Latest

Bauer vs. Brody – J. A. Bove

I know this review is a bit dated, but hey, what an opportunity to watch the entire series on demand. Eh-hem, back to the post. Way to step up your game, Showtime. Last year they debuted a program entitled, Homeland. I admit, I was reluctant to watch it at first and it wasn’t until my wife insisted that we give it a try that I finally succumbed to this action packed thriller. Well … I’m glad I listened to my wife. For the record, she also insisted I watch Lost and that became my all time favorite program ever aired on television. She’s two for two in my eyes, but I digress.

Back to Homeland and why you should watch it. Were you a fan of 24 ? If you said yes, then this is a no brainer. This program involves the government, espionage, a possible terrorist threat, I could go on, but you get the picture. If you didn’t care for 24, you should still watch it. Many of the elements that might have turned you off to 24 – bad acting, ridiculous situations, bad casting, probably made you give up on that program. Luckily, there is none of that nonsense going on at Homeland; at least not in season one.

First off, you have some very solid acting. Clare Danes (remember her) makes a strong comeback in her role as Carrie Mathison, a quirky , but genius CIA  operations officer who does her best to try and thwart a terrorist plot on U.S. soil.  Damian Lewis (a new face to me) plays sergeant Nicholas Brody. He’s a prisoner of war for eight years, who was recently released and is now being suspected by Ms. Mathison to be the terrorist threat in question. Both actors do an incredibly convincing job in portraying their roles. They alone are reason enough to watch the program, but there’s so much more.

The program did a great job of keeping me tuned in each week and certainly intrigued enough to watch season two. Kudos to the writers! I will not reveal any spoilers, but season two will continue on with the initial story line intact; yet kicking it up to another level. Hmm, I’m not so sure you say. Well, if I still haven’t convinced you that this is better program than 24, let me give you my top three reasons as to why the programs, although similar, do not compare.

The acting: Granted, 24 had Jack Bauer played by Kiefer Sutherland.  Say what you will about Kiefer, but he did do a fine job in portraying his role. He was the only reason I watched the program. Unfortunately for him, they did not support him with a strong cast. There was a reason they changed these actors every year. On the other hand Homeland has Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, another very solid actor. The difference here is that Lewis is supported by other terrific believable actors from Danes, to Morena Baccarin, to Mandy Patinkin. They make the program worth viewing.

The story lines: I know you have another terrorist plot twist that’s been done to death on television. The difference here is that Homeland does a realistic job of wrapping up this story successfully enough to make you want to tune into another season. The problem that 24 had was that it was far too long. Just when they wrapped up what you thought would have been a good conclusion to the story, they add another wrinkle, then another, and another, until it goes on far too long for you to care exactly what the original problem was in the first place. Apparently a lot can go wrong in 24 hours and for this program, it did.

The broadcasting company: I know this may appear a reach, but I really do believe 24 would have been a much better program if they placed it on a premium channel. Fox may be known for The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Idol, etc., but they’re not really known for great suspense programs. I think they do animated comedy better than anyone in the business, but when it comes to drama, they tend to add a certain amount of cheese to their programs. Showtime on the other hand has now put together some fine programs, from Dexter, to Weeds, to Homeland. They know how to produce a show and it appears that they’re willing to find talented writers to tackle these programs.

Bottom line, if you’re in the mood for a fast paced, action packed, thriller that will keep you glued to the screen, give Homeland a try. I know you may be turned off by the terrorist theme by now, but the acting, and writing will keep you interested until the very end. The best part, it won’t last a full 24 hours.

Advertisements

Here Comes the Sun – J. A. Bove

Now that the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing, I thought it appropriate to mention my most recent vacation, which coincidentally was at the Sundance Resort.  I had to admit going in, I didn’t know all that much about the location. Sure I knew it was in Utah, and yes, I was aware that this was a Robert Redford baby, but beyond that, I didn’t really know much else about the resort. Granted, I’m a Floridian, and my children are not skiers, so it’s not a place in where you would immediately think to spend your winter vacation. Well, I’m glad I was open to the idea, because this is a place you need to visit.

