Blog Update

Office-Space

This is a post I really didn’t want to have to write.

As I mentioned in a recent post, my blog activity has been much diminished from what it used to be. This was primarily because I had shoulder surgery and so was laid up for a while with pretty much only one arm. I’m out of the sling now and doing much better, by the way.

However, work was also a major factor. A few months ago I got a new job and it’s been a hell of a lot busier than my old one. I’m a copywriter and spend pretty much my whole day writing, sometimes spilling out in excess of 4,000 words a day. This takes up a lot of my time and also means that pretty much the last thing I want to do when I get home is sit behind a computer.

Now, let’s be clear from the off – I AM NOT QUITTING BLOGGING! I simply enjoy it too much and enjoy chatting with all of you amazing people. All I’m saying here is that I probably won’t be around as much. Work is hectic and looks like it will only get busier (which is no bad thing really).

I will still post when I can and I will still stop by as much as I can, but I just won’t be able to come by daily as I usually do. But you will definitely still see my floating round the place!

I also hope you’ll still stop by here when I do post something. I know a lot of bloggers don’t like it when commenting isn’t reciprocated, but I still hope to see some friendly faces around from time to time.

Well that’s pretty much it. As I say, I’ll still be around but just maybe not as much as I have been. But there’s no way I’d walk away completely from you lovely lot.

Films that nearly make me cry (but not quite)

I don’t cry at films. That might make me seem like an emotionless monster, but it’s true. Some people sob the moment they see a small kitten or when the girl meets the guy of their dreams or whatever, but not me. You could drown a sackful of defenseless puppies and a tear would not roll down my cheek. It’s not that I don’t get upset or get a lump in my throat, but the physical act of crying during a film is not one I’m familiar with.

However, there are some films that push me right to the edge and very nearly make me cry. Here they are:

E.T.

ET

E.T. is one of the films I grew up watching and is one of my all-time favourites. It’s got everything; it makes you laugh, it’s scary at times but it’s also one that still make me all sad and that when he finally climbs aboard his spaceship and buggers off home. It’s emotionally manipulative, sure, but it works (actually more so now than it did when I was younger).

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Movie review catch-up

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been a lot less active recently in my blogging activity. This is largely due to the fact I have had shoulder surgery and therefore have been somewhat incapacitated, and also because I’ve been a lot busier at work which has taken up a lot of my time. But I have squeezed in a few films, so here are some quick reviews to catch up…

Noah

I had little desire to see this until the reviews rolled in and they were so divisive. Now, I have next to no clue as to what is and isn’t taken from the biblical text so I have no issue at all with what it did in that respect, and not being religious I wouldn’t care anyway.

For me, it was the mythical elements that worked the best. I found the Harryhausen-esque rock monster things actually quite interesting and the more bonkers it went, the better.

However, it was when the film descended into soap opera style melodrama where it lost me a little, particularly in the final third. It asked some interesting questions about how far you should go for your faith, but wrapped them up in contrived drama.

Crowe is decent as Noah but Ray Winstone’s biblical gangster, complete with Cockney accent and rudimentary shotguns is laughable.

A decent adaptation from Aronofsky, who definitely inserts some personality into the story, but it loses its way and by the end undoes much of its good work of the first half of the film.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

When Sony rebooted the Spidey franchise so soon after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, many thought it was ridiculous. However The Amazing Spider-Man was actually pretty decent, and although it has some definite issues, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more of the same comic book fun.

Andrew Garfield reprises his role as Spidey but even though he looks the part, I’m still not convinced by his acting, although that’s definitely not helped by the god awful script that turns the whole thing into a cheesy episode of Dawson’s Creek at times.

There are plenty of decent set pieces throughout and the swinging sections through New York are vertigo-inducingly brilliant.

Villain-wise we have Electro although he feels somewhat underdeveloped, whilst Rhino pops up very briefly and a certain Monsieur Goblin who seems destined to play a much bigger role in films to come. With so many villains, it does threaten to turn into Spider-Man 3 and ensures the film is too long, but fortunately manages to hold it together much better.

