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I Don’t Know How She Does It (2011) or livewithfilm broadens its horizons and suffers the consequences…

31 Oct

In the spirit of wider filmic know-how, livewithfilm decided to take the plunge. Don’t fret though, more horror fun will follow shortly!

Laughably labelling itself as a romantic comedy, Douglas McGrath’s I Don’t Know How She Does It remains an insufferable vision of entrenched sexism. Besides regarding itself in a falsely noble light, the film misses every opportunity for feminism or fun and merely affirms a phallocentric vision of working life. Sarah Jessica Parker once again struggles to find a role suited to her small screen strengths in busy mother Kate Reddy. Managing to juggle childcare with a high-flying financial role, Kate is applauded by all and sundry. Yet when business guru Pierce Brosnan threatens to whisk Kate away on global business trips, the heroine must choose between family and her job.

While bungling a hackneyed plot that adds little to a genre already saturated with sub par entries, McGrath instils a trying patronising streak tohis filmwhich marvels at the female capacity to work. Using its first act to shoehorn in its inquisitive title at every opportunity, the film positions Kate as an oestrogen fuelled totem for male compatriots to gawk at in wonder. Even though Pierce Brosnan’s jet-setting silver fox can happily undertake a full time job, Sarah Jessica Parker’s workload is constantly signposted as a cause for contention. Concluding that a woman must choose to either be suppressed housewife or power-suited breadwinner, I Don’t Know How She Does It reinforces tired gender roles unsuited to the Carrie Bradshaw era rom-com. Woefully out of touch with contemporary enlightened thought, even Mad Men’s exceptionally powerful Christina Hendricks is sidelined amongst an ensemble of underdeveloped female characters.

Having shown his capacity to support complex plots and career defining performances in overlooked Truman Capote pic Infamous, McGrath’s mishandling of narrative sense in I Don’t Know How She Does It seems all the more disheartening. Apropos to nothing, the film decides to indulge in vérité straight to camera interludes which only resurface during the final scrabble for a conclusion. While McGrath could be applauded for seeking to add something unexpected to his film, the director doesn’t have the conviction to use this tool for any real means. It is as if the self aware artistry of the Nouvelle Vague has been filtered down into an empty, time wasting gesture. Yes the fourth wall is shattered, but the film’s foundations are taken with it.

I Don’t Know How She Does It has nothing original to say, in fact only undermining a genre previously adept at envisioning powerful female leads. While causing a solitary laugh at the expense of its banking protagonists, the film is awe inspiringly unfunny. Jokes don’t simply fail they are nonexistent, sucked into a bland black-hole of thumb twiddling tedium. Adding to the woe, the real comic talents of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kelsey Grammer and Saturday Night Live regular Seth Meyers go entirely to seed. The real question to be answered remains: I don’t know why they made it.


Braindead (1992) or livewithfilm sources the perfect film for a midnight showing but is swiftly put off its minstrels

7 May

Another day, another superb midnight screening from the haven of the horrible, the sanctuary of the sickening: the PrinceCharlesCinema. Acting as a clarion call for all genre fans, these witching-hour shows exemplify both the joys and tribulations of the horror devotee. Frowned upon by the snobbish filmic establishment, livewithfilm and its fellow fans were forced to congregate under the cover of darkness to enjoy the nastiest scenes that cinema had to offer. Fortunately enough, livewithfilm cannot think of a film to suit such a setting more than the gore-caked Braindead. Having shared groans and wails, the movie audience left the cinema unified in a state of awe.

Terrified into servitude by his overbearing mother, meek Lionel (Timothy Balme) is delighted when local girl Paquita (Diana Penalver) begins to take an interest in him. However, his romantic plans collapse once a bite from a Sumatran Rat Monkey transforms the matriarch into a swiftly decaying zombie. Attempting to hide his decomposing family member from the inquisitive townsfolk, Lionel is forced to contain and ultimately battle a slowly increasing horde of flesh-eaters.

