Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 5

Landfill Harmonic (US/Nor/Bra/Pgy) (site)

Many documentaries exist that highlight the struggling fortunes of poor communities in second and third world countries, often with images of stinking, steaming piles of rubbish tended over with men, women and children picking through the bits before the gulls can take the edible bits away.  Often such films use this imagery as a backdrop to make some greater point.  This is one film that attempts to add a bit of depth to some of the people of these villages, and highlight something special and unique to come out of one of them.

Paraguay doesn't promise the best start in life for many of it's children, some of which live in shanty districts around landfill sites.  One such site in Cateura was visited one day by Favio, an environmental surveyor who felt an urge to do something about the apparently hopeless situation the kids find themselves in.  Being a bit handy with an instrument and with a little cash, he was able to set up a small, free school where some of the local children could come and learn to play.  As popularity grew and new instruments dried up, Favio happened upon Cola, a kindly sole from the rubbish dumps that could turn his hand to make anything.  The Landfill Orchestra was born.

This low-key but heart-warming documentary tells the unlikely story of their rise to fame as their popularity grew.  Growing from a handful of young girls screeching out something barely recognisable on early prototypes to full-on duets with Megadeth on tour, they showed that everyone with the right encouragement and a bit of lucky opportunity could touch the sky.  Go to their website if you'd like to learn more. 8/10

The Club (Chile) (wiki)

Superficially, this sounded a little bit like a Chilean Father Ted, with its premise of four disgraced priests holed up in a remote house, where the arrival of a fifth brings all sorts of krazy shenanigans.  Beyond a vaguely Jack Hackett-esque elderly priest (although far less violent) this is far less comedic and a whole lot more uncomfortable.

It seems like the director set himself a challenge to make a film where the most unpalatable examples of society could be centre stage to a film and not be completely reviled throughout.  Four men and their female carer, each with their own reasons for ending up there live a lonely but manageable existence, moved silently away from their tarnished flocks to save the face of the Catholic church.  Despite their sordid past, the details of which are only lightly touched upon, these men are portrayed as human; caring, loving, even enjoying life in their unlikely idyll, as if set free from the ties of the institution that likely contributed to their predicament.  Unfortunately, their peace is broken when the church dumps a fifth body on them, and with it the drunken, shambling form of a stalker; a broken soul who somehow followed this new entrant from afar looking for answers.

The Club was uncomfortable to watch; within it are graphical descriptions of priestly transgressions, likely adapted from the many real-life accounts which occasionally grace our newsreels.  Those looking for a sympathetic view of how the Catholic Church handles such problems are out of luck; it portrays the body much as an unfeeling monolith, dumping it's problem children where few can see and forgetting about them until they start to cause trouble.  Rather, the film at least attempts to put a human face on the transgressors, whilst not neglecting to show the damage they cause to the people they are meant to serve.

There were elements within the film that didn't quite flow right, and a few loose ends along the way that I guess were forgotten about in the cut, but it gave a daring perspective on a taboo subject rarely tackled in film, and told with a hint of blunt, dark humour.  7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 4

Just time for one today:

Son of Saul (Hun) (wiki)

In among some kitchen decorating I found myself with a few hours free without a little one to look after, and my interest was piqued by this one.  Billed as a Bourne-style tense thriller set in Auschwitz, where a battered and domesticated Jewish Sonderkommando 'dedicates himself to one last desperate act of moral redemption'.  Thinking this would involve a righteous amount of hot lead justice at some nasty Nazis, I made time to get back to Leeds - this could be a pretty exciting watch.

Son of Saul is not without it's atmosphere.  For much of the 2 hours runtime you are looking over Saul's shoulder as he is harried from one chaotic, horrible job to another.  Showing us in flashes the rendering process of bodies and possessions from end to end.  Saul's 'moral redemption' act is all the more staggering that he managed to do what he did in the midst of it all without getting killed in all manner of ways.  As a film highlighting the remaining fragments of humanity in a situation where it has been all but eradicated this film excels.
What spoiled it for me was my expectation; which not for the first time led me to spend some considerable portion of the film expecting something to happen that would never come, and I would leave disappointed.  Saul never gets a gun and goes off on a killing spree, his entirety is reduced from average human to that of a defeated mule that somehow is encouraged to surreptitiously rebel in the only way his broken self can with the life spirit he has remaining.

