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.

Xam Duo, Let’s Eat Grandma and Anna Meredith at the Belgrave

When the Belgrave first opened I remember asking someone what it was like. “So hipster”, they replied, explaining it was full of beardy, glasses wearing, craft-beer drinking fans of obscure bands. We did both, of course, fit that exact profile (although obviously WE weren’t hipsters). It feels fitting then, that the Belgrave was the scene of one of my most hipster gig going choices yet: going to a gig having only ever heard of the band at the very bottom of the bill.

Xam Duo, my reason for going, are half made up of Matthew Benn from Hookworms. Whilst they bring a very full on onslaught of noise, Xam Duo are a bit more refined – gentler and (whisper it) even a bit jazzy. Their continually evolving and developing single song sprawled over half an hour as percussive noises, keys and saxophone drones faded in and out. I would have happily seen them play for a lot longer. They’ve got an album on bandcamp which I’ll have to investigate soon.

They were followed by Let’s Eat Grandma, who’s name is basically their strongest point. I’m pretty disinclined to be rude about bands – I’d always much rather focus on positive experiences and ignore the less good bands – but I really can’t just pretend Let’s Eat Grandma don’t exist (however much I might like to). They were excruciating. Style was far outweighing substance as they flicked their hair around the stage moving from one instrument to the next. All the tunes are pretty thing and the lyrics even worse. The rapping was just embarrassing. In fairness to them, they are very young. Maybe at sixth form battle of the bands they’d top the bill. But judged as a real, touring band they fall very far short.

The only baffling this is why so many people around us seemed to love them.

If I was beginning to doubt the sense in coming to a gig on the strength of the support, Anna Meredith more than made up for Let’s Eat Grandma. I’d only had a chance to give the briefest of listens to her album so didn’t have a very clear idea of what to expect and was absolutely blown away. Anyone who brings a cello on stage gets a pretty good mark in my book but both a cello and a tuba? You’re just off the scale. She and her band were absolutely fab. They thundered through their set and looked like they were having a great time throughout.

So, I went to see one band, found another I loved and know to steer well clear of another. Not a bad score really.

Drinks: Ilkley Hanging Stone Stout – good, dark beer that manages to avoid running into the higher ABV numbers. A stout you can drink a few of.
Kirkstall Dissolution IPA – always a safe bet. Great stuff.

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!