It’s clear that the director wanted this film to have a more personal feel with more focus on the characters’ relationships, but at times it does feel at odds with the main story. When key scenes are rushed to make way for more teenage romance then it doesn’t knit together.

Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan deserve a lot of credit for their performances however, the latter in particular excellent as Harry Osborn.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a perfectly fine addition to the franchise but one that doesn’t really tread new ground in any way. Bloated and uneven in tone but if you’re a Spider-Man fan then there’s enough to enjoy.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

Transcendence

Transcendence

Strong characters and a belief in their actions is essential if a film is to work, and the lack of both of these is what makes Transcendence a truly lacklustre experience.

The idea of being able to upload your thoughts and feelings into a computer isn’t exactly a new one, nor is that of computer AI becoming sentient and rebelling against humanity, and Transcendence does little new to raise it above its peers. See, it’s difficult at any point to actually work out what anyone’s really doing or why they’re doing it, and as such it’s tough to buy into anything the film does.

There’s a germ of an idea, but what starts of as a slow burning, political sci-fi thriller ends up trying to turn into an all-out action film but just doesn’t have the legs to pull it off and burns out long before its lackadaisical conclusion.

Johnny Depp well and truly phones in his performance, whilst Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do their best to inject some life into proceedings, but they have little to work with in all honesty.

There was some promise here but it has to go down as a miss for first time director Wally Pfister who struggles to give the film any real direction or purpose.

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-trailer-0

Captain America (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson and new recruit Falcon (Anthony Mackie) face a new foe in the form of the Winter Soldier as terrorist organisation Hydra rears its ugly head in the most unlikely of places.

Another week, another Marvel superhero flick. The genre is walking a very well worn path by this point and many are starting to feel a little bit numb to its formula. Captain America: The Winter Soldier could well have been the straw that broke this series’ back, but fortunately there’s enough new and interesting in there to ensure Marvel’s stock remains as high as ever.

Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap’s origin story, took place in World War II, but naturally (considering what happened at the end of that film and in Avengers Assemble) we’re now in a modern day setting. And we have modern day themes as well. The Winter Soldier examines themes of privacy, intrusion, drones, and other similar ideas that feel incredibly relevant when you take a glance at the news of today.

The problem with having a modern day setting is that it removes one of the key elements that made the first film work: the period World War II setting. That’s not to say this film doesn’t work, but it feels a little less unique.

However, despite its current themes and setting, the film actually feels more akin to a 1970s spy or espionage thriller, or even a Connery/Moore era James Bond film at times. Stick the Cap in a tuxedo and you’ve got yourself a Bond film. Apart from the guy who has massive metal wings and can fly everywhere, obviously.

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier_I_Movie_Wallpaper_34_cybzh

That would be Sam Wilson, or Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), who’s one of the new characters introduced in The Winter Soldier. Falcon is a decent addition and along with the inclusion of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow as a main character completes an interesting and dynamic central trio.

Then there’s the Winter Soldier himself as the film’s central villain (or is he?). One aspect of the past few Marvel films where they’ve dropped the ball is with their villains, in that they just aren’t that villainous. Both Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World featured very weak villains, but they’ve upped the game somewhat here. The Winter Soldier is both menacing and also has an air of mystery surrounding him which adds up to a much more threatening villain than we’ve seen previously.

Much of The Winter Soldier is actually much slower paced and plot heavy than you’d expect from a Marvel film and this plays very much in its favour, although younger viewers may not appreciate this as much. However, true to form everything goes ballistic in the final third and we get the obligatory 20 minute action scene with everything being blown to smithereens. Obviously, with superhero films, this formula is the natural one to follow, but it would have been nice to stray from this for a change.

