Monthly Archives: March 2013

Movie Grievances: Bad Film Posters

Along with trailers, film posters are one of the biggest tools a PR agency has to promote a new film. A good film poster can get your mind racing and get the blood pumping as you eagerly anticipate the film’s release. Posters are some of the first interactions people have with a film and can instantly determine their excitement levels towards it. So why, oh why, do they often end up looking like they were made by a blind kindergarten child? There are some incredibly talented graphic designers and Photoshoppers out there whose talents are clearly going to waste whilst idiot with clearly no interest in movies knocks something together on MS Paint.

And it’s bad enough that someone has actually created such monstrosities, but someone at the film’s PR agency, whose job it is to advertise the film and make people actually want to watch it, will have signed it off. Surely a quick quality control check by anyone with eyes would be enough to set the sirens off and ensure whoever vomited up these pieces of crap are never allowed near a stock photo of Jessica Biel or Katherine Heigl again.

Here I have highlighted some of the reasons why bad movie posters annoy me so much…

The Bad Photoshop

The PenthouseBy far the most ubiquitous amongst awful movie posters, the bad Photoshop is also the most obvious of fuck ups. Often found on posters of generic romantic comedies, it requires only rudimentary Photoshop skills to cut actors from stock photos and position next to other actors obviously cut from a separate stock photo. There may also be face transplants, limb extension/reduction, mismatched lines of sight, and various other reality puncturing mistakes. What gets me about these is that I don’t understand why it’s so hard to just take a photo of the actors together at the same time. Sure, that’s not always easy, especially if the poster is coming out way ahead of the film, but it should be in their contract that they should be available for such purposes.

Just look at the adjacent poster for The Penthouse. Look at it good and hard. In fact, you don’t have to look at it good and hard; it’s so blatantly abhorrent it verges on offensive. Are we seriously meant to believe that all of those people are in the same bed at the same time? I’d also wager that none of those actors’ faces actually belong to their bodies. It raises so many questions. Why does Rider Strong only have half a chest? Where are Kayley Cuoco’s legs ( I think that’s here in the middle), just where is she gazing, and why is she trying to crush Mya? I can only imagine the unimpressed look on Corey Large’s face is because he was privvy to an early mock up of this poster.

This is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of badly Photoshopped film posters. I know some films have small budgets but there are some talented artists, graphic designers, Photoshoppers out there. it can’t be that difficult to find one.

See also: The Accidental Husband, The Bounty Hunter, The Whole Ten Yards

The Deliberately Misleading

My GirlI doubt there are many people who would base their decision whether to see a film or not solely on a poster, and judging by some posters that’s probably a good thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a film’s poster is supposed to give some sort of idea as to the tone of the film. Disney always have jolly and colourful posters, whilst horror films usually have dark and foreboding ones. Not exactly rocket science. So why make a poster that can only be described as intentionally misleading? The one that jumps out at me more than any other in this respect is My Girl.

What a heartwarming and delightful film My Girl must be based on that poster. Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky look like they’re having a blast enjoying the best days of their life. That is until Macaulay Culkin GETS KILLED BY A HUGE SWARM OF BEES! Yep, stung to death. Of course, there are nicey nice issues going on as well but nothing can mask the fact that a child (and a child who was universally loved at the time thanks to Home Alone) had been offed by a load of bees. Good luck with your traumatised children.

See also: Seven Psychopaths (the one where they list people as psychopaths who aren’t the psychopaths in the film), My Sister’s Keeper, Kramer vs Kramer

The Disconcertingly Vague

This is kind of a sub-section the misleading poster in that it offers no clue whatsoever as to what the film is actually about. These are perhaps the laziest of all posters as they take no creative thought; at least badly Photoshopped posters are a dearth of skill rather than imagination. You can glean little to no information from these posters, and they’re often only used to shove down your throat the fact that a Hollywood star has a new film out – it doesn’t matter what the film is about; all that matters is that it exists and you should tip your wallet over the nearest box office cashier so you can watch it.

