From season two of the popular TV show, this DVD boxset is volume two, with three discs comprising 11 episodes. Lucy Lawless (her real name, apparently) makes for a formidable lead as the eponymous questing heroine, battling evil wherever she finds it. Lawless is butch and busty with it, in this mostly deadpan swords ‘n’ sorcery fantasy adventure, created by John Schulian and Robert Tapert (Sam Raimi is also credited as co-executive producer). Renee O’Connor plays the loyal companion role, Gabrielle. This season, O’Connor proves she’s more than just a sidekick by occasionally taking centre stage and out-acting the star. The production values are comparable to that other iconic post-feminist show of the moment, Buffy, with plenty of slapstick comedy routines, high quality (if largely uninspired) visuals, and virtually bloodless fight scenes. Harmless entertainment, to be sure, that’s aimed squarely at the preteen market (although, if the rumours are true, there is also a sizable gay audience!). So why has this been classified as only suitable for 15-year-olds and up?
The appeal of this show is still a mystery to many people, it seems (could it be Xena’s blue eyes, auburn hair, and that leather peplum outfit?), although it has a devoted and growing fan-base. I liked the astute blending of random Greek and Roman mythologies with genre clichés, the often knowingly comic-book style of dialogue, the broadly character-based humour, and those remarkably energetic stunts. The thing I found most irritating is when the heroine does this warbling Arabian type battle cry when she charges into a fight. It sets my teeth on edge. A more than adequate timewaster if you’re in the right mood, then, Xena Warrior Princess offers plenty of campy fun, mostly decent special effects and, of course, lashings of superhuman kung fu (using trampolines, not wires).
To work around an injury the lead actress suffered, the first couple of episodes in this package – Destiny and The Quest, see the heroine get (temporarily) killed, before the right combination of time-passing subplots and magical incantations catch up with Lawless’ convalescent R ‘n’ R. In Destiny’s flashback, we return to the days when Xena was still a villainess and her marauding army has captured Julius Caesar. The follow-up sees Xena’s spirit incarnated in the body of a thief, played by genre superstar Bruce Campbell, to delightfully wacky comic effect! In A Necessary Evil, there’s a bunch of Amazon chicks in combat bikinis fighting with one of their own who has snacked on ambrosia (food of the gods) and gained sufficient superpowers to conquer the women’s tribe. A Day In The Life tracks Xena’s comedic attempts to save a peasant village from a huge giant, and features some lively banter between the two heroines – especially together in the hot tub!
Sam Raimi’s younger brother Ted (who used to be a regular on the ill-fated TV sci-fi series, seaQuest DSV) gets to play the macho womanising hero in For Him The Bell Tolls, when Aphrodite’s love-versus-lust spell breaks up a happy couple. One of the better stories this season, The Execution, sees Trancers star Tim Thomerson in a welcome guest role as an escaped convict who gets hunted by Xena. But is he an innocent man, or is demon alcohol to blame for the murder he’s accused of? Blind Faith reinforces the idea of Xena’s invincibility in combat, when she’s still able to trounce all-comers even when she’s rendered sightless after a duel. In Ulysses, Xena defies the wrath of sea god Poseidon to help the voyager of legend survive his long journey home. The sirens are diverting enough but guest star, John D’Aquino, has all the charisma of a telephone pole.
The Price is undoubtedly the standout episode of this boxset. A horror story on a minor-epic scale, this features a cannibal-tribe called the Horde, which attack a military outpost and crucify many of their victims along the riverbank where the heroines stop to fish. Inevitably, Xena takes command of the besieged garrison, but how can she motivate a defeated army to victory? The Lost Mariner features another distinguished guest star in the form of Tony Todd, playing the accursed character of the title with all the heavyweight tragedy he can muster. He sails into hell and high water with Xena aboard his ship, and the visual effects include an impressively generated whirlpool. The season ends on a happy note with A Comedy Of Eros. Love is in the air, magic arrows, too, as a heavenly cherub has all emotions running hot and cold, including Xena and a swarthy warlord.
DVD extras: just a photo gallery (on Disc three), and episode selection options on each.

