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Double bill: Manhunter (1986) & The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or livewithfilm enjoys its electro pop with a nice Chianti…

23 Oct

Potentially serving as the darkest double bill livewithfilm has yet to endure, the earliest incarnations of the Lecktor/Lecter tales remain surprisingly dissimilar and fuel fear in entirely different ways. While the violent aging of Michael Mann’s Manhunter has done it no favours (synth drum solos anyone?) it still can sit contentedly next to Jonathan Demme’s Academy busting Silence, perhaps even surpassing its younger sibling. Depending on how many sunsets and short-shorts one can stomach, Manhunter’s stylised yet realistic vision is truly skin-crawling and often surpasses the frequently bogeyman-esque horrors of Silence.

Alluding to previous battles with a one Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), Manhunter sees psychologically fragile cop Will Graham (William Petersen) called back into the force to hunt down serial killer ‘The Toothfairy’. Entering into the murderer’s mindset, Graham risks insanity as he hunts his latest prey. Silence sees Lecter (here, Anthony Hopkins) consulted once again as trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) hunts down a killer who skins his victims. Entering into a pact with Lecter, Starling is forced to confide deep secrets to the cannibal.

Both Cox and Hopkins excel as Lecktor and Lecter respectively, demonstrating different interpretations of the same maniacal character; yet, somewhat controversially, Cox’s remains superior. Hinting at the brutal genius of Lecktor, Manhunter teases a more chilling glimpse of insanity out of the villain. While Hopkins tears around his Perspex cage, Silence nearly explains him away, revealing all that Manhunter so eerily suggests. Hopkins is enthrallingly unnerving but remains in a film that could do with implying as much as it reveals.

Manhunter’s ‘monster’ is similarly more effective. A terrifying presence, Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) is compellingly fleshed out, far more so than the at times Leatherface-styled Jame Gumb (Ted Lavine). When matching Gumb with Clarice however, Silence brings to the fore an intriguing gender-morphing dynamic implied throughout both films.

While it looks like livewithfilm has gone out to damn The Silence of the Lambs, this blogger agrees that the film is a classic piece of horror. Just don’t write off its earlier, and vastly underrated, predecessor.

With music like this over the closing sequence who could deny Manhunter’s classic status?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBWSocJMChA

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Hell is a City (1960) or livewithfilm gets down and dirty in Manchester…

15 Sep

With factory chimneys emerging through an oppressive fog, Hell is a City creates an unashamedly grim vision of existence in the metropolis. Through a post-murder man hunt, Manchester, and by extension 1960s urban life as a whole, is shown to be a corrupting influence that brings misery into the home. With the angry young men of the British New Wave casting the camera onto the kitchen sink in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the very same year, Val Guest’s film similarly seeks out the banal and ordinary. Yet combined with a dark streak of expressionist noir, Hell is a City remains an intriguing crime flick.

Expecting that recently escaped robber Don Starling (John Crawford) will return for the unclaimed treasure of a forgotten heist, weary police inspector Harry Matineau (Stanley Baker) dedicates his days to hunting him down in the Manchester streets. Once Starling and a gang of thieves steal money from bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Halloween’sDonald Pleasence, here hunting down cash rather than psychopaths) and kill his assistant, Matineau is hot on his heels.

While noir crime films could never be called glamorous, Hell is a City is a remarkably unsentimental vision of life. Surrounding an intriguing but rarely ground-breaking crime caper, the glimpses of life remain a powerful image of a population at odds with itself and, namely, the police establishment. Martineau’s embittered wife laments the lonely existence she faces while her obsessive husband hunts down murderers; depressed divorcees flirt longingly with married men; workers gaze despairingly into the bottom of their pint glasses; police are despised for their corruption and brutality; and criminals viciously assault the public and, in one moment, a disabled youngster. Even though this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, ultimately this context remains Hell is a City’s most compelling element and is neatly diluted with occasional, if clichéd, thrills from the criminal underworld.

