EIFF 2009 Day 4

Another wet and miserable day, Edinburgh seems to be covered in fog and drizzle for 75% of the time. Is it like this all year? After a little tramping round for internet cafe's which didn't open when they said they would, I settled into the first film instead.

Follow the Master (UK) (Matt Hulse's site)
A tribute to the passing of his grandpa, Follow the Master follows Matt Hulse (the director), partner Lucy and their dog, Tippi along the South Downs Way from Winchester to Beachy Head, following the route his recently passed away grandpa Eric (the 'master' of the title) did many years before. Interspersed with birthday footage from his grandpas' last birthday party, the film switches forms between grainy Super 8 and modern colour and black and white footage of the trek as they lark about, meet fellow travellers, and air drum and sing songs in the wide open spaces. It's a personal record of a couple's golden years caught on film to be preserved forever, and we get an inspirational peek full of ideas for such a journey of our own. A film to be enjoyed at walking pace. 7/10

A Boy Called Dad (UK) (site)
Beginning in an impoverished corner of Liverpool, 14-year old Robbie (Kyle Ward) and his on-off girlfriend Leanne have a less than romantic encounter in a seaside pavilion. In spite of the odds, she manages to get herself pregnant, but doesn't want Robbie part of her future, preferring instead to have her older partner believe it's his. Robbie is in a bad situation; an under-age dad, living with his mum with no father figure to guide him, until said absent father almost runs him down one day and reluctantly gets arms-length back into his life. Robbie is more overjoyed than he lets on at regaining his dad, but Joe is still showing the same irresponsible streak that made him disappear in the first place, and in Robbie's heightened emotional state he takes control when he spots his kid and foster dad head into the public lav. It's one more of the 'gritty, council-estate'-style slice of life films, and is told with sharp scripting and touches of dark humour such that Robbie can grow and learn - Tsotsi-like - as he has to take responsibility for his actions. It's depressing beginning makes the end so much sweeter. 7.5/10

Atletu (The Athelete) (Ethiopia/Germany/US) (IMDB)
A biopic/documentary hybrid of the life of the Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 and 1964 olympic marathon events barefoot, the first time being the first of a long like of African atheletes to dominate the running events. This film begins in the year after his disappointing fifth place at the '68 olympics, where his national reputation was dealt a blow, and his determination to get back on track for the marathon in 1972. Told in loose narrative mostly from the point of view of Bikila as the life altering events of that time affect the path of the rest of his life, it wasn't until late on in the film I discovered how much emotional investment I had placed in the outcome. I enjoyed it, although it will likely appeal more to those with an interest in running. 7.5/10

Wide Open Spaces (Ireland, UK) (trailer)
What attracted me most to this film was that it had several contributors from Father Ted, and its narrative about two luckless friends and their encounter building Irelands' only Famine-based theme park in a disused tin mine had all the potential for a great Ted-inspired comedy. And whilst there were flashes of brilliance from the film - such as the big pink famine ship, the hopeless exhibits, and Timmy, the shotgun-wielding patrol guard reminiscent of FT's Tom - there was just too little content here to flesh out what would have worked quite well in a half-hours show, to the full 85 minutes. I don't want to sell the film too short, as it was enjoyable, but I think it should have been a one-off TV comedy instead. Shame. 7/10

That's the end of my Edinburgh film coverage, perhaps next year there will be enough in the coffers (and enough available holiday) to do the full shebang, but there were more than enough above-average films in the mix to make it well worthwhile. I managed to leave with a couple of free film posters (Mad, Sad and Bad and Terribly Happy, plus an EIFF one), a huge EIFF 2009 film catalogue, some hastily bought tourist tat, and a scottish tenner I found lying on the pavement. I'll be going again at some point come what may.

EIFF 2009 Day 3

Despite there being five film tickets inside my wallet for today, the first one did not start until 1pm, so I decided to use a good chunk of the first half of the day doing a little more sightseeing, taking my camera along in the hope of some drier pictures. Again, however it was raining, so more time was spent in the shops than admiring the architecture. 1pm quickly came around, and I just about made it across town in time.

