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!

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.

The Reverend (2011) or livewithfilm wonders why Rutger Hauer is in pre-release DVD no.2 …

29 Jul

 

Unaware of his significance in a conflict between Heaven and Hell, a reverend (Stuart Brennan) takes up his role in a village parish. Yet after fending off a hungry assailant, the holy man slowly becomes aware of his growing thirst for blood. Using his new found urges to confront evil, the reverend takes it upon himself to rid the sleepy village of the most significant members of the criminal underworld.

While Neil Jones has clearly done his research, the tremendous debt The Reverend owes to its forebears only serves to highlight the ultimate failures of this Dracula-goes-to-Ambridge sub-par horror. This is never more aptly highlighted than when Brennan’s character, fuelled by a burning desire to drink the blood of a local pensioner, laps gore from the worktop of his kitchen. A clear attempt to recreate a near identical scene from Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos (1993), The Reverend repeatedly trades unnerving artistry for home counties tedium. In addition to this, thefilmmanages to condense Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006) into a ten minute epilogue of immediate irrelevance. While the Russian’s films could never be seen as sophisticated, the preliminary act of The Reverend only serves to thieve a number of ‘weighty’ symbols from Bekmambetov’s vision. These are never returned to and thus become startlingly inappropriate.

Even more unsettling, Jones’s film espouses an uncomfortable vision of class. The village is continuously plagued by the problems of a nearby housing estate, which is posed as the source of all the world’s ills. The working class are shown as a thieving and violent bunch. Beyond redemption, The Reverend suggests that murder is the only way that civilised members of society can rid themselves of this ‘menace’. If one is to attempt to maintain the idea’s of the long forgotten introduction, are we to believe that the world’s poor are in fact agents of Hell? Wealth and the possession of a country house are shown to be invitations into paradise, owned only by the brave and kind.

With actors stuttering to deliver awkward phrases, Jones does little to support them with his camera. Often using infuriatingly slapdash or by the numbers direction, The Reverend retains the feel of a weekly soap opera. While Jones occasionally remembers to use a neat voice over that harks back to the film’s comic book roots, The Reverend holds no redeeming features. Times must be tough for Rutger Hauer if he needs to maintain his career with this malicious guff. Recalling his glory days in Blade Runner (1982), my tears were lost in rain.

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.

The Woman in Black (2012) or livewithfilm wants more boo for its buck…

28 Jun

Should children’s films be scary? Coming from a blog that has, in the past, expressed its admiration for italian-giallo-splatter-punk, the answer should be relatively simple to deduce. As a mere sprog, it took livewithfilm multiple sittings to get through the first ten minutes of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), while Gremlins (1984) left this youthful film-fan gibbering with tears. What fun! Livewithfilm will stand by the claim that it is a true thrill to experience a scare and that it is an injustice to provide children with a ‘cotton-wool’ version of this art form. The world can be grim and film can actively reflect and evaluate this for people of all ages. Saying that, a call recently came in to a Mark Kermode radio show that sought advice as to whether a six year old would enjoy Jaws (1975). Too far methinks.

Young lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) leaves his motherless-son for a week of work in a distant village. Tasked with collating the paperwork of recently emptied Eel Marsh House, Kipps faces resentment from the locals when his role comes to light. Fearing the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman, the community assert that his coming will bring about the deaths of many village children.

Having sat through a truly terrifying production of The Woman in Black on the West End, livewithfilm was excited that this ghoulish story had been bought to celluloid by the masterful Hammer studio. Unfortunately James Watkins’ film seems to have been hamstrung by both an overzealous trailer and a recent abundance of masterful haunted house movies. Strikingly similar to The Orphanage (2007), The Woman in Black occasionally chose to employ sadly hackneyed scare tactics that undermined its effective creation of atmosphere. Simultaneously, the most effective and original shocks had all been seen before, repeated ad infinitum in over-seen pre-film adverts. Nevertheless, the film packs two notable moments of goosebumpery and repeatedly provides neat chills rather than downright scares. Given that The Others (2001) is the same certificate and remains utterly petrifying, perhaps a trick has been missed by The Woman in Black. Still, great to see a return of Hammer with this Jane Eyre rehash (‘madwoman in the attic’ theory anyone?).

