Train to Busan

The film I was most looking forward to of the Day of the Dead, if not the whole festival, is Korean breakout success Train to Busan. How could I not be interested in seeing a film billed as having breathed new life into the zombie genre? I was not disappointed. Train to Busan is a storming success of a film. Zombie films of recent years have tended to divide between the cheesy and funny, or the drama-set-against-a-backdrop-of-zombie snoozefest of the Walking Dead. So Train is refreshing in its simplicity.

Though there are plenty of laughs, there is thankfully little that is outright silly or slapstick. Instead we follow Seok Woo and his daughter onto a high speed train across the country. This is a neat touch – zombie films always have to create a sense of isolation, of being cut off from all the other people that might help and a train makes as good a scenario as a house, a pub or a plane (don’t judge me – I loved Zombies on a Plane).

Outside the world is collapsing. It seems the infection (more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead) has spread like a… uh… plague of ferocious, incredibly fast zombies and engulfed several cities. On the train, things are little better. A single member of the infected has (obviously) found their way aboard and havoc ensues. We get all the usual classic zombie traits – suspicion and hate amongst the survivors as the humans turn on each other, relationships torn apart by zombie infection, false hopes of governmental intervention and smears of blood across the window. It doesn’t really break new ground but it ticks all the zombie movie requirements with such glee that it’s hard to fault it.

Top class zombie action – best new film of its kind I’ve seen in a while.

Drink
Five Points Pale. As before. Tasty enough and available from the bar under the town hall.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Day of the Dead continues in small-town Minnesota, where blood is being spilled on snow. Whilst this is perhaps a more serious horror film than The Master Cleanse before it, it’s not the kind of film I’m instinctively drawn to. Pitched somewhere between slasher-horror (some is killing people and ripping out their organs!), murder-mystery (sleepy town, candle-light vigils for the slain, an increasing feeling of fear of their own streets) and psychological thriller (Max Records’ John goes to counselling for his tendencies towards violence) it cracks along at a fair pace. Bodies mount up as our clearly unreliable teenage lead investigates the killings that are gripping his town.

It’s a bit silly and perhaps doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny as a slasher flick but as a psychological thriller it keeps us guessing. You’re never quite sure if you really believe anything you’ve seen through John’s eyes or not and the snowy, small-town environment lends a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere. A solid little horror film.

Drinks
Saltaire Belgian Red. Clocking in at 7.2% this is a powerful little beer. Rich and tasty and deceptively drinkable.

The Master Cleanse

It’s the Day of the Dead. I’ve long been a fan of LIFF’s infamous Night of the Dead’s younger sibling. Whilst NotD welcomes the seriously committed – for an evening of midnight to 9am horror endurance – DotD has a steadily growing pedigree of being a pleasant boozy afternoon of film viewing. Past highlights have included Tusk, What We Do in the Shadows and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (probably my favourite LIFF showing ever).

The Master Cleanse kicked off this year’s DotD and, in my opinion, did so in great style. Starring Johnny Galecki of Big Bang Theory fame, it’s an odd one. It never really goes full out horror – and I’ve seen some complain that it wasn’t really a fit for the DotD bill – but it’s got a proper body-horror / monster horror pedigree. You can tell they had great fun making it.

It was expanded from a short into a feature length film and – being brutally honest – you can sort of tell: it’s far from being a complex story and could probably be told as a long TV episode, or half-length film. But if it had been I probably wouldn’t have seen it… As it is, I really don’t want to give too much away about it, suffice to say that the very physical special effects are great fun.

A worthy, if relatively light-hearted opener to Day of the Dead.

Drinks
Five Points Pale. It’s perhaps not the most exciting beer (although Five Points’ Railway Porter is one to go for!) but a very pleasant pale ale that fit the bill for the first-film-of-the-day. Fittingly, we also rated the film as five points!