Looking Back (US) (Youtube) - This short documentary film was shown before Isolation, approaching the same subject from a different angle. Over in America, as with here, there are a disproportionate number of veterans of recent wars - Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.. who after returning to civilian life become jobless, homeless and drug-dependant. We see the outcome of this at one of many treatment centres for homeless veterans. Albert Lewis is a volunteer at 'Irvins'. An ex-soldier who turned hard to drink and drugs and lost everything, but thanks to others like him he was able to work his way back to a stable existence. As part of his work, he takes pictures of new admissions as they enter, and then again at points during their rehabilitation, the look of pride on their faces at the comparison being enough to convince Albert that he is making a worthwhile contribution. 7/10

Isolation (UK) (IMDB)
This main feature dealt with the same issues from a UK perspective. The London streets away from the more affluent architecture paints a dismal picture for all its homeless, but with additional complications for those who have ended up on the streets because their lives and families broke down after coming back from the war. One in four end up on the streets, and those ex-squaddies who do remain in work seem to wash towards night shift work to remain apart from the outside world.

Stuart Griffiths is an ex-gulf war veteran, who came out of the desert in 1993, and six years later was homeless and separated, living on the streets. Whilst serving in Northern Ireland, he took up photography, and the more pictures he took, the more he wanted out. After some time on the streets, he learned about the Ex-Forces Fellowship, and decided to contribute his time and talents, photographing and interviewing those who have come back and suffered problems. For every person that is killed, eight more are seriously injured, but you don't hear that statistic when the government is pressed on war casualties. Over time, Griffiths' work expanded in scope to include those who have returned with horrific injuries or foreign soldiers who are members of the British army but who have tried and failed to get even basic support from the government, despite serving their adopted country with honour, much like the Gurkhas recently in the UK news, although with nowhere near such profile.

Though this muddies the waters a bit, trying to bring to attention several ingredients of what is a very large problem, Griffiths succeeds in bringing these problems to attention, with the striking photography, first hand descriptions and part-healed scars offered throughout leaving powerful imagery in the minds of the viewer. Important viewing. 8/10

Mad, Sad and Bad (UK) (official site)
Avie Luthra brings together several British Asian actors in this warm-hearted comedy drama. Meera Syal, Nitin Ganatra and Zubin Varla play three middle-aged siblings with a cantankerous, interfering but likeable mother, who is in constant shame of the lack of direction in her children's lives. Rashmi (Syal) is the object of most of the spite, having had a string of failed dates and seems to make a complete fist of all of them. Indian soap writer Atul (Ganatra) is little better, his relationship to girlfriend Julia is shaky at best, and his big idea of a Cheese Opera to leave for generations to come to remember him by does not impress one bit. Only Hardeep (Varla) shines any light into his mothers' eyes, being a professional psychologist, although his inability to have relationships for more than a an hour or get an actual wife is of constant concern. Good thing mum has no knowledge of his less than professional abuse of the confidentiality in his patients. A variety of external influences on all three - including the teasing presence of Roxy (Coronation Street's eye-pleasing Ayesha Dharker) as a predatory woman looking for something higher on the ladder than undertaker Graham, and spies poor gullible Atul as a way there - keep the entertainment going, and the relationships between the several leading cast members become nicely intertwined without the viewer getting overwhelmed in the complexities.

Mad, Sad and Bad is definitely one of the best British comedy films in ages. The script is kept tightly in order, the laughs come quick and often, and the ending was one of the best double-payoffs (a massive laugh and a satisfying conclusion) I've seen in a long while. Go see it when it comes out later this summer. 8.5/10