Let me first take a step back. When I told my family and friends that I planned on traveling to Utah for my winter break, the first question I was asked was, “Oh, do you ski?” The answer to that question was no, well, not really. The immediate follow-up was, ‘Then why in the world are you going to Utah in December?” Let me explain. My family and I like to go away to some chilly resort every winter, because we’re snow chasers. Many may think this is a crazy pastime, but I grew up in the northeast, and the one thing I truly do miss while living here in Florida is the change of seasons. Give me a week in the snow and I’m cured. The bonus of course being that you do get to leave the twenty-degree weather for the warm sunshine of good old Tampa bay.

Getting there was easy enough. We landed in Salt Lake City, (beautiful view of mountain tops on the flight in) rented a truck, and within an hour’s drive were at the resort. As we pulled up to the establishment, I’ll never forget my daughter’s first reaction as she said, “So this is what’s considered a 5 star hotel in Utah?” Good luck to her future husband. Yes, it is, and it was majestic. You pull into the lodge to check in and from there you drive to your cabin. Funny thing, the bellhop just so happened to grab the two smallest bags in the truck and said follow him. Well, three stories of climbing twisting steps through the snow and lugging a fifty-pound bag later, I made it to the room. Either I’m really out of shape, or the altitude got to me, because I was winded. Let’s go with the altitude. For the record, I’m sure they would have grabbed the big bag, I was just feeling a little adventurous.

When we entered the room, I admit, I was impressed. They placed us in a beautiful log cabin with a view of the Timpanogos Mountains. We even had a stream flowing right below our balcony. The scenery was amazing. It certainly was a far cry from beaches and palm trees. The only thing I found odd was that in order to get to the second floor, you had to exit your room to the common area, or climb a ladder attached to the wall, which led to the loft upstairs. Well, my children loved that, but I decided to stay down below. The other thing I found odd, but really cool, was that the floor appeared to be heated. Heated floors, what? I know, I don’t get it, but I truly appreciated it after a spell outside.

As far as activities were concerned, you can pretty much imagine what was available.  Now I know I said my family doesn’t ski, but I do, or did when I lived up north. It was quite the humorous experience watching them learn. I’m not sure if they would do it again, but I would in a heartbeat. Coming from the east, I could not believe the texture of the snow. I’ve always heard that the snow out west was great to ski in, because it’s like powder. Well, to my surprise, it really was. You can’t even make a snowball out of this stuff. I digress, we also went tubing, hiking, and score, I found a recreation center in Provo called the Provo Beach Resort, which is a must attend. They offered indoor golf, bowling, rope climbing, video games, surfing, and much, much more. We spent hours (and a small fortune) but had a blast.

Back to the resort. The food was excellent. There was a restaurant on the premises called The Foundry Grill. Very generous portions and one heck of a Sunday brunch. At night, the wife and I would escape to the Owl Bar, very cool atmosphere. They actually brought over the bar used by Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang from Thermopolis, WY. For the record, the people of Utah couldn’t have been nicer and of course, the scenery was magnificent.

The question remains, would I go back. This is a tough one to answer. I personally never like to visit the same place twice. When you only get two weeks off a year and you love to travel there are only so many places in the world you can visit. Life’s too short, so I guess the short answer is no. Would I recommend it to family and friends … absolutely! This was a very affordable trip and totally worth the visit. You’ve done good Mr. Redford, you’ve done good. Go visit Sundance; you’ll be glad you did.

Dancing Days – J. A. Bove

Epic! This is a word my son says when he wants to describe something that’s totally cool to him. I find it’s a word very commonly misused in the English language. The dictionary defines the word as: a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation. When it comes to the latest George R. R. Martin book entitled, ‘A Dance with Dragons’, released in July of 2011, I think epic is an appropriate use of the word.

Dragons is the 5th book in the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series and it certainly lived up to some very long awaited expectations. Keep in mind that Mr. Martin plans on releasing two more novels in this series to complete this very long ‘what he considers’ trilogy. The book in itself was nine hundred and fifty nine pages, so the reading of this latest saga was indeed, epic. Granted, it’s been a busy holiday season, but I admit, it did take me much longer to complete than I originally anticipated.

