The Greatest Showman

Director: Michael Gracey

Nominated for: Best Original Song

Firstly – let me once again apologise for my seeming consistent inability to post on a regular basis. I was on such a role with the Oscars nominations and had left my standout favourite film til last to review and then got carried away with real life and the show I was doing took over which resulted in me dropping this blog (again!!) Anyhow the show has now finished and I can return to some semblance of a relaxed life and am now aiming to pick this up slightly more regularly. On that note – here is my review for The Greatest Showman … finally.

The_Greatest_Showman_posterThe Greatest Showman came out just before Christmas here in the UK and got pretty lacklustre reviews amongst the industry but the public don’t really listen to those critics and this seems to have become an instant cult classic – it is still showing in cinemas now (almost 6 months after its initial release) and yet comes out on DVD next week! And that’s without all the special sing-along screenings that have been taking place for the last couple of months. I should know – I’ve been to a few of those myself. Not only has the film done incredibly well in terms of sales but the soundtrack … oh the soundtrack! The soundtrack is outstanding and has had an exceptional run on the Top 100 US Billboard which is almost unheard of for a film musical soundtrack. The songs are uplifting and instant classics – they remain in your head for weeks after.

In fact at the first sing-along event we did at The Prince Charles Cinema (which happened to be the first one in the country) we had Michael Gracey, the director, in attendance and he said that they wrote songs for months and months in the pre-production period and if they weren’t humming the song the next day then it got scrapped and they started again. You can definitely tell that this process worked well for the film. I think it was an absolute travesty that “This Is Me” didn’t win Best Original Song at the Oscars … especially as it was the only live performance on the night that was actually in turn and understandable!! Not only is “This Is Me” a spectacular song it is also one of the standout moments in film that I have seen for a long time. The slow-mo jump gives me instantaneous goosebumps every time I see it. It’s such a clever piece of filming that is in complete sync with the soundtrack. 

I also can’t understand how the only nomination it garnered was for Best Original Song when the Costume and Hair and Makeup for The Greatest Showman is brilliant. The costumes are gorgeous and rich, full of colour and style. And then the makeup – they made a bearded lady, a wolf boy, a guy who is tattooed over 90% of his body and gave a guy an extra leg but you know, none of that is worthy of recognition from the Academy.

I was pleasantly surprised with Michelle Williams and her performance, not so much the acting as I knew she was a brilliant actress already, but I didn’t know she could dance or sing as well as she does. Rebecca Ferguson is not a hugely sympathetic character in her role as Jenny Lind. But it does highlight that Gracey and Jackman did not shy away from the fact that P. T. Barnum isn’t always a nice guy. In fact sometimes he’s a bit of a schmuck and gets completely swept up in his new project and drops his family and the people most important to him.

This is the sort of musical that really suits Hugh Jackman – gotta say I wasn’t too impressed with him as Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012) – and this really restored my opinion that he is a consummate showman. However I think my favourite performance was actually Zac Efron as Phillip. Efron truly is in his element here – this is what he does best. He is a magnificent singer and an exquisite dancer. While I acknowledge there are some factions who find Efron a bit of a joke, and it is true that he has played off his looks in the last couple of years, but I have always been a fan of Efron (ever since his appearance in Firefly, Joss Whedon, 2002) and have staunchly been waving his flag throughout the dubious ‘comedies’ he’s done recently. So to see him at his best in this was something of a validation. He didn’t even take his top off once so you can’t say I was blinded by his amazing body. I love his character development as Phillip as well. He goes from being this society playboy just coasting through life on his father’s name and money to someone who actually has opinions of his own and is not afraid to stand up for them. The duet between Efron and Zendaya is also a marvel of filmmaking, or rather stunts, as they did all that aerial work themselves – while singing! 