Tetsuo has already become a classic of modern-underground cinema; its energy and imagery are at once captivating and claustrophobic. The story, such as it is, is confusing and entirely secondary to the Tetsuo ‘experience’. It opens on what seems to be an average kind of guy (Tomoroh Taguchi) who, while preparing for work one day, finds a small piece of metal stuck in his chin.

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Upon pulling it, he begins to gush blood – it appears that the metal has come from him, rather than being a splinter from somewhere else. As the film progresses, the metal comes through thicker and faster, and the man becomes more metal than man.

Elsewhere, a freaky masochist (played by the director, Shinya Tsukamoto) opens up his own arm and inserts pieces of metal into his flesh. His body’s reaction to the intrusion of the metal sends him reeling into the road, where he is run over by the transforming businessman. Rather than the fetishist being destroyed by the impact, the two begin to merge, the metal encasing and penetrating them both, and together they combine to form a super-powerful, destructive creature which heads off toward the city bent on conquest.
Shot on 16mm film in black and white, Tetsuo is an astute combination of bleak cyberpunk imagery, ultra-violent Japanese cinema, and music video techniques. Tsukamoto’s energy and love of cinema permeates every scene, and the pace of the film is frankly blistering – with so much packed into its short running time, that it seems to pass in no time whatsoever. The low-budget film techniques employed by Tsukamoto, especially the copious stop-motion, also add to the film’s dark charm. While it’s true that the plot is confusing, and it’s not always clear what’s happening to whom, and in what timeframe, that’s really of no consequence. Tetsuo should be watched with no agenda, as a visual feast, and as a timely reminder that there are always new directions for cinema to take.
The word ‘extreme’ has never been more appropriate. Tetsuo is highly recommended for those with strong stomachs, a dark sense of humour, and a penchant for Cronenberg and (early) Lynch. While I first saw Tetsuo some 12 years ago, this is the first chance I’ve had to see an officially sanctioned release, and, considering the original 16mm medium, the image and audio quality of this DVD are surprisingly clear.
Extras include filmographies of the director and cast, a promotional stills gallery, and the original trailer.

It’s Japanese ninja warrior versus Chinese boxing (Shaolin style) in this eccentric Tohoscope presentation. Ninja In The Dragon’s Den (aka: Long zhi ren zhe) is an underrated mix of silly but appealing comedy, and fantasy kung fu in which the stars’ acrobatic skills combine with expertly timed choreography. Conan Lee, a once-promising Hong Kong action man now sadly all but forgotten, plays Jay, a martial arts powerhouse capable of all manner of physical tricks, such as fighting on stilts (in an incredible ‘clown fu’ sequence). His primary opponent here is rogue shadow ninja Jin-wu (charismatic Hiroyuki Sanada). Eventually, of course, they must join forces to defeat a common enemy, the demonic Magician.
There’s not, it must be said, a great deal of plot to this East meets East thriller. However, it hardly matters at all when the main performers are engaged in such efficiently directed fight scenes – and that’s what fans what to see. Corey Yuen is a more than capable supervisor of martial arts displays, and the highly mannered Asian style of acting. This film boasts a range of contrasting techniques, weighing the unarmed Chinese abilities against deadly Japanese swordplay. The climactic fight, set on the rising levels of a pagoda, result is an exhilarating piece of cinema for anyone interested in stylised martial arts action.
The special collector’s edition DVD boasts a digitally restored and re-mastered anamorphic transfer in both English dubbed and Cantonese versions, with Dutch and English subtitles. Extras include a filmed interview (24 minutes) with producer Ng See-yuen and genre film distributor Roy Horan, biography showcases of Ng See-yuen and Corey Yuen, three deleted scenes, three different trailers, and another expert commentary by Bey Logan – who always has lots of fascinating background info to offer. Good quality animated menu design and scene finder of 30 chapters complete the worthwhile package.

