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Film Review: Game Night

“For The Next Hour You’re Not Going To Know What’s Real Or What’s Fake…”

Part of the ensemble of writers behind the screenplay for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, film-making duo, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein return to directing with Game Night, a blackly comic mystery popcorn delight based on a script by the relatively unknown figure of Mark Perez, featuring Jason Bateman (The Gift) and Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) as the competitive married couple who are sucked into a night of outrageous antics with their weekly “game night” comrades by Kyle Chandler’s (Manchester By The Sea) returning overzealous and annoyingly successful brother figure who promises the players a night of gaming unlike any before it. With laugh out loud gags from beginning to end and a joyous first time viewing in which the audience is pulled left, right and centre in regards to the many twists which come before them, Game Night is an American comedy which ultimately works much more effectively than your average US-based comic farce thanks to a tightly wound script and an ensemble cast who undeniably seem to be having as much fun as the fee paying customers come to observe, and even if the movie may not work as well on repeat viewings after its’ concluding payoff, Daley and Goldstein’s latest is still a resounding full house.

With obvious narrative comparisons to David Fincher’s 1997 mystery drama The Game, albeit with with a much more comical tone, Game Night manages to succeed in intertwining both the whodunit elements of its’ narrative with the sickly black tone of its’ sharp humour, with set pieces featuring amateur bullet hole surgery and the attempted deep clean of a blood soaked dog resulting in hysterical fits of giggles as you soak up the sheer absurdity which unfolds throughout a tightly packed 100 minutes runtime. With Bateman and McAdams leading the line of couples entrapped in the film’s leading mystery, the chemistry between them is undeniably well measured, and even with my own personal reservations regarding the former’s on-screen talents when it comes to comedy, their central relationship is crucial to the more out-there comedy elements which in lesser hands may have indeed folded under the silliness of it all. With Jesse Plemons (Hostiles) stealing the show as the woefully awkward next door neighbour and a fantastically designed post-movie credit sequence, Game Night is if anything, outstanding popcorn fun, and for an American comedy to hold my attention for its’ entire runtime, that is a miracle within itself.

Overall Score: 7/10

88th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress

Following on from the nominations for Best Supporting Actor at this years’ Oscar ceremony is the esteemed category of Best Supporting Actress, a category developed in order to not only distinguish the difference in gender, but to adhere to the notion that maybe the dated nature of the ceremony itself has failed to catch up with the times in a society where distinction is a much more delicate and diverse subject matter and can not only be distributed between one or the other. Maybe it’s time to scrap the Actor/Actress thing overall and instead focus on just a leading/supporting role as well as perhaps an award for Best Cast? This would definitely suit a film like this years’ Spotlight, a film which although has many nominations in the acting categories, depends mainly on the ensemble of a cast rather than certain individuals. An argument for another time maybe, but for now we have nominations for Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs and of course Jennifer Jason Leigh for her blood-spattered performance in Tarantino’s western thriller The Hateful Eight. 

As for the bookies and their infinite wisdom, favourite to win the award is Alicia Vikander for her role in Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, contradicting Kate Winslet’s win most recently at the BAFTA’s whilst being fundamentally strange with Vikander’s role in The Danish Girl no doubt being much more than one that is just supporting. You are a strange bunch you Oscar voters you. As for those who have been overlooked over the course of the past year or so, Vikander herself should have been recognised for her portrayal of Ava in the brilliant Ex Machina as either leading or supporting actress depending on your POV, whilst Marion Cotillard and Rebecca Hall both gave rip-roaring performances in Macbeth and The Gift respectively and could have easily been noted by this years’ ceremony. But hey, they can’t always be right can they? The nominations this year are:

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Jennifer J Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Next Time: Best Actor!

