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!

Lonesome

One of the best recurring features of LIFF is the silent movies with organ accompaniment in the town hall. There’s something pretty majestic about the organ music, played live by Leeds organist Simon Lindley, and the chance to see rarely screened classics exactly as they were meant to be seen is not to be sniffed at. Plus its free. You really couldn’t ask for better.

Over recent years I’ve mostly seen pretty well known classics – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Golem, Faust. I’d not heard of this year’s selection, Lonesome, at all. You can sort of see why. Compared to these genre-defining heavyweights, Lonesome is a pretty slight movie. It’s a gentle, enjoyable comic drama. Our leading man and lady are each living alone, without a girl or a feller to spend the day with. They meet and some romance ensues. That’s pretty much it really. There are a few gentle shocks and moments of tension but the plot is fairly one dimensional.

For all that, it’s still good fun to watch and fascinating as a picture of the era. The enthusiasm of the carnival goers on Coney island is fantastic – ticker tape and streamers everywhere – and we’re taken on a tour of the funfair, through the hall of mirrors and onto the rollercoasters. It’s nothing groundbreaking but, at just over an hour long, its never boring and I’ll take any opportunity to see these classics on a big screen.

Drinks
Moor Beer‘s Hoppiness. No slouch at 6.5% (at quite a way to start the day’s beer drinking…). Great stuff.

A Divorce Before Marriage

One of my favourite strands of the Leeds International Film Festival is its focus on music documentaries. For the most part over the years they’ve given me the chance to get to know bands or movements I really didn’t know very well before – A Tribe Called Quest, Morphine and Stone’s Throw Records are all memorable discoveries. This year I was excited to see that one of the biggest music features is about a band I already know and love.

I’ve been listening to I LIKE TRAINS, (or iLiKETRAiNS as they were then) since the NME, reeling in the wake of Forward, Russia and the er.. Kaiser Chiefs, declared that everything Yorkshire was cool. At that point (2006ish?) I hadn’t decided to go to Leeds for uni, much less make the city my home. I don’t think it’d be untrue to admit that the Dance to the Radio compilation of new Yorkshire bands had a hand in choosing my university. A decade later, it’s not a choice I regret at all.

The chance to see a film about them was obviously pretty exciting. A Divorce Before Marriage focuses on the band in 2012, on the brink of releasing their third (and still most recent) album The Shallows. It homes in on the dirty secret of many a rock and roll band: making enough money off your music to live off is really, really hard. It’s terribly sad to puncture the sexy rock ‘n’ roll dream and admit that… these people have real jobs too. They work in offices. In Leeds. You’ve probably queued next to them on your lunch break. They’re… normal people. Just like you and me.

The film is fascinating and candid. We see good gigs. And we see some bad ones. Again, this is terribly humanizing. It’s so rare to see behind the music industry veneer into the eyes of the people playing the gig. And to see them be disappointed.

Similarly, we delve into their daily lives and see how the attractions of a steady salary and the duties of paternity all conflict with the recording process, the touring process and just generally being in the band. If anything, the obvious criticism is that the directors are perhaps a little too heavy handed. They had a narrative to weave (“being in a band doesn’t necessarily pay the bills”) and years of footage to use and have worked hard to get their message across. But perhaps it’s just a little too crushing. By the end, I was a it tired of being reminded of the hardships – yeah, I get it, it’s tough – and hadn’t seen enough of the fun. In the Q&A after the screening, singer David Martin did add that “being in a band wasn’t quite as bad as the film made out.”

The directing duo are young – I think this is their fist feature length documentary – and maybe didn’t get the balance or tone absolutely spot on with this one but it was a fascinating and enjoyable watch, and told a story too often ignored. I’m definitely interested to see what they do next.

I LIKE TRAINS are on at the Brudenell Social Club in a week. Tickets available from Jumbo and others.

Drinks
Working my way through the Five Points range, this time I went for their IPA. Very nice.