Uniting the themes of the film, the final act is undoubtedly the most successful. Earlier sections at times sag under excessive plot exposition or a slightly bizarre, if necessary, moorland gambling set-piece. The closing sequence remains visually striking and fast paced, combining a rooftop gun battle with a soul searching lament. In a superb move that suits the banal beauty of the preceding 90 minutes, this is enacted as a marital argument in a living room and avoids all possible conceit. Hardly a celebration of the ordinary, the film wallows in this gritty normality. Following Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Hell is a City is the hardworking, fast talking Monday afternoon.

Killer Joe (2012) or livewithfilm hastily hurls its fried chicken into the bin…

19 Jul

As films to see with your dad go, William Friedkin’s Killer Joe remains an interesting choice. This is in no way suggesting that papa-livewithfilm is in any way a prudish film fan, because, after all, he managed to breed a blogger that recently giggled itself silly in front of the man-eating-entrails of Braindead.  Nevertheless, Killer Joe was an uncomfortable watch, indicative of Friedkin’s talent for the macabre. The livewithfilm heart only began to sink once it dawned on this blogger that the film it had forced its father to watch (endure?) alongside it was, in fact, an unrelenting parade of nudity, violence and torture. Thankfully, while neither of us could exactly describe the film as an enjoyable romp, the noir-esque depravity went down well. Livewithfilm was let off the hook. Perhaps it is still a little early to take him to the next midnight screening of The Evil Dead though…

Embroiled in a potentially fatal level of debt, Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) gets wind of his despised mother’s vast life insurance policy. Convincing his father Ansel (ThomasHadenChurch) that they should achieve the payout through murder, they hire the services of crooked-cop-come-bounty-hunter Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). Yet once Joe claims Chris’ younger sister Dottie (JunoTemple) as a down payment on the job, the family become slowly dominated by the contract killer.

As previously noted, Killer Joe pulls no punches. While Friedkin’s earlier work has remained in the shadowy end of the filmic spectrum (The Exorcist (1973) Bug (2006)), the director’s latest venture finds a different level of darkness to mine. A slowly building sense of dread expertly weaves its way through the latter half of Killer Joe, creating one of the most gruelling final sequences livewithfilm has had to endure. Yet once Friedkin steps into his final, cruel gear at the film’s dénouement, the film falters. Unsure whether the brutality of the scene needs to be diluted through laughter, the director fails to fully realise the horror he has created. McConaughey remains chilling throughout though and effectively plays up his rom-com past to inhabit a truly detestable character. Juno Temple is thrilling for all the opposite reasons, superbly forming Dottie into the complex, naïve woman-child Killer Joe requires. Even with the film’s ultimate misstep, livewithfilm has remained distant to fried chicken, the repulsive finale returning to its mind whenever the moustachioed colonel rears his grinning head.

The Prey (2011) or livewithfilm receives its first pre-release DVD (mon dieu!)…

14 Jul

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The French prison drama has recently seen significant international acclaim, gaining recognition as a source of both visual and thematic innovation. While Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (2009) set the bar immeasurably high with its weighty exploration of morality, a suitably grimy Vincent Cassel made Jean Francois-Richet’s Mesrine (2008) double-act truly thrilling. Disappointingly, Eric Valette’s The Prey emerges as an occasionally exciting, but more often baffling, contender amongst such sub-genre heavy-weights.

Serving a lengthy prison sentence for bank robbery, Frank Adrien (Albert Dupontel) has maintained the secret behind the whereabouts of his illicit earnings. Unwilling to trust his wife or former partner in crime, Frank ultimately confides in shadowy cellmate Jean-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac). Yet once Maurel is released, Frank is made aware of the danger he has unwittingly put his family in, and is forced to escape.

Initially struggling to wade through the quagmire of crime film clichés that it employs, Valette’s film undoubtedly improves once it throws off the trappings of the jail-house setting. Under the shadow of the barred windows, characters do little but conform to ‘gritty’ archetypes. Depicting increasingly detestable individuals assaulting each other, the preliminary scenes of The Prey do little to incite pathos and leave those watching on feeling merely indifferent. Sadly, such an issue confounds Vallete at every turn. As more characters are poured into the maelstrom, very few emerge as rounded, interesting individuals and the ultimate majority merge into a mass of unknowable faces. Whereas a film such as Heat (1995) used prolonged character development to make a half-hour gun battle painfully tense, The Prey omits such detail, creating frequently underwhelming set pieces.

