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American Hustle

28 Jan

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CAST

Christian Bale – Irving Rosenfeld

Bradley Cooper – Richie DiMaso

Amy Adams – Sydney Prosser

Jeremy Renner – Mayor Carmine Polito

Jennifer Lawrence – Rosalyn Rosenfeld

Louis C.K. – Stoddard Thorsen

Jack Huston – Pete Musane

Alessandro Nivola – Reggio

Michael Peña – Paco Hernandez/Sheik Abdullah

Shea Whigham – Carl Elway

Robert De Niro – Victor Tellegio

REVIEW:  Directed by David O. Russell and written by Russell and Eric Warren Singer is based on the ABSCAM sting of 1978.  The story concerns itself with Irving Rosenfeld a small time Hustler, sells fake art, owns a chain of Laundromats, and cons people out of thousands with fake investment scams. He is a genius at what he does and like most con-artists he has bigger dreams. He meets his match at a party, a woman, Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams. She is an ex-exotic dancer/stripper and is looking to reinvent herself.  Irving finds himself connected to her, and she with him, she falls for him and becomes his mistress.. He teaches her the con game and she reinvents herself as English noblewoman with Royal connections. The two swindle the desperate with bad investment schemes, until one of the investors turns out to be an FBI man named Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper.

DiMaso coerces the two into helping him put the finger on corrupt politicians like a New Jersey Mayor , Carmine Polito played by Jeremy Renner. Jennifer Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving’s wife, whose son, Irving has adopted as his own. She gets involved much to Syndney’s dislike and almost ruins the sting operation. Irving is forever mending fences caused by his wife and DiMaso who wants to be in control but is at odds with Irving’s plans.

The look of the film, its’ colors and textures are very reminiscent of films made in that era. The music is strictly Disco and Jazz, giving the film its’ mood and setting. The script is a dark screwball comedy, and I found myself laughing at the situations as they grew more complex and absurd.

This is a fine film with an outstanding cast, all deliver solid and believable performances. Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld and delivers New York greasy with class and panache. He is balding, with a comb over from hell. that he meticulously puts into place with latex and hairspray to keep the illusion of being someone else. He is adorned with bling that includes a big Star of David on a gold chain and bracelets. He wears suits that look like they fell off a hanger . Bales performance is real, comical in a human way, and pathetic every time he downs a heart pill.

Amy Adams delivers a fine performance as Sydney Prosser, it is wonderful to see her in a role that is down and dirty as opposed to squeaky clean. You understand her as she looks for something real in her life, opposed to the fakery she has been living, in order to survive.

Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld plays her as ditzy, bored, scared, and looking for some excitement in her life. Every time she does something stupid, like accidently blowing up the microwave or causing a fire in her kitchen or some other thing it is obvious she is trying to get her husband’s attention. She is a very lonely and this is at the core of her performance.

The cast is rounded out by great performances by comedian Louis C.K. as FBI man, Stoddard Thorson and Robert De Niro’s cameo as mob boss(what else) Victor Tellegio, among others.

This comedic caper is one of the finest ensemble casts I have seen in a long time. The film is deservedly getting a lot of attention and rewards. Don’t miss it. I predict the film will walk away with Oscars.

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Blue Jasmine

2 Aug

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CAST

Alec Baldwin-Hal

Cate Blanchett-Jasmine

Louis C. K.-Al

Bobby Cannavale-Chili

Andrew Dice Clay-Augie

Sally Hawkins-Ginger

Peter Sarsgaard-Dwight

Michael Stuhlbarg-Dr. Flicker

Review: Written and Directed by Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is Allen’s modern telling of Streetcar named Desire.  It is the story of a fallen Manhattan socialite, Jasmine (Blanchett) who moves in with her sister Ginger(Hawkins) after she loses all her money and social standing  because of her investment broker husband  Hal’s  (Baldwin) dirty investment dealings.