It is thus a difficult film to score.  Certainly, you should not watch this film expecting action thrills and a good tingly feeling that justice will be served.  Forget Bourne, don't expect Saul to snap and go mental with the bad guys, and instead expect a more moralistic work that when approached correctly will deliver a powerful punch to the gut.  I wish I could have seen it a first time over again with a different mindset. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 3

The Case of Hana and Alice (Jpn) (wiki)

In my past film-watching experience, I've found the rotoscoping technique for producing animation to be a lazy one that causes nothing but a distraction to the film you are watching, to such an extent as to spoil it.  There is something, probably somewhere down the uncanny valley about taking every nth frame of a filmed scene and tracing the lines until you have an animated equivalent.  Though static shots of Hana and Alice seemed like your average anime, the previews threatened to confirm my worst fears.  Though it took a little time to adjust, I'm glad I did see this film.  I could so easily have snoozed in bed a few more hours and nearly decided to. 
Tetsuko has just moved to a new area and needs to fit in at school.  All seems normal until her new classmates start acting weirdly around the desk she chooses, it seems the previous occupant disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and the two free desks next to each other have a mysterious story to them that the other pupils seem reluctant to give up.  Tetsuko, being a no-shit spunky type lets curiosity get the better of her, and leads her down a seemingly supernatural rabbit hole that eventually leads to a reclusive ex-pupil living next door.

Without wanting to give too much away, the film is of two strange halves; the first a meditiation on supersition and how that pervades in the fetile imagination of the young; the second an almost slapstick mystery caper of the scooby-doo caliber.  Though you would expect a low mark for such a description, the change in direction is welcomed and gives the film chance to tie up several loose ends neatly towards the end.  It's funny, entertaining and a little philosophical. 8/10

The Postman's White Nights (Rus) (wiki)

By the time I had realised that my preferred next film, Taxi (it got the Golden Bear this year), had sold out the second anime of the day (Rakuen Tsuiho, which I wasn't that fussed about) was well underway and I was across town, so my only other option was this. 
Lyokha is getting on a bit; he is the postman for a remote Russian village, split off from the rest of civilisation for generations by a large lake.  He lives a lonely life despite everyone knowing him, and lives alone, each day the same as the rest.  Get up, take the motorboat out to get the post, come home and fill the rest of his day with the friends he used to get drunk with, but can't any more.  His one hope is to finally win the affections of Irina, an old school friend and crush who lives a single life with her young son.  These aside, all he sees are dying memories and the shadows of his youth.

But Irina is getting itchy feet and is looking to move to the city.  Can Lyokha manage to woo her before she takes off?

Films such as this one can survive pretty well with just a beautiful landscape, and the lake and countryside shots of a relatively unspoiled corner of Russia are certainly beautiful to look at, but Lyokha's actions too many times are frustrating.  He could make himself happier, but he doesn't.  Chances are wasted and he doesn't seem to learn from them.  For this it's hard to completely like or identify with the character, even though perhaps many would have taken the choice which maintains the status quo you are hoping just this once he will kick himself up the arse a bit for his own good. 

I wish I could recommend this more as it had some great roles played by unprofessional actors from the village, and it got many things right, not least the sense of loneliness even in a tight community.  6/10

Miss Hokusai (Jpn) (wiki)

The director of Colorful from a few years back returns with an animated biography of O-Ei, the lesser known daughter of the famous Japanese 19th Century painter, Katsushika Hokusai.  Nearing the skills of her father, many of her uncredited works were attributed elsewhere and this film tries to give her back some of that missed fame, albeit a little too late.
It looks like a Ghibli film for much of it's runtime and is similarly beautiful, but it is actually the work of the Production I.G. studio, an outfit that has collaborated with Ghibli several times in the past.  But more than a cursory glance exposes the slightly pale imitation. Whereas a Ghibli film could usually be counted on however to have that extra something beyond high production values, something seems sadly missing from this film.  It's still very good, but not a sign of the anime crown being passed over yet.  It got a lot of the more tender aspects of the film - exploring the uneasy relationship between O-Ei and her parents, and that of her blind sister with which her father wanted little to do.  But some of it felt a little too cloying, and I question the use of heavy J-Rock as background music as well, which rasped against the period setting quite uncomfortably.

