounds the detective in personal probity – a quality scripted for the character but which he plays without irony opposite Wayne Duvall, cogent as the sloppy captain of the force. But there is something inside Gyllenhaal which animates this probity, a search for gutsy justice against exhaustion, failure, and opposition. He irons everything out.

What mainly needs ironing out is the father played by Hugh Jackman. This is the surprise performance of his career, and he has never to my knowledge demonstrated himself to be an actor of genius. Always good, mind you, always juste in his craft.  Never have you seen Jackman at this pitch. Never have you seen him capture a character particular – not general – and an American particular, but also, never have you seen him go to such extremes as you might only find in a female actor, in Geraldine Page, perhaps, or Anna Magnani. He is something to behold, and I hope you do behold him. He is extraordinary.

The film is thrilling.

And beautiful.

 

End Of Watch

04 Oct

End of Watch – produced, written, and directed by David Ayer. Drama. Two L.A. cops, in their many perilous adventures patrolling crime-hoods, annoy the drug cartel folks and get in over their heads. 109 minutes Color 2012.
★★★★★
Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal should win Oscars in tandem for their astonishing work as these two policeman badinaging in a car. I just rejoice to see them: two American actors at the peak of their powers and masculinity being marvelous over and over in scene after scene in parts better than which will probably come their way again never. For which credit one’s hat is off to the writer who gives them marvelous palaver and marvelous silences. The piece begins with the drug folk opposition, and since their entire dialogue consists of one word repeated like a doxology, and you know what that word is, their story needs to be told with camera alone, and it is. It is told with as much brilliancy as are the big scenes of dialogue. The film is a series of episodes, each one thrilling and unusual, beginning with a car chase which precedes the credits. These episodes do not constitute a story, but they are exciting in themselves, and they build one upon the next, so one is content to witness the two cops’ work, which, after all, also is one thing after another, and to endure the suspense of one’s ignorance of, care for, and interest in their fates. Gyllenhaal’s film persona in the past has been the knight of doleful countenance; here he displays an inherent fluidity and comic power one had not seen before. (If anyone is ever to play the part of Louie Zamperini, it is he.) Michael Peña sets down firmly in the seat of wisdom and constancy as his co-cop. But it is idle to comment on them separately because they are twinned by their playing, they are talking heads who talk one another’s heads off, jocular, acute, loyal. They come alive as a pair, as Laurel and Hardy did. They impregnate one another as actors and as characters. Gyllenhaal’s habit of hanging his arm out the window for a respite, Peña’s habit of a little Bronx cheer when pressed, toss sprinkles on one thing, a banana split, a single treat shared. I love acting and when it is wonderful I know what a miracle I am faced with. What joy to see them! Feebly titled, the film, nonetheless, deals with crime, and while its episodes are extreme, they are presented by the filmer, Roman Vasyanov and the editor, Dody Dom, in sufficient intimacy and speed to give us a sense of the blindness of the peril the two of them undergo together. The entire cast plays brilliantly; the set designs are right on the money; the music, by David Sardy, does no more and no less than the demands of the scenes require and is as welcome when played as when still. The piece is beautifully executed by the director. And the streets of L.A. have never been more vivid in their meanness and meaning.

 
 

Moonlight Mile

25 Aug

Moonlight Mile – Written and Directed by Brad Silberling. Family Drama. Truth emerges following the death of a daughter who is also a fiancée. 146 minutes Color 2002.

* * * *

Jake Gyllenhaal is wet behind the ears when he stars in this film, but, still and all, he really does know how to play his cards. Until he does, you watch the hieroglyphic of his face, his curious mouth, his deep blue eyes, and his hunched walk for a sign of life, and you find immovable mystery. But he is still one of the few actors, all this being so, in whom I can actually place myself (and I resemble him in no particular). He makes the idiotic mistake of combing his hair over his brow in order to make himself look a teenager, and only succeeds in making himself look eleven – which is odd, since the character he is playing is 22 and Gyllenhall at the time was also 22. If you care about her, and I do, Susan Sarandon is sometimes a wonderful character actor, and this is one of those times. She also has a wonderful character to play, a feisty lady with a mind of her own and a wise eye on the conduct of others. The detriment to the film, here as so often elsewhere, is Dustin Hoffmann who is mechanical and actory, and none of whose good ideas are good enough to be natural. He is supposed to be an irritating character; he is just an actor whose acting is irritating; it’s not the same thing. When he drops it, he breathes a life that he has not earned. What less can I say? Let me say it. He is an actor of repellent technique. The film brings forth to blot him out the great Holly Hunter as the D.A. and an actor called Ellen Pompeo, a personality of the kind of female forwardness that once was found in the likes of young Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake. She’s unusually likeable and mysterious. Sarandon, Hoffman and Gyllenhaal are Jewish. The Sarandon and Hoffman characters give their daughter a Jewish funeral. But nothing is done with this, nothing is realized about it artistically. Odd. Still, much of the excellence and recommendability of this film is the work of the writer director, who does miscalculate the writing of the exposition regarding Pompeo’s working double shifts to keep open a bar, but whose character dialogue has lots of vitality and ambiance. It’s very well directed, beautifully filmed, and the setting is sensationally right. Give it a shot. You will not be wasting your time.