Whilst The Winter Soldier could, and perhaps should, have been the point where we tire of Marvel superhero films, it’s actually one of the stronger entries in the whole franchise that should see him have more equal footing alongside his super-peers when it comes to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Pros

  • The Winter Soldier is an excellent villain
  • Interesting and more involved plot
  • Dynamic central trio of heroes

Cons

  • Final third a little too formulaic
  • Loses some of its identity with shift in time period from the first film

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Starred Up

Eric (Jack O’Connell) is a violent young offender who’s been moved to an adult prison. Whilst he’s locked up he brutally clashes with prison guards, but is taken under the wing of prison therapist Oliver (Rupert Friend). However, Eric’s biggest problem lies with fellow inmate Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) who also happens to be his father.

It always helps when someone heavily involved with a film can draw upon personal experiences in some way, and that’s exactly the case with Starred Up screenwriter Jonathan Asser. Asser worked as a voluntary therapist in HM Prison Wandsworth, and if he’s seen half the things that go on in Starred Up, then that’s all the encouragement anyone should need to stay on the right side of the law.

As you’d perhaps expect from a gritty British prison drama, Starred Up (the film is named after a term given to a young offender who is moved up into adult prison) can be pretty brutal and uncompromising. Within the first few minutes, Eric has already put a snapped radio aerial to a guard’s throat and that pretty much sets the tone for the film.

However, fortunately there’s a massive amount more to the film than just prison brutality. At the centre of the story is Eric’s relationship with two different people: his father Neville who’s also in prison with him, and Oliver the prison therapist. Both Neville and Oliver offer Eric something missing from his life up to that point, and although Eric is resistant to both in the outset, it’s interesting to see how the relationships develop and evolve over the course of the film.

Jack O'Connell

See, Eric is a pretty abhorrent individual; there’s almost nothing to like about him whatsoever, and yet somehow you end up feeling sympathetic towards him. It might be pushing it to say he’s some kind of anti-hero, but there’s just something about him that instils a sense of sympathy in you.

This could very well be down to Jack O’Connell’s superb central performance. O’Connell fills the role of Eric with malice and angst, and it’s a fantastic physical performance at times, although he also brings a wonderful layer of vulnerability to the character. He perfectly shows the character’s inner conflict, and there’s a real tension whenever he’s on screen as he’s just so unpredictable. Ben Mendelsohn is also excellent as Eric’s father Neville. There’s a similar conflict within him, struggling to know how to do right by his son whom he’s never really been around to care for.

What does let the film down a little is that at times it feels somewhat contrived and cliched. Making a weapon out of a toothbrush and razor blade, a corrupt prison governor, the suggestion that you’ll turn gay in prison; this kind of thing doesn’t hold the story back at all, but does feel like we’ve been there a few too many times before.

Some slight contrivances aside, Starred Up is a solid character-driven drama. It’s bleak and unflinching at times, which may put some people off, but it’s well worth seeing for Jack O’Connell’s performance alone.

Pros

  • Brilliant performance from Jack O’Connell
  • Ben Mendelsohn also impressive
  • Interesting relationships between the main characters

Cons

  • Sometimes contrived and cliched

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

 

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What D’ya Mean You Haven’t Seen… Schindler’s List?

This long forgotten feature was set up to jot down thoughts on classic films that I was only just getting around to watching – my blindspot series if you will. And I set it up primarily because I hadn’t seen one film in particular: Schindler’s List.

Well I finally found the time to watch it and needless to say it’s worth all the praise and acclaim that has poured its way in the decade and a bit since its release.

Plot: Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is a German businessman who hires Jewish workers in his factories because they cost less. Horrified by the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis, along with his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) he seeks to save the lives of as many of them as possible by employing them, thus making them essential to the German war effort. However, he must do so under the watchful eye of the merciless SS officer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes)

One of the first things that struck me is that even though it was made in 1993, it feels like a much older film. Now that’s not in any way a criticism, but I felt like I was watching a film from the 1950s or 60s. It had a very classic feel to it, almost like a film noir at times, particularly in its use of chiaroscuro lighting.

However, the most overwhelming thing I took from it in terms of how it was shot, was that it looked very much like documentary footage a lot of the time. It was only after I watched the film did I find out this was deliberate on Spielberg’s part. The film was apparently influenced by Shoah, a 1985 French documentary about the Holocaust, and Spielberg stayed away from using techniques such as Steadicam or long shots that would have taken away from this documentary feel. Obviously the splash of colour on the little girl’s dress is an exception to this.

