I’ve spent a great deal of time recently in dark rooms in Soho watching flickering images, desperately trying to justify my time there and in not one case did a ‘girl go wild’, which is usually how these experiences end. The reason I’ve been indulging in this subterranean voyeurism is that I’ve been going to a lot of press screenings of new movies recently, something I’ve always done in my job as it’s considered professional to see a movie if you can before you cover the premiere but it’s also a glorious excuse to pretend to ‘be at work’ while in reality watching films for free in cinemas often kitted out with individual sofas, leather armchairs and free nibbles. However, I’ve been doing a lot more of this recently as I’ve started doing film reviews on top of all my other activities that I desperately try and pass off as work.
On Sunday I chatted to perennial Hollywood hunk Brad Pitt at the world premiere of his new movie, zombie thriller World War Z (out 21st June) and as you’d expect, he was very cool, very charming and rather handsome. However, I told him I liked the movie (I’d been to the screening that morning), which I did… in a way. The problem is, the version I saw was in 3D. I hate 3D. It’s not immersive like those rides at theme parks as a kid – remember the pirate ship one at Thorpe Park where you actually got wet!? I know I may be in a minority here but 3D should only be used where visuals are everything and the story is told in a skilful enough manner that it adds to, not detracts from, the experience. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is the only example that comes to mind. However, with World War Z as with so many other 3D projects, it made everything on screen too busy, too hard to watch and you didn’t know what the flaming heck was going on in the most frenetic of the action scenes, a real shame as the film’s spectacular swarms of zombies are a major selling-point. I knew this was bad when one character perished, his death and it’s manner a major plot turning point and I didn’t know if the zombies had got him, Brad himself had done him in or even if mighty Zeus had struck him down with a celestial thunderbolt. When you try so hard with the visuals that the story gets utterly lost, that ain’t good.
As it always does, my heart sank when I walked into the screening and was handed a pair of 3D glasses (they never fit either) as I was excited about this movie but I was right to worry. I wrote my review (hear it on 94.9 BBC London on Thursday morning) giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, the essential message being ‘This movie’s good if you see it in 2D… which I didn’t…but it’s probably alright like that….BYE!’ I know I’ve sounded like an old stick in the mud the past couple of weeks, expressing my annoyance at the proliferation of glossy franchise movies last week and attacking the biggest advancement in film visuals for decades but at the heart of cinema is story-telling, that’s what it’s about. The film is a conduit for a story and new shooting techniques should enhance this.
The other film I saw this week was Behind the Candelabra. No flashy effects (but plenty of camp 70s kitsch), just a group of great actors, telling an absorbing story, very well. For those of you who aren’t aware of this movie it’s the true story of piano virtuoso and Vegas showman Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his dysfunctional love affair and relationship with the impressionable young Scott (Matt Damon). I don’t want to say much more as this film has been highly praised (and it should have won at Cannes) and I don’t want it to suffer from Inception-syndrome, where the reality can’t possibly match the hype, but it’s very funny, sad and beautifully acted and worth going to see if only for Rob Lowe’s turn as a whisky-swilling, devil may care, alien-faced plastic surgeon.
Behind the Candelabra is a perfect example of what cinema can be when story is everything and the aesthetic is an extension of that and in the age of the glossy, all-conquering 3D and franchise movies I believe it’s time to refocus on substance over style. Ironic that I should be making this point with a film about Liberace, a man who dressed like Batman’s attention-seeking cousin but underneath it all there was a wonderful story to tell and that’s what mattered.
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