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Source Code

01 Apr

Source Code — Directed by Duncan Jones. Techno-Suspense.  An American helicopter vet from Afghanistan is involuntarily volunteered for a series of 8-minute missions into the past in order to derail a dirty bomb.  1 hour 33 minutes Color 2011.

* * * * *

Science fiction usually avoids the imaginative creation of characters that true fiction requires. Dickens would be lost in the genre. And the characters it employs want subtlety. No, the writer writes for polemic effect — a disaster we are all to blame for somehow, a threat our set-in-concrete innocence really deserves. So “fiction” is a misnomer, isn’t it?  As is “Sci” — for the genre demands not science, but the invention of machines that can do strange things. All you have to do is state the strange thing, and you can presuppose a machine that does it.  It’s not a matter of science but of technology, which is not the same thing at all. And so I dub this piece, techno-suspense; not a new genre but one rather more aptly named perhaps. The machine is a gadget invented by Jeffrey Wright, which can return an individual (suited to the task by being already dead) to a time just before a terrible calamity occurred, a calamity which is over, cannot be taken back, but at least, in finding the perpetrator, a repetition (bombs run in twos, like Nagasaki and Hiroshima) might be, in the nick of time, avoided. It’s quite good. He has only eight minutes each recession, and each time he learns a little more, grows up a little more, become a little more capable. Jake Gyllenhaal plays this bloke beautifully, of course. Gyllenhaal is at the peak of his masculinity, which is always a pleasure to behold in a male, and he is really the only important male talent age thirty with any weight in major roles working in film today. The machines in which he is trapped are three. One is a speeding train, one is a kind of crashed, derelict pod in which he waits instructions, and one is the office from which those instructions fall upon him into the pod. In the pod he is alone. In the train he is vis a vis with a fine young woman, Christine, played by Michelle Monaghan, in a pleasant mixture of bemusement, beguilement, and befuddlement, all of which hit the spot with this particular part. The gifted Vera Farmiga accompanies him in the office; they never meet, of course, but they talk. Despite being mesmerized by her beautiful eyes, I think Vera Farmiga misjudges her role. She plays her ace right away. She plays that the character is of two minds and unsure, but her unsureness is unsure, making her look incompetent in the role and also her acting. This character would not be incompetent, would not be unsure. She might grow into a different view of the machine which she runs, called Source Code, but she would not start out that way. She is perhaps miscast. Or perhaps mis-directed. And Jeffrey Wright should not wear a beard — come out from behind that bush, Jeff; it won’t serve. A character’s effectiveness is diminished tenfold by every hair on his face, except those immediately beneath his nose. The piece as a whole holds one’s attention, the special effects are as they should be, and the three sets are particularly apt and imaginative. One goes along with it. Gyllenhaal we go along with only because he is a young man, not because there is anything inherently go-along-with in him, as there was in Jimmy Stewart, say, or Jack Lemon or Tom Hanks. But see him walk. See him flirt. See him knock the guy down. Pretty good, I say.

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Love And Other Drugs…

05 Jan

Love And Other Drugs… –– directed by Edward Zwick –– romantic drama in which a supersalesman roué falls in bed with a lady with a dubious future. 2010 color.

* * * * *

Jill Clayburgh’s last film, and the sort of picture that she and Burt Reynolds would have made forty years ago beautifully. That is to say a rather modern-mouthed and good looking young woman meets a handsome swordsman, and they bed down and they clash over some issue or other and then they make up. You know what I mean: the sort of film in which everything depends on the wit and the skill of the script and the wit and skill and personalities of the two actors, and the ground of the quarrel somehow dissolves by the last dissolve, doesn’t it? Here, however, the obstacle for both is that one of them has Parkinson’s, which will not dissolve. This seems like a put-up job in a way, but everyone does take it as seriously as they can, given a script which, while most times smart and fun and surprising, nonetheless becomes sometimes routine. In romantic drama the director must never run the risk of the grounds for a redundant emotional effect. Jake Gyllenhaal is inventive, lively, and various as the male, and Anne Hathaway is fascinating as the female. Won’t they get Golden Globes or Oscars or both? Probably. Oliver Platt is wonderful as Gyllanhaal’s boss, and Hank Azaria is remarkable as his hapless brother. One doubt one must set aside is the certainty that a sexual relation of such ferocity would not end up in a relationship. And another trouble is that the love affair lacks the relief and slant of any spirit of community, of friends, of town-folk, and there is but one short scene of Gyllenhaal’s family with George Segal as his father and as his mother the great, the elegant Jill Clayburgh, who has but one small moment on screen, her last, her final word being: “cake”!

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