The villainous Debac is clearly the highlight of Valette’s film and creates a deeply unsettling character who dominates the narrative’s latter sections. In contrast, Dupontel, try as he might, can never invest any real vulnerability into Frank, who bounces from mishap to fist fight with growing invincibility. As the pace picks up, Valette’s film improves and the final chase sequences hold interesting flourishes. Once Valette fully embraces the insanity, the film becomes a fairly entertaining action blockbuster. Yet such excitement sits uncomfortably next to the realistic pretentions of The Prey’s opening sections. Alongside this, if you can’t guess the final line once Frank’s mute daughter is introduced into the mix, then you just aren’t trying.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) or forces conspire against livewithfilm…

15 May

Yes, it has been a little while coming but today’s livewithfilm post serves as a retort to the many reasons this blogger might have to just stop writing. While livewithfilm will never become sickened by the sight of celluloid (hooray for sibilance!), after gaining a job at a magazine, there is questionable logic in sitting at a computer to blog after spending my working day doing the same. Nevertheless, when film’s like Bonnie and Clyde tear in, tommy-guns blazing, there is little livewithfilm can do but write away. As Henry Newbolt would say: blog up! blog up! and livewithfilm!

Seductively meeting eyes across an attempted car theft, Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) become immediately and irreversibly reliant upon one another. Drawn into a series of dangerous bank robberies, Bonnie and Clyde grow in infamy and develop their fame acrossAmerica. Forming the Barrow Gang, the group continue to confront the banks that they despise with increasing vehemence.

Watched in the happy surroundings of The Prince Charles Cinema, Arthur Penn’s film was a thrilling and often emotionally devastating ride. The movie clearly owes a debt to the kinetic visual graces of the French New Wave, even without the directing styles of Truffaut and Godard who were both linked to direct the project before Penn.Perhaps as a result of the influence the film had over the pop art scene subsequent to its release, Bonnie and Clyde constantly provides iconic visuals that fill the screen and demand your attention. Just as the bank robbing duo become dependant on the fame that surrounds them, Penn never lets a scene depart without insisting on your attention with an arresting image. Dunaway and Beatty create an arresting couple and the relationship they depict is touchingly heartfelt next to the ever escalating violence. Even though livewithfilm knew exactly what was coming, it left the cinema with a lump in its throat, touched by a beautifully crafted parade of characters. Bonnie and Clyde remains a surprisingly timely depiction of bank-bashing-en-masse that is ripe for rediscovery in the current world of celebrity highs and poverty lows.

Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) or livewithfilm thinks it should be a ‘fit and proper’ blogger & stop watching horror… for the moment anyway

2 May

It was undoubtedly time to take a pigeon step away from the recent livewithfilm horror trend. And what a small change it was. For Dario Argento’s twisted crime thriller turned out to be a puzzle of unknown killers, splashes of gore, shady eroticism and bizarrely unsettling camera work: Giallo at its finest. Therefore livewithfilm needs to look further afield. But having treated itself to a newly rereleased copy of Bava’s Dèmoni (1985) (incidentally produced by Argento), this blogger will have to resist the urge to return to the dark side.

After overhearing a whispered conversation outside of a medical institute, blind Franco Arno (Karl Malden) and his young niece become curious when, that same night, the building is mysteriously broken into. Once those surrounding the case begin to fall prey to an unknown psychopath, Franco and reporter Carlo (James Franciscus) unite to investigate.

Whilst occasionally reminiscent of Argento’s previous film Bird With the Crystal Plumage (have a look at the livewithfilm review from the twelfth of December last year), Cat O’ Nine Tails still manages to surprise and unnerve in equal measures as it plays out its relentlessly engrossing plot. Both films notably envision the work of a journalist at the centre of a mystery; much like the audience, these figures, grounded in the hunt for truth, are constantly surprised by the darker shocks doled out by Argento. Close flashes of eyeball are consistently unsettling and the killer’s point of view shots appear to be a blueprint for the camerawork of later slasher films such as Halloween (1978). A highly enjoyable film, livewithfilm was totally absorbed, falling for all the tricks and twists and rooting for the beautifully envisioned investigative odd couple. An innovatively crafted crime thriller with the darkest of cores.

