Archive | March, 2012

Silent Running (1972) & 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – livewithfilm double bill no.1

20 Mar

After yesterday’s preamble, livewithfilm was greatly excited to commence its science fiction double bill at the Prince Charles Cinema (a movie house highly favoured by this blogger). Signifying a respectable film marathon, livewithfilm entered the cinema with the sun high in the sky, only to emerge five hours later as nocturnal creatures were creeping through Leicester Square. Preparation felt vital before such a milestone viewing. Crucially the combination of sweet and salted popcorn, served in a towering receptacle, provided satisfying pick me ups throughout the screening; like a long distance runner rationing out carbohydrate boosts, livewithfilm had to time its consumption of the fluffy treat to perfection. Whilst so far appearing like a dimly lit feast, the pairing left this blogger awestruck, amazed and appalled in equal measure. Livewithfilm urges you to see Silent Running and (especially) 2001 at the big screen. Space was especially deep and robots particularly monstrous when looming over this blogger, amplifying the dread that pervades both movies.

Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running envisions a future for earth where all vegetation has been destroyed, only replicated and maintained in stellar greenhouses. Devoted astronaut Lowell (Bruce Dern) refuses to accept the loss of his plants once orders come to destroy these sanctuaries. The gardener is forced to defend his vegetation by any means possible, ultimately plunging himself into deep space accompanied only by a trio of amiable robotic companions. Thus the tone was set for a bleak approaching dystopia, Trumbull deftly opposing militant human warmth with the oblivion of dark space. Occasionally faltering into a dated vision of 60s folk music, Silent Running permitted the audience their first laughter of the night: the emergence ofLowell, accompanied by golden eagle, set to the wails of Joan Baez. Nevertheless,Trumbull’s film managed to convey an impressively timeless message and left the watching crowds weeping in the isles.

Leaving no time to dab away the tears, Stanley Kubrick’s near impenetrable 2001: A Space Odyssey swiftly followed. Moving through the dawn of man (depressingly enough when apes learned to bludgeon each other to death) to space travel and exploration, Kubrick’s expansive vision of evolution is undoubtedly memorable. After a mysterious discovery on the moon, 2001 leaps through time to witness the outcomes of a technologically advanced mission to Jupiter. Accompanying scientists Dave (Keir Dullea) and Frank (Gary Lockwood) is the HAL 9000, a computer which can mimic human emotions. But once a misjudgement by HAL leads the crew to question whether the computer should be shut down, the Jupiter mission becomes increasingly treacherous. Despite its lengthy running time (the cinema did provide a pleasant three minute interval mid way through), 2001 was an utterly riveting piece of filmmaking. Filled with impossible special affects that kept livewithfilm guessing, Kubrick’s film is visually spectacular. Even after four hours of star studded skyline, the dreadful expanses of space remained deeply ominous and uncomfortable. A far darker vision of the impenetrability of space than Silent Running, 2001 was an unrelenting watch. Pushing midnight, the final colourful montage and ensuing surrealism left livewithfilm somewhat baffled (continuance of evolution? the possibilities of unknown space?) but transfixed. Bring on another double bill! But not before an early night…

A small step for mankind. A giant leap for Livewithfilm…

19 Mar

Livewithfilm is unable to post another review today, if only with the expectation of greater blogs to come. Yes this dedicated blogger has been beaten by his desire to absorb all things filmic and today must throw in the towel until tomorrow’s double-post-spectacular. About to rush to the Prince Charles Cinema, livewithfilm will tonight take in a viewing of a classic sci-fi double bill: Silent Running (1972) followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

This entry must be brief as time is tight before the show begins, but hold tight loyal followers! How will these films compare? Which will emerge victorious as livewithfilm emerges bleary eyed into Leicester Square? Will livewithfilm manage to stay awake throughout the mammoth movie pairing after a long day at work? And most importantly, salty or sweet popcorn at the interval? A necessary sugar surge or a sharp shock to the system? All these answers (and hopefully some interesting ones too) will be answered tomorrow after livewithfilm enjoys its first cinema double bill!