Now that’s not to say that the films these posters are advertising are bad, because a lot of them aren’t. A lot of them are pretty good; it’s just the poster that’s terrible. Take Jerry Maguire over there – perfectly good film but apparently the only thing we need to know about it is that Tom Cruise is in it. And maybe the fact he wears a shirt and tie. Other than that, this could be a film about drug addiction, a rogue CIA agent or Tom Cruise might end up being killed by a swarm of bees.

It should also be noted that teaser posters are not included here. Teaser posters are supposed to be vague and are therefore exempt from this rant. They can still be rubbish though.

See also: Vanilla Sky, Hitch, Funny People

The Mismatched Names

Morning GloryThis is probably the least obvious and more sporadically occurring of bad movie posters but it is one that has always annoyed me. So, to clarify, this is where you have two or more actors on the posters, usually lined up, and the names at the top listing who’s in the film do not match up with the pictures underneath. So you could have Brad Pitt’s name above Julia Roberts’ face. Now I know this is down to contract stuff and the names aren’t necessarily there to indicate who the actor below is, etc, etc, but it still looks weird. On some posters it’s not all that obvious but for some it sticks out a mile and someone really should have flagged it up. If it’s not possible to do the simple thing and switch the names around due to whatever reason, then surely it’s not too difficult to edit the photo and move some people around so everything matches up. Maybe this is me just being a little obsessive compulsive but, again, it just smacks of laziness.

This poster for Morning Glory is a perfect example. The names are so close to the actors’ heads that it’s almost impossible to notice they don’t match, and once you’ve noticed it, it becomes more and more obvious. They’ve managed to get Diane Keaton right; that’s definitely Diane Keaton, but Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams are almost certainly wrong. When there’s little else happening in the poster other than having the three of them standing there (this could also be a vague poster, in fact), the whole thing is amplified even more.

See also: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Network, Sherlock Holmes

So there we have it – some example of how bad film posters annoy me. Are there any that particularly do your head in for whatever reason? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Quickie: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in ParisGil (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter with writer’s block. On a trip to Paris with his high maintenance fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) he talks a midnight stroll and finds himself mysteriously time travelling to 1920’s Paris where he meets various famous historical figures including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, amongst others.

Beautifully shot in the French capital, Midnight in Paris really is as quirky as it sounds. It’s essentially a time travel story but is a million miles away from the likes of Looper and 12 Monkeys. The premise itself is enough to keep your interest throughout as you wonder which different famous faces Gil will bump into next. However, it also crosses the line into self indulgent and pretentious at times, too. You have to have a fairly decent knowledge of the characters to fully appreciate all the references; for those that don’t it could be an incredibly alienating experience.

Wilson is the perfect light-hearted lead, whilst McAdams barley gets chance to make an impression. Michael Sheen is excellently despicable has Inez’s arrogant know-it all friend Paul, and the various others who pop in and out also add their own little something to the film. Marion Cotillard, for example, is marvellous as usual as a 1920s love interest for Gil.

However, whilst Sheen’s character makes a habit of talking down to those around him, Midnight in Paris too often does the same to its audience. If you can get past this, though, there’s a fantastical story here that makes you just a little jealous of Gil and his Parisian adventure.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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LAMMYS 2012/13 – For your consideration

Although I’ve had this blog for over a year now, this is the first time I’ve taken part in the LAMMY awards and I’m very excited about being a part of it. First of all, I would just like to say a huge thank you to every single person who has liked, commented on and shared any of my posts; it really makes the effort feel worthwhile and I get a real buzz from seeing a new comment pop up on a post.

I have been fortunate enough to have been put forward for the first stage of LAMMY nominations in several categories but to actually be one of the nominations, I need my readers to help a blogger out and vote for me. Yes, I’m arrogant enough that I nominated myself for some (not all!) of these categories, but you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket! So here are the categories I am nominated for…

  • Best blog

  • Best new LAMB

  • Funniest writer

  • Best running feature – What is…?

