Leeds 10k Race Result

This year's Jane Tomlinson Leeds 10k was nearly a miss this year, partly because up to only a couple of minutes before the start it was teeming with rain, but mostly because - thanks to my over-zealous efforts at the Leeds Half Marathon and the Hull 10k the week afterwards, I managed to partially rupture my Achilles Tendon. Even on the morning it was very stiff and I still have a noticeable limp. But this was the fifth year of the Leeds 10k and I was determined to do it, at a steady pace if nothing else.

So I was quite pleased when the rain stopped just long enough to get round in a reasonably on-pace 1:04:25, and so far, with no repercussions to speak of aside from a little swelling. My total raised for charity was a big fat zero, because I really wasn't sure if I would be ready in time (the doc advised against it), but there is the York 10k at the end of July, where people will be duly pestered once again.

EIFF 2011 - Day 4

The Borrower Arrietty (Jpn) (site/wiki)

I saw this while in Japan, and although it was in unsubbed Japanese it was pretty easy to get the main body of the storyline. So I was interested in seeing what an English voice cast would be able to manage. The Disney translations of the Ghibli films started out a little choppy (Kiki and Laputa especially received some pretty fundamental changes to their script and even their soundtracks) but eventually the translators listened to common sense and the later ones have remained pretty faithful.

What did they do with this one? No idea. When the curtain went up and the shimmering TOHO logo appeared rather than the Disney one, it was clear we were getting the Japanese one again with subtitles. I'm actually quite happy personally, as the change in language might have been a bit distracting, but there was the odd intake of breath from audience members realising they would have to do a bit of reading, especially from the [largely well-behaved it has to be said] young ones in the audience. After a moment or two everyone settled into the subs and it proceeded swimmingly.

Kuragurashi no Arrietty is based on the Borrowers stories by Mary Norton. Arrietty is a young borrower from a family living in the floorboards of a country house in Tokyo. She is just reaching the age where she can take care of herself, and is looking forward to her first 'borrowing' trip accompanied by her father Pod, padding silent and unnoticed through the walls and behind vases of the house to get a few supplies. After a promising start, she is spotted by Sho, a boy visiting his aunt Sadako who lives in the house and maintains it for Sho's absent family. Sho is sick and awaiting a heart operation, but is still viewed with fear and suspicion as a threat to the safety of the borrower family. With perseverance, Sho begins to earn Arriettys' trust, but aunt Sadako's suspicions are raised and maybe she will at last encounter one of these house pests before they steal anything else.

Arrietty is a return to a more contemporary setting for the Ghibli films, which puts it into a group with my particular favourites, such as Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart. It's as usual beautifully drawn, with Kazuo Oga providing his trademark backgrounds and Miyazaki himself doing the screenplay, although he stepped aside from directing to give the up and coming Hiromasa Yonabayashi a turn. You can even spot a trace of the much missed Yoshifumi Kondo in the art style, which after films such as Sen and Ponyo, took a bit of a back seat. As you can probably tell, I loved it. A beautiful story, gentle soundtrack and appealing hand-drawn visuals with little if any computers used. It even has a strong ending, which is where some Ghibli films have occasionally fallen short.

I can't see any problems with the translation when it is eventually screened. Although the story is more mature and delicate than the John Goodman Borrowers film (which by comparison went little beyond a procession of slapstick encounters) there was nothing in this one that might need altering for an English-speaking audience due to sensitive issues or local custom, so fingers crossed they will do a sterling job. And I have no issue with watching Arrietty for a third time when it gets a proper release later this year. 8.5/10

Mama Africa (Ger/S.Africa/Fin) (review)

When Miriam Makeba, a young and upcoming African singer agreed to sing a couple of inspiring songs as part of an anti-apartheid film in 1959, she had no idea the troubles it would cause her. Attending the Venice Film Festival to be there to receive the Palm D'or that year, she crossed a line that the South African government found unacceptable, and she was exiled from her home country. She went to America.

There she further developed her singing career and also spoke actively against the apartheid regime, as well as acting as an inspiration for her African-American cousins in her adoptive country, who were under much the same sort of oppression, in the land of the free.

Mama Africa (a name she came to be known affectionately by over time), not only brought African music to a western audience, but also managed to be a force to be reckoned with in the civil rights movements at the time, twice a passionate spokeswoman for the UN for the boycott of dealings with South Africa, and there at the eventual release of Nelson Mandela, who once he became president, gave Makeba back her citizenship. Right up until her death, she was a passionate and beloved speaker and activist for the rights of her people.