Film Review: Spotlight

“I Know There’s Things You Can’t Tell People, But I Also Know There’s A Story Here People Will Hear About…”

Before we begin, let us look back at the year of 2015 in film, a film in which Spotlight director Tom McCarthy decided it was best to embrace us with a continuation of one Adam Sandler’s career with the release of The Cobbler, a film so inept in quality and clouded with sheer hatefulness, one could argue it was set to ignite the downfall of McCarthy’s career, a career that so far had included critical successes with directorial credits on films such as The Station Agent featuring Peter Dinklage, and writing credits for being the mastermind behind the script of Disney Pixar’s Up, a film which generated similar critical acclaim. So the question remains, how on earth did the fundamental talent of Mr. McCarthy end up creating one of the real stinkers of 2015, a film so terrible it holds the distinction of being placed on this sites’ worst films of last year, pulling in at a wholly unremarkable third place? Do I have the answer? No, but thankfully with a new year there is always new surprises, and with the release of Spotlight, a biographical drama focusing on the investigation into the widespread cases of child sex abuse in the Boston area in 2002, it can be safely said that McCarthy is back in the good books. And some.

After being blacklisted in 2013 as one of the many unproduced screenplays around Hollywood, Spotlight attempts to portray the investigation from the Boston Globe’s titular Spotlight team into the seedy truths behind one of the worlds most hideous and horrific crimes within recent memory and with its’ core narrative based around the true-life tales of child sex abuse and rape, it is completely understandable why so many may have been put off by bringing such a terrible tale to the big screen. Within the hands of Tom McCarthy however, a man hell bent on cinematic redemption, Spotlight disregards the dramatic tendencies it may have resorted to and instead focuses primarily on the dying art of investigatory journalism, a decision that proves key when outlining the films’ many successes. In a similar fashion to Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, a film with a similar dark plot at its’ core, Spotlight refuses flat out to present dramatic representations of the many startling acts that took place within the Boston area and instead encompasses the point of view entirely from that of our characters within the Spotlight team, a cinematic trope that shares parallels with Room, a film in which we see the events of the film from the point of view of young Jack who unbeknownst to the terrible events that occur in the film, save the audience from a full understanding and instead leave the terrible events in a state of ambiguity, a key decision that ultimately has worked for both films, both of which share horrendous events within its’ DNA.

Of course, resting the films’ drama entirely on that of journalists, lawyers and other white collar characters as well as countless scenes of characters talking within office spaces, meetings, town halls and a wide range of other suit-and-tie surroundings, the film needed to have a equal balance between script and acting, and with acting pedigree such as Micheal Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, it is unsurprising that that is exactly what Spotlight achieves. Spotlight is a film about something, something terrible, something that will stay with people for years to come, and the way in which each and every actor embraces their role on-screen is a true work of art. Never before have I seen a drama so powerful and startling it could be mistaken for a horror film, with one scene in which a priest completely confesses his crimes entirely straight-faced and without one shred of remorse particularly frightening, a credit to the films’ underlying stance on squeezing tension from the most remote of scenes without resorting to melodrama. If Spotlight brings with it a sense of redemption for director Tom McCarthy, then it verges on the level of Shawshank, with Spotlight being a highly intelligent, engrossing and fundamentally nightmarish cinematic experience that will no doubt leave viewers reeling from a wide range of emotions that the movie evokes. One week ago, The Revenant was top form for Best Picture at the Oscars. Move over Alejandro, Tom McCarthy has just made his masterpiece.

Overall Score: 10/10 

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Eight “Omega Station” SPOILER ALERT

A Truer Detective?

This week brought an end to the second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s highly addictive crime sage True Detective, a show that this year has been rife with criticism and finger-pointing with many arguing that aside from being wholly unsubstantial to its’ predecessor, it has also been an utter disaster with many being critical of its over-elaborate plot, cliched characters, and the ability of lead-writer Pizzolatto who has come under much scrutiny for this season’s attempt to diverge from the occult-ridden themes of the first and move into a noir-fueled epic, featuring a bundle of new characters and a range of different plot threads in order to make up its’ eight episode run. In terms of my own personal viewpoint on this season of True Detective, I am seemingly one of the few in believing that this series offered the opportunity for Pizzolatto to expand his horizons in regards to what can be achieved with such a format that True Detective holds, resulting in a season that yes, did have a wide range of flaws and weaknesses, but was also highly enjoyable with moments of sheer greatness which distinguished itself from anything else on TV at this particular moment of time. And I salute it.

