Archive | December, 2011

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

20 Dec

In a move decidedly lacking in Christmas spirit, (very) early this morning, livewithfilm chose to hunker down for a viewing of a horror classic. Whilst no critic could argue the seasonal value of Polanski’s film, livewithfilm’s favoured festive flick can also be seen as a leftfield option. Qualifying because the chaos happens to be doused in snow (see also Die Hard (1988)), Gremlins (1984) surely tops the Christmas list. Whilst Livewithfilm admits that a film concerning a troop of nightmarish monsters doesn’t immediately evoke seasonal cheer, Dante’s film provides a hilariously grim vision of the festivities. At the very least, when long lost Santa imitators are discovered decomposing up chimneys, Gremlins can serve to affirm that the livewithfilm Christmas can never sink so low.

In Roman Polanski’sNew Yorknightmare, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) relocate to a new flat with peculiar surroundings. Genial elderly neighbours Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) immediately impose themselves on the young couple, obsessing over their attempts at a baby. Once her husband’s acting career begins to dramatically improve, Rosemary mysteriously endures a dream in which a demon impregnates her. Swiftly discovering that she is pregnant, Rosemary begins to regularly meet with a doctor recommended by the Castavets. After her curious friend falls into a sudden coma, Rosemary begins to read up on the supernatural, becoming concerned that her new born baby may soon fall victim to a coven of witches.

Polanski’s film combines diverse fears from many parts of the human psyche, creating a relentlessly unsettling film that steadily leads to a shocking climax. Rosemary’s Baby succeeds most when, aside from in symbolic dream sequences, the film remains eerily tied to reality. Building to a powerfully disturbing dénouement, the supernatural side of the horror sits terrifyingly easily beside a recognisable depiction of human life. Rosemary’s satanic fears are clearly analogous with suspicions surrounding pregnancy and her brittle relationship with Guy, a husband willing to resign his wife to eternal damnation for a shot at the big time. Potentially amplified by the psychological issues surrounding a 3am finishing time, Rosemary’s Baby left livewithfilm shaken but engrossed. Just steer clear of the chalky chocolate mousse this Christmas (few, shoehorned it in).

Alien Resurrection (1997)

15 Dec

So in the interests of an impartial take on cinema, livewithfilm chose to take in a viewing of this 90’s franchise-wrecker after it appeared on the television schedules. Even though undoubtedly a curve ball option for critique from a continuous piece of film writing, the finale of this quadrilogy (don’t blame livewithfilm) surfaced (or should it be burst?) just in time for a livewithfilm treatment. Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s film also saves livewithfilm from the quandary mentioned at the beginning of Tuesday’s Breathless. After all, Alien Resurrection is hardly the most adored instalment in the series let alone as a standalone piece of cinema. Perhaps this was the instance of mediocrity that livewithfilm needed to unleash a true filmic lambasting.

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a clone of her former self, created by a shadowy corporation who wish to exploit the monstrous potential her half-alien existence provides. Unbeknown to a crew of bounty hunters who have joined the ship, the scientific vessel is also harbouring a vast array of hideous aliens. However, as all evil filmic plots are certain to conclude, these nibbly beasties quickly escape. Cue widespread crew consumption. Fleeing for their lives, the bounty hunters and Ripley must destroy the space ship before it plunges into earth and unleashes its hungry cargo.

Perhaps it is indicative of the narrative issues of Alien Resurrection that, say in comparison to the sparseness of Breathless, livewithfilm found writing this plot summary decidedly tricky. Stripped down, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film is a ghost story in space. Yet Alien Resurrection’s failure to deliver such scares is made even more apparent thanks to its climactic position in a series of classic sci-fi shockers. The subtlety of Alien (1979) is shoddily mimicked and only made livewithfilm yearn for Scott’s chilling original. Even the bravado fuelled bullet-fest that is Aliens (1986) commands more nuance than the laughably hyperbolic Resurrection. For even if it is chiefly unintentional, there is entertainment to be found in Jeunet’s film. There was little livewithfilm could do but chuckle as previously unbeatable alien fiends were swiftly felled with smartly placed quips. Keeping tongue in cheek, the always enthralling Ron Perlman manages to emerge relatively unharmed from this murk of unsubtly. But it is the stolidly serious Winona Ryder who suffers most, her attempts to bring solemnity to this whirlwind of whimsy sitting very ill. In space, everyone can hear you laugh.