Jasmine’s state is post nervous breakdown and when she arrives in San Francisco she is a fish out of water. On the plane ride from NY to California she is talking to herself and the poor lady sitting next to her politely listens. Jasmine arrives at her sister’s home in Frisco’s mission district she asks a stranger  “Where am I exactly.”   This where the story begins and we realize Jasmine is over the edge and hides it by drinking vodka and downing xanax. Blanchette’s performance is masterful as Jasmine clutches to whatever dignity she has left.

Baldwin’s Hal is cold calculating, manipulative and charming. He gives Jasmine the dream life of jewels, furs, a Park Avenue address, a beach house in the Hamptons she has all the superficial trappings and spoils a woman can want. Hal is a philanderer, lives off the spoils of other people’s money and doesn’t care who he brings down to get it. He charms his way all the way into ruination ala Bernie Madoff.

The Stanley Kowalskis’ in this scenario are Jasmin’s sister’s ex-husband Augie, played by Andrew Dice Clay, he nails it, and Chili, Ginger’s new boyfriend played by Bobby Cannavale.

The story is told in flashbacks as Jasmin relives the past in her rantings, as much as she tries to reconcile what she has become each passing day she is haunted by her past. Blanchett’s mood swings are so real as she navigates from sober then drunk to passive on the pills. You are pulled along for the ride and her performance  is the best I ever have seen her do. Allen is known for writing great parts for woman and this role is no exception.

This is Allen’s strongest movie since Match Point and proves once again what a prolific film maker he is. The movie never uses humor as gag  style comedy, the moments of humor scattered throughout come organically from the situations Jasmine finds herself in and the self delusion that goes along with it. You hope throughout that Jasmine’s can turn her life around.

There are moments when you realize that Jasmine’s breakdown has an underlying feeling of betrayal, is she betraying herself, is she hiding a secret, was it Hal’s betrayal and philandering that put her over the edge. Allen who loves Ingmar Bergman’s films, gives this story a  tragic Bergamanesque take on the human condition in the way the film deconstructs inch after fragile inch of Jasmine’s character. Blanchett reveals enough of Jasmine’s demons to root for her to change. Jasmine is in such deep denial that when she castigates her sister for having such losers as a husband and boyfriend, you can’t help but think that she is actually talking about her own situation.

The way Allen writes each character none of them fall into charactures or exaggerations, he pulls great performances out of all his cast members.

This is one of Allen’s finest films and it is apparent Allen is still at the peak of his story telling powers. Blanchett is a tour-de-force and shows us why we like to go to the movies in the first place. I am sure she will see a best actress nod for this one.

 

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Frances Ha

31 May

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Directed by Noah Baumbach; written by Mr. Baumbach and Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Frances (Greta Gerwig) lives in New York, but she doesn’t really have an apartment. Frances is an apprentice for a dance company, but she’s not really a dancer. Frances has a best friend named  Sophie, but they aren’t really speaking anymore. Frances throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possible reality dwindles. Frances wants so much more than she has but lives her life with unaccountable joy and lightness. FRANCES HA is a modern comic fable that explores New York, friendship, class, ambition, failure, and redemption.

CAST

Greta Gerwig -Frances

Mickey Sumner-Sophie

Patrick Heusinger-Patch

Adam Driver-Lev

Michael Zegen-Benji

Grace Gummer-Rachel

REVIEW: This delightful, interesting, black and white IFC film, starring the “Queen of Independent” films, Greta Gerwig, tells the tale of a twenty-something woman coming to terms with growing up. Frances is 28 and dreams of being a dancer with the dance company she apprentices with. It becomes apparent what she dreams and what reality is are two different things.  She shares her best friend Sophies’s apartment but as time moves on Sophie faces the real world while Frances is still stuck in her dreams.