In a rather ironic sort of way, “Omega Station”, the concluding episode of this years’ series, pretty much epitomised everything that True Detective stood for this time around, with the beautiful cinematography, including the wonderful overhead shots of California’s vast landscape, and heart-pounding scenes of tension, particularly in regards to Velcoro’s tragic last stand, being the highlights of the episode. These particular highlights were traits that although were absent slightly from the first three episodes of the series in which time seemed to go rather slowly with not much actually happening in regards to the overall plot, came to form the basis of the second half of the series in which the story finally managed to take a step forward, resulting in the last three episodes of the series being undoubtedly the best in a string of episodes that began with a drag yet concluded with an almighty band. And what a bang it was. If Frank and Ray’s raid on Agranov’s cash deal wasn’t thrilling enough, “Omega Station” left us with a range of memorable scenes, ranging from Velcoro’s redemption to Semyon’s hallucinatory last-breath, something of which was straight out of the Lynch-school for dramatic weirdness.

 In typical noir-esque fashion, the fate of our three heroes in this years’ season, as well as Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon, was rather depressing to say the least, with only Rachel McAdam’s Ana Bezzerides coming out alive, albeit on-the-run from the corrupt power structure that has overtaken our beloved heroes’ home, following the now-famous Game of Thrones policy that sometimes that bad guys have to win. In regards to out main band of heroes, it was obvious that Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro was indeed the most interesting of the bunch, with Farrell’s acting being on top-notch from the start, whilst Vince Vaughn must also take credit for embodying a role which so easily could have gone majorly wrong due to Vaughn’s capacity for cringe-worthy comedic acting, yet ended up being one of the better points of this years’ season resulting in a true sense of redemption for an actor so easily laughed at for his involvement in a string of rather questionable movies more recently. So, where did it all go wrong? In my own opinion, most of the backlash in regards to this years’ series simply came from people jumping on the True Detective-bashing bandwagon, with it seemingly being hip and cool to add to the growing list of haters for this years series, whilst many simply couldn’t deal with the fact that this years’ series was nothing at all like the first, something of which I was impressed by, with this season offering a truer and more down-to-earth take on the crime genre than the occult-ridden themes of the first.

But in all my fondness for the series, there were noticeable weaknesses and missteps, no more so than the ear-gratingly bad dialogue that our characters spoke at particular moments of the season, with our heroes’ hatred of E-Cigarettes being a personal favourite whilst Semyon’s attempt at being his own personal Gandhi with cringe-worthy anecdotes and “inspirational” speeches being draining at times, highlighting that perhaps all the critical praise Pizzolatto received first time around slightly going to his head. Also on the weaker side was the rather messy plot lines that although were rather hard to follow at times, also resulted in a sense of hollowness during the revelation of Caspere’s true murderer, which, in the end, was wholly anti-climatic and had only a slight relevance to the messy plot lines regarding corrupt police officers and business officials which Pizzolatto felt compelled to tell us about. But hey ho, I’d rather watch a series with flaws and weaknesses than anything else if that particular series has as much entertainment value as True Detective undoubtedly has. At the end of the day, Nic Pizzolatto’s crime sage may not have been for everyone this time around, but for me it was wholly refreshing and gave me a reason to wake up early on a Monday morning, and for those reasons alone I am going to miss it. I can only hope for Season Three this time next year.

Episode Score: 9/10

Overall Season Score: 8/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Seven “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” SPOILER ALERT

Death ‘Til Us Part

With the complex and sometimes baffling plot threads, questionable dialogue, and a desire to try and out-class its’ critically acclaimed predecessor this season, True Detective Mark II has had a wide range of detractors and naysayers, yet this weeks’ episode proved that when done correctly, True Detective has the fundamental genetic makeup to be a true great within the already brilliant HBO lineup whilst having the potential to match and rival anything on TV all across the globe. This weeks’ penultimate episode featured everything that made True Detective what it was last year with an increased level of threat and danger towards our main three heroes, solid acting from all involved, and twist and turns that solidified my anticipation for the concluding episode next week in which we are set to tie together the many loose ends that have been left by the complex nature of the overarching plot-line regarding the death of Ben Caspere. This week also handed us the first taste of death for one of our “True Detectives” with Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh violently biting the dust at the hands of Ray Velcoro’s police chief. Lieutenant Burris, after narrowly escaping a confrontation with his blackmailers, all of whom seem to be privy to the events of last week’s drug infused orgy in the hillsides.

