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…

Under the Skin

Scarlett Johansson turns up in all sorts of weirdness. I quite respect her for that. There’s no doubt she could cruise from one major budget gentle drama to the next but she definitely has a nose for the weirder films. She turns up in everything from The Avengers to Vicky Christina Barcelona. And she was great in Luc Besson’s Lucy. She’s not bad here either, embracing her alien-in-a-transit-van-scouring-Scotland-to-devour-lonely-men role. You can say many things about her, but typecast is certainly not one of them!

And I wanted to love this. On paper its striking all the right notes. Aliens! A bit of horror! Scarlett Johansson! And it does start well. The preying upon lone men is a neat twist on the usual slasher movie niche – suddenly it’s not the dishevelled girl with smudged make-up who’s the obvious victim but the electrician, who lives alone and is just heading to the shops. It’s disarmingly different and quite interesting for it. Sadly, it just never really picks up and gets going. The first half hour or forty minutes whizzes by but then it just splutters and peters out. Questions are left unanswered but, far from being intriguing, I’m struggling to care. Who is this alien? Why are they here? What are they doing? … Who cares? It just fails to really grab you and get you involved.

A disappointing film. Lots of potential but little to show for it.

Drinks
Renaissance Stonecutter, a hearty ‘Scotch ale’ – very appropriate for the film. I didn’t know what to expect with this one but it was tasty. Big and red and fruity, I definitely want to give this another try,

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.