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Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat 2021

And you know, it ain't fiction, just a natural fact
We come together 'cause opposites attract

dir: Simon McQuoid

2021

I was wrong. I am often wrong, it’s not that big a deal, or that rare.

But in this instance what I was supremely wrong about is that I thought Godzilla Versus Kong was going to be the biggest, utterly fucking dumbest big budget flick of this year. For some reason I was convinced that, because we were going to be seeing flicks produced before 2020, that they were going to run out at some point, and plus a sense of proportion or shame was going to predominate in the minds of studio executives and producers.

They were going to look at the 3 million plus people who have died from the virus, and the many more whose lives have irrevocably changed, and they were going to think “Oo, should do something more respectful with our existences, and our privileges / wealth, shouldn’t we?”

How fucking wrong was I? The way forward, like it’s always been, even more so now, is to keep doubling down.

Mortal Kombat makes Godzilla versus Kong look like a Shakespearean play written by Professor Stephen Hawking produced by John Bell and starring Dame Judi Dench and even more of a Dame Maggie Smith duking it out over the neon-lit skies of Hong Kong in comparison.

It is so fucking dumb. But, and here’s where I do a heel turn so abrupt it brings whiplash even to me, which is only fair, Mortal Kombat movies have to be fucking dumb, because there is no other way to do them.

The “original” flick from the 90s was utter trash, the sequel Annihilation was somehow even more terrible, and this is the best of the lot, but they are all levels of potent trashy trash. Trash, and I’m ashamed of myself for what I’m going to write next, can still be plenty enjoyable.

This new Mortal Kombat is trash, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Rating:

Nobody

Nobody

Ouch looks painful zero stars

dir: Ilya Naishuller

2021

Who doesn’t feel like a nobody? Drowning in quiet desperation in the suburbs, repeating the same movements, actions and gestures every day, so deep in the ruts that constitute a life that even the people around you who you endure all this for barely seem to be able to see you anymore. And if they do, it’s with contempt, with a bit of loathing.

What to do, what to do…

Well, the average American has the options of : doing the hard work to develop one’s inner qualities, to expand one’s notion of the self and its place in the universe; devoting one’s life to helping others, or fighting for causes bigger than oneself.

Or, they could just get a gun and shoot people maybe?

The premise of this flick is the premise of a lot of flicks, it’s just that it doesn’t usually result in someone killing thousands of people. Killing people in order to feel alive again used to be frowned upon. Now it just seems like another path to self-fulfillment.

This is not a revenge thriller, nor is it Death Wish, where a wronged architect starts walking around New York killing ethnically diverse minorities for revenge and shits and giggles (three for the price of one). The John Wick comparison isn’t valid either. Wick was a retired assassin. Some jerk kills his dog and steals his car, so he gets to work. He kinda wants his car back and revenge for killing the dog, but mostly they just won’t leave the guy alone. He didn’t ask for this shit, but he will finish it over the course of 3 movies and a 4th installment for some insane reason.

The Nobody at the core of this flick did ask for this shit. A break-in at his home, where he lives with his wife who does not like him, if she ever did, and his kids, is the start of something big. As home invasions go, this one isn’t too horrific, especially since no-one dies, thankfully. But what it unearths is the seething contempt of his family against him, and his neighbours. Even the cops are like “why didn’t you even take a swing, bro?”

Everyone’s against him. But he’ll show them, won’t he? He’ll show them all that he’s a man to be feared.

Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but for many of us the lead here Bob Odenkirk is best known for his character of Jimmy McGill / Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul, but even more so for Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is a testament, an absolute bedrock example of a show created with the premise of a middle-aged middle-class white guy feeling like life has passed him by, wishing he could do something extraordinary in order to feel alive again. It helps, for shows like that, that they cater mostly to whole multitudes of white, middle-aged, middle-class white guys who feel like life has passed them by and like if they did something violent and criminal, they’d be really good at it, not like those other lowlives…

Breaking Bad Saul is amoral, not particularly vicious, but without any moral compunctions about doing or saying anything no matter how awful. Better Call Saul Saul / Jimmy is desperate, hopeful, sweating, clinging to some vestige of credibility, fated to be morally destroyed.