It wasn't a bad film by any stretch, but again my presupposition about which film would come out as best in my eyes was turned on it's head.  7.5/10

Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (Jpn) (wiki)

I have a love-hate relationship with Ghost in the Shell.  The first film was just complex enough to be considered sophisticated, and I enjoyed the philosophy and style of the second and it was very rewatchable, so I could pick apart and theorise on what Mamoru Oshii was trying to achieve.  But starting with 2011's Solid State Society, things just went into overdrive, plot-wise; the double crosses and numerous villains of the piece combined with the subtitle-heavy talking bits in-between where several onions were peeled not just one, made enjoying the film hard work.  The New Movie (a strange, out of place generic name) continues this trend and is harder work still.

Set in the early years of the Majors' unit before it became part of Section 9, she and Aramaki's team separately investigate a presidential assassination that occurred simultaneously with a hostage siege, which was seemingly nothing more than a distraction to keep the forces out of the way.  More twists and turns than ever - and someone relying on subtitles will struggle to keep up on the first watch) result in a thick soupy mixture of impressive, explosive action scenes mixed with thick talky bits, and you just have to assume that the good guys are hitting the right bad guys for the right reasons in the next action scene.

Ordinarily I would say things will become clear after a few viewings, but I'm not sure I have the stamina any more to work out who is who and get a full appreciation of the reasons everybody had their heads blown apart.  If you ignore the storyline pretty much completely and just enjoy the ride the action has to offer you'll probably get a buzz out of it but feel a bit left out. 7/10

Empire of Corpses (Jpn) (wiki)

Well, where do I start with this one?  I wasn't expecting a Victorian-era Ghost in the Shell set in London with zombies and buxom women in it, that's for sure.  John Watson (yes they borrowed lots of English names) is fascinated with reanimating corpses, a practice the government is using to provide cheap labour after Victor Frankenstein managed to do it a century before.  Thing is, he managed it just once and somehow got the corpse to have self determination and a soul, whereas the ones the government churn out are conveniently sub-servant.  Watson is motivated to find the old way of doing things since the death of his friend, Friday, the still warm body of which he has managed to smuggle away from the graveyard and bring back to life.  He's only good as a scribbler of all of John's experiences, and maybe as a coat rack, but John has big plans.
Such plans got put aside when the government find out about his illegal practices, although they see enough in his work to send him off to try and find Frankenstein's notes which will reveal all.  Cue a worldwide hunt with a variety of characters and increasing amounts of destruction.  Think Steamboy and you are quite close.

I did enjoy Empire of Corpses; it's well animated, high quality format, but you really, really have to stop yourself from laughing at the rather clumsy and sporadic use of people and places simply because they sound English.  There are giant 'computers' dotted across the earth, each called Charles Babbage.  Sherlock Holmes shares canon with Moneypenny.  They suddenly acquire a submarine called.. yes, the NautilusGhost in the Shell used naming references so much more subtly.

Even when you overcome that hurdle you have to get past the increasingly convoluted and bonkers storyline which lurches between continents with little regard for people stopping for breath, and the ending introduces random new things without any explanation.  It's another of those films you just have to sit through and turn off your own internal analytical engine, save for it breaking under the strain of the logical twirling going on.  If you can do that, it's an okay film, but you really do need to leave your knowledge of real-life history at the door. 7/10

Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 2

The Tree (Slo) (review)

Slowly, the desperate situation of a mother and her two sons becomes increasingly clear as their mysteriously isolated existence inside a dusty house and even dustier courtyard darkens.  Younger sibling Veli has no idea of the situation around him and tries his best to pass the time to his ninth birthday, unaware of what the actual date is, it's so long since he's been outside.  A creaking, imposing blue door and an 8-foot wall separates him from the world and he can't understand why. 

Though a little too slow for some, the film does spark and then maintain a steady glow of unseen menace, where everything is suggested and the tiniest studies of movement are used to hint and suggest at the situation before we get the full picture.  This might translate as a slow, dull film for those used to having everything explained and exploded at them but if you want an unsettling mystery unfolding in a lower gear (which for my money made things all the more tense) this is pretty good.  7/10

Original Copy (Ger/Ind) (site)

Many of India's ramshackle colonial-era cinemas are still functional, but few of them stick to the traditional painted film poster.  Look at any old-fashioned Bollywood promotional and it will invariably be hand drawn and painted rather than photographed.  This process has been mostly replaced with lenses and zeroes and ones, but a few places still do things the old way, hanging on by their bare hands as fewer bums fill seats, and prices rise.