With Kitsch’s Woodrugh off  the payroll, one man who took the lead with some panache this week was Vince Vaughn, who although at times hasn’t had the best writing to work with, particularly in regards to his sometimes ear-grating dialogue, has proven to be one of this highlights of the season with this week’s episode allowing him to fully embrace the deceptive and seedy nature of Frank Semyon who once again escaped from bleeding out entirely and instead remained firmly on the ropes after destroying his two clubs after acknowledging the power struggle between him and Russian gangster, Osip Agranov. Following suit, Detectives Bezzerides and Velcoro also felt the heat this week by both turning to the other side of the law after a turn of events in which their one trusted source within the law department was found dead in their car with the blame firmly placed in the lap of Velcoro. With the walls falling in around our three remaining leads, next week’s conclusion of this year’s season of True Detective is one that shouldn’t be missed. See you then.

Overall Score: 9/10

Film Review: Southpaw

Get In The Ring

Sitting side-by-side with the release of Inside Out this week is the release of Southpaw, a boxing drama which focuses on the rise and fall of Jake Gyllenhaal’s (Donnie Darko, Zodiac) Billy Hope after witnessing the death of his beloved wife (Rachel McAdams, True Detective) whilst being directed by Antoine Fuqua, the American mastermind behind the Oscar Winning Training Day and the not-so-Oscar-winning The Equalizer from last year. What brought the most anticipation from the film for me personally however, aside from the brilliant Gyllenhaal, was its’ scriptwriter, Kurt Sutter, the architect behind one of the most addictive shows of recent years, Sons of Anarchy, who takes full control of the story for the very first time in a cinematic format after years of making waves on the small screen. The question that needs to be answered therefore is does Sutter’s first taste of Hollywood pull out all the punches or does it find itself seriously on the ropes? I’d say somewhere in between.

Throughout the course of the movies two-hour runtime, there are examples of Sutter in his prime, particularly in regards to scenes in which we witness out hero Hope break down under the influence of his wife’s loss, showing how in moments of desperation and despair, Sutter’s writing can flourish. One obvious difference for me between Southpaw and Sons of Anarchy for example was the way in which I never felt guilty or treacherous in my support for the films’ lead, something of which I felt whilst watching Sons of Anarchy where the bulk of the time, our supposed “heroes” are off committing murder or some other form of major crime. Of course, one of the reasons Sutter’s writing works so well is mainly due in part to the performance of Gyllenhaal, who once again astutely showcases his talent as an actor and gives the best sporting performance I’ve seen since Christian Bale in The Fighter, a performance that subsequently won him an Oscar, whilst solidly being supported by the veteran of cinema that is Forest Whitaker as coach Titus Wills.

In terms of the overall quality of the film however, Southpaw’s connection with The Fighter ultimately stops there however with the latter being a much better piece of cinema as a whole, whilst the former having flashes of brilliance, particularly in the nail-biting fight sequences, but overall feeling rather cliched and even cringe-worthy in some places, particularly the “guest” additions of both the pimp-looking Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and the rather worse-for-wear Rita Ora, who although improves from her rather pants cameo in Fifty Shades of Grey, doesn’t exactly inspire hope for any chance of a future career away from BBC One and into Hollywood. So for a first shot at the gates of Hollywood, Sutter gives it his all in producing a script worthy of a one-time viewing, but definitely nothing more, whilst director Fuqua definitely improves on the rather arduous watch that was last years’ The Equalizer and succeeds in producing a film that lasts as many rounds as it needs to, but ultimately fails to launch that final, winning blow.