He brings those same energies here, but the character is a bit hard to wrap one’s head around. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler, because otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense why any of this would be happening: this guy here called Hutch, used to be a hardcore assassin for the agencies known by their three-letter acronyms. He would kill the kinds of people too hard to kill legally, or too hard for the local police to pull over and shoot for no reason other than the car freshener hanging from the rear view mirror or something equally implausible. He chose to try the happy, sedate life of a suburban shmoe, but it does not sit well with his ego.

Rating:

Godzilla Versus Kong

Kong V Godzilla

Whichever one wins, we all pass out from boredom

dir: Adam Wingard

2021

This. This is it. The dumbest movie of the year you could ever hope to see.

This is the kind of movie where the actors can’t hide the embarrassed look on their face as they’re delivering the dialogue that no people should be delivering. This isn’t even the worst thing Alexander Skarsgard has ever been in, though he looks slightly more embarrassed this time than the others. He looked more embarrassed here than he did in that miniseries where he gets pushed down the stairs for being an abusive arsehole.

Following in his father’s footsteps, in that Stellan played a mad scientist in the Marvel movies, Alexander plays a crazy, discredited lunatic scientist who believes the world is hollow and… I dunno, probably stuff about the vaccine that doesn’t make much sense, but more sense at least than this flick does.

The film promises one thing, with its title, being that Kong, a giant ape, will at some point fight Godzilla, a giant nuclear lizard. They are Titans. Titans don’t tolerate the presence of other Titans. When Godzilla detects something Titanic or Titan-y, he tracks it down and tries to kill it. A strangely pointless company called Monarch worries about all things Titan. They put some strange dome over Skull Island once they discovered a giant ape living there. The dome was to stop Kong leaving? Where was he going to go? Was he going to swim to wherever Godzilla was, and start pounding away? There’s all that ocean all around…

Whether it makes sense or not, that is what these Monarch people believe. In the previous flick, Godzilla King of the Monsters, Godzilla fought against a bunch of monsters, emerging triumphant, presumably. It almost seemed like this magnificent lizard cared enough about humanity to protect it, which is kinda like a blue whale deciding it’s on the side of krill. We are smaller than ants compared to Godzilla, but whatever.

Godzilla Versus Kong kinda makes it seem like nah, Godzilla don’t care about nothing except killing other things that are big. But the secret is, some of the dumb humans are messing around with creating their own giant things, so, well, you can’t say they weren’t warned.

This felt fifteen fucking hours long. It has at least 35 characters who talk regularly. It even has Millie Bobby Brown, who seemed like she was poised to take over all the cinema, all the streaming services and all the world for a while, but now people can barely remember Stranger Things. It was so long ago, and so not memorable.

But she has parlayed her fame into becoming a multi-media threat, so this is but a stepping stone on the way to further glory. Julian Dennison, I am happy to see, is getting more work outside of Subway commercials, but this is still an insult to the kid that was so great in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. He is here in a thankless role in order to have someone for Millie Bobby Brown to yell at. They are accompanied by a strange adult (Bryan Tyree Henry) who they really shouldn’t be spending time with, probably at least 100 metres away at all times.

Rating:

Zack Snyder's Justice League

Justice League

This is pretty fascist looking. Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.

dir: Zack Snyder

2021

This version of Justice League, in case you didn’t already know, is directed by Zack Snyder. It’s amazing, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder. You know, Zack Snyder? Famous for directing, um, 300?

Why wouldn’t you trust this man of singular vision to make a movie again or anew, that was previously released as Joss Whedon’s Justice League? Four years later, and I’m sure this will be an experience on a par with the director’s cuts of Blade Runner, Heaven’s Gate, Donnie Darko and Legally Blonde, perhaps.

Also, just to make the same point millions of other people have already made: How often have you ever watched a shitty 2 hour movie and thought to yourself “You know what would have made that movie great? Double the running time.”

And thus does a shitty 2 hour movie become a 4 hour extravaganza. Everything that was not of the Snyder directorial vision previously has been excised, and more Snyderness has been added, to maximise the overall Snyder tone and Snyder aesthetic. Everything is slow motion, except when it’s not. People do a lot of standing. Like, they stand and stare at…something. Or, if they leave the scene, others look after them longingly.