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) – or livewithfilm runs for the shadows in these Golden Years

15 Mar

Livewithfilm came to Nicholas Roeg’s science fiction thriller for a particularly shallow reason: the prominent position of the indomitable David Bowie. Ever a fan of the work of The Thin White Duke and assured that The Man Who Fell to Earth was an interesting piece of cinema, livewithfilm felt duty bound to watch. If Roeg’s film turned out to be a disappointment at least this blogger will have gleefully spent two hours in the presence of its favourite star. Filmed mid way through Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, it was odd an odd experience for livewithfilm to observe favourite albums coming to life in front of its eyes. As the cover sleeves attest, Bowie drew extensive artistic inspiration from Roeg’s film whilst making his albums ‘Station to Station’ and ‘Low’. So livewithfilm donned the spray on black trousers and picked up a shadowy waistcoat from the nearest Diamond Dog, assured that the next two hours was a key moment for this devotee.

Walking away from a mysterious explosion in the American wilderness, Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) seems to greet Earth as an outsider. Armed with a briefcase full of jewellery and a series of patents that pave his way to extreme affluence,Newtonbecomes a powerful businessman who dominates world markets. Enticed byNewton’s unusual mannerisms, adoring follower Mary Lou (Candy Clark) is kept in tow, drawn in to an ageless romance that will dominate the remainder of her life. Yet this unusual businessman has more up his sleeve than your usual entrepreneur. In fact a humanoid alien from a drought ridden planet,Newtonis unable to resist the vice ridden possibilities of planet Earth.

Whilst livewithfilm has witnessed David Bowie in other films before, the rock star-come-actor’s presence in The Man Who Fell to Earth was quite a tricky one. Bowie undoubtedly has an impressive talent for performing such estranged parts. Perhaps a bizarre example of an actor living the role before it was ever written for him, Newton’s otherworldly distance and twitchy discomfort fit beautifully with Bowie’s avant garde seventies experience. As clichéd as the phrase sounds, Bowie seems born to play Thomas Jerome Newton; the title role so aptly envisages the singer’s detachment and dissatisfaction with normality. Yet such proximity with reality unfortunately hampers sections of the film. Difficult to dissuade the idea that livewithfilm was watching David Bowie play himself, the construction of the narrative occasionally collapsed. It is still an impressively dominating turn that elevates The Man Who Fell to Earth into a superior piece of science-fiction. At times heart rending, the ageless tale of Thomas Jerome Newton feels timeless, especially in this age of unprecedented greed.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Attica! Attica!

14 Mar

Not for the first time in the life of this blog, livewithfilm’s eyelids began to droop halfway through Sidney Lumet’s genre melding thriller. No indictment of the film, instead livewithfilm’s grasp on the waking world had been severely hampered all day. Thus this blogger regrets to say that it was forced to insert an unplanned interval into Dog Day Afternoon. Not having seen the film before, it is difficult for livewithfilm to say whether such a hiatus had any dramatic affect. Whilst the gradual escalation of tension may have been hampered somewhat, Dog Day Afternoon still left livewithfilm greatly entertained and awe struck upon the climatic final scene. Perhaps a half time nap could be a tool to aid certain filmic experiences. Surely the gargantuan Ben Hur (1959) could permit the audience a break from Charlton Heston’s gladiatorial jaw line; any film by David Lynch would certainly benefit from a ‘have-your-own-nightmare’ section; and in addition, to overlook Hawks’s The Big Sleep (1946) in this list would be missing a pun that livewithfilm could not live down.

Waiting outside of a bank on a sunnyBrooklynafternoon, Sonny Wortzick (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) take it upon themselves to rob the establishment. The pair bungle their way through the preliminary stages of the robbery once they discover that the vault has recently been cleared. The watching world immediately descends on the First Saving Bank of Brooklyn, media crews and New Yorkers uniting outside its glass doors. Faced with the baying mobs who sway from support to snarling hatred, Sonny resolves to hold the employees as hostages, attempting to guarantee his safe escape.