And this is one of the film’s biggest strengths. By making the whole thing look like a documentary, it seems to lend it even more credibility and gives it that little bit more emotional weight. These all seem like real people rather than just being based on them, which makes it all the more disturbing and heartbreaking seeing their struggles. Had Spielberg used more conventional filmmaking methods (ie. non-documentary) then it would probably have given the whole thing a little more gloss and the line between reality and fiction would have grown further apart.

Liam Neeson in Schindler's ListAs well as being a stunning film overall, Schindler’s List is littered with memorable scenes that will stick in your memory for a while afterwards and show Spielberg’s sometimes underrated genius as a director.

For example, seeing Nazi soldiers shooting Jewish people is something you’d probably expect to see in a film of this kind. However, here it plays out to classical music (Bach I think), creating a really disturbing counterpoint of what we see and what we hear. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking technique, but a no less effective one.

Another fascinating scene sees Ralph Fiennes’ character taking aim with a rifle from his mansion (which I think resembles the Bates motel in Psycho) and shooting Jewish workers in the concentration camp for no reason whatsoever, although by this point reason doesn’t really come into anything. He sees it as sport, something to pass the time and it’s shocking.

However, I think the most affecting scene for me was listening to all of the concentration camp prisoners talking about what might happen to them. They’ve heard whispers that they won’t actually be sent into the showers to clean themselves but that they’ll be gassed to death. Despite what they’ve heard, virtually all of them simply don’t believe it, purely because they say it wouldn’t make sense to kill them. Knowing what we know now, this is a real gut punch. They’re right, it doesn’t make sense; but none of it make sense. When we see them actually showered later on, it’s a wonderful moment when you think the worst is about to happen.

Schindler's ListIn terms of performances, it’s a pretty strong showing all round. Both Neeson are Fiennes were nominated for Oscars for their respective roles and it’s easy to see why. They’re both excellent, with Neeson in particular superb. A scene at the end of the film where he bursts into tears because he feels he hasn’t done enough to help people is wonderful yet heartbreaking. I also think that Ben Kingsley deserves a lot of credit as Itzhak Stern, Oskar’s Jewish accountant.

There really is very little to hold against Schindler’s List. Being a little picky, the actual ‘list’ part of the film actually comes very late on, and it doesn’t actually play that much of a part in the film’s plot. It would have been nice to see a little more of what happened during that whole process, whereas it gets glossed over a little. It also would have been nice had the film been in the German language. With Spielberg setting the film up to look like a documentary, it does take something away from it to hear them speaking English, although I do understand that having it in English means it plays to a wider audience and having subtitles would (unfortunately) alienate a chunk of its potential audience.

So I finally watched it, and I can now see why its so revered. As you’d expect, it’s not an easy watch, but it definitely a film that everyone should watch at some point. When it comes to films about World War II and the Holocaust, this is definitely the film against which all others should be measured.

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Spinoff Blogathon

spinoff

Sati’s awesome debut blogathon asked us to choose a peripheral character we’d like to see become the lead in their own film. This caused somewhat of a problem for me, in that I have a rubbish memory. Therefore, trying to recall the smaller, less celebrated characters in a film was going to present a problem. I’m lucky if I remember who the lead was, let alone the lesser characters. So I had a good think and the only minor character who really stuck out was the legendary Jesus from the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. This guy…

Now, there have been rumblings ever since The Big Lebowski came out in 1998 that Jesus could get his own spinoff film, but it hasn’t, as of yet, materialised. So why Jesus?

Well he’s just such an enigma; you could do practically anything with the story. We know that he loves bowling. We also know that he spent 6 months in prison for exposing himself to an 8-year-old and had to go door to door telling everyone he was a pederast.