The greatest single example of this was so fucking terrible and funny. The so-called Aquaman Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa) pulls a jumper off that he was wearing, and jumps into the ocean around, Iceland, I guess. A whole bunch of blonde and redheaded women start singing some kind of song honouring him. A girl picks up the jumper discarded on the dock, and sniffs it lovingly as she keeps singing. He is some kind of ocean god to these women, and they sing, perhaps, of his greatness, and their epic wish to bear his children.

It's treated, like everything else in this fucking dirge of an unending epic, with utmost seriousness, with weighty profundity. With loud, insistent string sections that never let you forget how important what you’re lucky enough to be watching is, and how somber.

I mean, the fate of the fucking world is at stake! Is that not serious enough for you? Okay, so, yeah, every flick with super duper heroes in it requires the world or the whole universe to be threatened in order to even register anymore.

The threat needs to be great enough that it forces a bunch of loners together with powers in order to be able to fix things, especially since Superman (Henry Cavill) died in a previous Snyder film that didn’t get better the longer it went. It did have two grown men yelling about their thing for women called Martha, though, so there’s that at least.

The villain, Steppenwolf (Ciarin Hinds) is dumb and should feel dumb, in either version of these films. In the earlier one, he was kinda murky and brown, and looked dumb. In this one, which he’s in for even more time, he’s shiny and spiky, but still pretty dumb. In the earlier film, he wanted to find three magic/technology boxes in order to ruin things for us on this planet we call home. In this new version, he wants three magic/technology boxes in order to destroy our planet, but he wants to do it to impress his sugar daddy, called Thanos. Sorry, no, he’s called Darkseid.

Darkseid, of what we see of him, or it, or however he chooses to identify, is just an ugly, stern looking judgmental type. He brings nothing to this, other than trying to build him up to be the ultimate Big Bad, which is never going to work because it looks silly, and like a badly photocopied version of Thanos.

Rating:

Outside the Wire

Outside the Wire

Outside of the wire is a world of pure imagination, one which
the screenwriters had no access to

dir: Mikael Håfström

2021

Outside the Wire feels like it should be more memorable. It also feels like it should have a less generic title. It also feels like it shouldn’t have characters saying the phrase “outside the wire” every five minutes or so. I exaggerate often, and not only for the purposes of humour, but there are a ton of instances where someone says “so, have you been outside the wire?” or “It’s his first time outside the wire”, or “What do you mean, you’ve never been Outside the Wire?”

How can you live with yourself? Especially when you’ve never been outside the wire, nor watched The Wire in its entirety? So the phrases “Where’s Wallace, String, where the fuck is Wallace?” or “Omar coming!” mean nothing to you?

It’s…it’s not great when that happens, when people say the title of a film in a movie’s dialogue. It’s kinda cringy. What else is an audience going to do other than roll their eyes when they hear that past the fourteenth instance?

I don’t know whether anyone intended for this to ever get a theatrical release, but this is the perfectly appropriate kind of thing that is produced whenever I hear that Netflix has a new action-y flick coming out. I already know what it’s going to look and feel like. This, Extraction with the good Hemsworth, and a couple of heist movies called something like 999 or Triple Frontier or something equally generic, all basically feel the same and have a similar level of action and interest. There’s lots of guys shooting other guys in the head, so it feels like a mid-budget John Wick situation as well.

And there’s also some kind of premise which is usually overblown, and it’s set in a country where the local government doesn’t mind too many of its locals being blown way, probably for reals.

The difference between Outside the Wire and the other stock standard Netflix action-y flicks is that this has a harder sci-fi plot to itself, buried under what would otherwise be a standard shoot shoot punch punch movie. It’s also so extreme in its sci-fi premise that I’d argue it’s a bit hard to believe.

Staggering, I know. I mean, Extraction had Hemsworth take on all of Bangladesh and win, but this flick is the unbelievable one.

Rating:

Wonder Woman 1984

WW84

This is a pretty good image for a poster, though it would be
even better on the side of a Sandman panel van

dir: Patty Jenkins

2020

I have to admit, as in, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a bit disappointed.