The year is 1900, the setting Paris. Christian (McGregor), a young Englishman newly arrived in Paris to pursue his dream of being a poet, becomes embroiled with Toulouse-Lautrec’s (Leguizamo) madcap scheme to create a bohemian revolutionary musical for presentation at the world famous Moulin Rouge, run by the larger than life Zidler (Broadbent).
Christian is inveigled into posing as a famous English writer in an attempt to impress Zidler’s leading lady, Satine (Kidman). Unfortunately she herself was due to impress a famous (and rich) English count (Roxburgh), in an attempt to get him to fund the conversion of the Moulin Rouge from a den of vice and debauchery to a legitimate theatre, thereby transforming herself from courtesan and nightclub entertainer to a ‘real’ actress.
Confusing the two English gents, Satine finds herself in Christian’s arms and falling in love. Tragedy, farce, romance and a lot of singing and dancing follow in this spectacular musical for the 21st century. The plot is pretty straightforward, you know from the outset that Christian’s and Satine’s affair is doomed so there are no surprises there – just how you’re going to travel the journey from Christian’s hopeful arrival in Paris to the broken man we first see… and the journey? Well, from the opening frame of theatrical red velvet curtain being drawn, to the closing credits, Moulin Rouge! is a feast for the eyes and the soul – it is pure cinematic heaven.
Each moment is one to behold and cherish, there is so much of everything and yet it is still not enough. The characters tumble between high camp, tragedy and farce and yet still manage to move. Once you’ve engaged with the film’s premise that people break into classic songs to express emotions, you’ll soon be accepting that in this world it is possible for Jim Broadbent to ‘seduce’ Richard Roxburgh by singing Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’.

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Or for a young poet in the 1900s to get a writing gig by coming up with the immortal lines ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music…’
Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman are both excellent singers and carry off their complex musical numbers with great panache considering that they are very classy actors as well. I can’t do justice to the vibrancy and lushness of this film with mere words – I need songs, a singing moon, Parisian rooftops and a green fairy… See this film now and all will make sense. Of course, there are those that are going hate it and not be able to engage with the theatricality of it all but ultimately the world would be a poorer place without this film.
And as for the DVD: Disc One features two audio commentaries (one with Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin and the cinematographer, the second with Luhrmann and screenwriter) as well as a Behind The Red Curtain feature which allows you at eight specific points throughout the film to branch out to see how they were put together. Disc Two features so much stuff that you will need to put aside at least four hours to get through it all. These extras include a making of (the film) featurette… interviews with the key five leads actors and key crew including the director, production and costume designers, screenwriter, musical director and composer, six abandoned scenes, dance numbers from various alternative angles, music videos, a making of (the soundtrack) featurette a design gallery of visual effects, trailers, promos, stills and poster gallery and news coverage. There are also rumoured to be ‘Easter Eggs’ on the DVD – any clues would be appreciated!
PS: If you couldn’t tell, I rather like this film – so much so I bought the CD, the book, the poster, the T-shirt and, of course, the DVD which you can also buy as a box set with Luhrmann’s previous film Romeo + Juliet.

Co-written by The Fifth Element scribe and director Luc Besson, Kiss Of The Dragon shares that film’s desire to transcend the action movie-by-numbers genre. Ironically, there is very little in the way of novelty in this exciting but bleak and formulaic thriller. The opening Paris hotel scenes are genuinely tense, and the pace of the film very rarely flags during its brief, frenetic duration, but the sense that it has all been done before is inescapable. Jet Li is the outstanding feature of the film, putting in an oddly memorable performance as the Chinese policeman Liu Jian, sent to France to protect a fellow countryman who barely survives the title credits. Liu is a haunted, enigmatic individual who lingers in the memory long after other elements of the film fade. Unlike the genial acrobatics of Jackie Chan, Li’s moves have a genuinely visceral and dangerous decisiveness about them.
Bridget Fonda, evidently keen to flex her thespian muscles as the emotionally damaged junkie hooker Jessica, is too often out of her depth, and unaided by an overblown script. An utter lack of chemistry between Li and Fonda interrogates the need for an obligatory love interest, and their romance does little beyond provide unwelcome lulls between martial arts set pieces. Still, on the evidence of Li’s attempt to play a romantic lead in The Legend II, he has been well advised to keep his softer side under wraps in the love scenes for Kiss Of The Dragon and Romeo Must Die. The sadistic and corrupt police inspector Jean-Pierre Richard, played by Tchéky Karyo, is a histrionic but generally plausible villain with a range of undistinguished flunkies to act as cannon fodder. Richard’s abduction of Jessica’s daughter is presumably for blackmailing purposes and serves as the spurious pretence for Liu and Jessica’s partnership, but is essentially as opaque as many other plot points.
As expected, the electrifying fight scenes deliver the goods, particularly an extraordinary sequence in which a hotel laundry chute becomes a lethal furnace. The constant threat of genuinely sadistic violence begins to grate, however, and the final dispensing of the key villain by the titular kiss of the dragon, revealed rather late in the day to be a lethal martial arts move, is preposterous. Diverting popcorn entertainment, this film is superior to the 2002 Li vehicle The One, a similarly incoherent but far less compelling film.