One of the few remaining in the heart of Mumbai sources old film reels of Bollywood classics.  Their variety is conservative as their clientele know what they want.  Plenty of action, a bit of schmoozing and a hero with a gun and some wise cracks.  The film of the week has it's own poster painted from scratch on a huge mural.  Aging artist Sheikh Rehman, ably assisted by a handful of talented and patient colleagues repeat this task over and over, creating impressive murals using magazine cut outs and tatty papers from their back catalogue of the actors as a starting point.
If you have ever seen a film poster after a film and thought, 'that poster mis-sells the film just a bit', well Mr. Rahman's use of artistic license may have been to blame.  If they don't have a pic of the actor, someone who looks a bit like them will do.  A bit of a blank patch in the mural?  Stick a helicopter and some charging horses in there, they were probably in the background of one scene.  The film happily chronicles Rehmans' relaxed approach to movie canon, and mixes it nicely with his own personal stories about inheriting the profession from his father (despite his pleading not to) and his own children rejecting his profession and rubbishing his work, an emotional hole somewhat filled by a young apprentice and surrogate son of sorts.  Parallel to the goings-on in the basement, we also get to go upstairs to the cinema owners, and their own stories of inheritance.  It all hangs together rather nicely, and comes right back to the beginning in a bittersweet sort of way.  8/10

Couple in a Hole (UK/Fra) (facebook)

In a similar flavour to The Tree, Couple in a Hole presents us with a family in an unusual situation and slowly leaks clues to the tragedy that got them there.  John and Karen live hand to mouth in the French mountains in a hovel constructed beneath a fallen tree.  Karen is mysteriously agoraphobic, and it's up to John to head out each day and find what he can to eat, staying well out of the way of any humanity in the village below.  Quite why they are there is not immediately apparent.

A spider bite on Karens' arm during a rare outside jaunt forces their hand, and on a hurried trip to the chemists he meets a farmer only too happy to help, putting into action a number of disruptions that will lead to their existence in the hills becoming ever more difficult.
Unfolding a little faster than The Tree, and with a last third that was far less predictable (I defy anyone to predict the last minute or so), Couple in a Hole felt a little more enjoyable, although both contained gritty performances and compelling characters.  7.5/10

Another Country (Australia) ()

If you thought that the problems with indigenous aboriginals and the white population of Australia had already been pretty much sorted out, then you should watch this film.  David Gulpilil is not a famous name but if you've seen a film with aboriginals in it, you've probably seen him.  Yes, that was him in Crocodile Dundee.
Gulpilil narrates a film about his home town, Ramingining; a place created in the middle of nowhere by the Australian government to house some of the aboriginal population.  It has basic amenities, a general store, petrol station and even a church, so a cursory glance by an outsider would consider it fit for purpose.  But as Gulpilil provides his own inside perspective on successive governmental schemes that miss the most glaring aspect of their failure - that they never consider the culture they are imposing their rules upon - it becomes clear just how messed up everything is in this one sham town of perhaps many in the country.

It isn't a film that devotes equal time to problem and solution, perhaps because everything is so far wrong now and little has been done to undo any of the problems, but this does make for a thorough deconstruction of how one cultures' values sometimes cannot translate to anothers, and in trying to force the subject, destroys lives and communities.  8/10

Lovemilla (Fin) (wiki)

And finally, Finland's attempt to out-Japan Japan.  Attention, Finland: it can't be done but points for trying.  It remains to be seen whether I can make the twin crazy Japanese entries of Love & Peace and Assassination Classroom next weekend, so I hedged my bets and went for this.

Lovemilla is a Finnish TV show and here it gets the big-screen treatment with several of the series cast reappearing in a made for film variant of themselves.  Young lovers Milla and Aimo work together in the local cafe and live together in their parent's house.  They have a vampire cat-thing for a pet and her parents turn into zombies when they drink, which is most of the time.  Aimo is a lovable but insecure idiot, and Milla is the films' anchor to sanity in a world that gets increasingly strange as their relationship is tested with a new flat, a romantic rival and a shady dealer in bionic limbs.
Milla and Aimo inhabit a world like ours but where a load of crazy things just happen and it's normal there, so go with it.  Mostly, it works because the film doesn't give them particular attention, they just happen.  This leaves you to enjoy the youthful exuberance given to putting the script and world together; its clear that the producer had the output from the far east as a muse but they give their own, slightly toned down and more sedate pace to it, the often breathless tempo of DMC is not present here, giving the characters more chance to build their relationships with each other.  It's not a particular criticism of Japanese films of this type, it's just a nice change. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2015 - Day 1