Breathless (1960)

13 Dec

Livewithfilm is in a bind. Whilst the idea of watching and writing about a variety of films first seemed akin to an exposé of cinema, an intriguing journey into celluloid, the interests of livewithfilm has left the blog in an odd position. Each film chosen by livewithfilm has been, quelle surprise, one that livewithfilm has desired to see. The task of constantly watching and writing about films would be far more strenuous if all that this blogger chose was dross. Yet in conforming to such logical intentions, livewithfilm has managed to report on a series of enjoyable and pleasing movies. There have been misfires: Taffin was no masterpiece for sure; The Devil Rides Out and 3:10 To Yuma were flawed yet compelling watches. However, the films chosen have been nearly universally liked. Maybe livewithfilm is overdue a painful watch. This all occurred to the blogger after having chosen Godard’s Breathless, a film well loved and admired by many. Livewithfilm has been looking forward to watching this Nouvelle Vague classic for some time but perhaps it should be the final ‘classic’ that the blog chooses. To experience the highs, must livewithfilm endure the lows?

Jean-Luc Godard’s Parisian thriller-come-love-story sees Michel Polccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the run after stealing a car and shooting a policeman. Travelling to the capital, Michel meets past sweetheart Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg). Unsure whether to travel toItaly, Michel and Patricia begin to reignite their adoration for one another.

It is frankly a miracle that livewithfilm managed to squeeze out this much of a plot from Godard’s elusive and intangible piece. For what is meaningful in Breathless is in fleeting conversation, passing remarks and intriguing images. Nothing is as literal as it first appears which can be infuriating. Even though Livewithfilm found Breathless less wilfully obtuse than Vivre sa Vie and with fewer unintentional moments of hilarity than Jules et Jim, Godard’s film often seems difficult to a near pretentious standard. Had livewithfilm failed in the filmmaker’s eyes when it did not issue a droll French guffaw with the character who stated that his life’s goal was ‘to become immortal and then die’? But reader do not fear, Breathless did not fly completely over your blogger’s head. The quick interchanges between Patricia and Michel are hypnotic, effortlessly breaking down all ideas of romantic love. Key to its success, Breathless exudes cool. The sight of Michel glancing his shaded eyes over a newspaper, cigarette coquettishly held and hat irreverently balanced, is as smooth and graceful as cinema comes. So another livewithfilm recommendation then…

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

12 Dec

Back once again after the weekly two day hiatus, livewithfilm felt revitalised and keen to return to watching. Perhaps last week’s choices were particularly successful. Killer infants and marauding elderly murderers seem to be the watchword for invigorated blogging. Either that or it was due to the frankly pitiful showing of only two films. Whatever the reason, today’s livewithfilm selection could hold unknowable ramifications for the upcoming weeks. A poor choice and the blog teeters on a knife’s edge. How apt then that livewithfilm remained so close to this image, a sharp symbol that runs through Dario Argento’s Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

As American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) aimlessly wanders the streets ofRome, he is witness to a brutal art gallery stabbing. Trapped between two glass shutters, Sam is forced to watch on as Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) suffers beyond his reach. Sam quickly becomes obsessed, searching for clues regarding the black coated perpetrator. As further female bodies are discovered across the Italian city, Sam and his partner Julia (Suzy Kendall) are stalked by mysterious figures through the gloomy streets. Yet a niggling doubt pesters Sam. Uncertain about the validity of what he saw at the gallery, the American’s amateurish detective work becomes a race to unearth facts trapped within his own mind.