For my story, I’d start at the beginning showing him as a child and how he developed his obsession with bowling. His father will also have been a keen bowler trying to win some kind of championship, and one night a group of no-gooders turn up to the bowling alley and kill his father. Standing there looking at the corpse, his father’s personalised bowling ball (with a cross on it) rolls towards him. He picks it up, looks at the cross and there and then Jesus is born. Or something like that.

Despite that very serious sounding beginning, the whole thing would be laced with the same dark, stoner humour that is rife in The Big Lebowski. We would be privy to the incident in which Jesus exposes himself to a young boy, but it would be as twisted and disgusting as it sounds. In fact, I’d make it so that he didn’t actually do it at all, but the whole thing was a misunderstanding or the boy was making it up.

liam-o-brien

After he gets out of prison, we’d see Jesus going around the houses in his neighbourhood telling people he’s a pederast. We’d see him getting beaten up a few times, but then come across a woman (maybe a younger Bunny) who’s so stupid she doesn’t know what a pederast is, so he lies to her and makes up something impressive and the two strike up a relationship.

He starts to rebuild his life, getting a job somewhere like a deli. Or maybe has a school janitor, which would be pretty twisted considering his conviction. It’s in his job that he meets Liam, who becomes his bowling partner and the two become focused on winning the championship his father was trying to win when he killed.

Spending so much time bowling, Jesus has no time for his girlfriend and she leaves him, although he’s so focused on the bowling that he barely notices. It’s suggested that Liam has a Waylon Smithers-style thing for Jesus and is happy at this news. This is all shortly before this story and The Big Lebowski intersect, although there could be a few more crossovers. Perhaps the thugs who killed his father are somehow related to those who do the Dude over.

The beauty is that this could go in a million and one different directions. It could take this form, as a part prequel, or it could run in tandem with The Big Lebowski, or it could be a sequel of sorts featuring the ‘little Lebowski’. The possibilities are endless.

And remember – no-one fucks with the Jesus.

So that’s a pretty specific story in places, and very basic but it’d be a start. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d do with the character…

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Film Review: The Book Thief

During World War II, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) is forced to leave her mother and go and live with a foster family in Nazi Germany. She finds solace in stealing books, but she and her new family could be in danger when her foster father Hans (Geoffrey Rush) agrees to hide Max (Ben Schnetzer), a Jew, from the Nazis.

Conviction. It’s something that all films need to have in order to make the audience believe in the story and care in the characters. Half-arsed or abandoned ideas do nothing but make the viewer apathetic towards the whole thing and ultimately have little interest in the story or its characters. Unfortunately, The Book Thief lacks conviction in almost every area.

The Book Thief is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel by Australian author Markus Zusak, but it’s perhaps the book’s biggest USP that is the film’s most obvious lack of conviction – the fact that it’s narrated by Death.

This was a really unique and clever idea that worked brilliantly on paper, but has not translated to the screen well at all. We hear the voice of Death at the beginning of the film but doesn’t show up again until about two-thirds through and then again at the end. It feels like the filmmakers didn’t want to include it but felt they couldn’t leave it out.

There’s also an issue of not really addressing the subject matter. It’s true that the film is more of a character piece than anything else but do these characters ever really develop? Only Emily Watson’s Rosa really evolves as a character, whilst the World War II setting seems strangely sanitised. Rosa’s claim that Liesel is filthy when she arrives would be more believable if she wasn’t so utterly pristine. For a more effective take on the horrors of war from a child’s perspective, then The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas might be a better bet.

The Book Thief does have some admirable qualities, however. Both Sophie Nélisse and Geoffrey Rush are excellent as Liesel and Hans respectively, and the relationship between the two is genuinely heartwarming. Nélisse balances Liesel’s headstrong, almost stubborn, attitude with vulnerability, whilst superbly bringing a naivety to the character which makes it chilling to see her acting so blithely towards the Nazis for most of the film. Rush is also excellent, giving Hans a real affection for Liesel whilst also displaying an eccentricity that makes him a very likeable character.

There are also a couple of really interesting scenes that really stand out. At one point we see Liesel and her friends dressed in Nazi Youth uniforms singing a propaganda song in a choir. This juxtaposition of ideas is really effective and horrifying to see what is essentially brainwashing of children who don’t really know better.

