Archive | January, 2012

Jaws II (1978) or: Just when livewithfilm thought it was safe to go back in the blogosphere

31 Jan

With some surprise, livewithfilm found itself entering into a debate that has been raging since 1916 and the movie industry’s first sequel (Thomas F. Dixon Jr.’s The Fall of a Nation if anyone’s interested…Not just a pretty blog after all). Discussing the issue with friends, this blogger discovered that Jaws II remains a stalwart player in the ‘better-than-the-original-movie’ question. Whilst many classics have seen a sequel exceed their own worth, livewithfilm did not expect Speilberg’s Jaws to be a part of such a canon. That many see the second outing for this swimmer munching franchise to be superior to the first remained too tantalising a possibility for livewithfilm. Could the return of Police Chief Brody really be better than the first? Will livewithfilm once again be scared out of swimming in the sea for another few years?

After defeating the original shark with a well placed shot to the gas cylinder, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) is happy for summer revellers to return toAmityIsland. But when Brody suspects that a new great white has caused the deaths of two divers and a water skier, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) chooses to ignore his warnings. Fired from his post for the over-zealous protection of beaches, Brody must watch on in horror as evidence piles up to suggest a hungry beast is in the water once more.

Judged on its own, Jaws II is an entertaining watch that has kept livewithfilm distant from any large spaces of water ever since. Creepy rather than scary, Jeannot Szwarc’s film stages progressively more ludicrous situations for the beast to indulge in its taste for humans. At points seeming like a brainstorming session on how to make a shark attack as intense an experience as possible, Jaws II sees the watery beast attacking boaters whilst on fire and sporting a classic ‘evil’ filmic facial disfigurement. Compared to Spielberg’s original though, this return of the shark feels a tad underwhelming. No doubt an impossible task, Jaws II often retreads old ground with little of the original’s flair. People will always run into the water and crooked mayors can be relied upon to disregard public safety in favour of monetary gains. Even though both films effectively present nature ‘red in tooth and claw’, the unrelenting beast of Jaws II seems a far more rubbery creation; much to the detriment of any tension, the second shark frequently emerges from the water to expose itself in all of its prosthetic glory. The next question on livewithfilm’s lips: how do the other additions to the shark franchise fare? Jaws 4 : The Revenge (1987) does boast Michael Cane…

Melancholia (2011)

25 Jan

Dissatisfied with the major collapse in recent reviewing, livewithfilm resolutely declared its intent to write tonight despite a hectic schedule. For it seems that the greatest barrier to constant film viewing is the prospect of a social life in any form. Before you suggest it, The Social Network (2010) does not provide a satisfying middle ground for such a quandary. Yet luckily enough, livewithfilm was able to head down to the Prince Charles Cinema this week (its favourite picture-house), catching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in the process. This blogger would have struggled to find a more fitting watch in the week that held ‘blue Monday’, the apocalyptic vision playing easily beside the most morose day of the calendar.

Whilst Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) hurries to organise a lavish wedding for her depressed sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst), questions are raised about the movements of celestial body Melancholia. Infuriated by Justine’s mental illness, Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) remains sure that the planet will not crash into planet Earth as many suspect. Yet Claire maintains doubt about humanity’s future, collapsing with anxiety just as Justine begins to find faith in her own pessimism.

An auteur who can be relied upon for the production of challenging work, Von Trier once again defies expectations with Melancholia. Moving from the gut-wrenchingly grisly Antichrist (2009) into science fiction, the director’s work has always been an exciting, if not always successfully executed, prospect. Whilst there are tinges of Renoir’s manor house farce La Règle du Jeu (1939), Melancholia most certainly is not laugh-a-minute fun. Seemingly the realisation of a high concept idea, the film explores varying psychological reactions to the inescapable destruction of humanity with subtlety and artistic flair. Livewithfilm told you it was a tough watch. Yet whilst this blogger was embroiled within the pervading gloom of Melancholia’s subject matter, Von Trier’s film impressively remains a compelling watch. As seditious as Festen (1998), Melancholia’s subversion of the family unit is a gleefully uncomfortable vision from the rebellious Dane and neatly mirrors the Earth’s inevitable disintegration. Furthermore, Melancholia’s inquisitive exploration of the power of depression becomes even more poignant once recognition is given to Von Trier’s close relationship with the disease.

Kill List (2011)

23 Jan

It seemed bizarrely to the benefit of livewithfilm that the majority of last week was spent hunkered down underneath the duvet, sheltering from the ill-effects of flu. Aside from making headway into the burgeoning DVD collection, livewithfilm had the ability to do very little else. So parting the clouds spewing from the hot lemon nestled beneath its nose, livewithfilm set about a dedicated routine of recovery in front of some high quality celluloid. In hindsight, Ben Wheatley’s troubling shock fest most probably did very little for the livewithfilm constitution. This darkly unsettling movie had received impressive plaudits, featuring in many esteemed ‘best of’ lists and thus rendering itself an unmissable prospect for any self respecting horror enthusiast. Any film which almost made esteemed reviewer and shock aficionado Nigel Floyd flee from the cinema must be worth catching.