Boogie Woogie (wiki)
An all-star cast including Gillian Anderson, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley and Alan Cumming come together in a film that has all the ingredients of a cracker. Alfred (Lee) and Alfreda (Lumley) are old-style art collectors, and times are hard. After selling most other things of value, attention turns to the fictional painting 'le Mondrian' - a diamond-shaped impressionist work by Piet Mondrian, the first of his 'Boogie Woogie' style. Several art dealers have their eye on it, and Art (played by Danny Huston) and Bob (Simon McBurney) are the major bidders. With Alfred sticking to his guns and never selling it to those 'who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing', the bidding amount rises amongst the ongoing bickering, betrayal and sleaze permeating the lives of these people and their acquaintances.
Though competently written with a smattering of guilty laughs to be had as the film progresses, I never really enjoyed what I saw. Virtually everyone in London is portrayed as a foppish, shallow, snarling or guffawing or blubbing idiot with constantly shifting relationships and allegiances, shameful secrets and an over-active sex life. Am I being prude? I don't think so. I guess my problems with the film were threefold; first, there is no hope in the film, everything ends as it starts, no character progression or building, and no desire on the part of the audience to care for what these selfish empty vessels do with their messed up lives. Second, I couldn't tell whether the voyeuristic tendency of the camera work was being ironic towards the nature of the industry, or just giving pervier people a reason to go see it. (I'll get that out of the way now: nudity, sex, predatory lesbianism and paparazzi panty shots, so if that's your criteria for a good film, you're away.) Lastly, the central thread of the film is just barely there. We get a 10 second refresher on the latest high bid for the painting, then some voyeurism/betrayal/deal making for 20 minutes, then lather, rinse, repeat until something happens to send it into an uproar. It all felt a little bit corny and by the numbers.
I went away from Boogie Woogie with a feeling of being cheated, and feeling a little bit sickly. Getting all these famous people together and scoring a load of cheap laughs at a section of society who are ripe for it seemed to be the selling point, rather than also going that extra mile and making something truly inventive and entertaining. It would probably benefit from a second viewing, mainly because the lives of the many primary and secondary characters are complicated and intertwined, but I doubt that would make it more enjoyable.

Oh, and do not be tempted to watch this film with your relatives. There are scenes within that will cause large amounts of discomfort for both parties. No, really. Don't. 6/10

Outrage (US) (site)
According to this documentary, there is a sizeable section of politicians in the US government that are closeted gay or lesbian. Fine on it's own you may think, but when this film highlights their gay rights-related voting records (AIDS research, marriage rights, adoption rights, etc.) as being wholly against who they are, you have a major problem on your hands. Psychologically, these people are in a state of self-denial and self-hate, and are taking it out on the gay community at large, causing major rights issues and, where anti-gay legislation is passed, such as the recent views on gay marriage, physical backlashes in the communities they represent. This is a powerful, frank and sometimes even funny film following Michael Rogers of BlogActive.com as he seeks out these closeted people and attempts to expose them for the benefit of the community at large. Once outed, many of these people actually find that the respect they were so convinced they would lose remained, and it totally flipped their voting records, often encouraging them to work positively in their community now that cloying, suffocating pressure has been lifted from their shoulders. I would urge anyone - of whatever persuasion - to go see it. 8.5/10

Horn Dog (US) (site) - A short prelude to the following film is a new work in the 'dog' series by Bill Plympton about a lovestruck hound who's amorous advances for another dog spell disaster. Plymptons' recognisable colouring book style gives an already funny work added charm. 8/10

Mary and Max (Australia) (site)
A fabulous stop-motion animation in the old style - without a computer in sight - and so much better for it. Mary is a lonely Australian kid, with a mother preserving herself in sherry and a father in a job that keeps him absent, she passes the days being bullied and watching her favourite cartoon show, 'The Noblets'. One day she chooses a random name from a phone book and sends him a letter. Max, an overweight Jewish atheist New Yorker with Asburgers Syndrome couldn't be further separated from Mary, and yet as penpals, they find much in common to talk about. The film spans the next 20 or so years of correspondence as they pass letters and gifts between each other, and muse upon the questions each poses to the other, until Max's condition threatens to break the connection for good.
There are so many delights in Mary and Max that just make it a cracker, I can't and shouldn't mention them all here. The narration by Barry Humphries (part-time Dame Edna) is an authority on the elements in the character's lives, and delivered in such a perfectly balanced way as to feel completely natural, like you are watching a more adult version of an Oliver Postgate work. The two main characters are made to come alive with a mixture of silky smooth animation work (looking more 'real' than a computer generated equivalent could ever do), and painstaking detail in the environments and incidental objects and beings that inhabit the screen. Max's imaginary friend Mister Ravioli who sits in the corner reading self-help books is an inspired twist on the theme, and Len, the agoraphobic reclusive neigbour to Mary who acts as an intermediary to them both is but one example of the comedy-tragedy theme running through the entire film. On top of all of that is the brilliant use of wistful and grande and uplifting music pieces throughout to raise the scenes another notch.
This brilliant film is constantly able to put the audience in choking laughter and bubbling tears, just like the best films always do. Absolutely, no question about it, my favourite film of the year so far. 9/10

EIFF 2009 Day 2

Last night burned a route back to the hotel on my brain - in between snaffling a giant midnight chip butty. Come the morning, I was able to stride confidently towards the centre of town with only brief checking of my little scrap paper map. I had a brief look around the shops to get a feel for the place, taking in the hugely expensive kilts and cheaper, touristy tat.