Livewithfilm’s allegiances are torn this evening for tonight’s Euro 2012 match:Germany and F.W. Murnau orItaly and Dario Argento?! At leastSpain and Pedro Almodovar are through to the final…

Prometheus (2012) or livewithfilm succumbs to the lure of the really big screen…

18 Jun

Will IMAX become the successor of now-waning 3D gimmickry? What remains a far more intriguing question is why we are continuously searching for that forever out of reach ‘further level of depth’ each new technology has promised. A good narrative is enthralling enough. Far from some traditionalist intent on the retention of old methods, livewithfilm simply remains sceptical about each ‘next-big-thing’ the film industry forces upon us. 3D always struck livewithfilm as simply a tool to get people off of their sofas and away from their DVDs and IMAX needs to prove that it is above this. At least it holds enough of a draw to force livewithfilm to book its viewing of Prometheus months in advance…

(No spoilers here!) A few years after Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings that allude to mankind’s creation, they are travelling through space to discover what they think are the ‘architects’ of humanity. Accompanied by a crew of scientists and private funders, the explorers discover an abandoned spacecraft that hides a dark secret. (What did I say?)

Expectations were high for this prequel/non-prequel of Alien (1979), which remains a certified livewithfilm classic. Promising answers to all of the questions posed by Scott’s spooky original was perhaps Prometheus’ downfall. Every act deems itself tremendously philosophical, each image is crammed with ‘important’ meanings that those outside of the editing suite will be unable to decipher. Prometheus sadly takes itself very seriously when, in reality, its proclamations of profundity reduce it to silliness. Livewithfilm will not give away any spoilers, but safe to say, the ultimate ‘spoiler’ was the film itself. There are some undoubtedly arresting sequences, the caesarean scene remaining a master-class in claustrophobia that stayed burnt onto the livewithfilm retinas for some time. But such moments couldn’t obscure the disappointing idiocy that burst from the screen.

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.

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) or livewithfilm is pursued by a ravenous rhododendron…

31 May


A much maligned sub genre, the portmanteau horror is close to livewithfilm’s heart. A contained series of tales that are linked through some nefarious means, these episodic wonders offer a clutch of (occasionally) chilling short stories with final punch-to-the-gut twists. Often offering a host of bizarre stars in increasingly odd situations (Tom Baker’s presence in The Vault of Horror (1973) is notable for all the wrong reasons), portmanteau films remain wildly inventive. Without the need to sustain a plot for a full film’s length, segments often steer into amusing lunacy before stumbling across a dénouement.

Five strangers enter a train carriage and intrigued by the tarot cards of Dr. Terror (Peter Cushing), begin to discover the horrible fates that await them: Jim Dawson (Neil McCallum) travels to his ancestral home, only to release a werewolf from a concealed crypt; Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman) discovers that a carnivorous plant has sprouted in his front lawn; Biff Bailey (Roy Castle) gets into a mess when he replicates a voodoo chant with his jazz band; Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) is hounded by the severed hand of a vengeful artist; and Dr Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) questions the blood sucking potential of his new bride to be.

Yes, as you have probably guessed from the plot synopses above, livewithfilm enjoyed some rather wacky viewing. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is undeniably worth a watch, if only to witness how far each story plummets down the rabbit hole. Often seeming unsure if it wishes to be screamed with or laughed at, there are notable peaks and lulls. The man eating plant remains exceptionally unthreatening and livewithfilm struggles to think of an image that inspired less dread than this peckish pansy. Lingering elsewhere on the horror spectrum, Christopher Lee’s approaching appendages and Donald Sutherland’s penchant for heart-staking remain the film’s high points. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors is absolutely teeming with ideas, even if not all of them are pulled off. If you haven’t seen the final twist coming, then under livewithfilm rules you must copy: ‘I must watch more horror films’ one hundred times.