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.

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

12 Dec

Back once again after the weekly two day hiatus, livewithfilm felt revitalised and keen to return to watching. Perhaps last week’s choices were particularly successful. Killer infants and marauding elderly murderers seem to be the watchword for invigorated blogging. Either that or it was due to the frankly pitiful showing of only two films. Whatever the reason, today’s livewithfilm selection could hold unknowable ramifications for the upcoming weeks. A poor choice and the blog teeters on a knife’s edge. How apt then that livewithfilm remained so close to this image, a sharp symbol that runs through Dario Argento’s Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

As American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) aimlessly wanders the streets ofRome, he is witness to a brutal art gallery stabbing. Trapped between two glass shutters, Sam is forced to watch on as Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) suffers beyond his reach. Sam quickly becomes obsessed, searching for clues regarding the black coated perpetrator. As further female bodies are discovered across the Italian city, Sam and his partner Julia (Suzy Kendall) are stalked by mysterious figures through the gloomy streets. Yet a niggling doubt pesters Sam. Uncertain about the validity of what he saw at the gallery, the American’s amateurish detective work becomes a race to unearth facts trapped within his own mind.

Argento’s Giallo inflected Bird With the Crystal Plumage, clearly leans heavily on Fritz Lang, Hitchcock and noir traditions. Nevertheless, the Italian writer director transmutes the thriller genre to create an often bizarre malaise of paranormal eroticism. As pretentious as this first sounds, Argento’s technique creates a chilling and unsettling murder mystery. As progressively more glamorous women become victims, the spiralling female body count does begin to err on an unfortunately misogynistic sado-masochism. However Argento manages to overcome this regrettable trend with a supernatural undercurrent that tinges the film with a peculiar lucidity. Nothing is what it seems in Bird With the Crystal Plumage; a thrilling mystery that is as creepy as it is captivating. Just steer clear of the many pronged art installations.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part 1) (2008)

1 Dec

Whilst livewithfilm recognises that watching a film a day was always going to be somewhat of a tricky task, today’s viewing was hampered by an unforeseen difficulty. Blindsided by a flat tyre after work, livewithfilm found itself on a lengthy trek home. Whilst the failure of the bike was infuriating enough, the prospect of the upcoming film loomed large in livewithfilm’s mind as the hours rolled by. After all, it has rarely been an uncomfortable task to watch and write about a film every day (even though livewithfilm would be the first to say that it hasn’t quite succeeded). Instead, the fatigue-about-all-things-filmic has only arisen thanks to the vast amounts of time that such a task takes up after a working day. Perhaps livewithfilm should have reinvigorated itself by taking inspiration from its two wheeled quandary. Maybe Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves could have calmed the spokes. On second thoughts, Rubber, in which a homicidal tyre terrorises a desert town, may have better encapsulated livewithfilm’s rage at time lost to the pedal.

Jean-Francis Richet’s film Mesrine: Killer Instinct charts the tumultuous real life of French bank robber Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) as he rose from soldier to gangster. Living with his parents after serving inAlgeria, Mesrine is penniless and without direction. However, once drawn into the violent world of mob boss Guido (Gerard Depardieu), Mesrine begins to excel in this world of quick-cash risk taking. Immersed in the vices of 60s Paris, Mesrine is surrounded by sex and aggression, ultimately choosing a life of crime over his family. Accompanied by the reckless Jeanne Schneider (Cécile De France), Mesrine becomes an infamous kidnapper and murderer. Once incarcerated, the hardened criminal plans the outrageous escape that made his name.