  • Most knowledgeable

  • Best reviewer

  • Best ratings system

So this is me asking for LAMB members to consider me in their voting. There are some amazing blogs out there who are far more deserving than me but if you do fancy slinging a nomination my way then I would be more than grateful. I’m not going to go campaigning and bleating on about it here, there and everywhere, so this is likely to be my only post on this unless I actually get nominated further down the line.

You can vote by clicking this linkhttps://www.surveymonkey.com/s/T6PCWCN

And here is a poster I made stole and butchered to unashamedly try and swing your vote…

lamb poster

If you do decide that you want to vote for me then you have my eternal gratitude.

Thanks, as always

Chris

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Film Review: The Paperboy

The PaperboyThere are some films that are just difficult to tear your eyes away from. No matter how revolting certain scenes are, how deplorable you find some of the characters, how much it tests your gag reflex, certain films just demand your attention and refuse to leave your retinas once they’ve been burned there. The Paperboy is one of those films.

Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) is a newspaper reporter returning to his Florida hometown to investigate inconsistencies in the case of Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a local ne’er-do-well sentenced to the electric chair for killing a police officer. Jack (Zac Efron), Ward’s brother, is enlisted to help but when he becomes infatuated with Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has been writing letters to and is apparently in love with Van Wetter, the whole case becomes much more complicated.

Everything about The Paperboy just screams trashy. The sweat-soaked tar pit of balmy 1960’s Florida is the perfect setting for this bunch of dysfunctional characters to go about their business in some of the most backward ways imaginable. Nicole Kidman urinating on Zac Efron is just one of several scenes that beggar belief. In fact, so preposterous are some scenes that it verges on parody; it’s difficult to know whether to laugh and cringe at it or with it. Despite that, it’s these scenes that are also the film’s most engrossing. When it’s trashy, it’s intriguing at least; when it slips into the more traditional territory of Zac Efron’s yearning heart, it loses something, as if the filmmakers felt they couldn’t go too leftfield with Efron to risk alienating his fans.

Almost all of the actors here are taken out of their comfort zones; John Cusack is hugely creepy as the clearly unhinged Van Wetter, whilst Matthew McConaughey continues his successful path away from the rom-coms that earned him a dodgy rep previously. It’s Nicole Kidman, however, who really stands out. Whilst some may find her character intolerable, the way she pulls it off should be commended. The fact that many of these characters are so extreme, all looking weather beaten or dolled up to the nines in Kidman’s case, makes Zac Efron a bit of an anomaly. He does well enough with what he’s given, but his preened good looks just don’t work for the tone of the film. He also spends a hell of a lot of time in little more than his pants, often for no good reason. Decide for yourself whether that’s a good thing or not.

The story isn’t one you’ll likely care about too much, at least not all of it; Matthew McConaughey’s Ward probably holds the most interesting story arc, but this is little more than a side plot. Investment in the actual story gets relegated somewhat, replaced by intrigue as to what trashy turn it’ll take next. There’s also a shed load going on under the surface, including race relations, closet homosexuality, Freudian Oedipal issues, and more besides, and it does feel a little overt, particularly when it’s unnecessarily spelled out to you in voiceover.

It’s difficult to really like The Paperboy but it does have something magnetic about it. It’s a little too reliant on its shock value which does detract from what’s going on, but the grime and dirt that oozes from every pore makes for an unsettling cocktail of discomfort and curiosity.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Side Effects

Side EffectsSteven Soderbergh has some pretty impressive films under his belt but still seems to be a director who has never quite broken into Hollywood’s elite. He’s directed big name films such as Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven and won an Academy Award in 2000 for Traffic. However, those highs didn’t really last and his latter material, including films such as Magic Mike and Contagion, has had a much more lukewarm reception. Side Effects is (apparently) going to be Soderbergh’s final film having become disillusioned with Hollywood, and it’s another decent, if unspectacular, addition to his catalogue.

