Category: News & Trends

BASED ON: Melissa McCarthy in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me’

Melissa McCarthy/Can You Ever Forgive Me/Fox Searchlight

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Screenplay written by Nicole Holofcener, directed by Marielle Heller, based on a memoir of the same title by Lee Israel.

This film has gotten a lot of awards notice. Most recently, it just landed a Writers Guild of America nomination for best adapted screenplay, for Nicole Holofcener and Josh Whitty.

Thus far, it’s won two Satellite Awards, for best supporting actor for Richard Grant; and for best adapted screenplay; and a New York Film Critics Circle Award, for Grant.

In nominations, Grant received nods from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Independent Spirit; National Society of Film Critics; and Critics’ Choice. McCarthy got best actress nods from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, National Society of Film Critics, Critics’ Choice and Satellite.

And now, Father Vince’s review …

The real-life Lee Israel enjoyed a bit of literary success in the 1980s, enough to pay New York rents, but not enough to cure her deluded thinking that her book advances should match those of a Tom Clancy. She wrote biographies of esoteric figures such as Estee Lauder, Kilgallen and Tallulah Bankhead.

When the 1990s arrive, life finds Lee Israel in much poorer circumstances. She lives alone in a decrepit apartment, having resorted to selling off her personal library of books after the legal firm where she once proofread let her go. Her penury remains her own doing, though as Israel pours her latest research into the long-forgotten actress, Fanny Brice. She finds a letter by the author in one of the books. A trip to one of New York’s famed bookstores reveal quite the market for such personalized memos. Israel falsely assumes the voice of various authors and begins her newfound “professional” life in forgery.

Reading Lee Israel’s memoir, one can see in hindsight how she soon found herself down on her luck. I would say that she writes in an “elevated” language, like a graduate student trying to impress some famous professor that they indeed, belong in that fancy MFA program. It’s not so much the words that a good writer uses, by how they arrange and use them that counts.

She employs “piratical” as a $64,000-dollar word, when a lesser adjective would better suffice. Her style somehow impressed the publishing world one decade, but come the next, they’ve shelved her for someone more marketable and digestible.

Melissa McCarthy brings some humanity to the role. The memoir in its current form would be almost unwatchable. The film centers around Israel and her gay friend, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Although, Hock’s promiscuous choices lead to his eventual sad, demise, it is Israel who oddly enough ends up in a more pathetic circumstance.

She shuns human relationships to the point that the accidental death of her cat ruins her more than any botched relationship could. The memoir is even less kind. While the film shows a genuine friendship between the two, Israel records Jack as little more than a hired hand, only utilized because word is getting out about her.

Perhaps, the saddest note comes on Israel’s reflecting about her misdeeds. Her own words are telling. She appends the line “Can you ever forgive me?” to a Dorothy Parker letter. Parker writes apologetically comparing her current hangover “to a museum piece.” Israel comments she wrote the line presuming Parker, “apologizes with no intention whatsoever of mending her wayward ways.”

I read the letter without Israel’s doctoring, however, as a sincere apology from someone who like many of us say stupid things at dinner parties having had a bit much to drink. So the appended line, then says more about Israel than the writer she’s impersonating.

Israel’s description of later crimes, some 400 forgeries in all, are scribbled in a matter-of-fact tone. If she evokes any emotions, they’re ones of self-satisfaction for pulling off the ruse for the few years she did. McCarthy delivers a heartfelt apology to a near-empty courtroom prior to her sentencing. It’s touching. She’s a phenomenal actress who moves us to sympathize with the least sympathetic of persons.

Israel writes, though, that she believed in maybe half of what she stated to the judge. The film’s title, then more than a mere plot point, asks the viewer as to whether can they extend mercy to the forger? For the character in the movie, I would cautiously say “Yes.” For the real-life, Lee Israel, unrepentant to the bitter end, I must sadly say, “No.”

Image: Fox Searchlight

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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BASED ON: From ‘Black Panther’ to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to ‘Dirty John’ — Nominees Drawn From Other Works

Black Panther (Marvel)/Crazy Rich Asians (Warner Bros.)/Patrick Melrose (Showtime)

Happy New Year — and Happy Awards Season!