Unfortunately, the Edinburgh weather had taken a turn for the worse and a thick fog was covering the taller landmarks. After locating the central information booth to see where all the internet cafe's were, there was just time to head through the mizzling rain to the cinema for the first of the day - a short film collection:

UK Shorts 1

- In the middle of the night, a woman driving home loses concentration and runs over a stranger. When the badly injured guy pleads with her not to call an ambulance because of his immigration status, she has little choice but to help him back to his flat, where an unlikely entanglement occurs. It was both depressingly gritty and an acknowledgement of the kindness of strangers that can lead to more when the stakes are raised. 7/10

Monsters and Rabbits - The pecking order of the school playgrounds and classrooms from the point of view of two misfit children; one boy, one girl, who find kinship together - much to the annoyance of their imaginary friends. A magical, rose-tinted link is made for the viewer back to their childhood, and the beauty and humour really come through strong. A joy to see. 8.5/10.

Jade - The realisation by a young teenage girl that she is pregnant complicates an already depressing, claustrophobic life. Her older, dimmer boyfriend just won't stop asking to talk with her, and the cleaning job at the local caravan park reflects her grey and dismal future. However, as the viewer learns more and more about the tangle she has got herself into, it's much worse than it initially seemed. A really bare-boned look into the life of a quiet, scared child trying to deal with the consequences of her actions, and intelligently presented to the viewer with little dialogue. 7.5/10

The Happiness Salesman - A suburban woman lives comfortably with her newborn (and very vocal) child in the house her ex-boyfriend left for her. One day a salesman (played by Christopher Eccleston) comes to the door with a bold claim - he has for sale a DVD with her whole future on it, and as a taster, can choose to peek at any point for free. What comes next I won't spoil, but it's unexpected. A darkly comic tale of how a seed of an idea planted in the mind can affect a persons actions, and will have you thinking about what happens after the credits roll. 7.5/10

Love Hate - The life of a young, well-meaning but quite ineffectual young man is turned on its head, when his repressed hate, spite and rage manifest themselves in the shape of a beautiful but blokeish and foul-mouthed woman, who encourages him to forget the girlfriend who dumped him, insult his friends and generally act like a moody, arsey goth. Initially reluctant, he embraces this other side of himself, but begins to question the choice of both extremes in how to live your life. A second surreal step ends the film on a dark tone, and while funny, its contents left me feeling a little empty afterwards. 7/10

Five Miles Out - Cass has just entered the angsty teen stage, so the preceding years' holiday was a bad time to experience the events portrayed in this short film. During a trip to a seaside caravan park with her friends and their parents, she meets a young boy of the same age, determined to swim through an underground lake in one of the shore caves to the fabled secret area beyond. Sensing the folly of the situation she tries to stop him. A good film about the impact of events on a person's life. 7/10

Black Box Films

West Point and its short film companions was one of the 'Black Box' list of films, a genre best described as 'experimental', often completely abstract and conceptual - though these examples would come at the more narrative-led end of the spectrum. The trick to getting anything out of these sorts of films is less to try and extract a narrative thread and more to look at the pieces of the film in abstract terms, and try to see the messages behind them, sort of like a magic eye painting. In my experience, there are many more misses in this genre than hits, but I wanted to get a broad range of films in. Before the main feature, two shorts were also shown:

Horse Camp - Shot in black and white, the idea of a film set run by immature, lazy, randy and even brawling individuals contrasted with their ability to at least concentrate during the rolling of the camera. Just for surreal good measure, you also have a small oriental guy running around with a gun, presumably to represent the random spanner in the works. Just about watchable. 4.5/10