When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) falls into a deep depression. After trying to kill herself, she is prescribed a new drug by her therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). However, the drug has some unexpected and life altering side effects.

Side Effects suffers from a somewhat mundane start but soon picks up pace significantly, laying off the obvious subtexts of a ubiquitous and consumer-like pharmaceutical industry in favour of a more traditional thriller with strong central performances and a twist-laden plot. Because when Side Effects is good, it’s really good; it’s slick and never lets you settle long enough to feel comfortable. However, too often it stumbles and tries to be a little too clever for its own good. At the film’s climax, just as you should be fully engaged, it throws one too many twist at you and the whole thing becomes a bit of a mess. The motives of some of the characters, particularly Jonathan, are also questionable and some choices they make do belittle the story at times.

Performances are generally strong; Rooney Mara, in her first feature since 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gives a subtle but effective performance, perfectly balancing her character’s vulnerability with something else bubbling just under the surface. However, it’s Jude Law whose performance really shines through; the dutiful doctor at the start, becoming a much more complex character by the film’s conclusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is little more than laughable as Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former shrink. Her acting is matched in eye-rolling melodrama only by her obviously foreboding black clothing and make-up. She might as well be wearing a witch’s hat. As for Channing Tatum, his small amount of screen time makes a mockery of his equal billing in the film’s advertising.

If this does indeed prove to be Soderbergh’s last film, then it’s difficult to say he’s gone out with a bang. Side Effects has a Hitchcockian dark side to it that is its strongest element (although possibly not explored enough), but it never gets out of third gear for long enough to consistently be as good as it threatens to be.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Point Blank (2010)

Point BlankSamuel (Gilles Lellouche) is a nurse who saves the life of Hugo (Roschdy Zem), a patient who’s also a wanted man – wanted by police and his partners in crime. Said partners kidnap Samuel’s wife (Elena Anaya) and will only give her back once he has smuggled the patient out of the hospital. Samuel then becomes one of the most wanted men in France and must team up with those on the wrong side of the law to save his wife.

Feeling a little like a cross between Taken and District 13, Point Blank is pretty relentless. From the outset there are fight scenes, chases and gun fights, and it rarely gives you chance to breathe, although given it’s fairly short runtime, that’s not an issue. It’s a relatively simple storyline and one that relies on its characters to add depth to it, which they generally do pretty well. However, out of nowhere it throws a series of plot revelations and new characters at you which, given the fairly simplistic narrative up to that point, can feel a little disorientating. performances are generally good, although the script and film’s length limits how much we know abut some of the characters. Hugo, for instance, is an intriguing character who could have benefited from a little more depth.

Point Blank is nothing we haven’t seen before, but it carries itself with style and is absorbing throughout. Its ending becomes slightly formulaic and, in parts, unnecessary, but there’s more than enough hear to entertain and keep your attention.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Stoker

stoker

Every year, a bunch of unproduced scripts float around Hollywood on something known as the ‘Black List’. Little known films such as Argo and The Social Network started out on the Black List before being picked up, whilst others include Juno, The Road and Safe House. One of the more recent scripts plucked from the List is Stoker, the debut screenplay from Wentworth Miller – yep, that guy from Prison Break – which has attracted Oldboy directer Park-chan Wook to direct his first English language film.

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is mourning the loss of her father when her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), of whom she was never before aware, comes to stay with her and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). However, there’s something a little off about Charlie and his presence and motives become increasingly questionable as both India and Evelyn become more and more infatuated with him.

Stoker begins rather slowly and struggles to find any kind of decent pacing. Its opening third perhaps doesn’t establish the tension and curiosity it needs to and it’s difficult to know the kind of direction the film is taking, stuck in a limbo between style and substance. However, after the half hour mark it ramps everything up significantly and it becomes a much more absorbing and enthralling film.