Even with livewithfilm’s extensive experience of the darker side of cinema, this blogger was taken aback by the waves of gore that spewed from Peter Jackson’s film. Officially the bloodiest movie ever made (300 litres of the red-stuff was used in the final scene alone), livewithfilm was forced to put down its nibbles almost immediately as its stomach took a turn for the worse. Yet clearly inspired by Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981), Jackson offsets this tidal wave of body matter with a razor sharp wit. Never pertaining to any high-brow state, Braindead gleefully revels in its own absurdity and subsequently pulls off scenes of progressive lunacy. Sporting Kung fu priests (‘I kick arse for the Lord!’), man-eating internal organs and zombie offspring, Braindead has everything a grindhouse fan yearns for. Just steer clear of the custard…

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.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

11 Nov

Treating itself, livewithfilm decided to revisit a favourite today. Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is an immensely enjoyable piece of cinema, blending genres as it looks fondly back on the hallmarks of a generation. Surprisingly, Wright’s film never succeeded at the box office, underperforming by some distance. Whilst pitching itself perfectly to a particular age group (early twenty-somethings with a working knowledge of gaming/comic book imagery/the scuzzy feel of a dingy gig venue), this specificity potentially alienated audience members not in on the joke. Nevertheless, the fast paced humour and witty references make Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World a treat for those looking for imaginative filmmaking.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a twenty two year old jobless Canadian whose aspirations rest with his three piece band Sex Bob-omb. That is, until he falls for the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). However, in order to woo Ramona, Scott has to defeat her seven evil exes. Contending with his insecurities, this bass playing drop-out must meet and battle film stars, flying lesbians, record producers and Japanese twins for the love of his rainbow haired sweetheart.

Scott is perfectly created by Michael Cera. Hardly playing beyond expectations, Cera manages to infuse the character with all of the alienation and wit you’d expect. Painfully familiar for those the lighter side of their thirties, Scott is a bundle of nerves and remorse, a protagonist to root for as one of your own. Yet Cera does not carry the film alone and is surrounded by a cast of hilarious characters-come-recognisable-types. Ellen Wong remarkably recreates the film’s comic book origins as Knives Chau, contorting her face until it perfectly envisions a sketched cell. Kim Pine’s turn as band drummer Alison Pill is exceptionally dry, whilst Mary Elizabeth Winstead keeps Ramona seething and mysterious. After all, the female leads hold the greatest sway over the film, essentially dictating the course of the plot and delivering some of the sharpest dialogue (‘We are Sex Bob-omb. We’re here to make money and sell out and stuff!’).

Combining video game symbolism and garage band sensibilities, the imagery of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is the film’s major draw. A vision of pixellated samurai swords and flashing high-scores, the film relishes its breathtaking originality. The music (mainly written by Beck) thrums out of grotty venue amplifiers, providing an authentic soundtrack to these characters whilst infusing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World with an effortless cool. For the film manages to be simultaneously stylish and endearing. Wright creates a film without the swagger that exudes charm. Whilst the final sections are slightly baggy and occasional jokes fall flat, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is undeniably charming. In the words of Knives Chau, I heart you Scott Pilgrim.

Clerks (1994)

7 Nov

It seems apt that after watching Kevin Smith’s directorial debut Clerks, the livewithfilm blog rose above 100 hits. Livewithfilm would like to think that it could have deftly selected Smith’s film, simultaneously revolutionary and indebted to movie history, to appropriately celebrate this minor milestone. However, surely only one of Smith’s quick witted characters, bursting with pop culture wisdom, would have made such an immediate leap. Perhaps livewithfilm should open a video store instead…