I think the overwhelming feeling I took away from The Greatest Showman is that the entire film is very life-affirming. It’s message is very much one that says love yourself as you are with all your flaws and imperfections as you’re beautiful just the way you are. That’s a fantastic message to be putting out in the world especially considering what a shallow, looks-orientated community we currently live in. And I think this may have a lot to do with its continuing success – it’s really touched anyone who has felt different, stance, unwelcome, or a little bit left out at some time in their life … and let’s face it everyone has had one of those moments. It’s a film that celebrates otherness and the outcasts and that’s a great thing. I honestly love this film. It’s completely taken me over and I recommend it to anyone. Every single person can find something to relate to in this film which I think is a rare thing in Hollywood. Even if you’re not usually a musical person I urge you to go and see this film … it’s worth it I promise!!IMG_4613

 

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Mudbound

Director: Dee Rees

Nominated for: Best Supporting Actress; Best Original Song; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography

The way we watch films is changing with cinemas no longer being the only place to see a movie – in fact we’re inundated not only with new ways to watch but also new companies entering the movie-making field what with Amazon and Netflix not only streaming but creating their own content. And nowhere is that more evident than the fact that Mudbound is a Netflix original film that has been nominated for the Oscars. Not only is it the first feature film I can think of that has been nominated for an Oscar made that has been made by someone other than a big Hollywood movie studio but it’s also responsible for garnering the first nomination for a female in the cinematography category.

lead_960Mudbound was an interesting viewing experience as the material is quite difficult. It raises some stark questions especially given the somewhat turbulent times we’re currently living in. I did find the friendship that develops between Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) an intriguing one that completely overlooks the differences between the two men. They’re brought together by shared experiences that no-one else in their little Southern town could possibly imagine, having fought in World War II. It’s kind of refreshing to see. They’re both slightly damaged by those experiences and yet realise that the world is so much bigger than their old hometown and their stupid prejudices.

Not only was Mary J Blige making history by being the first person nominated in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song categories in the same year but this was also the film that garnered the first nomination for a female cinematographer, Rachel rachel-morrison-e1516715520872Morrison. It think it’s great that the women in the more technical aspects of filmmaking are finally being recognised for the work they do. However for me there were some moments in Mudbound that were pretty dark in terms of the way they were lit and because I was watching it during the day (with no curtains) this meant that there were some key moments of the film that I missed as I just couldn’t see them.

Mary J Blige was almost unrecognisable as Florance Jackson – for me she looks like similar to a young Whoopi Goldberg. There’s a quite power and strength to her character which comes from her situation. Carey Mulligan is as usual exceptional as Laura McAllen – torn between two very different brothers and the lifestyle that she was promised and the one she ended up with. Jason Clarke does well as the rather ineffectual Henry McAllen – few opinions of his own, aspirations that remain unmet resulting in a frustration with his life and remains forever in the shadow of his overbearing father, Papa, played by Jonathan Banks. Papa is despicable! He’s the worst sort of person in this time period and makes for rather uncomfortable watching.

The whole film is kind of difficult to watch due to the themes touched on, such as the rampant racism that was still rife during the 1940s, but nothing is as harrowing as the scenes involving the vile Ku Klux Klan. There is something so despicable about that cult that you cannot help but be revolted by the very sight of them. The treatment of Ronsel is horrendous and I confess I did watch through my fingers while simultaneously crying my eyes out. And Papa is the driving force behind those scenes which just adds to the intense dislike I felt for his character.

e5d2fca2b1dd5e06fa40bd341116af9c11bf26aeSurprisingly there was a happy ending of sorts to Mudbound which I wasn’t really expecting. It’s kind of a strange film to sum up because I can’t really say I enjoyed it … it’s not that sort of film. But I did come away from it thinking about just how far we have come as a species and then equally how far we still have to go in order to live in a world where everyone is treated equally regardless of things like race, sexuality, gender and so on. Mudbound was definitely a film that make me think and was shot beautifully so for that reason I would recommend it. Just be prepared to be disgusted with some aspects of humanity.

Lady Bird

Director: Greta Gerwig

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actress; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay

Lady Bird was one of the must see movies for me on this year’s Oscars contenders list – and yet proved to be the hardest to find at the cinema given its limited run so has ended up being the last one I watched. It was also the shortest and made me question why we now have such long films when it’s possible to tell a great story in 1 hour 30?