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If nothing else, Kiss Of The Dragon indicates that French cinema is capable of endangering its status as an anti-Hollywood powerhouse on occasions.

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Ghost World opens as our heroines, Enid and Rebecca (Birch and Johansson) graduate High School – and their lives as adults can begin. Well, this is not quite the case. The common practise among High School graduates is to shift out to an Institute of Higher Learning and continue the party. Not this pair. They lounge around in coffee shops looking for mischief and this is how Rebecca gets a job in a coffee shop. Enid enrols in an art class at Summer School. And slowly, but surely, they begin to grow up in very different ways.
Enter Seymour (Buscemi), a middle-aged man whose only solace in life is a record collection of old blues and swing 78s. Enid’s fascination with this style-free social misfit becomes the most charming onscreen relationship ever. Will they, won’t they, end up living together like the Odd Couple until the end of time. The film ends and you go, ‘wha…?’
Better even than American Beauty for its portrayal of imminent adulthood in a cracked America. Cinematic poetry.

George Romero first crossed paths with Italian giallo man Dario Argento during the creation of Dawn Of The Dead (1979). For the American release of that film, Argento served as a script consultant and co-producer (and his music buddies the Goblins provided a soundtrack); Argento also created his own cut of the film, which was released in Europe. The two men worked together again on 1991’s Two Evil Eyes (two stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe). With Bruiser, Romero pays homage to Argento (and other European directors, such as Jess Franco) by creating a stylised story with several set pieces of unblinking violence and horror.
Jason Flemyng (Snatch) is Henry Creedlow, an editor who works for a style-over-substance magazine known as ‘Bruiser’ (a title suggested by Romero’s daughter Tina – its equivalents are cool or gnarly – who also appears later in the movie as a go-go dancer). Poor Creedlow is so mild-mannered that everyone else uses him as a footpad: his wife (played by Nina Garbiras with all the bitchiness she can muster) wants more money and makes no qualms about having an affair with his boss, his best friend (an effectively subtle performance by Andre Tarbet) is slowly ripping him off by skimming profits from investments, and his boss (played to the hilt by Peter Stormare) lets him know that his “taste is all in his ass.”
Overwhelmed by all the hate and manipulation around him, Creedlow begins to break down, at first fantasising about suicide and later waking up to discover that his face has been replaced with an immovable white mask. Having become an ‘invisible’ man, Creedlow sets off to exact revenge upon those who have done him wrong. The film climaxes at a masquerade ball with none other than the Misfits (get it?) playing at the event.
Romero’s talent as a storyteller serves his well here because, even though Bruiser is not one of his best efforts, he manages to create a compelling story and draw credible performances from his cast. In developing his theme of style-over-substance, Romero succumbs to the theme itself, and in the end the story collapses under its own irony and sarcasm.