Mia Wasikowska & Matthew GoodeIt also makes no bones about its central themes. This is a film about strangers, sexual awakening, loss of innocence, and family relations (Brian de Palma’s Carrie is clearly an influence). It doesn’t always spell these out explicitly but rather beats you around the head with imagery and metaphors to get its point across, which can feel a little over the top at times. It is, however, exquisitely shot with a number of memorable moments – a scene between Charlie and India at the piano is a highlight, although again a (very) thinly veiled metaphor.

Stoker is a pseudo-reimagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and the entire film has a very Hitchcockian feel to it. There are some obvious parallels and similarities – uncle Charlie shares the same name is SoaD’s mysterious uncle – and there are some more subtle – stuffed birds recall Psycho, whilst the shot of India’s reflection in a pair of glasses is reminiscent of a famous shot in Strangers on a Train. Stoker even has its own (very different) shower scene. The film’s general foreboding tone also feels like a modern Hitchcock thriller with a few elements of Asian horror thrown in, refreshing a genre that has spent far too long away from cinemas.

The performances are universally rather awkward but they work for the film. Wasikowska is ideal as the film’s cold detached lead, whilst Kidman is suitably fractious. However, it’s Matthew Goode as Charlie who adds real bite to the film. Warm and friendly one minute and menacingly creepy the next, he provides a genuine sense of unease throughout.

There’s nothing in Stoker that we haven’t seen before and it may prove a somewhat divisive film, but the material is largely handled very well. It sometimes thinks a little too highly of itself and may occasionally step into self-indulgence territory, but as a dark, gothic thriller it’s atmospheric, unnerving and ultimately very effective.

4 pigeons4/5 pigeons

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What is… a Dutch Angle?

A Dutch angle is a shot whereby the camera is tilted in relation to the scene. The shot then appears to be leaning to one side. To get slightly more technical, the usual vertical lines of the shot will be at an angle to the side of the frame. Dutch angles are also referred to as canted angles, oblique angles, German angles or even sometimes Batman angles. A rarely used type of Dutch angle is the Bavarian angle, whereby the shot is tilted a full 90° so that horizontals become verticals and vice versa.

Dutch angles got their name from their conception in German expressionist cinema where they were known as ‘Deutsch’ angles – hence why they are still also known as German angles – with ‘Dutch’ being a malformed evolution of this. Dutch angles were allegedly first used in the classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to show a sense of madness, disorientation and unrest, and it’s these kind of states of mind that the technique has come to represent. It is still a widely used technique and gives a slightly ethereal quality that often gives the viewer the feeling something isn’t quite right in some respect. For example, Sam Raimi uses Dutch angles in his Evil Dead trilogy to show when someone has become possessed.

As is often the case when discussing camera techniques and the like, it’s better to see them in action, so here’s a few notable examples…

Die Hard

Die Hard

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Film Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasAnother month, another unfilmable film. Last year, Ang Lee proved that the term ‘unfilmable’ was now somewhat obsolete after turning Yann Martel’s Life of Pi into a spectacular piece of filmmaking. Now we have Cloud Atlas, another book that many deemed impossible to transition from page to screen.

Cloud Atlas has one of the most convoluted plots you could imagine. In fact, it has six different plots being told simultaneously that span various locations and lifespans. The plots range from 19th century voyages on the high seas to 1970s San Fransisco nuclear energy politics to hundreds of years in the future with most of the global population wiped out. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface but to go into more detail about the six plots would literally double the length of this review. Needless to say, the scope of Cloud Atlas is epic and requires every drop of your attention throughout its rather lengthy three hour run time.

The film flicks between the six stories reasonably often and it can initially be rather disorientating and overwhelming trying to keep track of what’s going on. That the primary actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Donna Bae, Hugh Grant, and others) play different roles in each story, all dressed and made up differently for each role, also adds to the initial confusion. However, this soon dispels and it becomes easier to follow the stories. In fact, that the film does change story so often actually keeps you more engaged.