That stated, now that I’ve completed this book, I admit, I wish there was even more to read. Although this was the fifth book in the series, the story line itself is more of a continuation from A Storm of Swords (book number three in the series and my personal favorite) written back in 2000. I had to admit, trying to remember exactly what happened the last time I read this series, especially going back to Swords was a bit daunting. I originally thought it would be a continuation of the series from the last book released, A Feast of Crows, back in 2005, but in soon reading, I recalled how in Crows, they omitted some of my favorite characters.

No worries, Martin brought them all back in book five. We got to revisits such favorites like Jon Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, & of course everyone’s favorite imp, Tyrion Lannister. Not only does Martin re-introduce these classic characters, but at the end of the novel he begins to tie in both story lines (Swords & Crows) by bringing back, even if in little does, Jamie Lannister, Arya Stark, and of course everyone’s favorite queen to hate, Cersei Lannister.

The story was a bit confusing to follow at first. There were many great storylines entwined into one another that you had to claw back from your memory to try and remember them all. For his part, Mr. Martin does do a good job of recalling what happened to some of his past heroes with little snippets here and there of good old Eddard Stark, Rob Stark, and Tywin Lannister, etc. It doesn’t take long for you to get completely absorbed back into the story line once again.

For any fan of the series, this is without question a must read. For any new comers who are just getting into the story line, thanks to HBO, do yourself a favor and start with A Game of Thrones. Mr. Martin has been labeled the American Tolkien and for good reason. There are five great books to read, and it only takes one to get hooked. For my part, I thoroughly enjoyed Dragons, and as always, I look forward to the next in the series. I’m particularly looking forward to reuniting all of the characters under one cover once again. I just hope I don’t have to wait another six years before it’s released.

Good Show Holmes – J. A. Bove

Image

Is it me, or is Robert Downey Jr. the comeback actor of our generation? I recently went to see Sherlock Holmes II (A Game of Shadows) and I thought this was yet another strong performance in his latest arsenal of movies dating back from Iron Man, through Tropic Thunder, to his latest adaptation of the super sleuth. This is an actor that everyone had given up for dead a few years back and now surprisingly he’s become one of the main actors that I would be willing to take a chance on viewing in almost any endeavor he attempts.

In the latest Sherlock film, Holmes was at his prime best. Once again, he had to resort to using all his cunning in order to thwart the evil plans of his main nemeses, James Moriarty, played by actor Jared Harris. I found the plot line in this film to be even more entertaining than the previous version. What better story line can you ask for than a super detective trying to stop the start of world war one? James Bond would have had a hard time trying to outsmart the incredibly gifted Mr. Holmes on this one.

I really enjoyed the fast action pace of this film. The acting, as hinted at above, was superb all around from Downey, to Jude law, and the aforementioned Harris. I thought director, Guy Ritchie, did a fanatic job of letting his audience take a peek into the super sleuth’s mind. I really enjoyed how they got you into the thought process of Holmes before each attack he planned. I also really enjoyed the super slow motion action they used throughout the film. I especially enjoyed watching the bullets fly by in slow motion as our retreating heroes were racing to get away. This certainly wasn’t something that you would expect to see in a fast paced action sequence.

Due to the success of the film after just two weeks of showing, I would fully expect this to become an on going series, much like the always-popular Bond films (albeit in a period piece). There seems to be a certain appeal that Mr. Downey has now cast over his audience. I know it may be the geek in me, but I for one hope to see a lot more of both Mr. Holmes and Mr. Stark in the near future. I know Downey is expected to make another appearance as Iron Man in the up coming Avengers film due out in May of this year to help kick-off the summer movie blockbusters. There’s a strong line-up of films expected to be released later this year.

Right now Tom Cruise is getting all the attention for his latest Mission Impossible film – Ghost Protocol in theaters now, and righty so, but for all those looking for an alternative, you could do a lot worse than seeing this film. Don’t call it a comeback, Mr. Downey, just keep doing what you’re doing. The people will follow. By Jove, Mr. Watson, I think he’s got a point.

For all of you interested in learning more about the Sherlock Holmes character, I would highly recommend getting the complete collection of his stories available on kindle. You may actually find that a number of these books could be downloaded for free. I know a number of the short stories that I’ve read recently by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were in fact being given away for no cost. I’m not sure if it was simply a promotional item, or the fact that many old classics can be downloaded for free, but I thought it was a cool find. I personally have read the compete series before the movies came to air, but I’m a fan, and given the opportunity, I think you may be as well.