The Golden Globes takes place this Sunday, Jan. 6, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom in Beverly Hills, California, and airs live on NBC. The nominees have been announced, and between now and then, it’s a guessing game.

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called Based On, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies. Here he looks at some of the nominated works he deems worthy, which originated in another form.

Film Nominees

BLACK PANTHER, based on the Marvel comic.
(Best Motion Picture — Drama)

The film works on a popular and critical level because it does not stray from the original arc of the comics. The strong traditional family values and political isolationism of the land of Wakanda was recipe for strong box office and a Golden Globe for best picture.

THE WIFE, based on a Meg Wolitzer novel.
(Glenn Close, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama)

A greater portion of the book version of the story takes place on a transatlantic flight to Stockholm, where Joan Castleman contemplates divorcing her writer husband, Joe. She’s the real writer behind his books, thus de-legitimizing any real claim he has to the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. The film works as a scenic Scandinavian travelogue, but the book better realizes the strained, yet still-hobbling-along marriage.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS, based on a Kevin Kwan novel.
(Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy; Constance Wu for Best Performance by an Actress in the category)

The book delves far deeper into the ugly underbelly of Singaporean high society. The novel features dogfighting as the main event of the bachelor party, while the film airbrushes this away. The film applies a similar cosmetic effect when Christianity is only given fleeting recognition. In the book, the magical sequence of the wedding becomes more a point of contention when the devout Christian aunts take issue with the church transforming into a lily pond.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, based on the Marvel comics.
(Best Motion Picture — Animated)

The panel format of comic books limits the number of characters and their development over a five- or six-issue arc. Each arc really can only handle one or two Spiderman characters. The medium of animation, especially on the big screen knows no such boundaries.

TV Nominees

SHARP OBJECTS, based on a Gillian Flynn novel.
(Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television; Amy Adams, for Best Performance by an Actress in the category; Patricia Clarkson, for Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in the category)

The HBO series succeeds because it doesn’t deviate from the novel — especially when the producers get the “spine” (pun intended) of the book right … the story is less about the detective procedural and more about the main character’s family dysfunction.

DIRTY JOHN. based on a true series of Los Angeles Times articles reported by Christopher Goffard.
(Connie Britton, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television)

The Bravo series about a confidence man deceiving a successful, yet naïve Orange County woman makes for an exalted Lifetime mini-series. The TV show failed to incorporate Debra Newell’s devout Christian faith. It would have provided far more texture and believable plot sequencing as Newell relies far too much on unconditional forgiveness, giving John Meehan’s facetious “mea culpa” one too many chances.

PATRICK MELROSE, based on a collection of short stories and novellas by Edward St. Aubyn.
(Benedict Cumberbatch, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television)

I was only able to make it through one novella of this leisure-class tale of decadence and addiction. Benedict Cumberbatch acts so well as the depraved titular character that I was only able to make it through one episode.

Images: Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., Showtime

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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Based On: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Throws a Brutal Italian Twist on a Female Coming-of-Age Story

The latest in a series from Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad and producer-at-large at Family Theater Productions.

My Brilliant Friend, an HBO series (Italian with English subtitles) directed by Saverio Costanzo, based on the first novel, “My Brilliant Friend,” of the Neapolitan Quartet written by Elena Ferrante; translated from the original Italian by Ann Goldstein. (TV-MA violence, some language, one scene of naturalistic nudity)

Imagine if one of Jane Austen’s female-coming-of-age works was relocated from genteel, well-appointed England and landed flat in the middle of brutal, poverty-ridden southern Italy, and you would have some inkling of the ferocity of the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

Best friends Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo and Elena “Lenu” Greco meet in primary school and navigate the mean streets of 1950s Naples. The two are the smartest of their class and often singled out by their maestros as exemplary students. Despite the ubiquitous crucifixes that adorn every private business, public-school room and home, Neapolitans take most their social and moral cues, it seems, from the unofficial rulers of the day — black market mob bosses, embodied in this story by the aptly named Don Achille Carracci.