This surprisingly true story, recreating the circumstances of an early seventies bank robbery, manages to swiftly distance itself from its similar genre counterparts. At once hilarious and tear jerkingly upsetting, Dog Day Afternoon is a subversive, beautiful portrait of human desperation. Crucial to the plot, and introduced midway through, is Sonny’s bisexuality. It is a testament to the power of Lumet’s film that such a fact is dealt with in a far more positive manner than many contemporary movies manage. Sonny is a man simultaneously in love with his wife and transgender Leon, driven to rob the bank to gain funds for a sex change operation for his lover. Pacino should be credited for the manner in which he presents such a character. Neither effeminate nor psychologically fractured (associations far too many Hollywood films decide to make), Sonny is a man contented with his sexuality and willing to sacrifice a great deal for his love. As the mob outside leer with homophobic hatred and police stare on in mock bafflement, it is left to the audience to cheer Sonny onward. Dog Day Afternoon was therefore a pleasant shock for livewithfilm. Expecting a by the numbers bank heist thriller, this blogger encountered an intriguing piece of filmmaking that examined the media representation of transgendered individuals.

Top Gun (1986) – or when livewithfilm started writing blogs its body couldn’t cash

13 Mar

It was another piece of luck when today’s choice parachuted into the lap of livewithfilm shortly after last night’s entry was completed. An old hand regarding the antics of Maverick and Goose, livewithfilm allowed itself a nostalgic return to the once near weekly viewings of Tony Scott’s eighties blockbuster. There is a completely different satisfaction to be found in such viewing. As entertaining as the plot twists and surprises of Shame and The Ides of March were, knowing a film inside out gives a particular pleasure. Whether it was anticipating the return of particularly memorable motivational posters (“Have a bandit day!”), awaiting the reappearance of rarely seen characters (Sundown can be livewithfilm’s wingman any time), or shedding a sombre tear at Goose’s downfall, Top Gun is a guilty pleasure that livewithfilm was more than happy to indulge in once again.

After rescuing a comrade over thePersian Gulf, F14 pilot Maverick (Tom Cruise) and radio man Goose (Anthony Edwards) are summoned for additional training at the elite Top Gun Academy. Keen to shed his family’s tarnished naval history, Maverick takes keenly to the competitive environment, battling rival pilot Ice Man (Val Kilmer) to gain top position in the class. But even when he begins to lead the field, fellow students remain wary of Maverick’s wild and dangerous methods.

As you can probably tell, livewithfilm is relatively fond of Tony Scott’s film. To over analyse would be the death of Top Gun: it revels in its vacuity, steering away from failure once it accepts its blockbusting raison d’être. Rammed with zingers, the script feels like a compendium of buzz words and slogans, a well thumbed library of immediately cherished quips. Whether the hilarity inherent in Top Gun was ever intentional or not, the result is a font of chuckles. From the incredibly frosty repartee between Ice Man and Maverick to the hyper-masculine topless volleyball scene, the film left livewithfilm rolling in the jet streams. Don the aviators once more, keep the tongue firmly in cheek and bask in this love letter to mindless fun.

The Ides of March (2011)

12 Mar

And so livewithfilm keeps rolling! It is a testament to yesterday’s Shame that subsequent viewing has been greatly overshadowed by Steve McQueen’s nihilistic vision. Retrospectively packing a greater impact, it would take an impressive piece of filmmaking for livewithfilm to forget such a brutally realised vision of modern excess. Perhaps as a fitting accompaniment then, livewithfilm has delved deeper into the ills of society with the political thriller The Ides of March. Whilst sporting far fewer thrusting pelvises, George Clooney’s film still judges discord and self examination as the outcomes of contemporary Western existence. Yet as excellent as the actor is, livewithfilm gets the feeling that Shame would have been a far slicker (and thus sterilised) vehicle if Clooney was at the helm.

