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.

Psychonauts

With Psychonauts, the newly re-christened Animation day moved firmly away from its Japanese roots. Here, we find ourselves in a Basque produced, Spanish language (The language nerd in me was slightly disappointed it wasn’t in Basque) dystopian oddity. Here, animals of various shapes and sizes have established a society amongst the rubble and rubbish heaps of an unknown island. Mice, rabbits and dogs live peaceably together on the quiet island.

It’s frankly so bizarre I don’t know where to start. Should I mention the enthusiastic little clockwork alarm who scurries about the island – “BEEP BEEP”? Should I mention the fisherman who saves his wages from fishing and quite possibly drug dealing to look after his comatose mother who is possessed by an evil spider? Or maybe I should focus on birdboy, son on birdman, who is tortured by his bird-like demons and hides in the shadows of the island? Wherever I start, there’s no escaping the fact that this is utterly bonkers.

All of this would be pretty tiring though if it weren’t for the beating heart of the story, which sees several interlinked narratives of hope and loss spread out across the island. It’s full of sweet moments and sad moments – you very quickly forget that you’re watching a cartoon rabbit struggling with their love for the part-bird-part-boy sweetheart they may never see again.

I loved Psychonauts. From start to finish it was an absolute joy.

Drinks
Five Points Pale Ale again. Oddly, I only seem to drink this one alongside a film I enjoy. Definitely a good omen.

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle is a gentle and touching film about er… life and stuff. And turtles. Who might be ladies. Or not.

It comes with the Studio Ghibli stamp of approval – their first non-Japanese production – and has many of the hallmarks of a Ghibli film, but it’s certainly not an imitation. Dialogue-free we follow an unnamed seafarer washed up on a desert island. His repeated attempts to escape mysteriously thwarted, we watch him make a home on the island and spend his life there.

It’s quite wonderful in that it’s fun and sad, and big and small all at once. I haven’t really tried to dig too hard into whether it all means something – and I don’t think I want to. It’s satisfyingly open to interpretation but stands on its own as well. I’d struggle to explain it to anyone, but I’d happily watch it again. Oh and the score was beautiful.

So… yeah. Life and stuff. With turtles. And pretty music.

Drinks
Pressure Drop‘s ENZ IPA. A strong one (~7%) from Tallboys beer market in Leeds. I think I’ve enjoyed every Pressure Drop beer I’ve had and this was great: really big flavours.

Belladonna of Sadness

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Belladonna of Sadness is mid-70s piece of erotic psychedelia that tells a story that has loose connections to Joan of Arc. We have all the usual suspects – feudal lords, tax collectors, peasants and pages – as well as the (penis-shaped) Devil, village-wide orgies and the plague.

It’s a difficulte one to describe really. And hard to say whether I actually enjoyed it. The animation is gorgeous. Butterflies, flowers and Aubrey Beardsley-esque figures – all long slender limbs and luxurious hair – writhe and twist through the film, splashed everywhere with bright colours. And the soundtrack is fantastic (and available from the ever wonderful Finders Keepers records). But I think there was just too much of it. I really didn’t need 90 minutes of it to sort of get the point. A half hour does would probably have done just fine. It’s very much the product of an era of excess and indulgence – you can really feel that in the film – but perhaps having been reined in a little bit wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Drink Brew Dog‘s red ale 5AM Saint. It’s long been a favourite of mine – definitely the best of the Brewdog range for a balance of big tasting without being ridiculously strong. They tried to drop the ‘Saint’ a few years ago, making it the much plainer ‘5AM Red Ale’, but luckily they saw the error of their ways and named it back again. Tasty beer.

Trailer here:

Kizumonogatari

Anime day rolls into town. Or… is that Animation day? The East-Asian focus of the day has now been dropped, to allow a broader focus. This is no bad thing (hardcore anime fans may disagree… But they’re wrong). Despite this, the majority of the offerings this year are still Japanese. First up is Kizumonogatari. And oh boy is it bad.

The description sounds pretty appealing: a queen amongst vampires is found in a subway station in a pool of her own blood, relieved of all four of her limbs. Her discoverer, rescuer and soon-to-be minion must battle a series of vampire-hunters to win back her limbs. So far so good, right?

Wrong. The vampire plot is OK, but the woven in love story is excruciatingly awful. Add to that that it appears to be drawn and scripted by a handful of lonely, frustrated, Japanese teenage boys and you’re onto something truly painful. The love interest’s irritating breasts take every opportunity to swell, swing or bounce in gleeful physics-defying abandon. And that’s before we worry about the sheer number of times her school (!) skirt blows up to reveal her pants. Yikes.

The Vampire queen is similarly ridiculous. She’s literally only tolerable when her powers are so low that she reverts to childhood. Aside from that she’s all popping breasts and upskirt angles. It’s not really sexy, so much as embarrassing.

Its few redeeming features lie in the battles – they are undeniably pretty good fun. Shedding limbs here and there, wielding a lawn-roller and one particularly good disembowelling are not quite enough to save this film but they did make at least 15-20 minutes of the 2 hours of it bearable.

Avoid.

Drinks This screened early enough in the day that a drink didn’t seem necessary. In hindsight, this was not a good choice.

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!