LFF: Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language, 2014)

In writing about the most recent film I’d seen of director Jean-Luc Godard’s (Film socialisme, 2010), I tried to convey a sense that assigning a star-rating to it was largely futile. Godard’s practice by this point is increasingly experimental and beyond the bounds of conventional film narrative, moreso even than in his 60s heyday. So those who’ve seen anything he’s done in the last ten years won’t be surprised by Adieu au langage, just as it’s likely that those who only know him from his 60s pop-cultural pomp will recoil in horror. There’s still some of the same playfulness at work, such as when the film’s title pops up periodically as “AH DIEUX / OH LANGAGE”, or the repeated footage of a cheerful dog (Roxy, the real star of the film), or the title card with the word “2D” in the background and “3D” looming out front. For indeed, this film is in 3D, but pushed to its limits as grainy handheld video footage butts up against recycled film clips and more studied compositions. What narrative there is features a couple who fight and bicker, both of them often in a state of partial undress, but it’s very much just telegraphed hints towards Godard’s themes at this point. There’s a two-part structure, “nature” and “metaphor”, and the mood (as the most recent Godard films have been) is strongly elegiac — a goodbye not just to words but to a filmic language too, perhaps. You may love it, you may hate it, but you will probably still feel provoked and more than a little confused.

© Wild Bunch

BFI London Film Festival FILM FESTIVAL FILM REVIEW: London Film Festival
Director/Writer Jean-Luc Godard | Cinematographer Fabrice Aragno | Starring Héloise Godet | Length 70 minutes || Seen at BFI Imax [3D], London, Monday 13 October 2014

My Rating 3 stars good


Frozen (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee | Writer Jennifer Lee (based on the fairy tale Snedronningen by Hans Christian Andersen) | Starring Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad | Length 108 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue (3D), London, Thursday 12 December 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I think by now most people are familiar with the standard-issue Disney animated schtick, which involves a hunky hero, a blushing princess, a comedy sidekick, a whole bunch of sappiness, and some songs. In that respect, I don’t think Frozen is going to particularly surprise anyone. What makes a nice change is that the heroine is the star of the film, she doesn’t really need the bloke, and her story is not resolved by his kiss. That aside, both female leads can belt out a pretty big vocal (despite being stick thin), there’s a whole bunch of sappiness, and there’s a chirpily naive comedy sidekick. So, a success all told. Oh, and it’s very very white.

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Gravity (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Alfonso Cuarón | Writers Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón | Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki | Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney | Length 90 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Enfield (IMAX 3D), London, Monday 18 November 2013 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good

© Warner Bros. Pictures

I can’t help but wonder if I’m maybe going through a bit of a fallow period with my film writing. There’s only so many reviews you can bang out in a week (and I’ve been posting every weekday for the last few months, pretty much) without it all feeling a bit same-y. Perhaps I’m unenthused by what’s on offer at the cinemas right now, or maybe it’s just an autumnal thing of feeling like getting out and doing more exercise. In any case, when I think about Gravity — and more specifically, when I think about all the hype around it, about all the reviews of it that I’ve read over the last couple of months (for it was on release around the rest of the world before it came to the UK) — I don’t really feel I have a whole lot new to add. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it: that might actually be a new angle on it. No, it was great in several respects. You’ve probably seen it, and you may well agree. If you haven’t, it’s a disaster movie set in space and it focuses on two astronauts, Ryan (Sandra Bullock) and Matt (George Clooney).

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One Direction: This Is Us (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Morgan Spurlock | Cinematographer Neil Harvey | Starring One Direction | Length 92 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue [3D], London, Thursday 29 August 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good

© TriStar Pictures

I feel like I’m starting half my reviews this way, but I’ll do it again: once again I have watched a film whose subject I am entirely unfamiliar with. One Direction is not a band I own any music by, and their fame has largely bypassed my attention what with my being in the ‘wrong’ demographic, though the few tracks of theirs I’d heard have been jolly in an uptempo way. As a boyband, their sound strikes me as the heir to that of McFly and Busted, the great British pop boybands of the 2000s. Which is to say, you are unlikely to get much out of this new documentary if you take a strong dislike to this brand of pop music; I think it’s great fun.

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World War Z (2013)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Director Marc Forster | Writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof and J. Michael Straczynski (based on the novel by Max Brooks) | Cinematographer Ben Seresin | Starring Brad Pitt, Daniella Kertesz, Mireille Enos | Length 116 minutes | Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue [3D], London, Wednesday 3 July 2013 || My Rating 3 stars good

© Paramount Pictures

It’s fair to say I went into this without high hopes. I was aware of some of the fraught production history, though primarily from having read a few reviews beforehand. Yet I like Brad Pitt as an actor, and in the end really enjoyed this tense and gripping thriller about a zombie apocalypse.

It has limitations obviously. For a start, it’s probably best to think of it as a film about a catastrophic viral outbreak, with the zombies being a sort of convenient writers’ short-hand for something Very Bad that is nevertheless Obviously Fictional. I don’t think these zombies share much in common with other cinematic and fictional zombies: they’re in essence just monsters (quick, lethal, dangerous). As an outbreak that needs to be contained, the hopes of (yes) all humanity are basically on the shoulders of Brad Pitt’s former UN investigator Gerry, whose singular ability to spot the zombies’ weaknesses is surely only explicable because the numbers of intelligent people have been so depleted — mostly it’s just military types remaining, with the odd civilian like Gerry who’s been whisked to the safety of a convoy of ships in the Atlantic.

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Talking Point: 3D

3D glasses
The classic design of 3D glasses.

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, 3D was considered a ridiculous novelty idea that would every so often resurface when some TV channel or cinema would put one on for a one-off showing, usually requiring a tie-in promotion to distribute cheap cardboard glasses so that people could enjoy the show.

For some reason, and despite my best efforts to resist it in the initial stages, it seems to be a properly big commercial thing now. Every effects-laden tentpole blockbuster or animated release is put out in a 3D version, whether or not it was intended to be shown that way when made.

What I don’t understand is quite why it has taken hold to the extent it has. Every film I’ve seen in 3D makes me feel like I’m watching cut-outs being waved about in front of background scenery. Even when the parallax layering is done well, there’s still a sense that everything is slightly miniaturised somehow, as if you are even further removed from the action on screen (which, as someone who generally prefers to sit closer to the screen in the auditorium, is not a feeling I find particularly enjoyable). And then of course there’s the brightness of the image, the way that everything seen through 3D glasses is darker and murkier.

I’d like to be clear that I’m not saying people are wrong to like 3D, I just don’t understand the appeal. I think my favourite so far has been the animated film Wreck-It Ralph (2012), though I’d still have preferred it in 2D. However, I concede I’ve only seen four 3D films at the cinema in recent years.

So why do 3D films appeal? And what are some examples of really good use of 3D in cinema?