BIFF 2011 - Day 4

A big day for films today...

New European Shorts

I Was Crying Out at Life, or For It
(Fra) - A pack of hounds chase some deer, but then the deer get the idea they can do the chasing. The changing landscapes as time passes, decay and rebirth, and repetition. Such repetition. An animation style that seems to bring to life sketches from an old nature book is well done, but the musak and overlong scenes spoil things. Needs refinement. 6/10

A History of Mutual Respect (Por) - Two teens on a trip into the Congo hunting for a 'clean' girl with which to spread their seed. Treating their subjects like cattle, one gets off with a nubile forest dweller, and then the other steals her. An unpleasant film made less palitable by the atrociously bad scripting. Terrible quality clumsy wording, spoken by two teens who refuse to act naturally. 4/10

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (Austria) - Director Johann Lurf is a projectionist by trade, and rather cheekily snips out a cell from the reels that pass through his hands for his own personal souvienir collection. This film is three minutes of a splicing together of all those films. A single constant burst of mangled sound and vision is the result of what sounds like an interesting experiment - and I usually like to indulge in this sort of thing to spot recognisable film scenes, but it's fair to say this experiment no longer needs performing. 3/10

Endeavour (Austria) - By the same director, and suffering from a similar dearth of savage cuts, four cameras on board a take-off of the space shuttle Endeavour, two of which are on the booster rockets, give the raw footage of the entirety of the short. If they had been put as four-corner split screen, they might not have shown any artistic manipulation, but at least would have been beautiful and fascinating to watch, as the shuttle lifts off and the boosters detach and are parachuted back to earth. Unfortunately those scissors spoil the film, and what we see is quick quarter-second round-robin cuts between them, rendering the experience far more jolting and much less enjoyable. 3.5/10

The End of the World (Pol) - A small Polish town in the middle of nowhere is slowly dying. Only the elderly residents remain, as all the children have left. No shops, no buses. The residents lock themselves away during the harsh winters and howling winds, with little to do except exist. A sad portrait of human life in slow decay. 7.5/10

Permille (Iceland) - I saw only a few minutes of this before the film snapped and they had to give it up for a bad job. A man, in blue filtered film, walked around a shopping centre trying to form the words for what he likes. I won't score it but my hopes aren't high.

Innocent Crimes (UK) (site)

The first of a bunch of low-budget non commercial films from Yorkshire and the surrounding region, a collection which also includes Harold's Going Stiff and Cricket.

Young Farley is an accountant at a local firm, constantly brow-beaten by his illogically angry boss and coddled by his overprotective mother, he hides behind his glasses and hopes that one day he will have these people taken away from him somehow. By chance, he meets Charles, a strange man on the run who finds a father figure and a source of rebellion and growth. Charles gains from the new-found relationship by looking on Farley as a son. Compared to his staid existence, the opportunity to help Charles on his mission to 'put material needs of others into context' (read:petty burglary) is a dangerous and delicious adventure. That is, until a woman comes between them, and Charles starts to act very possessive.

Shot in black and white, with moody shadows and the odd low set camera, the young directors were trying for the look of an old-fashioned sort of film, pressed further with the gentlemanly accents of several of the characters, particularly the ever manipulative Charles, in his 'gentleman thief' role. It's a bit rough around the edges and the scripting was slightly duff here and there, and it doesn't seem to know whether it's a comedy or a thriller. But for a first film, it was both entertaining, unpredictable and pretty good fun. 7/10

Harold's Going Stiff (UK) (site)

Many zombie-related films since Scary Movie are turning away from the traditional scary slasher side, and instead pursuing a more light-natured comedic role. and though this will eventually become tiresome, there have been some pretty good ones (Shaun of the Dead, My Name is Bruce...). This low-budget film set in Penistone is a 'Yorkshire Zombie' film, if you will. Harold is an elderly man, and though he was the first to show symptoms of 'Onset Rigor Disease', there is something in his makeup that slows the progression of the illness. Though he's had all sorts of things inserted in him in an attempt to loosen him up a bit, nothing works, until comely nurse Penny arrives with her unusually energetic massage techniques which begin to do the trick. The doctors get wind and do tests, but when Penny decides Harold will come off worst, they make a run for it, trying their best to dodge the semi-competent vigilante squads roaming the hills and treating the whole situation like a video game.

There is a horror element here, but nothing you can't look at through laughing. The film is choc-full of well-pitched humour and some welcome northern accents (much lacking from the big screen in my opinion), and even some nice scenes where Penny and Harold find commonality in their hopes for better times. This all results in a surprisingly rounded mix of emotions throughout the film's duration, and it's clear the makers and everyone involved put their heart into it. A really good ambassador (much like Skeletons last year) for the low budget, local film movement. 7.5/10

Cricket (UK) (Austin brothers site)

The third of the independent regional films for today, Cricket is the work of the Austin trio of brothers - an up and coming group who direct, produce and write the screenplays. Frank returns to Manchester after a botched murder six months previous, to sell the house of his recently deceased father.