1,2,3 - 'Any idiot can face a crisis, it is this day-to-day living that wears you out' - Chekhov's quote is the basis for the visual narrative of this film- a newly married couple in a battered old Datsun on top of a hill is left to go feral, in 3 acts. The man tries to shoot the wife, the wife leaves and falls over a few times, the man talks to himself a bit, and then they both return to the car but can't find each other. Is it a metaphor for a doomed relationship, or just abstract rubbish? Probably the second one, but the film was lifted slightly by the serene music and views. 4/10

West Point (France) (review)
The main film was a loosely-bound affair. Slowly but surely a woman's life is revealed. Jeanne and Alexandre are brother and sister. He is a detective and she is a street performer. They rarely manage to talk face to face, but the narrated letters between them discuss the death of their mother, the spate of similar but unresolved killings (all women, all naked, and all slumped over a hay bale in a field), and Jeannes' relationships with a number of other women she meets. Being French, it was all a bit cod-philosophical, with little in the way of character-character verbal interaction, it wallowed along in its own apparent self-importance for what seemed like twice as long as it did. Aside from an obscure Totoro reference, some semi-interesting French-Portugese history, and a certain degree of lady flesh, there was little or nothing to interest me here. 3.5/10

The Maid (Chile) (IMDB)
Catalina Saavedra plays Raquel; an overworked maid. A single woman with no family, she has lived 20 years in the home of a well-financed couple and their numerous children. Given Raquel's advancing years, the number of rooms to clean and the boisterousness of the sprogs - one of which is convinced Raquel hates her - the owners decide that they should double their employment. This acts as the catalyst for Raquel's underlying and unmatured personality, hidden behind a quiet, humble exterior to come forth, as she perceives the stream of new applicants as threats to her security and authority. Prospective maids come and go, the family become less and less tolerant of Raquel's behaviour, (which verges on the juvenile) until she collapses of exhaustion one day and wakes to find another maid - Sonja - has wholly taken over. The premise of the film, and where the audience comfortably thinks it will end up takes them by surprise, and the ending sees a satisfactory conclusion out nicely. A good film about a stunted, seemingly wasted life and how the right person has to fit the right space. 7/10

Seraphine (France/Belgium) (site)
The biography of unlikely painter Seraphine Louis is portrayed beautifully by Yolande Moreau in this sumptuous film. Having spent much of her life as a housemaid in a nuns convent, and later general chorewoman to the townspeople of Senlis, she found escape by painting floral pictures in secret, using scrap wood panels for canvas and paint made from whatever ingredients she could scrape together from around the village, such as blood from the butchers shop, and wax from the church candles. It wasn't until 1912 at the age of 48 that her work was noticed by German art critic and collector Wilhelm Uhde, but before he could properly exhibit her work, World War I began and he had to flee the French town for his life. Seraphine remained in the deserted and bomb-damaged town, scraping a living and continuing to paint by candlelight, always hoping for Wilhelm to return and relying on her strong beliefs of angels guiding her hand to survive. Though a little long, the film is a beautiful appreciation of the work of an oppressed woman of the lower classes, who's talent and inspiration raised her above it all. 7.5/10

Baraboo (USA) (trailer)
Director Mary Sweeney was present for a Q and A at the end of this world premiere screening, along with one of the principal actors, Harry Loeffler-Bell. Sweeney is known for her work alongside David Lynch, but this is her first film as director. It centres on the lives of the residents of the sleepy, isolated American town of Baraboo, and principally around its convenience store and motel owner, Jane and her moody teenage son, Chris (played by Loeffler-Bell) who is becoming increasingly distant, in part because of the return on leave of his friend, serving in the second gulf war. As tensions become strained between mother and son, and increasingly with the small community surrounding them, the arrival of Bernice, an elderly but surefooted woman into the hotel after her house and contents are auctioned off, promises to stir things up further, but in which direction?
Many themes come into focus through the slow, quiet build-up of Baraboo, and anyone expecting to see a Lynch-style edge of seat thriller may go away disappointed. However its slow burn suits the quiet natural existence of the town perfectly; the message of making sure a community works well from within before it can interact cordially with the world outside is not shoved down our throats, and its warm humour and ability to reach a satisfying conclusion makes me recommend it to all but the action-heads. 8/10

EIFF 2009 Day 1

This is the first of four posts about the films and sights I saw whilst at this year's Edinburgh Film Festival. It's not as blanket coverage as I had hoped, thanks to one thing and another, but I hope you will enjoy reading about what I did see.

