Kids Police

Tokyo is overrun with violence and crime. The shady organisation, Red Venus, is responsible. The police are helpless. So a special taskforce is formed with the sole intention of bring down Red Venus… …and then in an unfortunate incident with some magic gas are all turned into children. Uh… yes. The central premise is pretty damn funny. We get the wise-cracking cops, gun-toting violence, street brawls and all the hallmarks of 70s cop shows, but the lead characters are all children. It’s a well studied spoof – full of double-crossing, hidden identities, kidnap and love-interests.

Sadly, its not quite funny enough. At the end of the day, the ‘the-police-are-kids’ shtick boils down to one joke stretched out over the course of the whole film. The rest is good but it’s never on the Naked Gun level of funny, and relies on the kids joke a little too much. I didn’t realise when I saw it, but this is actually a spin-ff from a hit TV show. I imagine it works somewhat better in small episodes. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Drinks
five Points Railway Porter. Back in the Hyde Park Picture House, and back to the best porter around.

The Art of Negative Thinking

This is a fantastic film. It’s a fantastic film that’s cruelly lacking a distribution deal and isn’t available nearly as widely as it should be. And it’s a film I love.

I first saw this at the Leeds International Film Festival back in 2010. I was a volunteer that year, and apart from the handful of freebie tickets you get for your time, mostly just saw whatever I was sent to work on. This was an eye opener. Some shifts I saw films I’d never have chosen to see (I’ll never forget Año bisiesto, a desperately sad Mexican film of sex and violence or Huacho, a challengingly slow account of a day in the life of Chilean peasant). One of the very best things I saw that year thought was a Norwegian film called the Art of Negative Thinking. It was a really popular one. I saw it from the very front row of the screen in Vue, sat on the floor in the unoccupied wheelchair space with my neck bent right back to see the screen.

It was great. And despite this I couldn’t encourage anyone to see it as its just not available. There are no DVDs. It’s not on Netflix. Nor Amazon Prime. Or anywhere. I just had to sit on this recommendation, mentioning it occasionally but never really being able to show it to anyone. I’m sure your heart bleeds for me. These were hard times.

So how fantastic that the festival has screened it again. And this time, smug passholder that I am, I have the best seat in the house, a good beer, and I’m ready for it. And it’s even better than I remembered. And my neck isn’t sore from watching.

I realise that not a single word of this review has been about the film. I don’t care. The film’s great. That goes without saying. And it’s still unavailable. But if you get the chance you should watch it, you really should.

Drinks Five Points Railway Porter. One of my favourite beers to accompany one of my favourite films.

Fukushima, Mon Amour

This wasn’t one I’d had on my own list. I saw the words Fukushima, disaster, coping, sadness and other similar terms and decided to give it a wide berth. I like a film with a bit of sadness. But misery? I’ll usually give that a miss. Despite this I heard nothing but good things about it and decided to go to the re-screening.

As with so many others of the festival, this is an odd one. A German woman arrives a Fukushima, ready to perform as a clown to lift the displaced locals’ spirits. I mean… what? She speaks no Japanese and her clowning is pretty rudimentary. She quickly begins to question her decision. I really don’t want to give too much away but what follows is quite beautiful. It’s a tale if guilt and loss, of loneliness and companionship, and of pride and humility. It’s no surprise that parts of it are very sad – what did you expect from a film about Fukushima? – but it’s fascinating throughout. I obviously have no real sense of its authenticity but as a peek into Japanese life in the post-disaster region its an eye opener.

Drinks
Five PointsRailway Porter. Rounding out my Five Points drinking with my favourite of their beers. This is the one that made me aware of Five Points, several years ago at the Leeds Beer Festival. It’s a perfectly balanced porter and, without doubt, one of my favourite beers.

A Divorce Before Marriage

One of my favourite strands of the Leeds International Film Festival is its focus on music documentaries. For the most part over the years they’ve given me the chance to get to know bands or movements I really didn’t know very well before – A Tribe Called Quest, Morphine and Stone’s Throw Records are all memorable discoveries. This year I was excited to see that one of the biggest music features is about a band I already know and love.

I’ve been listening to I LIKE TRAINS, (or iLiKETRAiNS as they were then) since the NME, reeling in the wake of Forward, Russia and the er.. Kaiser Chiefs, declared that everything Yorkshire was cool. At that point (2006ish?) I hadn’t decided to go to Leeds for uni, much less make the city my home. I don’t think it’d be untrue to admit that the Dance to the Radio compilation of new Yorkshire bands had a hand in choosing my university. A decade later, it’s not a choice I regret at all.

The chance to see a film about them was obviously pretty exciting. A Divorce Before Marriage focuses on the band in 2012, on the brink of releasing their third (and still most recent) album The Shallows. It homes in on the dirty secret of many a rock and roll band: making enough money off your music to live off is really, really hard. It’s terribly sad to puncture the sexy rock ‘n’ roll dream and admit that… these people have real jobs too. They work in offices. In Leeds. You’ve probably queued next to them on your lunch break. They’re… normal people. Just like you and me.

The film is fascinating and candid. We see good gigs. And we see some bad ones. Again, this is terribly humanizing. It’s so rare to see behind the music industry veneer into the eyes of the people playing the gig. And to see them be disappointed.

Similarly, we delve into their daily lives and see how the attractions of a steady salary and the duties of paternity all conflict with the recording process, the touring process and just generally being in the band. If anything, the obvious criticism is that the directors are perhaps a little too heavy handed. They had a narrative to weave (“being in a band doesn’t necessarily pay the bills”) and years of footage to use and have worked hard to get their message across. But perhaps it’s just a little too crushing. By the end, I was a it tired of being reminded of the hardships – yeah, I get it, it’s tough – and hadn’t seen enough of the fun. In the Q&A after the screening, singer David Martin did add that “being in a band wasn’t quite as bad as the film made out.”

The directing duo are young – I think this is their fist feature length documentary – and maybe didn’t get the balance or tone absolutely spot on with this one but it was a fascinating and enjoyable watch, and told a story too often ignored. I’m definitely interested to see what they do next.

I LIKE TRAINS are on at the Brudenell Social Club in a week. Tickets available from Jumbo and others.

Drinks
Working my way through the Five Points range, this time I went for their IPA. Very nice.

Psychonauts

With Psychonauts, the newly re-christened Animation day moved firmly away from its Japanese roots. Here, we find ourselves in a Basque produced, Spanish language (The language nerd in me was slightly disappointed it wasn’t in Basque) dystopian oddity. Here, animals of various shapes and sizes have established a society amongst the rubble and rubbish heaps of an unknown island. Mice, rabbits and dogs live peaceably together on the quiet island.

It’s frankly so bizarre I don’t know where to start. Should I mention the enthusiastic little clockwork alarm who scurries about the island – “BEEP BEEP”? Should I mention the fisherman who saves his wages from fishing and quite possibly drug dealing to look after his comatose mother who is possessed by an evil spider? Or maybe I should focus on birdboy, son on birdman, who is tortured by his bird-like demons and hides in the shadows of the island? Wherever I start, there’s no escaping the fact that this is utterly bonkers.

All of this would be pretty tiring though if it weren’t for the beating heart of the story, which sees several interlinked narratives of hope and loss spread out across the island. It’s full of sweet moments and sad moments – you very quickly forget that you’re watching a cartoon rabbit struggling with their love for the part-bird-part-boy sweetheart they may never see again.

I loved Psychonauts. From start to finish it was an absolute joy.

Drinks
Five Points Pale Ale again. Oddly, I only seem to drink this one alongside a film I enjoy. Definitely a good omen.

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.

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!