There is a bit of Frances in all of us as we have to face adulthood and responsibilities. Frances is the child in us all and she is both reckless and joyous as she naively, almost blindly moves to attain her perceived goals. It is plain to see she is uncomfortable with convention and she knows, even with self-doubt that she must continue after her dreams no matter what other people think. In essence as her friendships grow apart and she builds new ones, they are made with the desperate hope someone will take her at face value. Gerwig gives Frances, humor, an adorable flightiness, charm, insecurity and an enormous amount of likeability. As people she meets see through her, she obviously thinks they are crazy for not taking her offbeat view of life seriously. She almost jokingly is labeled un-dateable, her dance mentor sympathizes with her but understands Frances is not a dancer.  Her adventures through New York City where she lives, are at once humorous and  soul searching. Gerwig gives a remarkable performance.

There is an interesting moment in the film when Frances, on a date, leaves the restaurant she is in, she offered to pay for dinner but the restaurant won’t take her debit card. She leaves the date in the restaurant to find an ATM to pay cash. While running back to the restaurant she trips and falls, when she returns her date notices her arm is bleeding. She was completely unaware of the damage she inflicted on herself.  It seems this moment is a metaphor for how she has lived her life, running from place to place, falling down and not realizing the consequences as she recklessly pursues her dreams.

The film overall has a light touch, and some laugh out loud moments. By the films end you can’t help but feel that Frances is just beginning to get it right. The title of the movie Frances Ha, is also a metaphor for who Frances is, you as an observer can’t take un-dateable Frances seriously, Francis Ha!  No spoilers on how the title becomes relevant. The film is about the search and Frances takes us along for the ride.

The film grew on me as the story progressed and I am sure all of us have met a Frances Halloway at some point or another. Gerwig makes this her own and shares a writing credit with the director.

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The Great Gatsby

10 May

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Synopsis: Baz Luhrmann directs a lavish version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gasby. Leonardo DiCaprio, plays Jay Gatsby, a mysterious man who spends half a decade building a monument to the woman he loves.

Cast

Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby)

 Tobey Maguire (Nick Carraway)

 Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan)

 Carey Mulligan (Daisy Buchanan),

Isla Fisher (Myrtle Wilson)

Jason Clarke (George Wilson)

Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker)

 Amitabh Bachchan (Meyer Wolfsheim)

Review:  Considering Baz Luhrmann’s excesses in his version of Romeo and Juliet, also starring Leonardo DiCapro and his visual excesses on his film Moulin Rouge, we are also visually overwhelmed by all the sites and sounds of this version of Gatsby. The film runs 2 hours and 40 minutes and it is a long time to be bombarded with fireworks, stunning set design and loud music. On the other hand the same can be said for a Cecil B. Demille extravaganza. What Luhrman does do, and brilliantly I  might add, is let us inside the 1920’s world of Gatsby and his obsession for one woman, the excessive parties and fireworks are just a distraction. Luhrmann also has an apparent appreciation for the source material, when the film gets more serious there are certain moments of diologue and proes right out of Fitzgerald’s novel.

The story is told in flashback from the point of view of Gatsby’s friend, Nick Carraway, played by Toby Maguire. Maguire, as an actor, plays naive young men changed by extraordinary circumstances extremely well.  He is seen as a recovering alcoholic in a psychiatric hospital telling his story to his doctor. When Carraway reaches an impass and won’t talk about his dealings with Gatsby, the doctor encourages him to write about it. This is when the story unfolds as Carraway, who is writing a journal, narrates his writings.

DiCaprio is Gatsby, a mysterious, rich, quiet man owns an estate on Long Island. He throws extravagant parties, collects art, fills his house with strangers and music, but no one has seen him. Rumors abound about his background, he killed a man, his family was prominent and he inherited their fortune, he went to Oxford etc. DiCaprio has a boyish charm and a knowing smile that perfectly encapsulates the Gatsby of the novel.

Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s love interest is played by Cary Mulligan, she is both beautiful and complicated. She love’s Gatsby but is married to a bigot and a brutish adulterer, the rich, Tom Buchanan.

Joel Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan’s menacing bigotry and unfaithfulness with a frightening edge. He loves his wife, Daisy, but his brutish ways keeps her at a distance. It is here that the conflicts in their marriage arise.