Violence marks many a public business transaction and informs the private dysfunction of the families who bear witness to it, day after miserable day. In the novel, a reader might almost miss the violence, the narrator; Lenu refers to it in fleeting, haunting prose. Adapting the material to the small screen, however, we see the brutality as the characters did, unflinching and in-your-face. HBO’s TV series (which recently ended its weekly run; and is now available On Demand and on HBO GO/HBO NOW) does not glorify it, but provides context for how scarred (and in some cases, inured) the townspeople become.

The childhood chapter ends with the murder of Don Achille. Some relief then is provided to the main characters by episode three, where we meet Lenu as she prepares to begin secondary school. Lila, the smarter of the two, can’t convince her parents to pay for her continued schooling and instead cobbles in their shoe-store, while voraciously reading books as an autodidact.

The story lost a layer of complexity when they changed Lenu’s course of studies from theology in the novel to Latin and Greek in the television series. Exposed to a world beyond the four-walled village, Lenu begins to question many things, the insularity of her hometown and the faith handed off to her. I’ve only read one novel, thus far, and hold a cautious optimism that the healthy questioning on her part will lead to greater faith later on.

The best part of both the novel and the TV series (and quite frankly in any TV show since Downton Abbey) are the courtship rituals. This staunchly Catholic neighborhood observes the most conservative of rites. Want to ask out the much fawned after Lila or Lenu? Ask one of their stern fathers, first. The old ways make for the best ways of storytelling. The period setting of the series requires the creative forces behind the series to eek out sexual tension and romance without peddling flesh.

Lenu and Lila arrive at Carracci’s to purchase their family’s Christmas grocery lists only to finds themselves at the end of an interminably long line. Brothers Stefano and Alfonso Carracci notice them and expedite their purchase. The charity does not happen without motive as Alfonso invites their families to the Carracci New Year’s Eve party. Teen crushes provide the setting for reconciliation of families otherwise opposed on the political spectrum and much stratified on the economic ladder.

I don’t speak Italian, but the writing and acting are so impeccably executed that I don’t feel I lose out on the rare humorous moments. Various suitors, including the most handsome of the village, Marcelo Solara, pursue Lila. Again, the social mores of the time demand Marcelo’s best-rehearsed flirt. He states he dreamt of her last night. Unimpressed, Lila responds: What of? That he proposed marriage to her. What was my response? Yes. Then, it really must have been a dream.

Image: HBO

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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Golden Globes: Our Father Vince Examined Four Nominated Films

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

The Golden Globe nominations were announced today, Dec. 6 — and a happy St. Nicholas’ Day to all the lucky nominees.

Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., our own producer-at-large and USC film-school grad, earlier took a deep dive into a quartet of nominated films, comparing them to earlier versions of the stories.

Click here for the full list of nominations, but here’s a look at the top awards, with links to Fr. Vince’s posts …

Best Motion Picture — Drama

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

Father Vince look at both BlacKkKlansman (click here) and A Star Is Born (click here).

Of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, he wrote:

Real-life encounters between Zimmeran’s “Stallworth” and Klan members are well-executed by [Adam] Driver. He quite capably feigns a racist persona for the sake of the investigation. Both characters, in effect, do as Christ did, not fighting ugliness with more ugliness, but absorbing some of the worst parts of their enemies and turning it against them, exposing evil for what it is. “Infiltrate hate,” the tagline goes of the film goes. Not “flee” or “fight” hate as the world often demands.

And of A Star Is Born (and the earlier versions):

The rise to fame of the four female leads enthralls, to be sure. But celebrity stars are more akin to what we see in the night sky: some stars may have died out long ago — the lack of light having yet to travel to our corner of the universe. So, our cinematic and cosmological fascination may not lie in when stars are born, but when, in fact, they mysteriously die.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama

Glenn Close, The Wife

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Nicole Kidman, Destroyer

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Rosamund Pike, A Private War

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Crazy Rich Asians

The Favourite

Green Book

Mary Poppins Returns

Vice

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Charlize Theron, Tully

Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Christian Bale, Vice

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns

Viggo Mortenson, Green Book

Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun

John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie

Click here for Father Vince’s take on Redford’s new movie; here’s a taste:

I feel the director, himself the son of a college professor from the robustly Catholic University of Dallas, did the main character and story better justice in filling in the origin story — even if that origin details the abandonment of faith. The film admittedly, states in its tagline: “based on mostly a true story.” The director’s embellishing of Tucker’s lack of faith, nonetheless tells a truer story about the nature of crime than Grann’s first-hand interviews of the criminal himself.

