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.

Francesca

I love giallo. It’s a genre very dear to my heart that does a lot of what I love in film. The soundtracks are incredible. The imagery is stunning. The plots all walk a perfectly fine line between cliched tropes and unexpected twists. Some of my absolute favourite films came from this golden era of Italian film-making – from the likes of Argento, Bava, Fulci

In recent years there’s been a gentle revival of interest in the genre. Thankfully it’s not been too wholehearted – I don’t know how I’d have reacted to a mainstream American love for the giallo in the way the Walking Dead has done with zombie films. Instead, its been mostly indie films and niche genre pieces that have returned to the giallo. Cattet and Forzani’s two features Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears are amongst my favourite films of the last few years. Despite this, they’re without doubt sophisitcated reinterpretations of giallo. They have all the stylistic quirks – the leather glove, the singsong soundtrack, the knife, the nightmare, the heavily-mascared eyes – but they play upon all of these to create more complicated, nuanced stoy lines.

How refreshing then to find film-makers taking the giallo film head-on, warts-and-all, in all its glory. Francesca was made last year, but you wouldn’t know it. The film looks aged, the soundtrack clangs and scrapes, the plot is absurd yet chilling, the violence is gruesome and sudden, the police are incompetent and slow. It ticks all the boxes.

If you don’t already love giallo I find it hard to imagine that you’ll be bowled over by this. If you do, though, this is a treat. Martin Grund, the lead fanomenen programmer, described it as “the kind of film you wish Argento was still making”. If you know what that sentence means, I imagine you’ll love this.

Drinks
Kirkstall Dissolution Extra IPA, another of my favourite beers. The Hyde Park really does have a well stocked bar.

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.

Drive

Having missed this at cinemas a few years ago and never really warmed to the idea of seeing it on a small screen, I was glad that this was given a second airing at the festival. It’s without doubt a pretty cinematic film and deserved to be shown on such as big screen. The soundtrack’s pretty killer too – definitely rewards a good sound system.

I’ll get the criticism out the way upfront. There wasn’t nearly enough driving in this film. Given the central premise, that Gosling is a supremely skilled driver, flitting between stunt driving, criminal getaway driving and race driving, you could be forgiven for expecting a fair bit of car action in this film. Its even called Drive, for heaven’s sake. We was robbed. After a pretty great opening sequence, all criminal driving flair to avoid the cops, we’re treated to one single measly car chase. And it’s not even as good as the opening sequence. That makes this film the equivalent of a Bond movie in which all the spy action takes place before the opening credits.

This is a shame. The rest of the film is fine. It’s mob justice, gang violence and petty thuggery tied up around a slender love/like story between Gosling, his neighbour and his neighbour’s permanently unlucky husband. It’s interesting enough, has some good and funny moments, and barrels along at a decent pace but it’s nothing all that special. Although maybe I’m just bitter the lack of driving.

A stylish film, an enjoyable film, a cinematic film, but one that never quite lives up to its potential.

Drinks
Wylam Pieces of What a tasty IPA from what I remember – though it obviously wasn’t striking enough to have made much of an impression on me. Maybe I ought to give this one another go…