Starting off from a sunny Yorkshire, I started the drive up to Edinburgh with a half hour to spare according to Google maps. Of course, anyone who has planned their journeys according to this valuable resource will realise that their times are often open to a certain amount of optimism, such as being able to travel at the speed limit at all times of the journey with no cars getting in the way, or assuming you'll Dukes of Hazzard it over the roundabouts.

Consequently my arrival was hurried. I managed, at the third attempt, to secure a single room at the Thrums hotel a month before, which although perfectly nice and all, was a half-hours walk away from the nearest film location (EIFF films are spread mostly between the Filmhouse, Cineworld and Cameo theatres, all three of which on the west side of town, the hotel on the southeast side). I got to the hotel with 10 minutes to spare, so I had no chance. Fortunately, the owner sorted out a taxi for me as I lugged my things into my little room, and what followed was a tense and bumpy ride through the roadwork-packed streets to the first destination. I arrived 5 minutes into the first film, which given the situation wasn't the worst outcome. However, having spent a lot of the ride talking to the driver and checking my film times, I neglected to keep a mental note of the roads he used..

Terribly Happy
[Frygtelig Lykkelig] (Denmark) (IMDB)
Robert arrives in a remote rural town, posted in as the new policeman as punishment from his seniors for a transgression. Wound up tightly, and missing his Copenhagen family, he unsurprisingly has problems fitting into the expectations of the locals, who constantly talk down to him in favour of his locally-sourced predecessor. During this hard time adjusting, several mysterious situations show up, not least the increasing affections of Ingelise, a quietly terrified woman married to Jørgen - a perpetually drunk, violent man who beats her and is both feared and respected by the rest of the town. Then there's the unpalatable punishments for minor offences he is expected to deal out, the local doctor who keeps his cards close to his chest, and the mysterious vehicle poking out of the nearby marshes.
Robert becomes increasingly entwined, and this creates mounting tension for the viewer as secret connections are revealed and Robert relents his flailing control of the situation, getting deeper and deeper into places he should not be. It cranks the thriller aspect of this film up from its relatively benign beginnings to edge of seat proportions to the end, much like the Coen Brothers have managed to do so well in the past. You are left guessing right to the end whether he can get to the end of the film and in what state. The film is quite understandably hoovering up awards left right and centre. 8/10

The Crimson Wing
(US/UK) (trailer/site)
This film is produced by Disney, reviving their Nature filmmaking arm for the first time in 60 years. The title comes from the Latin name for the Lesser Flamingo, and follows the huge flocks of birds through Africa to their mating colonies at Lake Natron, an area in Tanzania containing flat salt lakes and a massive volcano, spewing ashes full of Sulphur Dioxide forth that become the base element in the ecosystem of the area. With narration by Marialla Frostrup, we see the mating rituals, births of a half million new chicks and the important relationship formed between parents and child, and as the chick grows and becomes more mobile, the threats of the predator-rich environment and the rich salt lakes that both serve as a protector and a killer. Things continue as the flock of chicks take the danger-packed journey through the salt-lakes to the freshwater several days away, with only a handful of guardian adult birds to protect them and show the way.
As with many documentaries, The Crimson Wing shows both the beauty and the harshness of the natural world. The high-res imagery throughout the film of the beautiful environments are stunning to see - there is little to compare with the site of a flock of flamingoes gliding over the mirror-clear lakes, their wing-beats not quite touching the surface, and then landing gracefully on tip-toes, barely disturbing the waters' smoothness. Be prepared also to see its brutality, which I was surprised to see for a Disney film had been hardly messed with, although it did grate that they tried to tell the story from the point of view of a single chick that looked as if it wasn't going to make it, and then did.
The British co-producers and screenwriter were present at this UK premier screening, and were on hand to do a Q-and-A at the end of the film, which was a nice addition and helped to get a bit of background to the six-year project as they talked about long hot days in stinky hides and using hovercraft to travel across the salt marshes to the huge flocks early in the morning so as to avoid disturbing them as much as possible.
The renewal-rebirth themes of the film are well portrayed, and thankfully the whip-pan and crazy camera work present in some modern documentaries were absent here, leaving only a serene look into a strange and beautiful world, although the use of orchestrated music throughout did grate a little in places where there should have been silence. (indeed, one of the audience gave the producers a good telling off about it!)
If you enjoyed March of the Penguins, then this is definitely worthy of a look. I would rate it slightly better, as it felt a little bit less messed about with by the money men, a feat even more surprising given its Disney label. 7.5/10