Best Motion Picture — Animated

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Director — Motion Picture

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Peter Farrelly, Green Book

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Adam McKay, Vice

Best Television Series — Drama

The Americans (FX)

Bodyguard (Netflix)

Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Killing Eve (BBC America)

Pose (FX)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander (Starz)

Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Sandra Oh, Killing Eve (BBC America)

Julia Roberts, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Drama

Jason Bateman, Ozark (Netflix)

Stephan James, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Richard Madden, Bodyguard (Netflix)

Billy Porter, Pose (FX)

Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)

Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Barry (HBO)

The Good Place (NBC)

Kidding (Showtime)

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Kristen Bell, The Good Place (NBC)

Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown (CBS)

Alison Brie, GLOW (Netflix)

Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Debra Messing, Will & Grace (NBC)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen, Who Is America (Showtime)

Jim Carrey, Kidding (Showtime)

Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)

Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)

Surprisingly, after being nominated and winning Globes the last two years, NBC’s This Is Us was snubbed this time around.

First Man, about Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, also didn’t fare well, only picking up nominations for Clare Foy, for her supporting role, and the original score. And as anyone in Hollywood knows, when almost the only positive thing someone says is they liked the music, it’s not good news.

Father Vince wasn’t impressed with First Man either. Click here for the whole piece; below find an excerpt.

Maybe [Apollo 13 director Ron] Howard made the smarter decision, to a pick a failed success mission where the astronauts bypassed their moon landing. Because when we arrive at the moon in First Man, it feels staged, like we never leave the green screen of the Hollywood stage at which it was shot. The real Neil Armstrong, facing the incredulity of moon-landing deniers, said the only thing harder to do than landing on the moon would be to realistically fabricate it. The Oscar winning director of La La Land proves just how difficult that task indeed is.

Movie awards season is officially underway. Let the games begin …

Image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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Chris Pratt Talks Love, Fatherhood and God at Disneyland Candlelight Ceremony

Chris Pratt at Disneyland’s Candlelight Ceremony (YouTube)

Actor Chris Pratt is at it again, spreading the hope and love of God – plus a rousing “Merry Christmas!” — whenever he gets a public forum, this time on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Disneyland in Southern California.

In many ways, Disney has yielded to the culture and to so-called “progressive values,” in its TV and movie offerings, and at its theme parks. But — according to Robert Niles at the ThemeParkInsider.com — since its opening in 1955, Disneyland has offered the Candlelight Ceremony processional and performance at Main Street USA’s Town Square.

The invite-only affair plays just four shows over two nights on the first weekend of December, featuring nearly 700 musicians, including a live orchestra, Disney cast members and local school, church and community choirs (non-invited park attendees can view the procession itself down Main Street USA).

Among the song selections are such sacred favorites as “Away in a Manger,” “What Child Is This?” and “Silent Night.”

The finale was the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.

Pratt, star of the hit Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World movies, was on hand this year to read the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke, and to deliver a personal message.

Wrote Niles of the “Hallelujah Chorus”:

That moment of silence before the final chords? Chills. I loved this work as a choir geek growing up and continue to adore the power and spectacle of it performed live. And with nearly 700 musicians performing it at Disneyland? Amazing.

Pratt followed the curtain call with some clearly heartfelt words, referencing his own recent fatherhood to talk about his new-found appreciation for a father’s love.

Pratt pointed out his son in the audience, calling him “this precious little creation of mine,” and spoke from the heart as a father, saying:

I watch the ways in which he tries to please me, I just fill with a love that I feel is so pure, and unending. The way we love our children, the more we love our children, the more we will understand the capacity for our Father in heaven to love us. Each and every one of us a precious creation, and he just marvels in the ways that we can try to please Him. That should give us a great deal of comfort. I know it does for me.