As shop employees Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) contend with society from behind the cashier, Clerks attempts to engage with a disillusioned counter culture through verité camera work and natural dialogue. The language is kept blunt and shocking, the listless pair disputing subjects ranging from their pointless job titles to the benefits of selective labour for intergalactic roofers. As surprising and unconventional as it sounds, Smith pushes the heated debates to outrageous heights. Whilst Dante and Randal’s frank discussions of sexual inhibitions both shock and entertain, the cascade of gross out humour that envelops the final scenes of the film falls sadly flat. Such sections could not reach the extremes that initial incidents so provocatively attain. Nevertheless, greater joy is to be found when Smith ransacks popular culture and reduces it to the level of banality. Particularly enthralling (no doubt because of livewithfilm’s passion for celluloid) is Randal’s deduction that the final parts of Return of the Jedi (1983) probably see the death of many independent contractors building the second Death Star. After all ‘do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main?’

Filmed outside of opening hours at the shop where writer director Kevin Smith worked, Clerks is a thrill to watch for all of its black and white roughness. Orson Welles called such b&w filmmaking ‘the actor’s friend’, judging it to guarantee a better on-screen performance. Whilst it seems ridiculous to quote Welles in reference to a film that spends a significant amount of time debating the benefits of roof-top hockey, a rare authenticity is lent to Clerks by the monochrome. Whilst the actors work well together, finding profundity and empathy in the strangest of places, the frantic close camera work puts you in the midst of this lurid reality. Clerks manages to construct an intimacy with realism that is shocking in its honesty. All of this whilst a man traps his hand in a Pringles tube…

The Graduate (1967)

4 Nov

In an attempt to choose a significant film to begin livewithfilm, Mike Nichols’ The Graduate seemed a fitting enough place to start. The protagonist, twenty one year old university graduate Benjamin Braddock, echoes elements of my own situation and I was keen to see if this film could still define and depict the anxieties of a generation of disillusioned young adults as much as it did in 1967.

Benjamin (played with humour and exactness by Dustin Hoffman in a role that would project him from theNew Yorktheatres intoHollywood) returns home after graduation to find himself at odds with the affluence and banality of West-Coast life. As the pilot’s announcement intones that we will accompany Benjamin on his ‘descent intoLos Angeles’, it is clear that this existence of the older generation will be a downward journey into lifelessness. Greeted by hordes of blonde, prim family friends, Benjamin’s role seems written for him, languishing in the sterility of a ‘future in plastics’. But Benjamin has little to beat them off with, unsure of where he can go and what he can achieve. All he is sure of is that he wants life to be different, a wish withheld until the amorous Mrs Robinson begins her process of infatuation. She swiftly begins an affair with Benjamin that sheds his jittery skin to reveal an eagerness to ‘drift’ through existence. That is, until Benjamin falls in love with Elaine Robinson, his former lover’s daughter.

Hoffman is exceptional in his portrayal of Benjamin’s uncomfortable embarrassment as he faces Anne Bancroft’s commanding Mrs Robinson. His gulps, echoing around the silence of their bedrooms, hilariously proclaim his inexperience and angst. The power of Mrs Robinson in the face of Benjamin’s trembling youthfulness is amusingly realised when, trapped by Bancroft’s naked body, the camera flashes between glimpses of flesh and Hoffman’s awkward glances. This is a quick-witted comedy that has remained entertaining and excruciating (especially so when Benjamin is unable to cope with the embarrassment of his first sexual encounter and finds himself alone and uninvited at a family party). Beyond the messages of defiance, The Graduate should be recognised as a brilliant work of comedy.

However, to watch this film in the current social and economic climate does reduce Benjamin’s rejection of an affluent past to some flippancy. Can a film in which a recently graduated student rejects his family’s wealth and decides to live alone (with his soft top car in tow) still ring true? It certainly has lost some power. Nevertheless, the depiction of a battle against the expectations and failures of a previous generation means that The Graduate is surely ripe for rediscovery in some form. Just as it was a voice of youth in the late 60’s, the film should remain a clarion call to the young to embrace experience and discover their own lives. Whilst there is ‘a future in plastic’ there should always be a need for The Graduate.