The Maiden Heist
(US) (wiki)
As a gentle send-up to heist films, this was an absolute cracker. Cristopher Walken in his most aged role yet, plays Roger, a security guard at an art museum, infatuated with the piercing stare and mystique of the woman in 'The Lonely Maiden' - a painting hanging in one of the galleries. Morgan Freeman plays Charles, a guard on security camera duty, also enamoured with his own favourite piece; the less charming 'Girl with Cats', to which he devotes a significant proportion of his time attempting to recreate for himself. To complete the trio that must always be present in this sort of film, William H. Macy does a fantastic turn as a night watchman with an - ahem - more than artistic appreciation for the 'Bronze Warrior' a statue celebrating the male form.
One day the unthinkable happens. The old curator is replaced by some young idiot who wants to modernise the exhibits completely, and that means all the old stuff has to go - to Denmark. Deciding Denmark is perhaps too far to be commuting from America, the three hatch a plot to steal their three favourites and replace them with forgeries, keeping the real one for themselves. So begins a wonderful pastiche of the slick, well-organised perfect crime capers, with the whole 'will they wont they pull it off' question keeping you engaged through the whole thing. All three main roles are perfectly cast, and carry the film almost completely, with a worthwhile mention of Marcia Gay Harden who plays Roger's increasingly involved and impatient wife, threatening to send the outcome one way or another each time she opens her mouth. Overall, brilliant. And unusually for such a film, I can't remember even one swear word in it, so you can take granny along as well. 8.5/10

Walking alone through dark unknown streets trying to the best of your knowledge to recall some landmarks that you saw during the daytime is not to be recommended, although once I'd found The Meadows, a large park on the south side, it was reasonably straightforward from there. Hopefully tomorrow should be a lot more relaxed.

Edinburgh Film Festival 2009

Although I had promised myself (and this blog) that I would be there by now, budget constraints (read: my lack of cash and the gittish Edinburgh B+B's charging double because of the festivities) and relentless job searching has kept me away. My careful film planning has thus gone out of the window and I'll only be able to catch the last four days of films, starting tomorrow.

Never mind, that's still about 20 films to play with. I'll post up my reviews (plus a bit of Edinburgh in piccies) when I get back.

Jane Tomlinson - Leeds 10k 2009 Result

Last weekend I was part of the Leeds 10k once more, and managed to chalk up £53 in sponsorship for Macmillan. The weather held up pretty good, although the sun began to beat down strongly halfway through which sapped energy. Even so, I managed a quite respectable 4152/10239 rank with a chip time of 1.03.29. The magic hour time continues to elude me, but there is still the Harewood House (Oct) and Leeds Abbey Dash (Nov) 2009 events, of which in previous years I have managed one of, this year in my bouncy new mood I may have a go at both and perhaps that hour will be broken on one of those.

Return to Society

It's got a bit dusty around here.. must be something to do with me not being around for a month or so. I wish it were because I had decided to sod off east again, but alas no. I have, for the majority of 2009 thus far, been a 'filthy jobless giro cashing layabout'. However, not so any more, as today I was given that most welcome of news, a job offer. In a nutshell, it's the sort of stuff I want to do, for a decent whack, and not too far away. It's just about as perfect as I could expect given the current economic situation. I consider myself extremely fortunate and not just a little relieved.

I have done some celebrations, such as shouting through the telephone at the poor guy at the other end, jumping about wildly, and spending much of the rest of the day with a big stupid grin on my chops, to the point where my cheek muscles ached. There is also a much-promised curry night in the offing with Ms. Plants, a restriction placed and not lifted until employment successfully regained. Cracking.

So, how was it that this dusty site had not much in the way of updates during all this time? As a vagrant, surely there should be daily updates, ranging from the usual religious bashing and oriental waffle to what my current toilet habits are. Surprisingly, unemployment in a bad economy does that to you, and anyone who thinks otherwise should listen to my story.