There are many secrets to Gatsby as well as to Daisy and her relationship with him.  Each piece of the puzzle fits together as new revelations about Gatsby are uncovered or shared with Carraway. The story is fascinating and holds your attention.

The use of 3D was very effective in the story telling, from the beginning titles that literally draw you into Gatsby’s world, to Carraway’s typing prose that at times fill the screen with fonts that fall like snow. The 3D enhances the majesty of Gatsby’s mansion and well as the musical numbers that are reminiscent of Buzby Berkley.

I must say that as good a movie as this is it falls short of being a great movie.  The film, which takes us to a post WWI New York during the roaring 20’s, is visually recreated with style, mood and the design of the time. When you are taken into that world a big piece of the picture is the sounds and music of the time and place. Luhrmann chose to juxtapose jazz sounds with the loud beats of Jay-Z, covers by Beyonce and Andre 3000,.and Fergie. Frankly this is a distraction when you are mentally focused on the 1920’s décor, color and costumes.  For an example of the contrasts at work here, the scene where Carraway meets Gatsby for the first time, there are cross cuts from Carraway’s face, to the fireworks at the party, to Gatsby himself looking out over the Long Island Sound, the music is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the moment is a brilliant use of the language of film. On the other hand as the music swells at a huge Gatsby party, the musician who is reminiscent of the Jazz Great Cab Calloway, sings a hip-hop belter that is so out of place, you are immediately removed from the time and space the film represents.  Luhrmann understands everyone will not like his use of say Fergie singing, so you have to ask is he doing justice to the story or trying to sell us a mix we can find on ITunes, or a Blu-ray DVD version of a long music video?

The movie’s cast of actors more than makes up for the flaws in the musical soundtrack and the story is a classic of modern literature. So for today’s young audience I say, you know what a DVD is, they used to call them books. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to get a young audience to appreciate a novel like Gatsby, then go for it.

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The Odd Life Of Timothy Green

19 Apr

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Synopsis: A small-town couple, Jim and Cindy, grieving over their inability to conceive, write the attributes of their dream child on scraps of paper that they bury in a box in their garden. That night, during a violent storm, a shift in the wind and a little mystery, their dreams are transformed into reality.

CAST

Jennifer Garner……………………………..Cindy Green

Joel Edgerton…………………………………..Jim Green

Dianne Wiest…………………………Bernice Crudstaff

C J Adams……………………………..….Timothy Green

Rosemarie DeWitt…………………………Brenda Best

Ron Livingston…………………….Franklin Crudstaff

M. Emmet Walsh…………………………….Uncle Bub

Odeya Rush………………………………….Joni Jerome

Lin-Manuel Miranda……………………Reggie Marks

Lois Smith…………………………………………Aunt Mel

David Morse……………………………James Green Sr.

Common…………………………………………..Coach Cal

Review: This charming Disney fantasy, centers around a young couple, Jim and Cindy Green. The story begins at an adoption agency, and is told in flashback, as they try to convince the two adoption agents that are fit parents. When asked what experience they had as parents, they tale their remarkable tale.

Cindy retreats into gardening and Jim retreats into his work at the local pencil factory. It seems the factory may shut down and Jim is involved in all the meetings with his fellow workers to discuss their future. The pair becomes depressed as their life together seems unfulfilled. One night Jim had enough of and convinces Cindy they can have a child. For luck they write down all the attributes their child will have, he/she will be musical, have a sense of humor like Uncle Bob,  artistic , perhaps a young Picasso, have heart and compassion…etc.  They take the writings and place it in a wood box which they bury in their garden. After they are asleep a freak storm, over their house, wakes then up and also spreads some magic on the garden.

Jim hears something in the house when he sees the back door open; he notices a whole in the ground where the box was buried. After, a mysterious chase ensues, with flashlights and shadows, we discover the intruder is a boy named Timothy. He is covered in dirt and wet from the rain. After Cindy cleans him up, she notices something unusual. Timothy has leaves growing out of both his legs. When they ask him his name he replies Timothy Green and he refers to the couple as mom and dad. Could this be their dreams coming true.