There are various themes running throughout Cloud Atlas but the one that is most prescient is the connection of souls through different lifetimes, hence the decision to have the same actors play different roles. It is fascinating to see how actions in one story affect those in others. However, there are such huge ideas here and so many characters and plot lines to keep track of that it does feel as if the story and its ideas are simply too big for the film. Multiple viewings are almost mandatory to fully appreciate the various subtleties in each story and to see how they are linked together. Trying to piece everything together is a nigh on impossible task. It may well be sensible to simply abandon trying to work everything out, particularly on first viewing, and simply let it wash over you. Try and think too much about what you’re seeing and you’ll likely miss something important.

Each of the six stories is engaging in its own way and they vary wildly in tone. Post nuclear fallout cannibalistic tribes one minute and a group of pensioners organising an escape from a retirement home the next, Cloud Atlas certainly isn’t lacking variety. The visual effects are also outstanding, with Neo Seoul 2144 in particular looking stunning, although the make up and prosthetics used do vary in quality.

The performances are generally strong although some do get to express themselves a little more than others. Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry are rarely stretched although both Tom Hanks’ and Hugo Weaving’s characters are vastly different (the less said about Hanks’ Irish accent the better, however). Ben Wishaw is also excellent as bisexual composer Robert Frobisher who’s fated relationship with partner Robert Sixsmith is one of the most touching moments of the film.

Once the credits role on Cloud Atlas, it may well take a while for it all to sink in. There are times when the various stories’ connections are just a little too subtle, weakening the link between and, consequently, the effectiveness of the film as a whole. Directors Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski deserve great credit for attempting such a daunting task of bringing this to the screen and for the most part it’s an incredibly engaging piece of cinema. However, its themes and scale too often seem too grand for even a three hour film.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio

1970’s Italian giallo is not a film movement that is as widely celebrated as most others. It doesn’t get the same focus as German expressionism or surrealism but it’s nonetheless as striking, and it’s these films that writer/director Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio pays homage to.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a timid English sound engineer used to working on picturesque nature documentaries. However, he is summoned to work on Italian giallo film The Equestrian Vortex and must do sound work on various horrifying scenes of torture. After days upon weeks of stabbing vegetables and being bullied by the film’s director and producer, the disturbing scenes he’s providing sound for slowly start seeping into his consciousness and he starts losing his grip on reality.

Berberian Sound Studio is a real assault on the senses. The vividness of colour used is striking, with reds and yellows in particular, as often the case in giallo flicks, accentuated to the fore. As you’d expect, the sound in the film is also very important and quite spectacular. Virtually every scene is defined by its impressive use of sound, whether it is the click of tape recorders, screaming actresses, or the complete absence of sound entirely. Here, the lack of sound can be just as arresting.

Toby JonesThe sound is particularly important as we are never actually shown anything of the film Gilderoy is working on other than the lurid title sequence. Therefore, we only have the sound and dialogue to judge how distressing it is. This impressive visual and aural presentation of the film is outstandingly brought together by Chris Dickens’ editing, frantic one minute and drawn out the next.

Whereas the film excels in its presentation, it falls down somewhat on narrative, namely in its final third. Up to that point it builds slowly and draws a surprising amount of suspense out of the often banal environment of the sound studio. Something as dull as Gilderoy trying to recover his flight expenses somehow takes on sinister undertones. Toby Jones is excellent as the mild-mannered Gilderoy and there are a few touching moments that show his passion for his work. For example, when he imitates a UFO using nothing but a lightbulb and a radiator, it shows just how inventive the craft of foley really is.

However, when we do get to the film’s final third, the intriguing, brooding story developed thus far all of a sudden becomes utterly devoid of narrative coherence. It’s clearly a comment on Gilderoy’s state of mind, but it turns what was an intriguingly unsettling story into something almost incomprehensible. The ideas displayed are interesting and as visually and aurally impressive as what’s gone before but it does feel like somewhat of a let down.

For sound and film tech buffs, Berberian Sound Studio is no doubt a treat with the various pieces of equipment used, and it no doubt will resonate more with those familiar with Italian giallo. For those not well versed in either, there’s less to grab hold of but it’s a stimulating cinematic experience nonetheless.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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