Schneider Vs Bax

This is something pretty refreshing. Schneider Vs. Bax treads a weirdly delicate balance between being a black comedy and a genuine, straight-faced thriller. Amidst contract killers, drug abuse, fractured family relationships and whole bunch of swamp and reeds we find ourselves in a Finnish drama that veers between being a bit silly and being very serious.

I’ve no idea what I’d expected – the Liff programme had it billed as a kind of farce and – in parts – that’s more or less accurate. Elsewhere it’s as tense a drama as you could ask for as tooled-up killers hunt their prey in the swampland. The master stroke of the film is its neutral position. You’re rarely less than sympathetic with either side of the Schneider Vs Bax conflict and it makes for a weird viewing. Usually when someone on screen is looking to shoot someone else you’re viewing it from a firmly partisan perspective: you want one of them to win. Here though, it’s just fascinating to watch it all unfold.

Truly solid film. I’d happily watch this one again.

Drinks
A can of Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin for this one. It’s a punchy, strong IPA that you could easily drink far too much of. And Assassin is clearly a very fitting beer for the film!

Paterson

Liff30 opened this year with Paterson, a gentle, understated drama from Jim Jarmusch. I’ve not always had great success with the film festival openers before. They often score some pretty big names – they’ve shown Argo and Gravity in recent years – but they tend not to really be my sort of thing. Jim Jarmusch is right up my street though. Dead Man was my favourite film for a good while and he’s done a couple of others I’ve enjoyed.

Paterson follows Kylo Ren Adam Driver, a bus-driver living in a town he was both born in and named after in New Jersey. We follow his relationship with his eccentric (irritating?), cupcake-baking girlfriend, his time on the bus, his evenings in the bar over the course of a week, all loosely bound together by the poems he writes in snatches of spare time. It’s tender and quiet – almost (but not quite) to the point of being boring. It’s by no means a film that’ll change your life but it is a beautiful little hymn to the importance of personal creativity and finding beauty in small joys. Paterson’s poem on his “current favourite” brand of matches (Ohio Blues, since you ask) is indicative of the kind the tone of the piece.

I’m sure there’s loads that I’ve missed in this. I get the feeling that with more deliberation, deeper knowledge of American poetry and culture and maybe a re-watch there’s a lot more to get out of this film. William Carlos Williams (of whom I know little more than a single poem) looms over the film and I think I’m going to have to have a look at his Paterson, an epic poem over several books.

Beer choice
Not a whole lot of choice today. The Film Festival bar was off limits to all but guests so we had to make do with the normal town-hall bar, which is mostly Worthington smooth-flow and fizzy beer. Settled for the only respectable beer on offer, a bottle of Black Sheep. Tasty, if not exciting.

Leeds Film Festival – Film by film

The Leeds International Film Festival is here again! And celebrating it’s 30th anniversary, no less. As ever I am keen to get the most out of it. After several years volunteering and a couple selling tickets and bossing people about, I’ve embraced the world of being a passholder with some enthusiasm. I get to see what I want! Whenever I want!

I’ve got a busy festival schedule of film lined up and can’t wait to dive in. I’m going to do my level best to make sure every single film gets some kind of write-up here. It’s not going to be easy – some days there are so many films on they all begin to blur – but it sounds like a good challenge.

Here we go!

Pupi Avati double bill: The House with Laughing Windows & Zeder

What a treat! Back-to-back Italian genre films from the 70s and 80s! I’d not seen either The House with Laughing Windows (1976) nor Zeder (1983) before so the screening of both at the Hyde Park Picture House was too good an opportunity to miss. As if that wasn’t enough, there were the added bonuses of Pupi Avati himself being there for the screening and the fact that both features were being lovingly projected in full 35mm glory, courtesy of Cigarette Burns and their enthusiasm for all things film.