Lady Bird is a delightful coming-of-age movie that actually features a female as the lead for once. Set in 2002-2003 this really resonated with me as I was the same age at that time and therefore going through the same things. And then there was the relationship Lady Bird has with her parents – it was similar enough (although mine was with my dad) Lady-Birdthat I actually found myself getting quite emotional. Lady Bird’s relationship with her mum is somewhat strained simply because they are too alike and therefore rub each other up the wrong way. They each know exactly which buttons to push in each other and frequently do so. It’s the sort of relationship I had with my dad when I was in my late teens and still sometimes flares up to this day so it was very relatable to me. Laurie Metcalf is great in her role as the matriarch trying to keep the family together while at the same time keeping tabs on her wayward daughter.

lady-bird759Beanie Feldstein is delightful as Julie, Lady Bird’s best friend, who is always pushed into the background thanks to Lady Bird’s larger-than-life persona. And then there is Lady Bird herself played with aplomb as always by the marvellous Saoirse Ronan. Is there anything she cannot do? She is such an incredible actress and still relatively early on in her career. I’m also seriously impressed that she manages to disguise every single bit of her very Irish accent. She’s wild and unruly as Lady Bird – very much trying to find who she is as a person amongst a much more reserved family and school.  It’s something that is relatable and refreshing to see because all too often coming-of-age films are very male centric.

It’s a strong film for women, both in front of and behind the scenes, which is great to see. And it’s actually a great story delivered well too so not just a gimmick movie. I wouldn’t say it is my favourite film that’s been nominated for Best Picture but it’s certainly up there. I would love to see Greta Gerwig recognised for her achievement as director because it’s a brilliant debut and it would be fantastic if another woman won for once. lady-bird-feature

I, Tonya

Director: Craig Gillespie

Nominated for: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress; Best Editing

I, Tonya has a bit of a weird set-up – it’s kind of like a documentary while being a dramatisation of real events. As such it’s not filmed in the widescreen that we’ve become accustomed to as cinema goers. It also breaks the fourth wall with the characters speaking directly to the camera and thus the audience. As such it took a little bit of getting used to but then became normal.

3--lavona-golden-allison-janney-and-her-pet-bird-in-i-tonya-courtesy-of-neon_wide-3b46f2857bb49ba892b76a8240f8180d6c8e3b94-s900-c85Allison Janney is detestable as Tonya Hardy’s mother. She is the epitome of a ‘pageant mom’ – forever pushing their child into something that they probably don’t want to do. She’s acerbic, with a foul mouth and little to no compassion for anyone, especially not for Tonya. But then that’s exactly what makes her performance so powerful. Honestly there is nothing at all likeable about her – even when she deigns to show some emotion towards Tonya once things all go wrong.

I was pretty young when the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan kerfuffle took place so I don’t really have any memory of it … this wasn’t helped by the fact that Winter Olympics isn’t really promoted all that well (emphasised by the recent Winter Olympics that I missed almost the entirety of because they weren’t advertised on the TV to any great extent.) It’s a remarkable story and one that seems laughable if I didn’t know that it was based on real events. Paul Walter Hauser, as the bumbling sidekick Shawn, is just delusional and not in one of those nice harmless sort of ways. Nope he is somewhat psychotic without realising he is and therefore actually the most dangerous character involved in the whole saga.

There’s a warning at the start of the film – you know when you get the ‘This film has been certified’ screen as the very beginning – that mentioned scenes of domestic abuse. They weren’t lying – Tonya and Jeff’s relationship was an abusive one and Gillespie didn’t shy away from showing that. The violence is so casual – one moment they’re talking and the next he’s smashing her head into the wall and she’s retaliating by kicking him in the balls. While I do not in any way condone domestic abuse of any kind I think that because it was a film the violence became more normalised within the context and at least Tonya was giving as good as she got and not just allowing herself to be beaten.

imageSebastian Stan is brilliant as Jeff – even if he is a fairly weak-willed character. He has no faith in himself and the fact that Tonya is successful is something he can’t quite wrap his head around leading to the deterioration of his behaviour. Margot Robbie is outstanding as Tonya Harding. Sure there were some iffy scenes where she was meant to be playing a 15-year-old but her performance means that these become easy to overlook. Honestly, there is something about her as an actress that really appeals to me. I will say though there were a couple of scenes where she did revert back to being Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016) but then I adore Harley so I didn’t mind that so much.

