The Matrix

It’s The Matrix. The Matrix. I don’t know if there’s any point writing any more words – those two say plenty.

It’s obviously a stone-cold classic. Its unforgettable action sequences influenced heaps of other action films and games, the memorable quotes stick pretty hard in your head (“I know king-fu”) and it was just so damn cool. Let’s pretend that they never made any more, that they never spoilt the legacy of the film with the crappy sequels, and focus on that one film: it’s a beautifully well-rounded sci-fi action movie. It’s got enough explosions, kicks to the head and machine-gun fire to keep the action fan happy. It’s got enough dystopian, pseudo-philosophical gibberish to keep the sci-fi fan happy.

I grew up watching The Matrix on VHS. I remember re-winding it to watch Neo and Trinity demolish the guards on repeat (“We need guns. Lots of guns”). Somewhere beyond the end of the feature was a documentary on how they filmed ‘bullet-time’. I watched it till the tape was worn. I’m obviously a long way from being able to form sensible critical opinions on this film: I love it and I’m very grateful to the Leeds International Film Festival for screening it on the massive great screen in the town hall.

Drinks
I don’t know. It was something tasty I got from the beer place in the Corn Exchange. But in my Matrix excitement I completely forget what.

The Islands and the Whales

Documentary time! And off we go to the Faroe isles to watch them hunt and eat. This is not one for the squeamish. Birds and whales are stabbed, sliced and torn apart left right and centre by the islanders as they hunt. It’s pretty gruesome in places but it’s not out of cruelty – this is how they get their food. They’re pretty frank about how little grows on the island.

Unfortunately, it’s not just accusations of animal cruelty they have to fend off. It turns out that their choice meat, Pilot Whale, is so high up the food chain that the pollutants of the sea are concentrated in them, leading to dangerously high levels of mercury. It’s a threat that’s causing them to ask serious questions over their identity and traditions. The film sensibly doesn’t really take sides but just listens to the opinions of the islanders. So we hear from the Doctor who’s pushing hardest against whale meat consumption – he makes it clear that he realises how at odds with their tradition it is, but that his conscience won’t let him stay silent – and from the fisherman, with high levels of mercury in his blood, who happily munches whale meat and eats it with his children. Whilst it’s hard not to side with the scientist, both sides are portrayed sensitively and fairly – you really can understand why they’re so resistant to being told that a central part of their food culture should be abandoned.

The only people who really come off poorly in this are the Sea Shepherd crew who arrive to protest the Whale hunt. Having arrived to tell the islanders not to hunt whales they’re well prepared for whizzing about in their snazzy boat but woefully underprepared for the important part of actually convincing people: at a painful press conference they buckle under the islanders questions (“What should we eat instead” “Ideally vegetables” “…Er… Not much grows here. What should we eat?” “…”)

It’s a fascinating view into the islands. An absolute treat of a documentary.

Drinks
Pressure Drop Syd Strong, this is quite a find! One of the best of the festival so far – a rye IPA with a massive punch. Highly recommended.

Aliens

It’s Aliens. Aliens. One of the most iconic sci-fi films you could hope for. I first saw this one at a midnight screening at the Hyde Park Picture House. We went on a whim after seeing the flyers in the Hyde Park Social and I loved it. From Ripley’s general kick-ass demeanour, through Newt’s ability to be the only not-totally-irritating-child in the history of cinema to the fantastic, unforgettable, astonishing aliens this is a classic on every level.

And its so well paced. A week into film festival viewing I’ve got little tolerance left for wasted minutes. Any film that nudges towards the 2 hour mark and can’t easily justify it gets a mark down in my book. I’ve seen great stories told in 69 minutes. Why do you need 2 hours? But the 2 hours of Aliens flies past at breathless pace.

I don’t think there’s any point me adding any more words here. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, stop reading now and go and see it!

Drinks
Brewdog Punk IPA. Its sold everywhere now. The hipster in me instinctively sneers at this – it seems somehow less interesting – but this isn’t them selling out, this is them winning. They never set out to be small time artisan batch-brewery, they set out to take on the big guns at their own game and make better beer. So really, seeing Brewdog on the shelves of Tesco is a good thing.

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.

Cleo from 5 to 7

I’m far from being a film student. The bits and pieces of film knowledge I have are things I’ve picked up here and there – from a documentary, from an article, or just by watching a bunch of films. Even so, even with relatively little actual knowledge of the history and the technical details, I know what I like. And I like the Nouvelle Vague. Everything I’ve seen from the French movement has been fascinating, thought-provoking or just straight-up beautiful. And Cleo, from 5 to 7 is no exception at all. This film is beautiful.

Once again, it’s a big thank you to both the Film Festival and the Hyde Park Picture House. This is a film that was made for a cinema, especially a cinema as majestic as our beloved HPPH. It just screams cinematic at you.

As the camera ducks and weaves between doorways, glass and mirrors, we study two hours in the life of Cleo, a young Parisian singer, flitting idly from one distraction to the next as she awaits her test results from the hospital. There’s not really much of a story here but… this isn’t a film that cares about a story. It’s all about fur hats, strawberries in water, street-entertainers swallowing frogs, posing nude for sculptors and promenading in the park. To call this a film of style over substance would be both on the mark and to miss the point. The style is the substance, and it’s glorious.