Argento’s Giallo inflected Bird With the Crystal Plumage, clearly leans heavily on Fritz Lang, Hitchcock and noir traditions. Nevertheless, the Italian writer director transmutes the thriller genre to create an often bizarre malaise of paranormal eroticism. As pretentious as this first sounds, Argento’s technique creates a chilling and unsettling murder mystery. As progressively more glamorous women become victims, the spiralling female body count does begin to err on an unfortunately misogynistic sado-masochism. However Argento manages to overcome this regrettable trend with a supernatural undercurrent that tinges the film with a peculiar lucidity. Nothing is what it seems in Bird With the Crystal Plumage; a thrilling mystery that is as creepy as it is captivating. Just steer clear of the many pronged art installations.

The Psychopath (1966)

7 Dec

Today’s livewithfilm selection is indebted to the Up the Video Junction film shop in Camden market. After a lengthy discussion with the proprietor, livewithfilm left with Freddie Francis’ The Psychopath, an Amicus horror production that has never been released on DVD. Whilst such rarity remained an exciting prospect for livewithfilm, there was always one question in this blogger’s mind: why? Had livewithfilm stumbled into purchasing a 60s British horror too dire to be seen? Or perhaps The Psychopath could be a lost gem, a relic of an exciting production company that has faded into obscurity. Whatever it was, it provided livewithfilm with another excuse to huddle in front of a movie.

A series of bizarre murders are discovered, each with a doll of the victim being found at the scene. Inspector Holloway (Patrick Wymark) begins to suspect a link between the four casualties and investigates a conspiracy that leads back to the Second World War. Key suspect is wheelchair bound Mrs Von Sturm (Margret Johnston, playing her part in a fantastic Germanic acting tradition of replacing ‘w’s with ‘v’s) whose husband was embroiled in a war crimes case against the four victims. Von Sturm’s son (the equally unsettling John Standing) completes the suspect list, his neuroticism signposting a fragile psychological state that threatens to rupture at any point.

Freddie Francis’ film is an oddly unsettling movie, a combination of mystery and horror that casts disturbing shadows. Margret Johnston and John Standing combine to make an imposing family of maniacs, similar to the Bates of Psycho (1960) but with a unique ambiguity that separates them from Hitchcock’s nightmarish brood. If you haven’t guessed who the culprit is within the first half hour, you aren’t trying. Even livewithfilm, after a full day at work and with drowsiness clouding the mind, could point out the homicidal toy enthusiast from a mile off. Yet impressively, this removed little from Francis’ film. The most fun is to be had in the inventiveness of The Psychopath. Surely understanding that even the film’s poster signposts who the villain is, Francis creates a film that throws up some surprises along the way. The plot does occasionally sag under the weight of exposition and livewithfilm was counting down the minutes until Mrs Von Sturm got out of her wheelchair once the idea of ‘hysterical paralysis’ was thrown about. Nevertheless, the final scene is a genuinely creepy moment that is worth waiting for. Although hardly a classic, The Psychopath remains an entertaining piece of genre fun that chills rather than terrifies.

It’s Alive (1973)

6 Dec

Mon Dieu! As livewithfilm is sure that you’re aware, today’s film is not the second part of the French gangster flick Mesrine as previously promised. Battling to get back on the filmic trail, livewithfilm surprisingly felt little enthusiasm about watching the latter antics of the flashy bank robber. Unfortunately apathetic, livewithfilm decided to make a tactical decision regarding the blogosphere. Pure entertainment must prevail if the blog is to continue. Whilst Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part One) was enjoyably tense, cheap thrills were on the cards today instead.

Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive supposes that the wealth of chemicals and drugs that saturate the modern world (well, 1973 at least) hold disastrous ramifications for our young. Parents Frank (John Ryan) and Lenore Davis (Sharon Farrell) await the birth of their second child in their sleepy local hospital. However, when gored doctors begin to stagger from the labour room and police replace surgical tape with a security cordon, Frank begins to think the worst. Having slaughtered the surgical team that has assisted in his birth, theDavis baby escapes to begin a bloody killing spree. Repulsed, Frank pursues, intent on enacting his son’s destruction. Yet when Frank begins to question the law forces that hunt his fanged spawn, he warms to the child and realises the greater evil that he is a part of.