Aferim! (Ro,Bu,Czr,Fr) (wiki)

Unfortunately, the usual happened on my first day and thanks to a long queue and a jobsworthing box office attendant, I missed both the first and last fifteen minutes of this film.  However what I did manage to see was pretty good, and if I can, I will try and sneak in and catch the ending of one of the other showings. 

Costadin, a Romanian constable, and his plucky but inexperienced son and deputy Ionita travel across the variable Romanian landscape on horseback, encountering a variety of people both friendly and hostile as they search for their prey; a runaway 'crow' - a derogatory term for a Gypsy slave from his boyar owner.  Against the odds they find and capture him, and Costadin finds his loyalty to the force tested both by the emerging backstory for the slaves' departure, and the conscience of his son, who increasingly thinks they should set him free.
As this film takes place mostly on horseback (often obscured by trees and reeds) the film has to survive on the beautiful black and white cinematography, it's characters and their personalities as the story unfolds which fortunately it does.  If it wasn't for the emerging father-son kinship and the variety of interesting secondary characters this may have been a very dull and plodding film, but I did find myself interested in their story, although that may have changed if this was not my first film and I wasn't so fresh faced.  7/10 (but incomplete viewing)

Alice Cares (Ned) ()

Alice is a little doll, no bigger than a 1-year old.  Her limbs are plastic and lifeless but her face is covered with realistic skin with a generous mop of hair.  She has comical boots that make her look like there are rockets hidden inside.  Alice isn't complete, but she can see and hear, and she can talk.  Better than that, she can hold a conversation with a human.

It is well known we are having a crisis with our elderly.  The national average age is shifting upwards and the baby boomers of the '60s are now entering their eighth decade.  In the Netherlands, as with everywhere else, many of them live alone; either unable or lacking the confidence to go outside and rarely seeing another human being.

Though technology hasn't reached the point of full-on androids running about the house, Alice, a prototype robot that has been created to provide companionship for lonely elderly people, has through a number of increasingly more advanced versions, achieved a level of sophistication that it can help to fill in these holes in peoples' lives.

In a trial followed in the film, Alice is loaned out to three women in their 80's all living alone, who have agreed (sometimes reluctantly) to take part.  Initially standoffish and dismissive of the little lump of plastic, they slowly open up.  While the film could have prompted a general feeling of depression in the audience that society has to look at options such as this, it instead is a playful, sometimes funny and often joyous look at the forefront of AI technology.  It concentrates on the humanity both of the subjects and that emerging out of the millions of lines of Alice's code rather than the technicalities, but this is a good thing.  Though I am skeptic of how advanced Alice actually is (some of the conversations were pretty advanced) the film is still a fascinating look at the future of AI that had the audience  constantly smiling. 8/10

Do Nothing All Day (Ger) (site)

Summerhill School has been covered before in a number of films and documentaries; it is an example of a 'Democratic School', where the pupils have an active say in everything from the curriculum to class rules to punishments.  They can even elect to walk out of class if they want to.  Unsurprisingly this has attracted a lot of attention and despite the hundred year history and a healthy place in the grading league tables, this has not all been positive.  'Do nothing all day' is a reference to the most prevalent of these criticisms - on hearing about how these schools work and remembering their perhaps less than rosy time at their school, most people would elect to just mess around all day.

Of course, if this actually happened then the 200 or so democratic schools around the world would have long since closed down as a failed idea, but they haven't.  The philosophy is about participation and respect; a supposedly democratic country should apply democratic principles throughout and yet most schools are anything but.  You go and have facts inserted into you, you learn the basics in the schools' time and not yours, and you are segregated into groups of the same age and ability.  We just accept these as our school years to be endured and we hopefully come out of it with a decent enough piece of paper to give to a bloke to give us a job on the first rung.