I feel like I should be more grateful that a) another Wonder Woman movie has been released, and b) that another Wonder Woman movie was released at the tail end of the worst year in living memory, in a way that it could be enjoyed without risking coronadeath for myself or my nearest and dearest.

I might be more forgiving down the track, with more viewings, but I kinda have to admit that it didn’t feel great a lot of the time, and by the end, especially because of the ending, I felt a bit embarrassed for the people involved.

There should be scope, and room for films like this to be goofy. There’s enough of the ultra seriousness out there such that we don’t need every flick to feel like the literal fate of the universe is in the hands of an impressive band of overwhelmed heroes of various origins and ethnicities, though still predominately white, to save us all at least by the end of the film, if not the end of the sequel. Shazam managed to be goofy, endearing and entertaining, which was to Zach Levi’s and the movie's credit. I’m not sure there’s as much scope for goofiness with this character, but they try, good lord do they try.

I think that they still get the character right, and Gal Gadot’s performance is still pretty great. I’m not sure about the plot, though.

There are three major strands to the plot, and only one of them works that well, at least for my money. Also, the plot depends on a magic stone that grants wishes, and such things remind us that we are watching something a bit cheap, in every sense of the word.

The one plotline that kinda works best is the one dealing with Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). This flick has an enormous advantage, at least for me, in that I am already severely predisposed towards loving anything Pedro Pascal does. I knew nothing about the very existence of the man until he played Oberyn Martel in Game of Thrones, and he was so unfuckingbelievably great as that character that I’ve never forgiven George RR Martin or the makers of the show for what they did to the single greatest character the show ever had that wasn’t called Tyrion, Cersei, Brienne, Arya, Varys or Ser Davos, admittedly.

And then he proved, at least mostly with his voice, that he could be equally great playing a completely different character, being the Clint Eastwood character he plays in The Mandalorian. In Wonder Woman 1984, to give the film its full title, or one of its potential titles – I’m not really sure – he is incredible. But, and this is a big butt, and I cannot lie, the major issue is whether you can stomach the millionth version of something to do with the orange piece of shit soon to be ejected from the White House in the United States.

Rating:

Tenet

Tenet

Backwards or forwards, it still runs out of steam

dir: Christopher Nolan

2020

The word Tenet is a palindrome. That’s the only reason people keep saying “tenet!” in this really mysterious way, and why it’s the title of the film. The word is a palindrome, and the film is a palindrome, meaning it’s the same backwards going forwards.

Like most of Nolan’s films, it’s incredibly intricate and bombastic, and it has serious people being serious as they go about their serious job of exposition. There are set pieces interspersed between people valiantly trying to explain whatever the fuck is going on to the protagonist.

The protagonist in this film is called, within the film, The Protagonist. I am not making this shit up. At one point he even says to someone “But I’m The Protagonist” with a tone that implies “Do you know who the fuck I am? How dare you bring me a lukewarm latte?”, only to be told, in a bit that made me smile, “You’re – A - protagonist”, implying there are more people getting to make choices in the story than just this guy. Yeah. This Guy. Over Here.

Honestly, I watched the movie carefully, listened to all the dialogue people said they couldn’t hear, mostly understood the premise, at least the main threat, which is the end of the world etc etc, but as to what was actually going on at some points, I honestly had no fucking idea. As in, okay I accept that I understand that some people were moving backwards in time, as others went forwards, and others went backwards for a while before going forwards again, but what that meant at a lot of moments, especially in some of the action sequences towards the end, means I’ve got no fucking idea what was actually happening. Not the “why” of it, not even the “how”, but mostly the “What?”

But it looked impressive, and the soundtrack and the propulsive editing had me excited and revved up for most of the film’s length. And it is a long arse film, make no mistake. It’s 2 hours and 40 minutes you’d otherwise have spent pickling stuff from your garden, dreading the coming of the virus or counting the ways in which you should have done things differently twenty years ago. Speaking of the virus, man, Christopher Nolan can’t catch a break. Of all the people that have suffered in 2020, surely the one to suffer most is the chap whose studio, being Warner Brothers, decided to release a film just as the epidemic was poised to infect so many millions. Imagine trying to entice people into the ideal environment from which they could catch this fucking plague from some random stranger: Come one come all to the latest IMAX extravaganza! Complimentary death for you or someone close to you with each ticket sold! Maybe you’ll even get a handjob from that guy in Marketing or that lady from Auditing who’s just depressed enough to go on a date with you!