Overall Score: 6/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Six “Church In Ruins” SPOILER ALERT

Risky Business

Due to an enormous level of work and cinema constraints (Damn you Inside Out!), my rather punctual review of the week’s episode of True Detective has annoyingly come two days too late, but nevertheless, such a time period has allowed me to fully digest “Church In Ruins”, an episode in which events within the personal and overall plot-lines of our main heroes and heroines took a step up in an attempt to ready us for the roller-coaster ride that hopefully will be the series’ two concluding episodes. If one overall positive thing is to be taken away from this years’ series of True Detective, it is undeniably going to be Colin Farrell, who’s performance as troubled cop Ray Velcoro hit top-notch this week, particularly during the scene in which we relentlessly witness his descent back into drugs and drink in order to fully accept the notion of losing his son once and for all. On the opposite side of the law, Vince Vaughn continues to impress as Frank Semyon who continues to try and progress in his own investigation into the death of Ben Caspere whilst once again feeling the pressure from the depths of the criminal underworld with the return of the eerie, if rather out-of-place, sombrero wearing Mexican.

As for Detective Bezzerides, wow. The concluding scene in which we witness one of the weirdest undercover operations ever was not only difficult to watch in some places, but also brilliantly executed within all the madness and endless sexual intimacy that was presented on-screen. Kudos too to Bezzerides’ for her ninja skills in the inevitable, yet rather cool and badass knife-attack in which we finally see her expert knife-wielding tactics being but to good use. Oddly enough, with all the attention firmly on Velcoro and Bezzerides this week, Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh decided to take a step back this week from the limelight and oddly enough, brought about a much better episode, with his own personal storyline definitely being the weakest of the trio’s throughout the series so far, yet his looming one-two of marriage and fatherhood may be the cause for his troubles to have finally stopped. This week’s episode of True Detective therefore definitely produced a high watermark for the series, propped up by Farrell’s magnificent performance and a scintillating final scene in which the bones of the overall storyline just got a little bit juicier.

Overall Score: 8/10 

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Five “Other Lives” SPOILER ALERT

Aftershocks

With the bloody, gunshot ridden conclusion that rounded off last week’s episode of True Detective, this week’s venture into Nic Pizzolatto’s noir-crime drama was bound to deal with the consequences of such, particularly in regards to the surviving trio of Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh who witnessed first hand a barrage of death and destruction. After a weird and ambiguous change to the show’s theme tune to start us off with, such consequences of the shootout are swiftly distinguished within “Other Lives” with Velcoro and Bezzerides seemingly ending up with the short change, with the latter now working under Frank Semyon and the former ending up in storage, whilst Woodrugh has seemingly taken all the plaudits and rewarded with the opportunity to have a go at being Detective. Of course being only halfway through the series, the fact that both Velcoro and Bezzerides are now out of the main picture, it has given them a chance to establish, low key, other inquiries into the ever-confusing death of Ben Caspere, much to the enjoyment of every True Detective fan with this particular episode diving deeper into the seedy backstory into his death, including a rather nasty looking hut with a rather bloody look to it in a scene that bears similarities to that of the first series.

Elsewhere, Frank Semyon attempted to reconnect with his human side in an attempt to rekindle his relationship with Mrs. Semyon whilst Velcoro was asked to look into his personal staff in an attempt to detect the blame in regards to his loss of finance which followed the death of Ben Caspere. With Velcoro well and truly under the thumb of Semyon, the rather shocking twist regarding the true fate of his wife’s rapist brought the episode to a mouthwatering close, in a confrontation that will ultimately have heavy repercussions heading into the final few episodes. With all the negativity regarding the snail-esque pace of this season’s main storyline, “Over Lives” fought back with a bang and offered a chance to delve deeper into the lives of all four of our main protagonists whilst moving forward with its’ underlying through point regarding the death of Ben Caspere at a rate which finally is leading Season Two of True Detective into a direction it deserves to be heading in.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Four “Down Will Come” SPOILER ALERT