Spearheading the communications wing of Governor Mike Morris’s (George Clooney) Democrat presidential campaign, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is more of a devotee than an employee. Completely in awe of Morris, Meyers eagerly works with Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to gain the crucial endorsement of Senator Thompson. Yet after Stephen spends numerous nights with campaign intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), the perfect façade of Morris begins to slip. Questioning his own allegiances, Stephen must resist the lures of opposition campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) whilst battling to once again respect the man who may become president.

Especially whilst Republican candidates battle across the pond, Clooney’s film is decidedly compelling viewing. The back stabbing, competitive world of politics is neatly realised through his highly stylised eye. Morris is effectively deified as the rarely glimpsed figurehead; the choice to realise him as a distant figure ensures that he remains an ostensibly serene focal point of reverence. Yet for a political thriller to have any real clout, it needs to infer more than The Ides of March managed. For the film to emerge with little more to say than that politics is rife with trechery and manipulation remains disappointingly anticlimactic. This unfortunate bathos sours the film’s final image. As intriguing as it remains, Clooney’s film needed more to cement itself as a meaningful political examination. Nevertheless, this is no ill step for Clooney. Neither as stylish nor significant as Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), The Ides of March is another neatly realised narrative. Whilst the lack of a significant ending was unfortunately apparent when viewed next to yesterday’s Shame, The Ides of March remains an enjoyably frothy image ofAmerica’s political figureheads.

Shame (2011)

11 Mar

After a relatively muted public outcry (thanks for the email readers!), livewithfilm has dusted off the typewriter and come back to blogging. Inadvertently trapping itself in a creative rut, this blogger repeatedly came across films that didn’t cry out to be revisited. Much admired pieces from the ‘classic’ canon are often excellent enough but do not lend themselves to short write ups if one is looking for interesting perspectives. Never wanting to retread tired ground, livewithfilm was yearning for new and interesting films. Right on cue, Steve McQueen’s newest boundary pusher arrived to reinvigorate and rally.

In a hedonistic metropolis of easy thrills, Brando (Michael Fassbender) cultivates his life as a sex addict through privacy and distance. Upsetting the psychological serenity that Brando enjoys in his world of no strings attached copulation and ritualised masturbation, distant sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly arrives in hisNew Yorkapartment. Significantly filling this measured zone with the seventies tones of ‘I Want Your Love’, Sissy’s arrival marks a potential moment of salvation for Brando. Akin to the towering skyscrapers that surround the siblings, an unresolved issue that has clouded their relationship looms above them.

More measured than McQueen’s Hunger (2008 – reviewed on the 16th November by livewithfilm), Shame sources a deeply pervasive disquiet from its realisation of sex addiction. Appropriately raw and shocking, McQueen paints a lurid picture of this demoralising, all encompassing, disease in the hub of consumerism: New York. Whilst the director has stated that he only set the film in the Big Apple because of its more approachable society of sex addicts, this location at once accentuates Brando’s dependency on capitalist consumption and the separation that he surrounds himself with; Brando is a towering, phallic skyscraper, knowing only a life dedicated to supporting himself in every need. As tenuous a metaphor as this first seems, Shame is a masterful example of symbolic suggestion and allusion. The light blue sheets that signify Brando’s covert sexual mores are carried with the character throughout: his shirts, workplace and fittingly the concealing hood of his well worn tracksuit inescapably hark back to the bedroom. Even a focal point of desire on the subway shines out of the crowd, her bright clothing a spotlight of sexuality in the muted colours of the commuting multitude. Building on such imaginative direction, Fassbender provides a devastating yet subtle performance that instils Brando with an intense fragility. A beautiful and tragic film, Shame is one not for the faint hearted. But rightly so. An American Psycho (2000) for the soul searching noughties, the film never shies away from a brutal vision of reality. It only benefitted from the ensuing hail that livewithfilm endured as the blogger left the cinema.