The Book Thief really had the potential to be better than it was, but it was ultimately let down by its inability to follow through with its ideas. From the seemingly random voiceovers from Death to the bizarre language switching from German to English throughout, it never truly finds a real identity. It has interesting moments scattered here and there but is never consistent enough to make your truly invested in it.

Pros

  • Good performances from Sophie Nélisse and Geoffrey Rush
  • Nice period detail
  • Effective in places

Cons

  • Narration by Death hugely underused
  • Little character development
  • Random language switching

2 and a half pigeons

2.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki is a young witch in training. Having moved away from her family and struggling to adapt to life in her new town, moves in with local baker Osono and starts up a delivery service. But how will Kiki cope when she loses her powers amid the attentions of local boy Tombo?

You’ve no doubt seen countless coming of age stories before, but have you seen one about a witch who lives in a bakery and sets up a delivery business whilst being pursued by a boy who wants to make a flying machine out of a bicycle? That’s what makes Kiki’s Delivery Service so alluring – it tells its story in a totally unique and magical way that it feels unlike anything else.

It does play pretty young at times, sometimes verging on cheesy, although that could be due to the language translation in the dubbed English version I saw. However, its messages of believing in yourself, the rewards of hard work and always trying to challenge and improve yourself are nonetheless strong ones that can apply to absolutely anyone of any age. Kiki may be a witch but her problems are those that will ring true with many, young and old, and as such she’s a very relatable protagonist.

One could argue that Kiki’s Delivery Service will resonate more with female viewers than male, but it’s so charming that it’d be difficult for anyone not to get completely swept up in Kiki’s wonderful world.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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What is… Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sound?

This edition of the ‘what is…?‘ feature is a bit of a two-parter, as I don’t see much point in describing diegetic sound without describing non-diegetic sound at the same time.

Diegetic sound

Diegetic sound, also known as actual sound, is any sound whose source physically exists in the world of the film. This could be in the form of pretty much anything: characters talking, a gunshot, a dog barking, a radio, musical instruments. Diegetic sound may be on-screen or off-screen, but must emanate from action within the film.

Non-diegetic sound

Non-diegetic sound, also known as commentary sound, is sound whose source is not a part of the film’s world, in that it doesn’t comes from anything on screen or implied to come from somewhere off screen. Non-diegetic sound is added to film in post-production. Examples of non-diegetic sound include voiceovers and narration, mood music and soundtrack/score, and sound effects added for dramatic effect.

Diegetic and non-diegetic sound are often used together, as shown in this brilliant scene from The Shawshank Redemption.


The clip starts with the shuffling of records, a dripping tap, a prison guard talking – all diegetic sound. Then Andy puts on the Mozart record which plays out of the PA system. This is still diegetic sound, as even when the shot changes and the record player itself isn’t in shot, it still exists within the world of the film.

Then, at around the 2 minute mark, we hear one of Red’s voiceovers, an example of non-diegetic sound whilst the diegetic sound of the record continues in the background.

Now look at what can happen when the non-diegetic sound is taken out of a scene, as shown in this clip made by Paul Olohan from Zombieland…

Switching it up

Filmmakers may segue from diegetic to non-diegetic sound or vice-versa. For example, a character may be listening to the radio, an example of diegetic sound, but the music from the radio may then continue into the following scene and can no longer be heard by the character, thus becoming non-diegetic. This is sometimes known as trans-diegetic.

Filmmakers may also have a bit of fun with sound, leading us to believe it’s either diegetic or non-diegetic, but then revealing it to be the other. See the following clip from Blazing Saddles for instance…

Similarly, in this clip of Stranger Than Fiction, we hear a voiceover narration, which would ordinarily be considered non-diegetic. However, we soon discover that Will Ferrell’s character can actually hear the voiceover, suggesting that it is, in fact, diegetic.

Do you have any favourite uses or sound in film, either diegetic or non-diegetic? If so, let me know in the comments below.

For more entries in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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