Dark Owl Fantasy Shorts

More shorts! This time with a fantasy edge, some of which were pretty dark!

All of these were decent, but some made a lot more impact than others. Roadside Assistance (dir: Bears Fonte) is the most slight of the lot. It’s a bit dark and gently funny but that’s about it. The Midnight Shift (IMDB) is dark tale of a robber’s night posing as a taxi driver. It’s neat, but nothing very surprising. The Call is more inventive – a policeman discovers his long-missing wife’s body on the beach and undergoes some curious transformations. Trailer here.

Here’s where it starts to get really good. The Man Who Caught a Mermaid is a good and disturbing story of an old fisherman obsessed with finding a mermaid. It beginning to tear at his marriage and his sanity. Excellent stuff. Even better is the super-creepy Pearlies about a ferocious tooth-fairy mouse terrorising a father and son as they clear out grandma’s old house.

Best of the lost though was The Frozen Eye. Bernard discovers a peephole from his flat into the room below. What starts as curiosity develops into obsession which develops into… well… let’s just say it had one of the most difficult to watch scenes of the festival. Ouch.

The Void

Time for some proper horror! The Void has a lot of very neat touches – some familiar and some original – as it dances between a whole bunch of horror genres. Ultimately, in my opinion, it goes the wrong way and turns into a kind of silly that I’m less a fan of. I don’t want to go into any specifics as it’d really spoil the plot but after having thrown a lot of genres in there I feel like it chose the wrong one to finally stick with.

Disappointment around the last third or so notwithstanding, the journey to get there was a rollercoaster ride of fun. We get touches of revenge killer violence (someone’s been burnt alive outside a remote farmhouse before the opening credits have even rolled!), a dash of cult (who are the figures dressed in sheets with black triangles drawn on the front?), isolationism (barricaded inside a mostly closed hospital), hints of zombie and some physical monster effects to make John Carpenter proud. And it escalates fast. There’s heaps of bloodshed, shouting, axe-waving and stabbing within the first 30 minutes and it never really lets up.

As I said before, this doesn’t turn into my kind horror film. Despite that, I can’t fault it at all for its style and wholehearted embrace of horror genres. Great fun.

Drinks
Maisel Weisse. Another discovery in the Hyde Park Picture House bar. Saw someone order this the other day and made a mental note to try it next time I was there. Well worth it.

Here Is Harold

I’ve not seen a lot of Scandinavian comedies but it does seem that most of the ones I have seen tend to find comedic events born out of very bleak times. This may well reflect the programmers of the Leeds Film Festival more than it does Scandinavian comedy. I don’t know. Either way, the really very funny Here is Harold starts from a premise that couldn’t get much bleaker.

Harold and Marny run a furniture shop in a town in Norway. They have a happy life and all seems well. And then IKEA builds a store next door. Cue downward spiral of loss of earnings, Margot’s loss of mind and other sadness. Its not a cheery start. And it doesn’t get much better when Harold shares his plan to revenge-kidnap the founder of IKEA to his divorced, jobless, alcoholic son. Happily, things do perk up from there. Sort of.

We get whisked off to Sweden for a madcap adventure to kidnap Kamprad, the IKEA founder, and possibly ransom or blackmail him. Unexpectedly, he finds the whole affair a lot more exciting than threatening and the adventure rocks back and forth between plot and farce. It’s fabulous stuff.

Drinks
Anspach and Hobday Smoked Brown Beer – I’ve not heard of these guys before. They’re a London based brewery and their brown ale, it turns out, is great.

World Animation Award

The Film Festival has an impressive commitment to showing world-class short films so I always make sure to catch a few of the sessions – the animation is usually a highlight and this year was no exception. I’m not going to go through each in detail, but skate over the lot and focus on a few of the best.

Totem is pretty and sad, A Love Story is gorgeous but weird. Party by Daniel Barany is gorgeous and funny (see a theme here?). We go dancing through a progressively more debauched party. Barany’s Vimeo account is here, but sadly doesn’t have the actual film on it.

Eternal Hunting Grounds was astonishingly pretty and dead creepy (kids bury dead animals so that they go to their ‘eternal hunting grounds’ – or do they?) but overlong. Given the cumulative runtime of the previous three would fit inside the runtime of this one, this should really have done more to justify the time.

Ivan’s Need is absolutely fabulous, very funny and decidedly NSFW. The director’s Vimeo account has a (clean) teaser trailer but, once again, it doesn’t seem like you can get to the full film online.

I don’t really remember anything about The Empty. The animation is pretty but… it obviously didn’t make a huge impression on me. Far better was the astonishingly wonderful and funny The Bald Future. Trailer below:

Jonas and the Sea and Piano rounded out the collection in high style. The former is a beautiful and bizarre story of a man’s series of homemade submersible vehicles while the latter is just stunning. Utterly black comedy with tightropes, pianos and all sorts of mishaps. Trailer below:

Assassination Classroom: Graduation

Last year, Assassination Classroom, screened in Cottage Road, was one of the unexpected (for me, at least) triumphs of the whole festival. We’d gone to it knowing that it sounded dead weird (an octopus like alien appears on Earth and becomes a school teacher. His class have the rest of the year to learn how to kill him) but not knowing much else about it. And it was great. Not just, a bit of good fun but really, entertainingly, memorably great. And utterly silly.

So the sequel came with some expectations to live up to. Could one of our favourite films of last year possibly keep up the quality? The answer is: yes, mostly.