It’s a massively dysfunctional film. I found the sentence that Tonya received was far more extreme than any of the other participants in the whole saga and so unfair. They took away what made her … well, her. I guess you could argue that she was penalised for being a celebrity and punished much more harshly than the others. It’s a heartbreaking scene watching her beg the judge to go to jail rather than not be allowed to skate every again.

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Dunkirk

Director: Christopher Nolan

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Editing; Best Original Score; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design

I kind of view Darkest Hour (Joe Wright) and Dunkirk as companion pieces and actually did watch them chronologically.

Christopher Nolan has a reputation for doing as much of his films in camera as he possibly can – he’ll do on set visual effects as opposed to CGI – this film is no different and I think it shows. There is a visceral realism to the film, aided by the fact that they shot on the real beaches in Dunkirk … even if my dad did say that it was far too clean on the beaches. dunkirk-christopher-nolan-best-movie-2017-02Nolan also has a bit of a reputation of playing with time scales – again no different here. There are three timelines running concurrently throughout Dunkirk – events on land take place over a week, events on se take place over a day and events in the air take place over the course of 1 hour. I completely understand why he chose to do this though because there was simply too much information to put into the film and this was clearly the best way to overcome that.

b1904160132d01abe973abf684923cec043b7229It’s an incredible cast with a veritable who’s who of British acting – Sir Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy and Sir Mark Rylance leading the charge in terms of the older actors. I love Mark Rylance – there’s this aura about it that is mesmerising and makes him a delight to watch. Tom Hardy is excellent as the pilot – although somewhat under-utilised I would say. Likewise Kenneth Branagh is under-utilised in his role as Commander Bolton … although I do love that he remains on the beach to help with the evacuation of French soldiers. Cillian Murphy is something of a conflicted dunkirk-969x545character as he is reluctant to go and assist with the rescue. However this reluctance makes absolute sense once you realise that he is shellshocked.

I watched the extras for Dunkirk which gave an enormous insight into the thinking behind several decisions (like filming on the real beach) so I know that Nolan made a conscious decision to have the young men who would have been the common soldier actually played by young men rather than older actors playing down. This resulted in showcasing some new talent amongst the trio of young lads the land timeline follows … some of which turned out to be a pleasant surprise. HarryStylesAneurin Barnard (one of my favourite stage actors thanks to Spring Awakening!) plays a wonderfully sneaky young soldier who has an uncanny ability to read the situation correctly resulting in the continued survival of Tommy and Alex. Fionn Whitehead plays Tommy who, I guess you would say is the protagonist but only because he is the first soldier you meet, was a bit of an unknown entity as I haven’t seen any of his other work but carried the film well. For me though the biggest surprise was Harry Styles, of One Direction, as Alex. He was actually a surprisingly good actor and so much more than just a vanity casting. He actually played a fairly big role and formed part of the trio of young lads who’s experience we follow on land.

For me my favourite part of the film was seeing the little ships finally appearing over the horizon. It’s such an emotional moment – we know now the enormous role they played in pulling off Operation Dynamo. It seems like such an insane premise – we’re going to send private pleasure cruisers across the English Channel to rescue a tiny percentage of the 400,000 soldiers currently trapped on a beach completely encircled by enemy troops – and yet it is one that paid off dividends resulting in a total of 338,226 men being pulled off those beaches alive. What was in effect an undeniable defeat at the hands of the Axis forces actually ended up being a pivotal point in the war and definitely turned the tide. And the deserving heroes of that Operation were the hundreds of little ships that sailed into a war zone – none of who were serving military personnel. They were  magical sight and almost reduced me to tears when watching it – they definitely gave me goosebumps! Nolan even had a number of the real little ships that took part in Operation Dynamo in the film which just added to the level of realism.