As time goes by and Timothy is accepted by friends and family and this when the story becomes bitter sweet.  There are many twists and turns in the plot as Timothy falls in love with a young girl, Joni who discovers his secret and bonds with him as she shares a secret of her own.

During the course of the story as Timothy achieves each written attribute, he changes the community in subtle and wonderful ways. He also starts to lose his leaves one by one, as his parents struggle comically to become good parents, they are unaware that Timothy is changing, but Timothy understands what is happening and the story becomes bittersweet.

This is a  wonderful family film that deals with the issues of childhood, parenting, love and adoption. The film will warm your heart.  C.J. Adams is perfect as Timothy and Odeya Rush did a wonderful job as Joni. The rest of the cast was terrific with a stand-out performance by Dianne Weist as the curmudgeonly, matron of the local Pencil Museum.

The film, written and directed by Peter Hedges, is available at Amazon, your local Red-Box and Netflix.

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Oblivion

19 Apr

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“Are you still an effective team?”

Synopsis: Jack Harper is one of the last few drone repairmen stationed on Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs, Jack’s mission is nearly complete. Living in and patrolling the skies from thousands of feet above, his existence is brought crashing down when he rescues a stranger from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he knows and puts the fate of humanity in his hands.

CAST

Tom Cruise…………………………..Commander Jack Harper

Morgan Freeman…………………………………Malcolm Beech

Olga Kurylenko…………………………………..Julia Rusakova

Andrea Riseborough………………………………Victoria Olsen

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau……………………………………..Sykes

Melissa Leo……….….Jack and Victoria’s mission control

Zoë Bell……………………………………………………………Kara

Review:  I will cut to the chase about this high concept, sci-fi, allegory about post apocalyptic earth. It is set in the near future, 2077, the planet earth had been at war with an alien species, the aliens lost the war, planet earth was decimated, and the moon destroyed. The film is directed and co-written by, Joseph Kosinski, the director of TRON LEGACY. This is Kosinski’s second film and is miles above the TRON sequel.

I found the film visual stunning, the concept being reminiscent of the end of the earth movies from the seventies. We see NY city in ruins, the Empire State Building buried up to the radio tower that sits atop it, briefly the torch from a now buried Statue of Liberty, (think Planet of the Apes, original version) and the George Washington bridge all destroyed. These images are only the tip of the ice-berg in a story filled with twists, turns and surprises. The imagery also pays homage to Trek, in its high concept themes of alien technology and to Star Wars.

Tom Cruise at 50, plays mechanic 49, Jack Harper, who has been assigned to fix the drones that protect the giant machines that clean the sea water. The fresh sea-water is made drinkable, and necessary to keep safe, for the surviving humans who relocated to the Saturn’s moon, Titan, to survive from the radiation that has destroyed most of earth. Given Cruise’s box office decline in the past several years, and his quick divorce from Katie Holmes, Cruise needs a hit film; let’s just say this could be the right vehicle and character, to stage a come-back. He is likeable, tough and adaptable as he searches for answers to his recurring dreams of a time, and place in NY, before the war. I enjoyed his performance, it wasn’t Cruise being Cruise, like in most his films, he is very believable in this one.

Andrea Riseborough plays Cruise’s mission partner, and lover, Victoria. This British Actress is a young star on the rise. She is terrific in the film, she navigates through her emotions as she sends Cruise on dangerous mission after dangerous mission.

Morgan Freeman is always a joy to watch no matter what character he plays. Here he plays the leader of the rebels, Malcolm Beech. His group are referred to by Cruise as the Scavs, the remaining alien species that live on the planet.

Olga Kurylenko plays Julia Rusokova a woman who is saved by Cruise when her spaceship crashes on the surface of the earth, brought down by a Scav homing beacon, mounted on the top of the Empire State Building. The ship is carrying a number of sleeping capsules containing human beings in hibernation. Her appearance is a turning point in the film and many surprises and revelations will follow.