Oh Nucky – J. A. Bove

ImageOk, hiatus is over. I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful holiday season. Hello 2012, let’s hope the Mayans are wrong. Whew, there’s a lot of catching up I have to do for missing the past few weeks of the year. Many programs have ended, many movies have been released, and some books were even finished. What didn’t happen? Well for starters, I did not complete the third and final book of my Mayhem trilogy  – just yet. I do plan on accomplishing this goal by June of this year.

Where to start? Well, I would be amiss if I didn’t touch on the fantastic conclusion of Boardwalk Empire. I know this may now be very old news to some, but I feel I must discuss it nonetheless. Bravo, HBO for adding yet another solid collection in your strong stable of horses. Is it me, or has HBO become the premier television programmer of all channels? I cannot think of one public broadcasting company that can compete with the scope of programs, themes, ideas, etc. on the scale that HBO has produced over the past five years.

Back to Boardwalk. Bravo, Steve Buscemi. It’s about time this actor got his due. He’s always been known as a quirky kind of a guy playing some very strange oddball rolls (my personal favorite was Carl Showalter in Fargo), but I feel as though he was made for playing Nucky Thompson. I don’t know what happened in the screening process, or if he was even first choice for the role, but he’s made it his and I can’t see another actor playing this part. For many of you not too familiar with the program, the show takes place during the prohibition era of American history and this story specifically takes place in Atlantic City. Nucky is the unofficial mob boss of Atlantic City.

Season one did a fantastic job of introducing the many diverse characters and story lines of the program. We were introduced to a lot of new faces like, Michael Pitt (James Darmody), Nucky’s protégé gone astray. Kelly MacDonald (Margaret Schroeder), Nucky’s lover/wife. Michael Shannon (Nelson Van Alden), a prohibition agent, who is perhaps the craziest and most complex person of the entire show.  The season did enough to wet our whistle and keep us interested in watching another. Season two did not disappoint.

Without going into any spoilers, if you were a fan of the Godfather films, you will love this program. I had to admit that the final episode did ring true to The Godfather; especially the scene in where Nucky got his grove back. Very familiar to the scene in where Michael Corleone became the Godfather, but it was fun to see the comparison. There is plenty of violence, sex, drugs/alcohol, racial conflict, etc. that you would expect to see during the time period; almost no subject was off limits. Not only do they broach these subjects, but they give it to you in gratuitous amounts – maybe more than you’re hoping to witness. You will see some of the goriest, violent kills ever witnessed on television. Some would say disturbing.

What really won me over was the fact that just when you thought the program may be going soft leading into season three, they took a book out of Game of Thrones and offed one of the most popular characters in the program. I will not reveal. Again, if you haven’t seen this program, do yourself a favor and give it a try. I’d be surprised if you didn’t like it. Then again, to each their own. This particular style of program is not for the squeamish and if that applies to you, than this may not be your cup of tea.

Finally, to Mr. Buscemi, keep doing what you’re doing. I love the direction his character has taken. Just when you think he’s done, he comes out swinging. Nobody backs Nucky in a corner. His character is now in a stronger position than ever before, unless … Mrs. Schroeder, what have you done? We’ll have to wait and see in season three. I’m not sure when the program will air once again in 2012, but I do look forward to the upcoming adventures of Nucky and his cohorts.

Top Grossing Films of 2011 – J. A. Bove

Greetings and salutations my good friends, it’s been an interesting year.  It’s also been the first year in which I started this blogging campaign. Although this was not something I ever intended to endeavor, through some strong-armed persuasion, I gave it my best attempt. Twelve months later, I’m still at it. That stated, due to the holidays and a much-needed vacation, this will be my last post in 2011. Have no fear, I will return in 2012 with a shot of adrenaline, ready to tackle the new-year. For those of you new to the blog, please feel free to scroll though the many topics I tried to tackle over the past twelve months. I did my best to entertain.