Dunkirk is an extraordinary tale of bravery and British resilience and Christopher Nolan, along with all those involved, has truly done it justice. I know that war films often get a bad rep as they do tend to pick and choose which elements of the real story they’re going to include but I do think they have a place and important role to play in the preservation of history. We’re getting to that stage where those people who actually lived through these events are sadly no longer alive and run the risk of forgetting important events. Cinema has the power to keep this events in the public consciousness – and not just for the time that they’re initially in the cinema thanks to DVDs and home cinema channels. Yes they should be taken with a piece of salt as they are dramatisations but they’re an excellent starting point for informing future generations of events that shaped the world they currently live in.

Darkest Hour

Director: Joe Wright

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Hair and Makeup; Best Costume; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design

First off – I’m British and very proud of that fact. Darkest Hour is a brilliant film that made me so much prouder to be British – it’s about arguably one of the most recognisable  characters in British history so the expectation to be a good film was enormous. It more than lived up to those expectations!darkest hour

Darkest Hour actually deals with a tiny period of time within World War II, the lead up to  Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk – but it is such a divisive period; it’s the turning point of the War. And I actually came out of the cinema having learnt something about the War – I never knew about the importance of the Calais garrison in the success of Dunkirk. But then that was a massive defeat and we didn’t necessarily want to remember that fact. However I feel that this does a disservice to all those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice when asked of them in order to save others.

The cinematography is brilliant – it’s very clever. There are a lot of bird’s-eye shots. I particularly love the scene that moves seamlessly from a bombed out France into the face of a dead soldier – bit morbid I know but it’s actually rather beautifully shot. Darkest Hour seems to share a similar colour scheme to The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010). And that wasn’t the only comparison I drew with The King’s Speech – just like that film this one ends right at a really pivotal moment, the launch of Operation Dynamo, which I found quite unsatisfying. Luckily I had Dunkirk on my list of nominated films to watch. The moment you saw the little ships heading off to Dunkirk gave me literal goosebumps – there is something magical about knowing the incredible feat they manage to pull off!

Darkest Hour just highlighted how very lucky we were to have Churchill come into halifaxpower when he did. It could have been a very, very different outcome should Halifax have succeeded instead. Man, Halifax was a spineless little shit (excuse my French!!) there is nothing about him that endears him to me at all. He has read the whole situation completely wrong so thank goodness Churchill was there to set him straight! But then hindsight is a wonderful thing.

It’s always difficult to take well-known historical characters and do them justice. The hair and makeup in Darkest Hour is outstanding. While they may not have got King George VI’s voice right they certainly got the look right. The development of Churchill 171130_MOV_Ronald.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2and Bertie’s relationship is an interesting one that shows just how strained it was to begin with. Likewise the team managed to make Ronald Pickup look remarkably like Neville Chamberlain.

Kristin Scott Thomas is wonderful as Clemmie Churchill. You got the impression that she really was a rock to Churchill and provided him necessary boosts to confidence when everything rested on his shoulders. However, lead_960she doesn’t take any rubbish from him either. Gary Oldman is outstanding as Churchill – he’s one of those actors that completely embodies whichever character he is playing and this one is no different. It’s as if Churchill has come back to life on-screen. It must have been an incredibly lonely job especially given that he was trying to fight against almost everyone else in Parliament at an extremely pivotal time during the War. This leaves him very isolated and has been reflected in the cinematography with him often being framed by himself or being the only one in a certain type of lighting. darkest_hour

I was kind of hoping that Darkest Hour would do well at the BAFTAS because as much as I found this film amazing I have a feeling that the Americans just won’t get it in the same way. It’s not a part of their history – it’s not even a part of their war yet as they don’t enter WWII until almost a full year later in 1941 – so I don’t think that emotional connection will be there. So I was relying on BAFTAS to recognise it for the great British film it is – both  in terms of story and production … but that didn’t really happen thanks to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) actually being considered a British movie due to its production. I also think this is one of, if not, the best performances I’ve ever seen Gary Oldman give and really believe it could be his year at the Oscars – but he is up against Daniel Day-Lewis and we all know how infatuated the Academy is with him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pips Best Actor tonight.