This holiday season, let us embrace every one of our tomorrows with hope and love. And through this holiday spirit may we continue to spread peace and goodwill throughout the world. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Pratt fans know that Jack, his son with ex-wife Anna Faris, was born two months premature in 2013. Pratt has often spoken how immersing himself in prayer while Jack was fighting for his life brought him closer to his Christian faith. Although his marriage has since dissolved, Pratt’s commit to faith, and willingness to talk openly about it, has continued.

Whether it’s at the MTV Awards or the Teen Choice Awards or through social media, Pratt encourages young people to connect with God and prayer.

And we thank God he does!

Here’s the whole Candlelight performance; Pratt is introduced at the 50:41 mark:

Image: YouTube screenshot

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Tim Tebow Urges Contestants to Run LeBron James’ ‘Million Dollar Mile’ for CBS

Pictured (L-R): Matt “Money” Smith, Tim Tebow, Maria Taylor. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS

Heisman Trophy winner, former NFL quarterback (and current minor-league baseball player) and very public Christian Tim Tebow has signed on as host for Million Dollar Mile, a new competition series from LeBron James’ company, SpringHill Entertainment, and WarnerHorizon.

Joining Tebow as commentators are Matt “Money” Smith, the voice of the Los Angeles Chargers play-by-play, and ESPN host/reporter Maria Taylor. Joining James and his production partner, Maverick Carter, are Fly on the Wall Entertainment’s (Big Brother) Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan.

From CBS:

“Watching good people compete at their highest ability is always inspirational to me,” said Tebow. “MILLION DOLLAR MILE is a show that does just that – it motivates, thrills, and is aspirational, and I’m excited to be hosting this show.”

In this unprecedented television event series, contestants will have the chance to win $1,000,000 every time they run the Million Dollar Mile. Standing in their way is the most challenging course ever designed and a group of elite athletes with one mission: to stop the contestants from winning the money at all costs. Currently, the series is in production in Los Angeles for broadcast on the CBS Television Network.

Tebow also has another entertainment product in the works, a feature film called Run the Race. Executive-produced by Tebow and older brother Robby Tebow, and filmed in Birmingham, Alabama, the film has been acquired by indie-film distributor Roadside Attractions (I Can Only Imagine), which is aiming for a Feb. 22, 2019 release.

From The Wrap:

Run The Race follows two young brothers with an unbreakable bond facing unbelievable odds. Reeling from his mother’s death and his father’s abandonment, Zach (Tanner Stine), an All-State athlete, finds glory on the football field, working to earn a college scholarship in the hopes of earning he and his brother, David (Evan Hoffer), a ticket out of town. But when a devastating injury sidelines Zach, David laces up his track cleats to salvage their future.

“I wanted to be part of something that’s encouraging and inspirational to the viewer. I believe Run The Race accomplishes this by showing two brothers struggling with real life, but them getting through it by supporting each other and their faith,” Tim Tebow said in a statement. “I hope those who see it can walk away with more faith, hope, and love.”

Also starring are Mykelti Williamson (Chicago P.D., Fences, Forrest Gump) and Frances Fisher (Watchmen, Marrying Mr. Darcy, Titanic).

Post-football, the now 31-year-old Tebow has worked as a college-football analyst, author (Through My Eyes, Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms, This Is the Day), philanthropist and left-fielder for the AA Binghamton Rumble Ponies, a New York Mets farm team. A broken bone in his right hand cut his season short in July, but he’s expected to move up to the Mets’ Syracuse AAA team for the 2019 season.

From a Nov. 8 story in USA Today:

“That’s a great next step for him,” newly hired Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said, via NorthJersey.com, at the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., on Wednesday. “We’re excited to get him back in camp, and hopefully, after a trip to Syracuse, he’ll be able to prove to us and everybody in baseball that he can make an impact in the big leagues.”

Tebow’s been counted out plenty of times, mostly by a media that seems obsessed with the unwavering faith of a guy who never puts a foot wrong nor has a bad word to say about anybody. IMHO, he’d still be a second- or third-string QB in the NFL if the media circus that follows him around hadn’t caused more trouble than his talents were worth.

But, Tebow has persevered, continuing to find a way to compete while branching out into other areas (including starting a program that sponsors proms for special-needs kids).

As his official website says, “True success is not measured in physical possessions, but in the amount of lives you change.”

Amen.

Image: Courtesy CBS

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.