The major difficulty that faces Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the fallibility of its antihero. Vincent Cassel smoothly fuses sophistication with intimidation as Mesrine, providing the character with a panache that surpasses the actor’s impressive oeuvre. Yet whilst following this brutal life, Richet’s film envisages a violently sexist, racist and repulsive individual. Although audience empathy is an impossible aspiration for such a figure, Richet manages to create a film that revels in such emotional ambiguity. It is a credit to the director that Mesrine is left to be truly abhorrent whilst occupying the central role. Perhaps a criticism of the fame that came to follow the gangster’s actions, the film manages to become an unflinching depiction of a conflicted individual.

This does not mean that Mesrine: Killer Instinct cannot be effortlessly stylish and everything you’d expect from a French crime thriller. The film maintains a devotion to the French New Wave as it fractures the camera lens and delights in time lapses. Maintaining the film’s 60s setting, the warring pimps and downtrodden prostitutes reveal Richet’s debt to Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie. Amidst such ostentation, Mesrine: Killer Instict remains an enjoyable film, racing the audience towards a final gripping conclusion. Even though the contemptible hatred that exudes from the title character had livewithfilm occasionally screaming for his comeuppance, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is an exciting and thoroughly French action thriller. Tomorrow, part deux!

Taffin (1987)

14 Nov

Yes, the earthquake you felt on Saturday was the ground trembling after livewithfilm failed its assignment for the first time. As sad as it is, the celluloid free weekend seems to have done livewithfilm some good. Rejuvenated with a (previously waning) desire to continuously watch films, livewithfilm has decided that it will try its upmost to stick to its original pledge. Livewithfilm will watch a film a day (or near enough). How better to return than with Pierce Brosnan in tow as Taffin? Catapulted into the public consciousness by a viral video of Brosnon’s performance (search on youtube if you haven’t already… No, really do!), Francis Megahy’s film was high on the livewithfilm wish-list.

Taffin (Pierce Brosnan) is a violent renegade, collecting fees and busting kneecaps for the powerful gangster presence in his Irish town. After falling for local girl Charlotte (Allison Doody), Taffin seeks to make peace with the populace and decides to foil the plans of a crooked councilman. However, when the council begin construction on an unwelcome chemical works, Taffin must question how far he will go to protect the townsfolk. With company heavies attacking anyone who threatens their project, Taffin must resort to violence when the villagers come to him as their final hope.

Whilst entertainingly furious, Taffin is a classic for all of the wrong reasons. Impressively inept, the film manages to be inadvertently hilarious throughout, placing itself in a curious zone of accidental amusement. Whilst attempting to envision a rugged devil-may-care Irishman, Bronsnon’s protagonist comes across as a ‘focus-group’ anti-hero. Livewithfilm could almost hear Megahy ticking the boxes with his blunt HB. One moment a brooding literary aficionado, Taffin will hurl down his books at a moment’s notice to assault the nearest villain. Peppered with dialogue that would draw a snigger from a boulder (‘tut tut tut, you’re a very naughty boy’), Taffin remains neither gloomy nor explosive. Brosnan’s ultimate answer to this, in a classic piece of script interpretation, is to scream incidental pieces of dialogue; his ‘maybe you shouldn’t be living here!’ outburst remains a line that gives new meaning to the term ‘powerhouse performance’.

Meghany’s Taffin falls hardest when it attempts to merge increasingly diverse themes; gritty reality sits awkwardly next to the charming scenes of Ireland. Such a revelation left livewithfilm watching a topless Brosnan hunting for his knitted tea-cosy. The lunacy sees secret meetings at the local cow auction and reaches a bizarre peak when most of the cast of the 90s comedy Father Ted arrive. Sensing his film leaning too far towards the quaint, Meghany frantically inserts ill-chosen misogyny into the latter stages of Taffin; the crowds that mass inside the village strip club only create an uncomfortable atmosphere that had livewithfilm baying for the destruction of the hamlet. If you are looking for an enjoyably dark vision of Ireland then livewithfilm would recommend John Michael McDonagh’s brilliant The Guard (2011). Nevertheless, you will struggle to find a more entertaining vision of madness than Brosnan in Taffin. All together now… Maybe you shouldn’t be living here!