Assassination Classroom: Graduation is a somewhat different film to the first. Whilst the first was a series of escalating madcap scenarios in which the class might kill the teacher, this one has a (relatively) more straight-faced tone. We trade in some of the more slapstick elements for a quite wonderful superhero backstory parody (think Wolverine!), a love interest and grittier fighting. This does mean its not quite the same ridiculous fun as the original, but I don;t think they really could have sustained that. Instead of just trying to do the same but more, we get a pretty decent superhero film – much like Deadpool this both teases and lives up to the superhero tropes – with a dash of yellow octopus thrown in.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend starting here – you need to see the original first – but this ticked all the right boxes. Excellent stuff.

Drinks
Kirkstall Dissolution Extra IPA. Excellent as ever.

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.

Mindhorn

This is an explosively funny film. Cast aside all thoughts of Bunny and the Bull and The Mighty Boosh, this could well be Simon Farnaby and Julian Barratt’s best work. If I had to place in reference to anything else its a bit like Hot Fuzz, seen through the lens of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. With a cast of thousands.

Mindhorn turns out to be a fictional detective from a 70s TV show set on the Isle of Wight. He was played by Richard Thorncroft, in turn played by Barratt, who is now down on his luck – torn between both worshipping his past and loathing the shadow it casts over his subsequent (lack of) career. When the (real) police on the Isle of Wight are faced with a crazed killer, who believes himself to be a character in the 70s TV show, they grudgingly enlist his help. And, of course, all hell breaks looks.

This is laugh out loud, riotously funny stuff. The Cottage Road cinema in Headingly was absolutely packed out for this and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a film get such a good response. We get armed stand-offs, parades, drug-fuelled rampages – its stellar stuff. I don’t think I can really go into much more of it without spoiling the plot but I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’ll be fantastic on any screen, but it was an absolute treat to see it in the cinema.

Drinks
Too early, too early. Just coffee.

Cord

Cord was described in the film festival programme as “dark post-apocalyptic body-horror that asks what would love be like if there was no society, no family, no friends, no government, no cities, no cars, no internet… In a world where people no longer engage in sexual intercourse due to disease, masturbation has become the paradigm of sexual experience”. I can’t help but feel that it was dramatically oversold. @Robot_Cooper summarised it more succinctly on twitter: “man builds a giant sex machine and another man shits into a clear bowl”. That’s pretty much spot on.

It was disappointing. At 70 minutes long it looks a bit like they couldn’t quite decide whether to make it a short or a feature. As it is they seem to have edged towards feature length without really having the story to support it. Shorts get away a lot more easily with just posing “Yeah, but what if…?” kind of questions and leaving central premises entirely unexplained. Whilst that sort of schtick is fine in a short – good even, inviting you to ponder them after the film has finished – its just irritating in a feature. By about half an hour in there weren’t really masny more surprises, or interesting information given it just… carried on.

Ho hum.

Drinks The beer certainly didn’t disappoint. An Icelandic Stout whose name I’ve forgotten, bought from the Little Leeds Beer House. Whilst maybe not quite good enough to justify its journey from Iceland – there are lots of equally good stouts from round here – taken on its own merits this is as pretty fine stout.

Mimosas

Variety described this as an “minimalist travelogue and crypto-Western, which offers relatively few clues to its goals and intents”. This is not far off the mark. I have absolutely no idea what I watched here. Its certainly pretty. I can say that for sure. We get stunning vistas of Moroccan mountains, of desert plains, of rivers, hills, ravines, snow covered passes and lakes. But what’s happening… well, I’m not sure.

Our heroes are on a trek across the mountains, escorting the sheik/the-body-of-the-sheik to his city. And they’re lost. And all sorts of troubles beset them. But are they really there? Is anything that happens on screen what’s actually happening? Part time driver / mechanic / prophet and traveller Shahib arrives to help (or hinder?) them. And more troubles ensue.

But I still have no idea what really happened. Its a deliberately obscure, subjective kind of film. It’s quite enjoyable in its own sort of way but I’d struggle to recommend it with much enthusiasm.

Drinks
Magic Rock Cannonball – another absolute favourite. This one slips down far too easily for its ~7% ABV.

Pulp Fiction

Of all the retrospectives screening this year (or at least, of the ones I’m seeing), this is probably the cultural heavyweight. The Matrix is fantastic, Aliens is a classic but Pulp Fiction is clever. And great fun too. I thought going into it that I knew less quotable lines than I did for The Matrix, but how wrong I was (“Royale with cheese”).

In many ways, this is more than the sum of its parts. If you look at the story chronologically, it’s really not all that interesting a plot. The moments of tension are small. There’s no real place the story actually goes to. Stuff just… happens. Of course, this is Tarantino’s real skill. His touch with music, with character, with perfectly timed moments of shocking violence is all very well, but its in the characters and the dialogue that his talent shines. And has he ever really bettered Pulp Fiction? Maybe in Reservoir Dogs. Maybe. Perhaps in the occasional scene of Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained or The Hateful Eight (which I think I really must watch again). But this is up there. This is definitely nudging at being his very best. And its sublime.

There’s not a dull moment. The pacing is fantastic. And you’re rooting for one character one moment and another the next. It’s hard to believe that you’re on John Travolta’s side so hard when he’s rescuing the heroin-snorting Uma Thurman one moment and then cheering Bruce Willis on as he shoots Travolta in the chest only minutes later.

Once again, this one was a treat to see on the big screen. It was made for it. The big yellow letters of the titles, Samuel L Jackson’s bible-quoting gun-toting craziness, Travolta and Thurman’s twist. This is a cinema film and I’m very glad to have seen it in an appropriate setting.

Drinks
Are you kidding? This was a breakfast screening. I’d barely had a cup of tea at this point.