 

The Shape of Water

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Nominated for: Best Picture; Best Actress; Best Supporting Actress; Best Supporting Actor; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay; Best Editing; Best Original Score; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Costume; Best Cinematography; Best Production Design

I can kind of take Guillermo del Toro’s movies with a pinch of salt – sometimes I really enjoy them (like with Hellboy, 2004) and at other times they’re all just a bit too weird for me (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006). I find him a director who is sometimes unwilling to sacrifice his own personal style for the best of the film (the best thing to happen to The Hobbit movies was del Toro pulling out of the project because clockwork mechanisms just doesn’t fit in with that world!) so colour me surprised when I realised that there were no clockwork mechanisms within The Shape of Water.

It’s a beautiful colour palette – very much made up of blues and greens as a visual representation of the natural environment for the Amphibian Man. I also loved the blend of art deco and 1950s Americana. The makeup for Amphibian Man is stunning – he is oddly beautiful and he’s once again brought to life expertly by Doug Jones, an actor who shapeofwatercreaturehas made a career out of bringing wonderful curiosities to life. I did wonder whether there was some connection to another amphibious man who Jones has also had a hand in creating – Abe Sapien from Hellboy – but I can’t work out how the timings would work and there’s such a difference in their ability to communicate. However it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out there was some sort of connection between the two worlds – it feels like a very del Toro thing to do.

The cast is excellent. Richard Jenkins is delightful as Eliza’s neighbour, Giles. There’s something rather melancholy about him but that just makes him all the more endearing. Screen-Shot-2017-11-09-at-4.12.24-PMMichael Shannon, as Richard Strickland, is detestable – he’s everything that is wrong with humanity. He has no empathy for anyone, let alone something as incredible as Amphibian Man – and seems to delight in causing hurt and harm to him. You get to watch him deteriorate, both body and mind throughout the film – and kind of enjoy it as he’s not a character that engenders sympathy. Indeed, in a turn of events it is the Soviet scientist who comes across as the more humane person in this situation. It’s a complete switch in characteristics associated with certain types of nationalities – the Russians are so often the bad guys in Hollywood fare and given the time The Shape of Water is set in you would very much expect this to be the case. I much preferred Michael Stuhlbarg’s scientist and identified much more with him than Shannon’s character.

SOW_04877.CR2Octavia Spencer is once again spectacular as Eliza’s best friend, Zelda. She showcases her comedic timing with some seriously sassy one liners delivered at just the first time. I love watching her in pretty much everything she does. There is a warmth to her which combines with a fierce protectiveness that results in a formidable woman – made all the more impressive given the setting of the film (1950s America was not a pleasant place for women from a certain background). Sally Hawkins is stunning as Eliza. I didn’t realise that Eliza is mute and therefore only communicates through ASL which only served to enhance the beauty of her portrayal. She shows that you don’t need to rely on speech in order to be able to communicate effectively which I think is a wonderful thing. She’s so compassionate and looks beyond the standard external trappings to see the person beneath it. She conveys so much without saying a single word which is remarkable. Many of her scenes are very touching and moving. And she’s a pretty good tap dancer too – who knew?!122299

There were some things that I did feel were not entirely necessary. The relationship between Eliza and Amphibian Man is beautiful but then it became a physical one which I’m not entirely sure needed to be the case. It made the film slightly uncomfortable for me and pulled me out of the story for a moment which is not the sort of thing you want when you watch movies. And then there were some moments when the violence was far too gratuitous and definitely not warranted in terms of driving the narrative forward. I’m thinking about a scene in particular where Stuhlbarg’s character is hooked through the bullet hole in his cheek and dragged to another location – there was just no need for it!

I wouldn’t be surprised if this did do very well come the actual ceremony and while it is a wonderful film I think there are some other films I have watched for this year’s Oscars that are better suited to showcasing some of the elements this film has been nominated for – and I believe they could be overlooked in favour of this one.MV5BNGNiNWQ5M2MtNGI0OC00MDA2LWI5NzEtMmZiYjVjMDEyOWYzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_