After an ill fated job inKiev,Iraqwar veteran and hired killer Jay (Neil Maskell) has remained out of work for many months. Met by accomplice Gal (Michael Smiley) and encouraged by wife Shel (MyAnna Buring), Neil returns to a shady assignment that boasts an impressive payoff. However, the seemingly routine trio of killings begin to unravel for the pair, their work becoming embroiled with that of a supernatural sect.

The most uncomfortable watch livewithfilm has had for some time, Wheatley’s film remains an imposing and compelling piece. Tinged with a domestic tension akin to that of Mike Leigh, Kill List’s preliminary scenes of uneasy dinner parties and fraught conversations set the tone for the film’s dramatic descent. Setting this kitchen-sink style alongside the frantic brutality of the film’s later horror is Wheatley’s most powerful tool. That many scenes instil normality renders the ensuing violence all the more terrifying as the ‘horrific’ begins to permeate a recognisable world. Linked in this thread to The Blair Witch Project (1999), Kill List becomes a genre manipulating, realist horror. Wheatley can use this to create a realisation of the shattering effect that a soldier’s lingering aggression can have on the family unit. Unsurprisingly, this was hardly the holistic therapy livewithfilm needed to overcome the common cold. However, Kill List afflicted the greatest indignity on this blogger’s soothing hot lemon, the drink sent flying in one of the film’s more intense sequences.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

18 Jan

Livewithfilm holds up its hands and admits that prior to today’s viewing, it had never seen a Woody Allen film. Question livewithfilm’s ability to critique modern cinema if you wish, but the writer director had unwittingly slipped past this blogger. Unable to catch Allen’s artistry in its apparent heyday, livewithfilm has been witness to what many claim to be the auteur’s ‘difficult patch’. It remains tricky approaching the oeuvre of an established director when faced with a wave of damming criticism levelled at their more contemporary work. However, spurred on by its success at the Golden Globes this week, livewithfilm felt duty bound to catch Midnight in Paris.

Holidaying inParis, struggling screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) clash over their differing opinions on the French capital. Whilst Gil attempts to find inspiration for a work of greater artistic integrity, Inez rejects such romanticism, instead pressing for their return toMalibu. The couple are joined by Inez’s friend Paul (Micheal Sheen), a pompous intellectual who frustrates Gil. Leaving the pair to a night of dancing, Gil decides to wander the streets. Stopping to get his bearings, an archaic car swiftly leads him away. Meeting and interacting with esteemed writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddlestone) and Ernest Hemmingway (Corey Stoll), Gil becomes aware that he has been transported back to the 1920s.

An infuriating work, Midnight in Paris waves its self acclaimed charm in the audience’s face, becoming as pretentious as pseudo-intellectual character Paul. Whilst the unexplained time travel and steadily emerging literati remain intriguing instances of magical-realism, Allen deadens such elements under copious levels of emphasis. It felt neither natural nor nuanced to find each significant historic figure bellowing their own name, discussing their respective magnum-opuses and conforming to established stereotypes; it is hardly insightful to play Dali and the surrealists for comedy as they spout their bizarre waffle. Midnight in Paris fails to recognise that wheeling out successive figures famed for their own artistry does not guarantee the film any respective integrity by proxy. Moreover, through no fault of the cast, Allen manages to assemble a band of astoundingly annoying characters. To have each maddening individual leave the film’s supposed dénouement just as they entered, left a bitter taste in the livewithfilm mouth and affirmed the piece as an utterly pointless venture.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

12 Jan

The January rush has hit this blog particularly hard. Unfortunately (cruel world!) it was livewithfilm’s ability to catch regular doses of celluloid that suffered amidst an array of New Year’s resolutions; attempting to truly live with film does little for the post Christmas waistline. Perhaps this is a sign from a filmic higher being (the projectionist?) to search for motivation within the four walls of the screen. Already having undergone a Rocky marathon, enduring all six films in one lengthy sitting, livewithfilm feels a true aficionado of the eighties training montage (see also The Karate Kid (1984) Dirty Dancing (1987)). Whilst Rocky III (1982) is without doubt the pick of the muscle-bound bunch, benefitting from a wild pairing of Mr T. and Hulk Hogan, livewithfilm feels the need to search for new motivational climbs. So bear this in mind faithful reader and bear with livewithfilm in the following weeks. Today’s choice though is the primate ridden Rise of the Planet of the Apes. At least they eat lots of bananas – a healthy choice for 2012 indeed!

Using chimpanzees to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) feels he is nearing a cure when his prize specimen Bright Eyes unexpectedly runs rampant through the laboratory. Believing that the ‘cure’ injected into the ape has driven it wild, Rodman loses his funding and is unable to continue his work. However, when returning to the laboratory Rodman discovers a baby chimp in Bright Eyes’ cage that he swiftly takes home. The young monkey Caesar (Andy Serkis) immediately displays an advanced hereditary intelligence, suggesting that a cure may be within reach for Rodman’s long suffering father. Yet Caeser’s brainpower begins to create unexpected issues. Aware of the injustices enacted upon him and his mother by humanity, Caesar grows resentful and yearns for interaction with his own race. But when he is impounded by an animal control facility and submitted to ritual humiliation by the cruel owners, the hyper-intelligent chimp begins to plan for rebellion.