Looking back at a number of posts published, I noticed I was heavy on the reviews; therefore I thought it best to give an assessment of the top grossing movies released this year. Granted I did not see all of the movies listed below, but I did come really close. Below I listed the top ten grossing movies of 2011 in reverse order and my thoughts about the films (the final numbers vary and may change after this post). I am happy to state that most of the movies listed below had a heavy emphasis on fantasy. I found this encouraging. It only supports the reason as to why I became a fantasy writer in the first place. Without further ado, here is the list. You may be surprised at what you see.

10) Rise of the Planet of the Apes – $175 million. This was the last blockbuster released in a year filled with summer blockbusters and frankly I thought a lackluster ending to a great summer. The idea was unique; go to the origin of how the Planet of the Apes came to be. The movie was entertaining and the actors were solid. The only reason for my possible disappointment in the film may have been both a burnout of summer films viewed over a three-month span, and some very high expectations of this movie. I just don’t think it lived up to the hype.

9) Captain America: The First Avenger – $175 million. This film barely beat out Apes by a few thousand, but the caliber was much the same. I admit I had extremely high expectations for this film, because Cap is my favorite Avenger. Unfortunately I felt the film spent too much time focusing on his past and how he came to be versus the ass-kicking action adventure hero that he is now. I know, the traditionalists will tell you that you have to start somewhere, but frankly I’m sick of seeing a hero’s intro story only to see the same exact film released again in another ten years from now (Batman, Spiderman, Superman … you get the point).

8) Thor – $179 million. Remember the thought I shared about seeing the intro story of a hero, none of that going on over here. Thor was the kick-ass super hero movie of the summer, bar none. They brought out all the big guns with this early release: star power, entertaining story, creative scenery – the film didn’t disappoint.  My only dismay was that I thought they could have done a better job with the ending. I didn’t care much for the daddy-issue route. Regardless, I would highly recommend viewing this over the other two mentioned above. Way to go super heroes, two of the top ten grossing movies this year. Keep them coming, the people will watch.

7) Cars 2 – $189 million. I saw this one with my kids, granted on Blu-Ray, and not in the theater. Regardless, I found it entertaining. I particularly liked the James Bond spin. What else do you need to know other than the kids enjoyed it. Due to its success, I’m sure there will be a Cars 3 in our future. Enough said.

6) Fast Five – $207 million. I know, I don’t get it either. No, I did not see the film, nor do I have any intention of viewing it in the future. Someone tell me why I’m wrong.

5) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – $238 million. I have mixed feelings about this one. As many of you know by now, my book has a heavy Atlantean theme, mixed with pirates, the fountain of youth, etc. Therefore on the one hand I felt dejected that my idea was already out there on film. That stated, I was encouraged that this film did so well. It shows me that there is a major interest in the subject matter that I embarked upon. I was also equally encouraged that this film was terrible. Read my book and compare the stories. I think I’ll win you over.

4) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 – $244 million. I’m soooo sick of vampire films, but clearly what do I know. I considered this to be a chick-flick/teenybopper film; therefore I didn’t see it. I’m sure my girls will make me watch it with them though when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

3) The Hangover 2 – $252 million. This one, although not as good as the first, did live up to expectations. In a word – hilarious. What I loved about this film is that there was no subject off limits. Nothing was taboo and everyone was humiliated. What I don’t understand though is why the gratuitous male nudity? Know you audience. I didn’t see many women in the movie theater. Regardless, if you’re looking for a great laugh, this is a must watch. I’d rank it up there with other classic comedies like: Step Brothers, Old School, Anchor Man, etc.

2) Transformers: Dark of the Moon – $349 million. It may come as a surprise to many that I didn’t see this one as well. I’ll be frank, although I found the previous two films good mindless entertainment, I was never really a fan of the series. When I heard that Megan Fox didn’t care to come back I figured, why should I? My son saw the movie and gave it an ehh rating. I’m sure I’ll watch it … someday.

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – $377 million. Really, was there ever any doubt? This has been one of the most successful franchises in the history of franchises and well deserved. Both Parts 1 and 2 were excellent films and I thought they did a spectacular job of concluding this series. Harry and the gang will be missed. At least we’ll always be able to visit Hogwarts in Orlando.