The last time I was unemployed was in 2004, and after securing a job at a large multinational (we will call it AccentCorp for the sake of argument) that was about as impersonal, depressing and incompetent a place to work as you could get, I spent a couple of weeks back on the job boards and almost immediately got a handful of interviews, one of which resulted in the far more satisfying employment I enjoyed until recently, when things went a bit wrong and redundancy loomed. Life was much less stressful in 2004, a guy with a good CV had every expectation in a sellers market to be back on the wages run before even a shallow dent was made in the bank account.

Not so now. In the past 6 or so months (I started looking some months before the end because I could see it approaching like an express train with a P45 stuck to the front of it) I have sent out maybe 150 applications, and from that perhaps a dozen first stage interviews have come my way, and of them, only 3 turned into second stage interviews. Every day has been a mixture of waking early, trawling newspapers, job boards, and recruitment agencies for scant pickings, and then the excruciation of selling my increasingly worthless marketable skills before they leak out of my ear, in such a manner so it sounds individual and not cut/pasted, with not a word out of place.

To bring down the morale still further - if you don't have 100% of the skills they list in both the essential and desirable parts of the job spec - forget it. With the market weighed greatly in favour of the employer - there are so many people out there looking - they can afford to hold off a while longer if candidates A to E have 95% of the skills and a willing look on their faces - until someone who is a perfect 100% skills fit (as well as having other desired skills they happen to have on their CV that the employer forgot to mention) comes along - and it won't be long before one does. This not only seriously cuts out a load of potential jobs, but you are also faced with being stuck in a career path that cannot deviate from a narrow skill set, even if you want it to.

And don't get me started about delay tactics. If a company wants to fill a vacancy, they will usually prefer to get an internal candidate to move over from another division - but they are supposed to also offer it to the outside markets; so you end up with certain vacancies, innocently looking like any of the others that you will never get a job for. A first round of interviews, followed by a lot of stalling and ringing around, and climaxing with an impersonal email a month later saying 'sorry, an internal candidate just happened to appear out of thin air and we gave it to them and then forgot to tell you.'

Got a mortgage? That's a massive drain on your dwindling bank account isn't it? Never mind, if you had the presence of mind to take out protection insurance, you're covered aren't you? No worries there? 'fraid not. *if* you have the insurance, the insurers will stall and bicker and send incomprehensible forms out to you, stretching out the time taken to pay you anything for months on end, and infuriatingly, this involves a letter every couple of weeks asking you to fill in another form because the previous one didn't request a particular piece of information that they really really needed. My protection insurance took 3 months to sort out, with the ever looming menace of a rejection if I so much as ticked a box instead of crossing it. And the first month isn't payable. I don't quite understand why, but I think its something to do with them being bastards.

Even when that magical phone call does come, it's not over yet. You have to then cancel your hard-won benefits and insurance payouts, untangle yourself from a thousand job websites, sever ties with a few dozen agency reps, and be prepared for your new boss to evil eye you as yet again you get a job ad from the one agency guy you forgot to include on the notification list.

So, that is why this blog is looking a bit dusty of late - it was just too depressing to write about while it was going on - and 'it' was just about wholly consuming my existence. I will give the place a spring clean soon, as I return to the warm predictability of a 9-5 mon-fri drain on my remaining life expectancy. If you are currently in a job, and harbour any malice towards the great unemployed masses forming increasingly long dole queues and living merrily off the state, or thinking that life without a job is as good as a protracted holiday, let me tell you now, that it is not. I would not inflict the last six months of stress, worry and accelerated ageing on my worst enemy. If you get even an inkling about being made redundant, get job searching as soon as you can, and better still, use whatever means at your disposal - money, sex or power, to stay working at your spot, regardless of how bad it is. At least until the recession is through.

Not such a fancy plant no more..


The worst fears realised. My plant decided to flower in one final gasp, and 352 flowers later (yes, I counted them as they fell off) so did the leaves. I will stick the now sorry looking stump somewhere warm and quiet for some time and see what happens, but I think it's made up its mind and won't be coming back again.

Anyone know whats good for a windowsill that gets lots of evening sun?