The experiences of the director and her child of imminent schooling age struck an obvious chord with me and it was enlightening to see that the kids coming out the other side looked balanced, well educated and not the expected hippy layabouts a first consideration might make me suspect.  It is not a schooling for everybody - kids are different and many respond well to our current education approach, and would find such boundary-free situations intimidating; but after seeing this film I believe for many of our future adults, democratic schooling represents a far better foundation than a system invented during the industrial revolution.  7.5/10


Well, last year's pledge didn't go very well, did it?  I posted sometime last year, happily announcing my impending fatherhood, with a promise that because of some more home time there would be more bloggage.  Well, as the timing gods would have things, here I am back blogging again on the verge of little Gregory's first birthday.

So, what has happened since my last update?  Well, the biggest film event of the year got sort of cancelled.  Just as Leeds 2014 was about to get going, and we had a couple of weeks remaining til the due date I was sat in my car with a clutch of festival tickets when the phone rang.  Ms. Plants had been kept in hospital after a general checkup as her blood pressure was going up, fast.  A day later we were inducing the birth.  But the little man was like both his parents, so he was double-strength stubborn and five days of pushing and screaming and trying he was finally persuaded out with the help of the frightening-looking ventouse.  Fortunately his head did eventually make it back to a proper shape and both mother and baby are fine one year on.

Parenthood is stressful, busy and exhausting.  It's also the best thing ever.  Tiny changes like little eyes focusing on you, grabbing fingers, laughing, walking and his first word (banana, strangely) have all been joyous occasions.  You forget the tired nights and the dirty nappies in a flash.  One little smile makes my whole day and I regret nothing.

So we're expecting another one next year.

I anticipate that little Gregory's behaviour will change around springtime and he will be as good as gold so we can concentrate on changing the nappies and feeding #2.  I am absolutely sure this will happen with no parental naivety at all.  He picks things up quickly.

So, no golden plantpots this year and you can kind of guess why last years went down the swanny.  Normally by now I would have seen several dozen films at a handful of festivals (RIP BIFF this year by the way, hopefully it will return) but at least I can say I managed a few this year.  Given the additional fun and games due next year, it will be unlikely I'll find time for films then either, but I think we'll be entertained in many other ways.

So there will be a few posts over the next couple of days for the films I get to see.  Ms. Plants has generously volunteered to take responsibility of the sprog for a few days as she knows how much I miss making my eyes bleed.  For that short space of time, bring it on!

Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (Part 3)

Peter Sellers: The Early Shorts (UK) (BFI article)

In the 1950's, before Sellers' career really got going, he starred in a handful of short films, a trio of which were shown here.  The common link between them is Sellers' character, Hector Dimwiddle, a hardworking but often unsuccessful middle class gent, put upon by his inlaws, and unknowingly reliant on his dependable wife.

Two of the films, Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good For You were considered lost for many years before turning up in the late 90's.  These were presented in what looked like a restored digital print.  The third, Cold Comfort, was in much poorer condition, but still watchable.  You can see clips of the first two here.

These films were roughly cut, and it was clear both actor and director were feeling their way with the filmmaking techniques at the time, which lends a certain charm.  Sellers later talents of vocal mimicry and physical slapstick are seen in an early stage, and it was nice to see some examples of the proving ground he used to hone them.  But ultimately, these films are more of a lighthearted distraction than a necessary pilgrimage for Sellers' fans, and if you were not to catch them in your lifetime, you have more accessible and entertaining examples of his work to fall back on.  6/10

A Life of Crime (US) (wiki)

Jennifer Aniston gets a bit of flak as an actress, probably due to being the most annoying one from Friends, plus some pretty awful adverts ('here comes the science bit...!').  But she's also managed a few unexpectedly good turns as well - she had a credit in South Park, of all things, and you can't fault her in Office Space, and...

Well, we can also add A Life of Crime to that list.  Aniston's character, Mickey, is the frustrated trophy wife of Tim Robbins' Frank, and they spend their time letting everyone know how happy they are together, at golf clubs and swanky parties.  It's all a front, and the love left their lives long ago.

But it was convincing enough to encourage small time crooks Louie and Ordell to take a pop at some amateur hostage taking, using the local nazi gun nut's house as a place to keep her while they wait for the money to roll in.  But when Frank sees this as an opportunity to get out of his nightmare marriage without having to pay divorce fees, Mickey's future depends wholly on the unpredictable nature of her captors.