Either way, what a hard sell. Going to the movies was becoming hard even before what happened this year happened. Risking infection just to watch Nolan basically jerk himself off to his own greatest hits makes even less sense this year than it ever did before.

I’m sure whatever money they lost through making this very expensive looking movie, and marketing a film they couldn’t force people to go and see even at gunpoint, they’ll make up in tax breaks or, I dunno, donations to Trump’s reelection campaign or something. I’m sure Nolan will get more work down the track. He can’t be hurting for beer money, surely. He’s probably made enough money by now to buy Cornwall, and I don’t mean some nice house down in Cornwall. Those Batman flicks alone probably earned most of the UK’s GDP for those years, but of course that was before Brexit. Now he’ll be lucky to make thruppence ha’penny for his next gig.

Our protagonist might have a name you don’t recognise. He’s a pretty cool customer. The glare in his eye could be genetic. He doesn’t look that much like his dad, but he sure as shit sounds like him. John David Washington has the unenviable career of someone genetically related to, I shit you not, Denzel Washington. Holy shit. Like, how courageous do you have to be to chose to be an actor when your dad is one of the greatest and most famous actors the States has ever produced? People give Clint Eastwood’s kids crap for daring to be in movies, but imagine if Denzel was your goddamned dad! Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to say line one in anything ever if I felt like people were constantly going to compare me to a titan, a colossus, a goddamn Thanos of actoring like Denzel.

Rating:

The Old Guard

The Old Guard

They're not that old, this is blatant false advertising

dir: Gina Prince-Bythewood

2020

The Old Guard. It was okay.

If only I was able to restrict myself to a few words, think of all the electrons and storage space I could save. But, when you’re an introvert, the temptation is to never if ever say anything, so if I go with that unhelpful impulse, nary a review would ever get written.

And what a tremendous shame that would be.

Old Guard may be based on a comic book by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, but it’s entirely within the action franchise wheelhouse we all seem to be comfortable with where an unkillable badass kills a whole bunch of people wearing masks and helmets in sometimes inventive ways. John Wick didn’t invent violent action cinema, but it crystalised something, since which every gun action flick draws from the same well.

But it’s not as if Charlize Theron is any slouch in the killfest stakes anyway. She has more than established her action bona fides with Fury Road, and even more so with Atomic Blonde. At this stage seeing her in a film where she doesn’t artfully kill dozens of people seems unnatural.

She is the leader of a group of special people. They are special because they don’t die, or are very hard to kill, until they die or are killed. Andromache of Scythia, as she is known to the scholars, goes by Andy (Theron) these days. She never says outright how old she is, but it’s implied she is many thousands of years old. She doesn’t drink blood or Dior perfume in order to stay ageless, she can’t fly or turn into a turnip – she and her peeps mostly just don’t die when someone tries to kill them. Alternately, they do die, but it doesn’t usually take.

Until it does. For immortals, they mostly mope about wondering what the point of immortality is, though it seems like they did some stuff in the past. The film’s point seems to be if you were an immortal who couldn’t die in combat, naturally, if you met a few others like you, you would devote your life to fighting people where it would usually take an army to do it. But Andy is tired of doing this, after having done it for literal centuries, and not seeing the world be any the better for it.

The chaps who follow her are mostly in the same boat, except one of them, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), is even more depressed than she is. The two other chaps, Joey and Nicky (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) may have immortality, but they also love each other, so they don’t feel as alone and pointless as the other two.

The initial set-up, as unpromising as it is, almost looks like the “one last job” bullshit that a lot of movies start with, but isn’t quite.

A CIA jerk called Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tells them there’s a school full of kids that’s been kidnapped in South Sudan, and only Andy and her crew of special soldiers can save them. Save me, Andromache of Scythia, you’re my only hope. The shocking thing is, the job isn’t what it seems, the crew are all killed in an ambush, and even if it’s only a quarter of an hour into the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking the story could just end there.