To Live and Die In L.A

With the first series of True Detective declaring it’s sheer awesomeness during its’ fourth episode when we were treated to the now-famous one-take, gang-land escape scene, this week’s episode of series two was bound to include some sort of monumental set-piece in some form or another. And boy, wasn’t it just? The explicitly violent massacre that concluded “Down Will Come” not only was shocking as it was bloody, but also featured ten minutes of ramped-up action that had been absent from this season so far, concluding with Officers Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh physically repelled at the sheer carnage they had just all witnessed after a search and seizure on a potential suspect was turned completely on its’ head. Although such a scene was downright epic in its’ own right, parallels to the first series was inevitable. regardless of how good such a scene was going to be, yet I think it’s time to move away from comparisons to the first series and just enjoy True Detective for what its’ attempting to be this year; a dark and brooding noir crime thriller that is trying it’s hardest to shake off the plaudits of its’ predecessor by not being just more of the same.

Of course, the argument that its’ attempting to not be “more of the same” can be easily criticised due in part to the way in which such a set piece in this week’s episode was pretty much expected, but on the whole, the concluding shootout worked and I believe if such a scene was placed into another, bog-standard crime show, it would be applauded. I know True Detective, you just can’t win. Although the final scene was something to take away from this week’s episode, in terms of the overall plot, not much was entirely expanded upon, with Frank Semyon still attempting to rebuild his legacy in the crime underworld, whilst the depth of the case was only focused on within the last ten minutes or so, aside from some rather confusing plot lines regarding spiritual seminars and land development, making this week’s episode memorable in places, but overall, just filler in the overall context of the seasons overarching plot threads.

Overall Score: 7/10 

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Three “Maybe Tomorrow” SPOILER ALERT

May The Elvis Be With You

Last week’s episode of True Detective left us questioning whether the series had accomplished one of the most shocking deaths of recent times with the supposed murder of Detective Velcoro, a character portrayed majestically by everyone’s favourite Irish export Colin Farrell, yet such a mystery was immediately resolved in the first few minutes of “Maybe Tomorrow” when we established that the murderous bird-masked assailant had thankfully decided to load his shotgun with rubber bullets, much to the relief of Velcoro himself as well as most viewers I would assume who, like me, see Velcoro as one of the more interesting characters in this years’ series. One negative aspect of such a quick resurrection however was that all the fun and games of playing that one scene over and over in the week between the two episodes was quickly overshadowed with such an attempt on one of the leading characters life being brushed over rather instantaneously, a major shame in my opinion. Top marks however for the obvious Lynch/Twin Peaks inspired dream sequence that kicked this week’s episode off though. A good, retro, Lynch reference is always going to win me over. Well done.

With Velcoro’s swift resurrection, “Maybe Tomorrow” marched swiftly forward in an attempt to speed up the rather rambling plot lines that are starting to materialise, with the editing in this particular episode flying like a steam-train in order to keep us privy to not only dealings within the police force, but out of it, with Frank Semyon finally unleashing his inner evil after seeing one of his henchman being brutally murdered in manner not too dissimilar from that of Ben Caspere (Were his eyes not removed?). Furthermore, the obvious symbolism of sexual incapability between the two leads of the series in both Semyon and Woodrugh ties into the notion of both seemingly being absent from what they desire most, with Semyon reeling from the notion of leaving the criminal enterprise and Woodrugh’s obvious defiance from “coming out” as it were. This undercurrent sexual motif has been highly recurrent in this series so far, making me question whether lead writer Nic Pizzolatto is purposely fleshing out characters with such vices in order to have not one, but a whole range of potential suspects for the series’ main mystery on both sides of the law.

Weaknesses of the episode followed suit of the series’ overall weaknesses so far, with a few more examples of cringe-worthy dialogue, whilst the shallow, caricature-ridden portrayal of Mayor Chessani ‘s family, including his trophy wife and extremely annoying son was rather laughable in places. Furthermore, what is everyone’s problem with E-Cigarettes? I mean come on, there are much worse problems out there. In conclusion therefore, True Detective once again supplied another solid and intriguing slice of gritty, noir-esque mystery, stifled with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, a winning recipe if ever there was one, if suffering from questionable dialogue and an all-too-quick resolution to the cliffhanger of the previous episode.

Overall Score: 8/10