A pretty standard crime caper is made much more fun by some well-known faces and some sharp dialogue, the main thrust of the plot nicely complicated by the sleuthing of good-intentioned but unappealing neighbour Marshall, who has always been hovering around the cadaver of their relationship waiting to see what he can salvage for himself.  7.5/10

I Believe in Unicorns (US) (official site)

Director Leah Meyerhoff laid herself bare on the celluloid in this semi-autobiographical, kickstarted film about Davina, a young teen who one day leaves her life of caring for her sick mother, and takes off with an older boy with which she falls in desperate love.  A moody, petty criminal, Sterling can do no wrong in her eyes, even when it is clear he could be a danger to be around.  When he suggests they climb into his battered car and keep driving, she can't help but follow.

Mayerhoff's film is about a young woman maturing both sexually and emotionally; the audience is asked to sit there helpless, hoping that Davina can see for herself whether Sterling is the right man for her before she passes the point of no return.  Cleverly, the film presents some degree of ambiguity, suggesting that these two can be happy together, and, as in Davina's emerging fantasies, she can soothe the wounds that cause the problems between them, so it is some way in before we can guess the outcome.  Some of it can be difficult to watch, such as Davinas' ever willingness to present her body as a solution whenever there is a problem between them, but this is necessary in a realistic character study of blind love and desperation for a life less ordinary.  7.5/10

The Case Against 8 (US) (official site)

This documentary comes at a time when many have heard about the changes in the US constitution that came about largely as a result of the retelling of events.  In California in 2008, same-sex couples were allowed to marry, but, as is often the case with progressive gains, there were many who took offence to this (gee, I wonder who they could be), and very quickly, Proposition 8 was created - which reinstated a previous ban not more than a few months after same sex marriages were allowed.  All those couples who had been married in the interim received an impersonal letter telling them it had been annulled.

Two couples however decided to fight the ruling, and brought an appeal that was to stand out for two reasons - first that it would take five years to finally be resolved, and that it brought together the legal minds of two individuals you would have expected never to agree on anything.

David Boles and Ted Olsen were on opposite sides of the 2000 presidential election controversy, where Al Gore's people were demanding a pivotal recount.  Taking sides reflecting their political colours, Boles fought for Gore, and Olsen for Bush.  Bush won and the rest is history, so to find common ground in marriage equality from both sides of the political spectrum was both a surprise and a feather in the cap; cross-party support showed that this was not a political issue.

Some may ask: what's the big deal?  Same sex couples can have civil partnerships and receive all the same rights as hetero couples.  But people are being discriminated against based upon nothing more than who they are.  If a law was to be passed requiring that people with black hair were not allowed to ride on the front seats of a bus, would those affected be happy as there are lots of seats they could sit on?  I suspect even those who never use public transport would feel aggrieved about such an arcane decision.

The Case Against 8 tells the story from the appeals side, using footage filmed in the legal offices and courts, with news reports and talking heads mixed in for good measure.  It's an important historical document of how the right will eventually happen, told with surprising humour and a focus on the human lives hanging in the balance on the decision.  Many times over the years they seemed to have won, only for the opposition to appeal and take things higher.  Victory would take a long time coming, but eventually it did, and the eventual ruling - that same sex marriage bans do not benefit anyone and discriminate unfairly, and is thus unconstitutional - became the catalyst for other states to follow suit.  Many subsequent statues have fallen with 19 states currently supporting same sex marriage.  Hopefully, eventually, they will all fall. 8/10

Violet (Ned/Bel) (review)

Who can tell how a person will react in the heat of the moment?  For Jesse, a young teen in a shopping mall, his is to stand dumbfounded as his friend is stabbed and killed in front of him.  Quiet and introverted, he relies on the comforting embrace of his other friends to help him through the difficult aftermath, but when it becomes clear that he failed to do anything to stop it, some of his peers begin to push him out of the group.

Violet is very bare-boned, with a lot of long, drawn out shots with not a lot happening.  Some of this is down to the tension of the moment, of Jesse's racing mind behind a stoic expression, but it can get a bit samey and feels forced sometimes.  The first, lauded feature film by director Bas Devos; it does tackle the aftermath of such an event in a very atmospheric manner, it does feel like a film that was stretched out to pass the hour milestone required to count as a full feature.  And celebrated talk of a final scene being 'amazing' - well, I couldn't see what the protracted 9-minte shot ending in an overenthusiastic smoke machine was really trying to say. 5/10