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Although the theme itself resonates deeply in a society filled with people who are really like this (the comic strip Dilbert is popular for a reason), having Creedlow serve as an avenging ‘Batman’ (the point is clearly emphasized in the shocker coda) minimises the impact of the story.
Other films creep into Bruiser, and these should prove interesting to horror movie buffs. Creedlow’s murder of his wife hearkens to Argento’s Suspiria, particularly the hanging sequence. The press naming Creedlow ‘Faceless’ reminds me of Jess Franco’s work, from 1962’s The Awful Dr Orlof to 1988’s Faceless. And there are even sequences in which Creedlow calls a radio talk show to discuss his situation, thereby reminding us of Romero’s own Martin.
Because of these and other scenes, I believe that Romero is using the European approach in filming horror to strengthen his theme of modern society’s obsession with style over substance. Romero’s ‘wink’ to Italian cinema may go unnoticed, given that many modern critics like their films spoon-fed to them, but horror aficionados will snicker at Romero’s wit and cynicism.
As a horror film, Bruiser is relatively tame, with the violence highly stylised and the gore kept to a minimum. Although the film can be categorised with the likes of Martin and Monkey Shines, the terror quotient in Bruiser is also minimal. As a result, the film is more of an allegory that collapses under its own acerbity. Bottom line: rent the film before buying it.
The US DVD comes with a commentary track (featuring director Romero), a fun Misfits video titled ‘Scream’ (from the band’s CD Famous Monsters), which is filmed in black and white and hearkens to the days of Night Of The Living Dead, and a theatrical trailer (this extra is hidden; to access and view it, clear the extras menu so that nothing is highlighted then press ‘enter’ on your remote).

Budget priced release for the Hong Kong actioner produced by Tsui Hark, this superhero thriller is in the mould of Darkman and Batman with engaging postmodern riffs on a host of comicbook characters.

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The plot is rudimentary. Former surgically changed agent Tsui (played by Jet Li) of the formidable ‘701 Squad’ assassination team, has quit his life of danger and death to work as a librarian. However, he’s forced out of retirement and into the role of masked vigilante when his old squad attempt to conquer the world’s drug trade. With local cops unable to stop killers that feel no pain, heroic ‘Black Mask’ must destroy all the villains, save the hostage (new) girlfriend and deal with his old flame, who’s become a fiendish dominatrix since he saw her last!
Black Mask is great because it starts by breaking the action genre speed limit and then just keeps right on going. To say this is fast and furious may be a classic understatement. The violence is bloodthirsty and gruesome in ways Hollywood’s thriller makers would doubtless find offensive. The level of dark humour aims for the throat, and then reaches down to churn and splatter guts. Casual brutality, impossible acrobatics styled after The Matrix, and notable SF references (such as Frankenstein) are key elements in this lively adventure’s success.
Whether you’re a fan of kung fu movies or superhero comics, I’m sure you will enjoy this DVD, but it has no extras – only Dolby digital 2.0 sound, quite passably dubbed into English, and the usual chaptering.

The Awful Doctor Orlof (aka: Gritos en la Noche, aka: Cries in The Night, aka: The Diabolical Dr Satan, etc) is a cheaply produced and, generally speaking, very badly directed horror thriller (credited to pseudonymous Jess Frank) with one or two obvious SF elements of the mad scientist variety.
Five women have disappeared in three months. Two villains carry a coffin into a big gothic castle. Clearly, they’re up to no good… After several bungled surgical experiments, former prison doctor, Orlof (unblinking Howard Vernon), realises that he needs living girls to donate new flesh for skin grafts necessary to fix his scarred (and seemingly catatonic) daughter’s face. The detective on this daunting case, Inspector Tanner (smug Conrado San Martin), is too busy dallying with his ballerina/girlfriend Wanda (Diana Lorys), to follow-up signposted clues – like the lost necklace. Wanda, who likes to dress as a shameless hussy, and knows how to make a memorable entrance at the town’s cheesy nightclub, foolishly puts herself in harm’s way to solve the kidnapping mystery, shortly before the police arrive to save her.
Awful Dr Orlof has lots of things in common with Georges Franju’s masterly Les Yeux Sans Visage (aka: Eyes Without A Face, 1959), but these two films are still distant relatives. Franju’s drama is a haunting genre classic of visual poetry; Franco’s merely stands in its shadow. Fogbound cobblestone lanes, top hats and horse-drawn carriages are reminiscent of Jack the Ripper’s London, while some theatrical venues – where the thoroughly insane Orlof stalks his prey – evoke The Phantom Of The Opera. But this exploitation film benefits from an outstanding heritage that dates back to the silent era’s The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.
As usual with Franco’s oeuvre, there’s the usual atrocious dubbing of ridiculously camp dialogue, but fans of gaslight movies may find the variable black and white cinematography surprisingly atmospheric at times (though it’s not a patch on the often exquisite camerawork of comparable Italian schlock horrors), making Orlof an oddly compelling piece, despite numerous flaws. And Franco gets remarkably amusing mileage from simple clichés, like setting up the heroine to be spooked by seeing her own reflection in a mirror. Blind henchman Morpho (Riccardo Valle), the convicted and supposedly executed sadist, is an absurdly menacing figure in his opera cape, hauling unconscious women off into the nightly vampire shift just like Dracula. It’s also worth mentioning the film’s cacophonous score, which owes much less to jazz percussionists’ jam sessions than it does to a drunken one-man band falling downstairs.
Previously released in Britain on video by Redemption, Orlof was cut by 37 seconds, and this DVD release appears to be the same version, with its singular topless shot remaining out of much reported nudity. Image Entertainment has an unrated NTSC Region 1 DVD in their Euro-shock collection – with an advertised 90-minute duration, but this may be approximate as other reliable sources state the original running time as only 88 minutes.
Sequels, with increasingly strained links to this film, include The Secret Of Dr Orloff (1964), the enjoyably barmy Sadisterotica (aka: Case Of The Two Beauties, aka: Rote Lippen, 1968), Orloff And The Invisible Man (1970) – not directed by Franco, Doriana Grey (1976), Fall Of The House Of Usher (1983), and Faceless (aka: Les Predateurs de la Nuit, 1988). This last offering featured Helmut Berger, Anton Diffring, Telly Savalas, and Caroline Munro.
DVD extras: animated menus, scene finder (12 chapters), and filmographies of Jess Franco as director and cinematographer, plus catalogue of 36 Arrow titles.