Unlike Kosinki’s first film, Tron Legacy, this film is packed with emotion, secrets and riveting revelations about the aliens, the human race and its’ survival. Although there are some unanswered questions, like any good allegory about the human condition, this one examines the exploitation of earth’s natural resources, drone technology and super power demagoguery. In our world these are issues that say, Rod Serling, the creator of the Twilight Zone, would cover in a similar fashion.

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Ginger and Rosa

11 Apr

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Synopsis: A coming of age story about two young girlfriends. Born in England in 1945 the two girlfriends Ginger (Ellie Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) come of age during the cold-war era of the early 1960’s. This is an intimate portrayal of a family torn apart by political ideology, infidelity and passion.

Cast

Elle Fanning………………………………..Ginger

Alice Englert……………………………………Rosa

Christina Hendricks…………………Anoushka

Alessandro Nivola…………………………Roland

Annette Bening……………………….. May Bella

Timothy Spall…………………………. Mark One

Oliver Platt……………..……………….Mark Two

Review: Ginger and Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter, is a film about two girlfriends Ginger and Rosa who are best friends. The film takes place in the cold-war days of 1962. The ban the bomb movement was in full swing, the Bay of Pigs incident was imminent. Ginger’s father, Roland was a conscientious objector during WWII and spent jail time for being one. Rosa’s father had disappeared long ago and she lives with her mother.

The style of the movie mirrors the “new wave movement” films of the sixties with stark industrial landscapes, dilapidated apartments, hand held camera movements and extreme close-ups. More than just an homage to the films of the era, the film feels as if it were made at that time. The movie has very sparse music and like real life, the music comes and goes organically, either played on a 48rpm record or played from a juke box. The story begins showing the friendship between the two girls, they have their first cigarettes together, they sit in a bathtub together with new jeans on in order to shrink them, they iron each others hair and they share secrets with each other.

As time progresses Ginger who is obsessed with the possibility of dying by nuclear holocaust, becomes both depressed about her life and at the same time becomes part of the Ban the Bomb movement. Ginger listens every night, to news reporte on the radio about the amount of nuclear weapons in England, and the pronouncements from pacifist Bertram Russell, how the bomb will be used to save England against the Russian threat and how the end of the world is drawing near. Needless to say she is petrified and thinking the end is near and joins the ban the bomb political movement.

Rosa is more interested in boys and Ginger puts up with Rosa’s endless flirtations and make-out sessions. The more the two of them are together the more you realize they are moving in opposite directions.

Roland, Ginger’s father, a pacifist who writes articles and journals,and teaches pacifism,  finds himself trapped by his “normal” life style. He starts to have a relationship with one of his students and disappears for days at a time. Anoushka, Ginger’s mother feels neglected, and under-appreciated, and only suspects Roland’s philandering.  Ultimately Roland moves-out.

Roland invites Ginger and Rosa to spend a night on his boat, this is when we learn Rosa has more than a passing interest in Ginger’s dad. Ginger overhears a conversation the two are having and realizes what potentially is going on. Rosa tells Ginger that she understands Roland and she wrote him a note to tell him. Their relationship grows and Ginger is hurt to the core. Not only is she losing her friend and her dad, she feels deeply that the entire world is going end.

Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall play a gay couple, Mark and Mark, who with Annette Bening’s character, May Bella, are friends of Anoushka. May Bella is also a ban the bomb activist. When Rosa becomes pregnant with Roland’s child, it is the three of them who intervene.

The film is powerful and moving. Ellie Fanning, like her sibling Dakota Fanning , is a brilliant young actress who navigates through Ginger’s emotion with the stark realism the story calls for.  Alice Englert, daughter of the Australian director, Jane Campion, also plays her character with realism, you can feel how her actions are dictated by an absent father.

This is a film about a specific time and place in 60’s era England. The film is politically charged with many heady ideologies discussed and debated. The film’s storyline is absorbing as it captures that specific place and time accurately

I walked away thinking about the events that took place at the Bay of Pigs and wonder if the next stand-off is with North Korea.

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