Tag Archives: crime film

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.

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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.