Once Upon A Time – J. A. Bove

Once upon a time there was a television program called Lost. This program was so well written and so original in its idea that it received critical acclaim and a mass following. Then one day this show had reached it conclusion. The viewers were saddened and were left wanting more. What were the creators of the show to do? Ahh, we’ll they decided to reach back into the recesses of time to come up with a new program to please the viewers. This program is called ‘Once Upon a Time’. Will it comfort the masses? This may be just one man’s opinion, but in short – no.

The concept itself was original and very Lostesque (I just made that up). They took some very common fairy tale characters, ranging from Snow White to Rumplestiltskin, and brought them into modern day America. You got an opportunity to look into their lives after the common story had concluded to see what became of our beloved characters. Apparently, it was a good thing they ended these stories when they did, because life for the fairy tale heroes wasn’t happily ever after at all.

No, the evil queen, (this particular one is from Snow White) decided that she did not like happy endings (don’t go there) and decided to cast a spell on all of our beloved friends. A spell so evil that not only will it transport them from the pages of our books, but into a sleepy little northeastern town in modern day America called Story Brooke. The rub here is that all the characters from the fairy tales are now simply common men and women, no longer princesses and dwarves, etc. No one remembers their past lives, nor for that matter, each other. Only one little boy knows the true secret. He alone (well, with some help from the mother who abandonned him) will end the horrible every day existence of the common man, end the curse, and place our friends back into their storybook lives.

The Lost spin placed on the story (beyond opening the first scene by staring at an eyeball) is that they would jump from fairy tale time, to modern day present time in good old Story Brooke. Ok, this sounds intriguing. It’s an interesting spin on a familiar tale, so what’s the problem? If only there were just one.

Maybe I was living under the high expectations of Lost, but this story plays out, to me at least, more like something I’ve seen in the eighties, or dare I say it … The Cape. Ugh, I can’t believe I said it. There is something that I like to refer to as the cheese factor. It may not be a Webster’s term, but I think you all know what it means, and this show has enough cheese to feed France. Below are my top 5 suggestions to fixing the program.

Replace the cast: What? Replace the entire cast? How? Why? That’s impossible. No, this is not impossible, this is a story based on fairy tale characters. There’s a lot more out there than Snow White, Pinocchio, and Rumplestiltskin. The only character in the program worth a grain of salt is the evil queen (played by Lana Parilla) all the others should be replaced. Bring in some newer, more appealing blood.

Lose the kid: This kid is one of the most annoying, unlikable characters in the show (next to the main protagonist, Emma). This kid is supposed to see and understand things that no other adult in this timeless town can. Why? Is he that more intelligent than every other member of this city? Does he have some insight into the world of fairy tales that no one else knows? What is it? Not only is he a know it all; he’s a disobedient little troublemaker that doesn’t listen to anyone. Ground him and throw away his book.

Lose Emma: All right, first of all we’re to believe she’s only 28 … come on. Second, she abandoned her son, gave him up for adoption, and now it’s her only goal in life to prove this boy right. What’s with the outfits (my eighties reference earlier)? Her character is a very unappealing protagonist that you root against. Hey if Snow White and Prince Charming really had a kid, I would like to think that s/he would have turned out better than being a washed-up bounty hunter with nothing to live for.

Make better backstories: Come on, does any one really want to believe that Snow White was the Robin Hood of her land? Does a grow man, who’s been granted only one wish in life, really wish to become a cricket? A cricket? Are you F#$%^ kidding me? Does anyone really think the evil queen from Snow White is a more powerful sorceress than Maleficent (my girls would hotly debate this one)? I like that you wanted to create interesting back stories, but make them a little more realistic. I mean you are, after all, trying to bring these characters into the real world.

Pick your audience: Is this program meant for children or adults? I watched it at first because I thought it would share some resemblance to Lost, but man was I disappointed. My girls watched it with me because they wanted to see their favorite fairy tale princesses living in the real world. Well, I’m bored, and my kids are having nightmares. Did you see the episode in where the kind, generous family was turned into ugly wooden dolls? My girls haven’t had a good night sleep in a week.

Anyhow, I truly try to do my best to not rip any creative idea, because it is just one man’s opinion. Clearly EW and ABC would disagree with me. It was written up as one of the new fall show winners. ABC has decided to pick-up the tale for another season. I just don’t see it. No, it’s not as bad as The Cape, but if you’re not watching it, does it really make a difference?