Rating:

The Predator

The Predator 2018

Yes, it's evolved, into Something Even Dumber!

dir: Shane Black

2018

So. What with all the plague happening everywhere, I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, far more so than usual. It has been pretty much the only positive to arise out of this dreadful crisis that has killed so many people and revealed the stupidity and selfishness of so many who profit from the labour of us lower order types and the minimum wage expendable / “essential” services provided by those who have no other choice anyway.

Lest you think I lump myself into that group, oh no, it’s not true. My services to the world are very inessential, which is why I can happily work from home, sip lattes, watch movies and then pontificate about them for no money and to no end other than my own amusement / bemusement.

In that spirit, the films I’ve been watching lately have been great. Thoughtful, intelligent, well-made, reminding us of the links between people across this world and through time; the elements that unite us, the dangers we face, the aches we all feel.

I’ve had enough. I can’t take it any more. I need a break, emotionally and intellectually.

In the same way that we take a break from preparing and eating food that’s nurturing and healthy for us and the people in our lives, and seek the convenience of food that’s not only crap but is actively bad for us, I need to occasionally watch shitty movies in order to have some perspective, and also to replenish my store of tears. Not only did I gorge on cinematic junk food, but it involved a buffet of two recentish movies that stand as squalid sequels to action franchises that started in the 1980s: The Predator and Terminator: Dark Fate, for the people playing at home. Both peaked a long time ago; both keep being resurrected to increasingly diminished returns.

The Predator does not inspire tears, it does not provoke emotions other than whatever emotions scorn and contempt are most aligned with, and it has nothing to do with my favourite Ice Cube album of all time of the same name. It is the hackneyed work of people who don’t give a shit about anything but love pretending they’re having fun, so we should too.

When Predator came out in 1987, it was a minor hit. It sustained the upward trajectory of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action movie career, and never resulted in another movie that really justified its existence as a franchise. One of the people in the original movie, as a soon-killed army jerk called Hawkins, was Shane Black. Literally the only thing Hawkins does in the movie is tell a horribly misogynistic joke and then die.

Rating:

Underwater

Underwater

Streamlined for maximum speed at the bottom of the ocean

dir: William Eubank

2020

It’s…hmm. So, well, people put a bunch of money together and thought that making an updated version of Aliens without having to pay whoever owns that franchise any money was a good idea.

And, it’s fine, I mean, as an idea, it’s fine. They also set this deep underwater on our actual planet, which means everything basically functions the same than as if they were in outer space or on some inhospitable planet: go outside the walls or outside of your suit, and you’re dead.

And they got Kristen Stewart to essentially play Ripley, but, it’s Kristen Stewart, so it’s her playing Kristen Stewart playing Ripley, with a shaved blonde head an all. She is quite striking, admittedly, and yet the hardest ask is us believing that she is an engineer. They never show her binge-drinking, not once.

An engineer, mind you, located in a facility 6 miles underwater in the Mariana Trench, literally the deepest point known of any part of the planet. I can believe the engineer bit, but the other bit is too fanciful, even for a sci-fi movie. There’s a massive main facility, and a bunch of other ones as well, all having been constructed with concrete and metal and stuff, and you just think: How? The pressure at those depths would crush almost any materials of any thickness like a hand crushing a can, and yet for this story to work we have to believe that somehow a bunch of people in high-vis built all this stuff just so our heroes can run around and die, one after the other.

It's an environment so dangerous that tiny flaws in equipment will implode people with a second’s notice. The survival of the bunch of people we see is so unlikely that they have to indulge in way riskier activities in order to go from a slim chance of survival to a slight chance of survival. And Norah (Kristen Stewart) is along for the ride, using her working-around skills whenever she can to find solutions to the cascade of errors going on around her.

But this isn’t enough. I mean, if the remaining crew can’t get to yadda yadda before a deadline, then they’re all going to die, if they stay in place, the facility will be destroyed and kill them, and there’s no safe way to get to the surface without using escape pods because of the bends etc. And yet all these dangers aren’t enough.

Rating:

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