House with Laughing Windows was up first and was a treat. Despite what Avati said during the Q&A (more on that later) about this being an off-kilter approach to the genre, that defied as many rules as it observed, I’d say it was pretty much textbook Giallo. This is by no means a bad thing! We have many of the familiar ingredients: the lead character is from out of town, a friendless stranger in a curious town; there’s a gibbering half-crazed local loon (could he be the killer?); there are anonymous phone-calls; noises in the night; mysterious recordings; unhappy history; bad blood… Every Giallo I see only reminds me how much I love the genre and this seems every bit the equal to the some of the more famous – the Argentos and the Fulcis of the day. Its well-paced, undeniably creepy in places, a decent mystery: exactly what I’m looking for in a Giallo film. Top marks.

I’m not usually a massive fan of a director Q&A session: they tend to be pretty dull, with much self-important waffling on the part of the director and fawning questions from the audience. Refreshingly, Avati managed to avoid this for the most part. Sure there was some pretty self-indulgent rambling but it was all cut with a hefty dose of self-deprecation and some humour. It was quite lovely to see how keen he was to always move on to the next project, to talk about what was fresh and interesting to him rather than wallowing in the films of the 70s and 80s. When asked if some of his once-banned films would ever see a release, he simply shrugged and explained that with so many films under his belt it was hard to keep track any more. I remember a previous Q&A with Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato which took the opposite track: he still made out that his banned film was some long-persecuted artwork.

Onto Zeder. Although I’d say I enjoyed the two films equally, there’s no doubt that Zeder was the more surprising and innovative of the two. While I loved House With Laughing Windows for its Giallo familiarity, Zeder is a quite different beast. Probably best described a Zombie Giallo, or even just a zombie-mureder-mystery, its a zombie film (with all the re-animated corpse that that implies) set at the meandering, slow-build pace of the giallo.

I do love a good zombie film but they essentially play all their cards early: after a short intro, you’ve usually got to the basic story all laid out. There are some people, And some zombies. The people would like to survive. Zeder by contrast is all investigative journalism, night-time encounters and creepy old buildings. Our hero Stefano discovers some alarming messages hidden in the used ribbon of his second-hand typewriter that send him into detective mode. Of course, asking too many questions always irks the bad guys so Stefano soon finds himself caught up in series of threats, robberies and murders. It all builds gently (but inevitably) towards a gripping finale set in an enormous abandoned building. The choice of location is so perfect that I almost don’t want to say anything more about it… I’d be interested to know if had been used in other films as its great, hulking empty frame, overgrown courtyards and passageways all just seem to scream ‘cinematic’ at you.

If anything, these two films are going to send me running back to 70s/80s Italian genre film. They’re just done so well. Neither film is perfect, but they don’t have to be! They’re stylish, intriguing and creepy. And a whole lot of fun.

La Silence de la Mer

My LIFF got off to a fairly gentle start with the sad, understated La Silence de la Mer. Jean-Pierre Melville takes us through Vercors‘ novel of the same name which sees a German officer stationed in with the French narrator and his niece in occupied France. The French pair don’t have a lot of choice about giving up their spare room to an enemy officer and, lacking any other form of resistance, choose to pointedly ignore him.

I won’t wander too deeply through the rest of the plot, suffice to say that it turns out some Germans were nice people, bought into the propaganda lies of a happier, German-er Europe flourishing once the Nazis had triumphed. Needless to say, he soon learns things are not as he has been led to believe. The film handles its subjects delicately, choosing to focus words rather than images – almost all the of the film takes place in the front room of the French hosts’ house. We meet few characters, still fewer are seen speaking. Undeniably moving and carefully crafted, it’s perhaps just a little bit too delicate for my tastes.

Leeds International Film Festival #29

What better way to kick off a new blog than with one of the best film festivals around? LIFF, now in its 29th (!) year goes from strength to strength and is always a fabulous showcase of the classy, the grotesque, the polished and the imperfect. This year has some killer offerings in the retrospectives, some exciting looking horror choices and some great documentaries lined up.

This is my first year as a full passholder. For the last number of years I’ve variously worked and volunteered for the festival – and seen a great range of films and met some wonderful people. This year though I’m going all out. I can go to whatever feature I like, won’t have to hang around in the town hall until midnight waiting for Once Upon a Time in the West to finish and can drink a lot more!

Let’s go…