A trashy treat, Cohen’s film is a creature feature that contributes buckets of fake blood to the paedophobic nightmare of Rosemary’s Baby (1968). But this isn’t the Devil’s work; we have bought this upon ourselves (cue livewithfilm frantically recycling to avoid being devoured by a toothed infant). The Davis baby tears holes in the establishment, exposing the cruelty and manipulation that lies within. When Frank recognises the link between his son and the misjudged Frankenstein’s Monster, his change of heart exposes the child as downtrodden victim. Yet Cohen keeps It’s Alive distant from preaching, a territory the film could have easily slipped into whilst portraying the after effects of pollution and moral failure. Instead the tongue is firmly in the creepy cheek. Any horror in which the town’s police force question whether a monstrous baby will ‘double back on itself’ to fox the authorities, is suitably aware of its eccentricities. It’s Alive has lost some of its shock value with age; munched milkmen and bright daubs of red remain darkly funny with little arising to make skin crawl. Nevertheless livewithfilm thoroughly enjoyed this piece of genre fun. Perhaps this is a trilogy that will turn out to be more enthralling.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part 1) (2008)

1 Dec

Whilst livewithfilm recognises that watching a film a day was always going to be somewhat of a tricky task, today’s viewing was hampered by an unforeseen difficulty. Blindsided by a flat tyre after work, livewithfilm found itself on a lengthy trek home. Whilst the failure of the bike was infuriating enough, the prospect of the upcoming film loomed large in livewithfilm’s mind as the hours rolled by. After all, it has rarely been an uncomfortable task to watch and write about a film every day (even though livewithfilm would be the first to say that it hasn’t quite succeeded). Instead, the fatigue-about-all-things-filmic has only arisen thanks to the vast amounts of time that such a task takes up after a working day. Perhaps livewithfilm should have reinvigorated itself by taking inspiration from its two wheeled quandary. Maybe Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves could have calmed the spokes. On second thoughts, Rubber, in which a homicidal tyre terrorises a desert town, may have better encapsulated livewithfilm’s rage at time lost to the pedal.

Jean-Francis Richet’s film Mesrine: Killer Instinct charts the tumultuous real life of French bank robber Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) as he rose from soldier to gangster. Living with his parents after serving inAlgeria, Mesrine is penniless and without direction. However, once drawn into the violent world of mob boss Guido (Gerard Depardieu), Mesrine begins to excel in this world of quick-cash risk taking. Immersed in the vices of 60s Paris, Mesrine is surrounded by sex and aggression, ultimately choosing a life of crime over his family. Accompanied by the reckless Jeanne Schneider (Cécile De France), Mesrine becomes an infamous kidnapper and murderer. Once incarcerated, the hardened criminal plans the outrageous escape that made his name.

The major difficulty that faces Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the fallibility of its antihero. Vincent Cassel smoothly fuses sophistication with intimidation as Mesrine, providing the character with a panache that surpasses the actor’s impressive oeuvre. Yet whilst following this brutal life, Richet’s film envisages a violently sexist, racist and repulsive individual. Although audience empathy is an impossible aspiration for such a figure, Richet manages to create a film that revels in such emotional ambiguity. It is a credit to the director that Mesrine is left to be truly abhorrent whilst occupying the central role. Perhaps a criticism of the fame that came to follow the gangster’s actions, the film manages to become an unflinching depiction of a conflicted individual.

This does not mean that Mesrine: Killer Instinct cannot be effortlessly stylish and everything you’d expect from a French crime thriller. The film maintains a devotion to the French New Wave as it fractures the camera lens and delights in time lapses. Maintaining the film’s 60s setting, the warring pimps and downtrodden prostitutes reveal Richet’s debt to Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. Amidst such ostentation, Mesrine: Killer Instict remains an enjoyable film, racing the audience towards a final gripping conclusion. Even though the contemptible hatred that exudes from the title character had livewithfilm occasionally screaming for his comeuppance, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is an exciting and thoroughly French action thriller. Tomorrow, part deux!