Drink
Another film too early in the day to justify a beer, so just a cup of tea with this one. Although, as Cleo sipped a cognac in a Parisian cafe I’d have happily swapped my tea for a brandy too.

Arctic Superstar

Music documentaries have always been one of LIFF’s strong points, so I was looking forward to Arctic Superstar a lot. The story of Sly Craze, Norway’s first (and only?) professional Sami rapper, is told over 90 minutes or so and is never less than enthralling. And so, so cute. Although I don’t imagine he’d thank me for saying that.

Sly lives at home in Masi with his mother. His hometown is only 250 people. His band mates work at the local convenience store (“I can’t go on tour. I have a job. Here in Masi”). And this is only the beginning: signed to Oslo based Pug Life records, Sly is off on tour. It’s heart-wrenchingly sad to see him playing a school hall to a crowd of about 5 people (“It was a good gig, but a shame that only a few people came… And they were all on the guestlist”). But Arctic Superstar isn’t taking the piss. If it was, it’d be a nasty, exploitative little piece but it’s far from it. Instead, this is a sensitive telling of their stories. Sly is frank about the difficulties of rapping in a language that basically no-one else understands. It’s laudable that its a goal he clings to and there’s no doubt at all that his heart is in it. He might talk about chasing the money of fame and success but this is far from the easiest route to it. He raps because he loves it, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Drink
Er… I think it was the Northern Monk Strannik Export Stout. Too much, really. At 10% this is one that tasted more of alcohol than of beer…

Mother

This is a curious one. It’s billed as a darkly comic crime mystery set in a small Estonian town but is frankly a bit thin on the comic. Lauri, a teacher at the town’s school has been shot and is now in a coma. No-one knows who’s responsible and the job of caring for him has fallen to his mother, Elsa. She turns, washes and cares for him at home, while a succession of visitors come to see him. But do these visitors know more about the events that lead to Lauri’s injury than they’re letting on?

It’s a small scale family drama – Elsa’ husband, Lauri’s partner and Lauri’s old friend all drift in and out of the mystery but it’s all just a bit too gentle for my liking. Very little actually happens and the dialogue just didn’t really hold my interest. There’s nothing wrong as such with the film but I’m in no great rush to see it again.

Drink Magic Rock Coffee Grounds, triple-coffee porter. Dark and big. This is a killer beer. You really couldn’t drink a lot of it, but in small quantities it’s hard to beat.

Old Czech Legends

One of the recurring but seemingly unacknowledged strands of the Leeds International Film Festival is the presentation of old Czech films. We’ve seen loads of them over the years. Old Czech Legends is a quite beautiful piece of 50s stop motion animation, telling stories of the Czech peoples. It’s utterly gorgeous. The animals are clearly the highlight – we’re treated to bugs and butterflies, deer and squirrels, and some very impressive wild boar.

As might be expected, the stories have er… dated a little. The most wincing passage involves relieving the Czech people of the “shame” of being ruled by a woman (albeit an intelligent and skilled woman) by replacing her with a random farmer, as chosen by the magic white horse. Uh… Yeah.

But put that aside for now, because this really is a stunning watch. This does things with animation that make today’s CG enhanced fare look shabby. The camera moves through the woods, ducking between trees, crashing in for close-ups and panning back to whole scenes. It’s really fabulous stuff.

Drinks
Timothy Taylor‘s Boltmaker, a pleasantly classic beer to go with this old film. I always forget quite how much I enjoy this one. Probably one of my favourite easily drinkable, sensibly strong beers. A Sunday afternoon kind of a beer.

They Call Me Jeeg Robot

Have I just picked out all the weird ones? Maybe. Maybe that was deliberate. They don’t come a whole lot weirder than …Jeeg Robot. Here we take the classic superhero tropes, chew them up, spit them out, and then start all over again. Enzo is a small time crook, pinching watches here and there. He sells them to support his er… yoghurt and porn habits. So far, so odd.

With the help of a little radioactive waste though, Enzo develops some startling powers. This isn’t an immediate conversion to good though – Enzo quickly gathers a reputation as the ‘supercriminal’. Along the way though, he teams up with the lost, vulnerable daughter of his criminal friend. Alessia is obsessed with the (real) Japanese manga ‘Steel Jeeg’ and, babbling away about the cave of fire, convinces Enzo that he may well just be the hero of the series.

Outside of the superhero fun we get a whole lot of good and gritty violence. Local mental criminal ‘The Gypsy’, heartset on fame and notoriety, is a nasty piece of work – battering minions and enemies alike. Superhero films typically tidy away all the nasty bits in favour of cartoon violence. Not so here. This is a refreshingly violent superhero film and it all just works.

Drinks
Goose Island IPA. Another good one. It’s a pretty commonly available one, but none the worse for it.

Chi-Raq

I don’t know if there are words to explain Chi-Raq. I mean… what?

Spike Lee’s new project is a more-or-less musical. It’s a modern day telling of Aristophanes’ (yes, really) comic drama Lysistrata (yes, really) narrated in verse (“In the style of his time/Aristophanes made that shit rhyme!” – yes, really) by Samuel L Jackson. Oh boy.

It’s a whole bunch of fun. The leads are all played excellently – Nick Cannon is an utterly convincing gang-leader and rapper and Teyonah Parris is if anything even better. It’s in turns serious and silly, moving and melodramatic.

Drinks
Vocation Heart and Soul. Another great beer from Vocation. The Hyde Park Picture House has a decent beer selection!