But the house has been repossessed, due to his father having finance problems, along with everyone else at the time, but they have coped through the storm however they can get the money. Something that Frank learns about slowly but surely as he is exposed to their people trafficking ring.

When you watch this film, it's hard to believe it was done for less than £1000. It is well shot, sharply acted by relative unknowns. It's hard edged but with a human element, and never lets the audience predict what will happen next. A very promising work, and we will surely hear more about the producers in the coming years. 8/10

Fawn (UK) - A sort but solemn short about the souls of small children buried on the moors, victims of a fictional abuser, as they wait there for their bodies to be discovered. As the others are given peace, one child's soul continues to wait. 7.5/10

Wake Wood (Irl/UK) (wiki/site)

The Hammer brand was well known through the 70's for violent, bloody and often cheesy films. Recently, the brand has been resurrected and this pagan horror flick is one of the first to come out of the deal. After losing their child Alice on her birthday to a vicious dog attack, Patrick and Louise try to make a new life in the village of Wake Wood. It quickly becomes apparent that the residents lead a shadowy life once the sun goes down, and when Arthur, the leader of the group (played by Timothy Spall trying to sound a bit Irish and almost getting away with it) offers them the opportunity to use the occult to bring back their daughter for them, their scepticism is overridden by their feelings of hope.

It doesn't come without strings. Alice will only return for three days and then they must say goodbye again, and she cannot pass the outskirts of the village. As a condition of the deal, the family must also become part of the community permanently.

The reincarnation looks perfect, but its clear quickly that something is wrong, and she is a bit angry.

Anyone who has seen a Hammer Horror flick before will recognise some of the trademark themes, although they have addressed the cheesiness, and there's a little more money in the coffers. Rather than letting the Hammer brand drag the film down into the formulaic stodge that the other films turned into, it does a 'reboot' of the brand, making it feel fresh, entertaining and more than a bit scary. Bloody, gory, occult and creepy, but with an additional grounding in it's human side. 8/10

White Horse (US) - A barely comprehensible music video in three parts. An alien abduction, and a meeting between a boy and a girl, and a woman drowning, all to the backdrop of aliens invading the world, using overly loud music as their weapon. Not particularly enjoyable. 5/10

Stake Land (US) (site)

The second of a triple bill of horror films; Stake Land uses vamps and zombies to take a stab at the current height of religiosity in America, pointing out how the populace turns to their respective religions more when living in uncertainty and fear. Young teen Martin is rescued by Mister, when his parents are attacked by zombies in the deep south, as they were about to head north to the fabled 'promised land' of New Eden. Mister is an unexplained entity, all we are told is what he does, kill off the hoards with a brutal and basic but effective mix of stakes and knives. As they head from the deep south to the north (again a nod to the right-wing grip on the religion over there) they pick up abandoned souls and try to make the best of their situation.

Click (UK) - Set in a disused warehouse in Keighley, a scary story for children where five such kids, at the age where they are establishing the pecking order, break into a warehouse and have a nosey around, eventually happening on a big room. Flicking the lights off they are in total dark, so after locking themselves in, they decide to see how long they dare to switch them off. It's all giggles and fun, until the children start disappearing.. 7.5/10

Hobo With a Shotgun (US/Can) (site)

There is no more beautiful mix than when name for a film perfectly and directly specifies what the film, in it's entirety is. Hobo with a Shotgun is self explanatory. That's it; end of review.

Ok maybe not. The Tarantino/Rodriquez Grindhouse collaboration featured several fake trailers beforehand, one of which was Hobo With a Shotgun. Fleshing out a pretend script to an hour and a half was not easy, but somehow they've managed it, with a bit of help from signing up Rutger Hauer as the lead.

He plays a hobo, initially without a shotgun, who moves cities and finds the same crap going on as where he came from. Except this time a whole load of street scum, including a couple of over-the-top 50's frat boys with no sense of subtle have made the neighbourhood a misery. Stress and circumstance forces him to snap and take up the bang stick and start dealing out some justice, until he can get both barrels up the arse of deranged local kingpin, Drake. His only friend is Abbey, a downtrodden prostitute whose life he saves more than once.

Hobo is a great laugh, although it's one where you need to switch off your moral reaction bone for a couple of hours. It could have become slow and boring if it had just been some tramp blowing holes in peoples' heads all the time, but the director has managed to vary it a bit (sometimes the hobo uses the shotgun to hit people with) and gets an actual story in there, albeit a hugely and deliberately overplayed story with intentionally cheesy dialogue that had the audience laughing and groaning. I'm pretty sure at least some of it referred to the sort of cheesy 70's horror/exploitation flicks on which it is heavily based. Even without being much of a horror fan, I really enjoyed what I saw. 8/10

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