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Amélie Poulain is a strange woman. As a child, taught at home by her mother, she played with imaginary friends and lived her life in an imaginary world. When her mother was killed in a tragic accident involving a suicidal Canadian, her obsessive father took over her upbringing. As an adult she still lives alone, and she watches life – fills in the blanks with her still active imagination, but she’s little more than a bystander, lurking in the shadows out-of-time and out-of-place. Until the night when news of an infamous car crash, on the streets of Paris, sets an incredible chain of events running. She finds a tin box in her bathroom – a box containing a child’s treasure, hidden away decades earlier, and decides to return it to its rightful owner. Should the gift bring happiness to the recipient then she will spend the rest of her life helping others to find love and laughter. If only her own happiness were as easy to arrange as that of others… In the end, it’s left to some of those whose lives have been enriched by Amélie to point her in the right direction.
Much has been said about Amélie, it has received most of the plaudits and attention it, and all of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s other French-language films, deserves. It is a magical story, told in an invigorating and spellbinding manner. As with Jeunet’s Caro collaborations, Delicatessen and The City Of Lost Children, the film is visually sumptuous: deep greens, reds and yellow ochre are the order of the day, and the small details are arranged in a scarily obsessive manner. Everything about the way this film looks is perfect, from costumes and props, to facial expressions. The story is captivating, and compelling, sad and funny, heart-warming and dark. The acting is, as expected, exemplary. Time magazine cover star, Audrey Tautou, in the lead role, is eminently watchable – beautiful, quirky and 100 percent Amélie – and the supporting cast (including La Haine’s Mathieu Kassovitz) is perfect (with a special mention to the ubiquitous Dominique Pinon, for once playing the bad guy). My one and only criticism – and the reason that I still rate Amélie behind Jeunet’s first two films – is that the story drags its heels just a little too much reaching the conclusion, and could have done with losing maybe 10 minutes or so.
Still, Amélie is in many ways Jeunet’s breakthrough film – the damage done by Alien Resurrection is now well and truly behind him – and will hopefully help to point the movie world in general back towards a more magical arena. The only bad point about the amount of success and attention it has gathered is the inevitable US remake 10 years down the line.
This DVD release is sadly very sparse on extras. There’s an excellent commentary from Jeunet, and, well, that’s all. Very disappointing, really – especially when considering that the Region 1 release (coming in July), is rumoured to include extra footage, a short documentary, cast and crew interviews, and conceptual material. Those with multi-region players, who can wait the extra months, should seriously consider holding on until then.