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Dredd 3D (2012) or livewithfilm meets the anti-Bane….

6 Oct

Months ago, comfortably nestled in its nearest world-of-cine, livewithfilm chuckled its way through the trailer to Dredd 3D like the worst kind of celluloid snob. Frankly, who could blame it? Boasting what seemed like unimaginative violence, a hackneyed plot and little between the ears, Pete Travis’ vision of Megacity One was done no favours by its advertisement campaign. Some film-watching-weeks later, Dredd 3D is being lauded by every critic going, championed and held aloft as an example for action flicks everywhere. Always keen to be proved wrong, livewithfilm was sentenced to a spell in its local multiplex.

In a future America, the vast Megacity One is policed by units of Judges that hunt down criminals and enact brutal sentences. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked with evaluating psychic rookie Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and accompanies her to investigate a murder in high rise tower block Peach Trees. Unwittingly entering the central hub of the Ma-Ma gang and its drug production unit, the pair of judges find themselves hunted down by bloodthirsty criminals and must fight their way to the top to escape.

Hyper-violence remains a difficult thing to portray on screen. While films like Rambo (2008) wrongly opt to validate excessive slaughter through a supposedly heroic central figure, Travis’ Dredd 3D takes a different, but far more misanthropic, route. With the exception of Thirlby’s Anderson, everyone in Megacity One is morally corrupt and repulsive: solipsistic to a homicidal degree. So while blood pours from every inch of the screen, Dredd 3D manages to escape the bitter aftertaste provided by so many corpse heavy action flicks by constantly affirming that the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Travis certainly pulls no punches and the shocking brutality of the world of the Judge works heavily in Dredd 3D’s favour. The destructive metropolis has infected its entire populace, making for an unrelentingly shocking and thrilling vision of the future.

Fittingly despicable, Dredd remains an intriguing antihero. With the top half of his face constantly covered, the Judge becomes a neat reversal of the gas mask brandishing Bane from The Dark Knight Rises (2012). While Bane used violence to create a chaotic new order, Dredd uses similar brutality to restrain revolutionary forces. Emerging from a violent setting to perform further acts of hatred, both characters are representative of a contemporary uneasiness with faceless figures of power and the modern world. Dredd 3D sticks to its guns to remain a satisfyingly sleazy exploitation nightmare which takes a parting shot at the world that spawned it. Perhaps livewithfilm needs to lighten up a little…

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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.

The Raid (2012) or livewithfilm takes his eye off the ball only to receive a fist to the chops…

14 Jun

The Euro’s doesn’t lend itself to off the cuff film reviewing. Nevertheless, with Irelandtaking a good drubbing in the background, livewithfilm feels duty bound to return to the much maligned blog. It is rather fitting that today’s film choice sees an unrelenting assault of breathtaking brutality. Unfortunately for the sake of this strained sporting comparison, none of The Raid’s furious cast were dressed in Spanish red or Irish green. However, quite a few were soaked in crimson by the final credits.

Bidding his heavily pregnant wife farewell, SWAT policeman Rama (Iko Uwais) travels with his team towards the heart ofJakarta. Their mission: to take a thirty story apartment block floor by floor and rid the city of its most violent crime boss. Once their number begins to fall, the team must battle their way out, facing increasingly brutal opponents.

A refreshingly simple plot allows The Raid to remain an unrelentingly exhilarating action film. While simple twists serve to remind the audience that a plot remains somewhere beneath the bruises, martial arts action remains the film’s most arresting element. Testing the brain cells through trauma rather than contemplation, The Raid uses fluid camera work to capture some of the most brutal on-screen violence livewithfilm has witnessed. Surprising choreography and flair demonstrate the musical rhythm Welsh director Gareth Evans lent to The Raid’s combat sequences; the director constructs a superb action film but The Raid truly belongs to choreographers Uwais and Yaya Ruhian. Boasting the first mid-film round of applause from the audience that livewithfilm has witnessed, The Raid is a visceral, groan-inducing stunner.

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 39 Steps (1935)

6 Nov

In a first for livewithfilm, the next watch on the list was one not endured alone in a darkened room, notepad close at hand. Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps has become a landmark moment of group viewing for the blog, and the suspense thriller definitely benefited from it. Perhaps this should be a moment of clarity. Much like a recovering sociopath, livewithfilm might have to enforce more communal viewing on itself. The addition of solitude to the filmic marathon might just push the blog over the edge. After all, livewithfilm wouldn’t want to become some distant, trapped figure à la James Stewart in Hitchcock’s Rear Window…‘Why would Thorwald want to kill a little dog? Because it knew too much!’

Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps foreshadows much of his later oeuvre (Torn Curtain (1966) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955) etc) as mistaken identity and a crooked police force are embroiled in a race against time. After Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) discovers that the woman he has sheltered in his home is a spy protecting British secrets, he wakes to find her dead. Whilst avoiding the pursuing police who believe him to be the murderer, Richard becomes Britain’s last hope and must stop the crucial information being leaked to enemy agents. Full of dark humour and no doubt racy sexual sections for a 30s audience, The 39 Steps was a surprisingly thrilling watch. The set pieces are exquisitely arranged and timed as shadowy forces of subterfuge stalk Richard through a host of imaginative settings. A particularly inventive (and much imitated) chase through the carriages of The Flying Scotsman remains particularly exhilarating, and even provides time for the seduction of Hitchcockian icy-blonde Pamela (Madeleine Caroll).

Whilst Donat claims some of the sharpest lines of The 39 Steps, the introduction of Carroll into the mix provides an excellent section of odd couple hijinks and one-liners. Handcuffed together by inventive spies, the pair must continue their escape whilst Carroll remains in the belief that Donat is a serial murderer (‘there are twenty million women in this island and I get to be chained to you’). For the film remains darkly amusing throughout, if a little dated. Although the propensity for characters to tuck into towering plates of haddock surely must have been written with a sly grin by John Buchan, much of the amusement to be had from The 39 Steps seems unintentional. A particularly jarring line, delivered in a stern radio announcement to fearful townsfolk, proclaims that whilst Donat was last seen wearing a pale coat, his attire could now be dark ‘because he might have got changed!’ Nevertheless such elements rarely detract from the film. The fuzzy glow of nostalgia surrounding The 39 Steps may diminish the tension but provides enjoyment in unexpected ways.

Black Death (2010)

5 Nov

Continuing as I mean to, in a series of ostensibly haphazard but in fact carefully chosen films (??), the next livewithfilm selection was the 2010 Christopher Smith medieval shocker Black Death. I was keen to sit down and revel in this grim vision of history that is a far cry from The Graduate’s ménage à trois witticisms. As Sean Bean tore his way through medieval England, he certainly did not ponder whether he was about to be seduced by any of the villagers he was so persistently persecuting. In this world, subtly and self-consciousness would presumably end one up on a burning pyre.

Black Death sees young monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) leave the confines of his monastery, leading a troop of fervent witch hunters to a village that is supposedly free from the ravages of the bubonic plague. Naturally the body count is exceptionally high as English life in1348 is torn apart (much like certain unfortunate characters) and villages are replaced by mass graves. Yet Smith mines a more interesting route through the medieval world than the gore-fest that this film could so easily have descended into. Whilst Ulric (Bean) leads his band of warriors, Black Death poses some interesting questions as to whether such a knight is evil whilst he enacts religious crusades that he believes are for the good. As Graham Greene discussed in Brighton Rock, there can be a great distinction between right and good, wrong and evil. This ultimately comes to a head when the group arrive at the pagan village and must contend with those who assault their Christian morals.

This climactic setting owes a great deal to The Wicker Man (1973). As children scuttle past windows and characters stumble across mysterious ceremonies, Black Death begins to pale in comparison to the superior horror classic. To draw attention to the debt that the film owes to The Wicker Man unfortunately made me pine for Edward Woodward crashing his way through the Scottish island, sections of Black Death seeming to descend into homage. However, the film holds up to this and other references (The Name of the Rose (1986), Witch Finder General (1968)) through enthralling and entertaining set pieces that hold back on the gore for sudden and more shocking glimpses of rouge.

Essentially Apocalypse Now 1348, the journey taken by the group is a brutal one and Black Death is not an easy watch at times. However, for the strong hearted, this is a perfectly entertaining horror that can provide greater depths for those who seek it. The ending is particularly powerful and holds on to the bleak visions and dark psychological depths passed down by The Wicker Man. As my love of The Name of the Rose attests, I am a sucker for agitated monks and religious insecurities and Black Death delivered it in habits. With a side order of charred villager.