Rupert Wyatt’s film is a surprisingly issue driven piece that tackles animal testing and genetic engineering with a profundity that rarely errs on sentimentality. Whereas it would have been easy for the film to spout about its own significance whilst it waxed lyrical on the cruelty of humanity, Rise of the Planet of the Apes retains an entertaining and rousing core amidst such issues. The final sequence of ‘aping around’ (livewithfilm deserves at least one) had this blogger jeering his own species with a worrying fervour. Key to the film’s success, Andy Serkis delivers another impressive piece of performance capture acting as Caesar. At once convincing and compelling, Serkis forces a beating heart into a performance that would previously have been delivered with hollow pixelisation.

Contagion (2011)

9 Jan

There is a limit to how enjoyable a film can be on a plane. Whilst livewithfilm would never grumble about the prospect of international travel, tiny screens and blasts of sunlight from nearby windows do not lend themselves to immersive viewing. Boarding the livewithfilm jet, this blogger was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of recent films that it had missed (presumably whilst choosing to take in the much dated It’s Alive instead). Excited about the prospect of many contemporary additions to the blog, livewithfilm readied itself for the journey-come-filmic-marathon ahead. Yet if there’s one picture guaranteed to spook in such a contained space, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion was that film.

As soon as global traveller Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip to Hong Kongshe falls fatally ill. The recently widowed Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) must contain his emotions as his son swiftly succumbs to the same mystery disease. Puzzled by his supposed immunity, Mitch struggles to protect his daughter as the same infection that felled half his family becomes a worldwide epidemic. Working at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) begins to work on the containment issues surrounding the breakout. As the death count begins to spiral, Cheever hires Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to investigate the virus. Allen (Jude Law), a militant blogger intent on uncovering a conspiracy surrounding the missing cure, begins to receive a great number of hits on his website when he names a supposedly successful treatment. Simultaneously, Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) of the World Health Organisation follows the movements of original patient Beth toHong Kong.

Soderberg’s film is undoubtedly a B movie idea, performed by a cast with A list pretentions. Contagion is a revolt of nature, a disaster movie set to convince the audience that we are resigned to a grim demise predestined by our modern existences. Realistically, livewithfilm would never have encountered Contagion if it were not for Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968); the pair of films both see humanity reduced a race of ‘the wandering contagious’, naïve to their infectiousness, whilst a shady power attempts to obscure responsibility. Contagion is just as tense as the 60s shocker, tracking the disease from person to person with an intimidating indifference. The epic scale of the epidemic is deftly mastered by Soderberg, recalling the desolate Americana of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006). However, the numerous characters in Soderberg’s film often feel distant; disparate stories mean that each protagonist has little time to earn the empathy they require. Nevertheless, to feel the full impact of Contagion, livewithfilm had to simply measure the distance it leapt when a fellow traveller sneezed.

The Artist (2011)

4 Jan

Whilst livewithfilm’s gift to itself this Christmas was a yuletide distance from the computer, this blogger was unable to fully escape a wealth of filmic viewing. Alongside taking advantage of a television schedule stuffed with celluloid, livewithfilm was even able to find time in its busy schedule to head to the multiplex. Thus even though many of the upcoming films were not watched and reviewed on the same day and therefore do not abide by livewithfilm’s stringent regulations, such wintery gems could not be ignored. An apt choice for this critic’s first 2012 post, The Artist was caught by livewithfilm on the cusp of the new year.

America, 1927. On the opening night of his spy thriller ‘A Russian Affair’, movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) greets his adoring public with an insatiable glee. Yet a kiss from fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) on the celebrity’s cheek instead brands this optimistic nobody as the next hot property inHollywood. After auditioning as a dancer for Valentin’s new production, Miller is gifted a role by the actor and swiftly grows into an audience favourite in modern sound pictures. However, Valentin resists his studio bosses, intending to remain working in silent pictures. Directing and starring in new soundless movie ‘Tears of Love’, Valentin is crushed when Miller’s latest film trounces Valentin at the box office, leaving his career in tatters.

Left unmentioned in the synopsis yet highly significant to the plot, Michel Hazanavicius’s film is black and white and silent. Although The Artist is a visually and aurally stunning piece, much has also been made of the historical significance of this choice; the production of a modern film in this manner without doubt reflects positively on the timeless nature of the now outdated form. The relative experimentation deployed by Hazanavicius undoubtedly exposes the great artistic potential still available to the medium. However most importantly, The Artist is a success because of its witty performances and touching plot. Hazanavicius’s film is a relentlessly enjoyable and uplifting work that left livewithfilm laughing and weeping in the aisles. Seen with two hours left of 2011, The Artist immediately became this blog’s film of the year. Abandon any inhibitions regarding black and white cinema immediately and search out this heart-rending gem. If that doesn’t draw you in, it does boast a life-saving comedy dog.