Archive | August, 2012

Santo vs. The Martian Invasion (1967) or livewithfilm takes up luca libre to protect mankind…

26 Aug

Livewithfilm is well aware that it has been a little lax with its reviews of late. Yet London MexFest provided the perfect reason for this blogger to return to the keyboard. What livewithfilm knows about Mexican wrestling sci-fi cinema could be written on the back of a silver mask, making a weekend dedicated to the genre at London’s MexFest all the more enticing. It is always startling and refreshing to watch a genre piece distinct from the too often seen-it-all-before Hollywood offerings. Similar to Santo in its originality, yet dramatically different in almost every other sense, the catalogue of Soviet sci-fi also poses a refreshing view of space travel. While Planet of Storms (1963) had a robot waxing lyrical on the downfall of capitalism, Santo found that the world’s saviour is a South American master of the ring. This does, however, remain a crucial caveat for the enjoyment of Santo: with a film that dedicates about 90% of its running time to wrestling, the viewer cannot be adverse to spandex and flowing capes.

Martians invade Earth, pulverising humanity with their third eyes and kidnapping important Mexicans for nefarious laboratory tests. Intent on stopping them, Santo el Enmascarado de Plata (playing himself) must battle these aggressors while maintaining his full time wrestling career.

Wildly entertaining, Santo vs. The Martian Invasion is something to be seen. Not quite on the same remit as the more thought provoking sci-fi numbers, wrestling set pieces are the mainstay of Santo, the film essentially revolving around the necessity for the hero to goad aliens into a roped arena. Needless to say, Santo certainly manages to do this. Livewithfilm urges you to look past the wobbly sets, the amusing prosthetic alien heads and dialogue which has lost all sense of reality, and enjoy Santo vs. The Martian Invasion for what it is: a Mexican centred vision of humanity’s downfall designed to thrill and excite. The film breaks down normative visions of cinema and pins them to the wrestling ring floor. Santo el Enmascarado de Plata starred in 60 films of this ilk, including Santo vs. The Vampire Women (1962) and Santo vs. The Daughter of Frankenstein (1972). Hunt them out!

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The Trial (1962) or livewithfilm bangs the gavel for Orson Welles and Kafka…

15 Aug

Franz Kafka’s crucial novel on the nightmarish power and impenetrability of the law realises the early twentieth century as a paranoid dystopia, rife with oppression and manipulation. Recreating these deep shadows with his customary panache, Orson Welles takes a fitting leap from the oppressive gloom of Touch of Evil and Citizen Kane to forge a stylised reality in an undeniably expressionist fashion. Forming the text into an artistic feast, the evident authorial stamp imprinted upon The Trial saw it becoming Welles’ favourite film.Visually, it might just well be.

As Josef K (Anthony Perkins) is woken in his room by a shadowy law-man, he is arrested and charged. Ignorant of what he has been accused of yet eager to protest his innocence, K travels to confront the judicial system. Yet facing a labyrinthine network of lawyers, judges and criminals, K struggles to uphold his virtuous nature in the face of this tirade of accusation.

Stylised swathes of darkness lead the viewer into The Trial, remaining omnipresent throughout K’s futile battle against the establishment. Startlingly true to an often surreal book, Welles skilfully uses shadow to communicate the oppressive nature of Kafka’s text. The law lurks in every corner of this world, planting an inescapable mark on the physiological and psychological states of its inhabitants. With low camera angles, even the ceilings become agents of the state, at one point forcing a downtrodden man to crawl under their weight. The expansiveness of the outside world is little of an escape, an apocalyptic wasteland that remains chillingly familiar to K. Harking back to the unsettlingly angular and artificial environment of Das Cabinet des Dr. CaligariThe Trial creates a world buckling under injustice; never beautiful but constantly startling in its style.

Forming K into a jittery man-child, Perkins’ portrayal of Kafka’s protagonist remains a significant divergence from the original text. While the book used the intelligence of K to amplify the impossible nature of the failing system of law, Welles’ The Trial misses out on such an impact by making K into an individual caught unawares. However, Perkins remains superbly driven throughout and creates a powerfully pathetic central pillar for the film. Playing Albert Hassler, Welles, unsurprisingly, doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to remould an originally frail character into a rambunctious monolith. While not exerting the same impact as he did over The Third Man, Hassler becomes a fitting figure of power. Disappointingly, in his directorial role, Welles makes the decision to alter Kafka’s finale and an incredibly powerful literary ending. This ultimately taints The Trial’s dénouement but surprisingly does not detract from the impact of the preceding two hours. The film is majestic and essential. The verdict: stunning.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or livewithfilm sees Batman assuming the power of 140 characters…

4 Aug

From a rant against Romney to a capitalist affirmation of normative power, the diverse subtexts applied to The Dark Knight Rises have often resided at opposite ends of the spectrum. Well livewithfilm couldn’t face missing out on Bat Manbiguous (pretty good right?). Surely, if we are in the mood to scrabble around for contemporary analogies, The Dark Knight Rises is Batman does the Arab Spring. Livewithfilm wants to avoid all plot spoilers so it might be tricky to explain its point. However, the ‘revolution’ against a dictatorial figure seen in the film’s second act surely rings true to this analogy. Furthermore, the importance of technology to Bruce Wayne’s powers could be associated with the growing importance of social media in the widespread international uprisings; Batman has become the personification of a dissident twitter account that incites further unrest and unites the rebellious. Far from suggesting that the film is unfocussed, the presence of varying critical opinions such as livewithfilm’s shows the power of Nolan’s vision to support the weight of deeper meaning. After all, this is a superhero film. We’ve come a long way since Adam West first donned that pointed headgear.

Batman (Christian Bale) has been notable by his absence since his dealings with Two-Face and The Joker. While Gotham enjoys a new state of peace, unknown enemies from familiar shadowy sources begin to plan the destruction of the city. Forcing Bruce Wayne to return from retirement, the appearance of Bane (Tom Hardy) poses the greatest threat the hero has had to face.

The shadows of Wayne Manor fittingly return us to Nolan’s Gotham, their presence cast throughout the film. Using the greatest strength of the DC hero, The Dark Knight Rises is a superbly grim vision. Bane serves as an interesting foil for Batman, an essentially new character for the films (those who forget Batman & Robin (1997) are doomed to repeat it), he is a greater physical force than Wayne. While Scarecrow stemmed from Batman’s overwhelming fears and Joker was the chaos to his order, Bane is the alternate path that Wayne could have taken and is a manifestation of the uncertainty he faces in his fatal commitment to Gotham’s residents. Nolan rarely puts a foot wrong and once again forms an intelligent blockbuster in the vein of Inception (2010). Unlike Prometheus (2012), The Dark Knight Rises steps up to the hype and exceeds it. Once it dawned on livewithfilm that the trilogy was over, it was forced to use its cape to wipe away the tears.