Miriam Makeba died in 2008, and this film helps bring together all the aspects of her life, the hardships and struggles, and her heartbreaking family tragedies, and also a taste of her work and influence beyond her life, warmed throughout by her clear and beautiful singing voice, some of her songs you might surprise yourself by recognising. A great way to end my festival experience. 7.5/10


Yes, that's all folks, for Edinburgh this year at least. If you wanted more please pen a stiffly-worded letter to my boss who didn't let me take next week off so I could see more. As it goes, I'll just have to try and make things up in September with Cambridge. Hey ho.

EIFF 2011 - Day 3

Whisky Galore! (UK) (wiki)

Slowly but surely, I'm knocking off the Ealing comedies one by one, so when Whisky Galore - one of the earler ones - showed up in the list in a quiet slot, I made sure I got a ticket.

On a remote, Outer Hebridean island sits the small town of Currie, the inhabitants lead a quiet existence in wont of nothing, at least until the supply of Whisky on the island completely dries up thanks to the war rationing. Help is on hand in the shape of the SS Cabinet Minister, a ship on its way with prescious restocking of the stuff, which unfortunately runs aground on the rocks before it can get to the shore. Not so good when two of the young bucks of the town are proposing to their fiances and there is a celebration to be had (on top of all the other excuses anyway), so when the town learns of the precariously-angled ship on the verge of sinking, they make for the waves in whatever boat they can get hold of, while trying to keep the towns' only upstanding law abider Captain Waggett of the local home guard out of the loop and unawares of the smuggling.

It was nice to see, but one of the weaker Ealing comedies, not having the focus and refined scripting of, say The Ladykillers. But it had it's moments, some cheeky digs at the scots and their love of the dram, and the action builds to a pretty good chase at the end. 7/10

Bobby Fischer Against the World (UK/US/Icl) (site/review)

A good documentary can make entertainment from any subject matter. Chess is certainly one of the less socially popular forms of entertainment around at the moment - try to engage your close circle of friends on the subject and you're likely to get a series of blank expressions, and an expectation to move back to more familiar ground unless you wish to be ostracised. But even chess had it's day in the social spotlight, nearly 40 years ago, in 1972.

Bobby Fischer came out of nowhere, a Brooklyn kid with a focused genius in the game that went to obsessional levels. He was also arrogant, short tempered, and a bit of a prima donna. Still he gained recognition and massive respect with the chess community, and beyond. At the time, the Soviets took every chess crown, and used the game to play politics with the Americans, as the country of intellectual and strategic prowess. Henry Kissenger himself worked to get Fischer into the 1972 showdown match against Boris Spassky, to put one in the eye of the Soviet political chess machine. Fischer was rude and arrogant, demanded more money for competing, and turned up an hour late for his first of a grudging 24-match marathon. But he won, and took the crown of the World Chess Champion for 1972.

But the story has much more to go from there. This was Fischers' high point of his tragic life. The praise and adulation, and the attention that came with it when he returned to America started a long and painful process of self-destruction. One that turned him from arrogant but likeable hero in the eyes of the ruskie-hating American public, to a reclusive, psychotic anti-semite, betraying his Jewish roots and cutting him off still further from his small circle of remaining friends.

I watched Bobby Fischer open-mouthed, knowing nothing of the man and finding it incredulous that such a shattered life had occurred under the catalyst of such a seemingly benign sport, but as the film goes on to explain, true chess grand-masters need that unusual mix of genius and psychosis that allows them to own the board and the myriad of moves that are available to them and their opponents at any one time, and a life spent wholly staring at 64 squares and nothing else, will be a life that struggles to comprehend the complexities of the rules of life outside. A compelling documentary. 8/10

Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project (Hun/Ger/Aus) (a rather scathing wiki entry)

Kornel has made a comfortable existence for himself persuing his dreams of being a film director after a bit of a blip in his earlier, more sleepy-aroundy days. But an aspect of his past - a feral, hormone-filled son of a past, looking for answers and vindication, comes fist-dragging back into his life when, after clumsily leaving a bunch of flowers at the home of the mother who abandoned him to an orphanage, takes part in Kornel's latest audition. Neither father nor son is aware who they've stumbled upon, but when the improvised audition goes really wrong, the boy is forced to flee, only to return to his mothers' for sanctuary, where fellow orphaned teen Magda stirs feelings in the monster boys' loins.

As you can expect from such a title, the film is a contemporary re-imagining of the Mary Shelley novel though you could easily miss the relationship unless it had been pointed out. The film does manage through darkened rooms and pregnant silences to recreate the brooding sense of a monster fighting helplessly with his anger and primal urges and trying to be 'good', and Kornel's role as the man tasked with putting the creature beyond harm is imaginative if underused. But the film does fall short of being a good one because of it's bloated runtime, and a needless shifting around of the characters in the laboured middle section, which tries to explain out some of the mysteries the first quarter brings up. By the time the final third comes along, you're already tracing through the original story to see how long it is before the film ends, and you don't want that as a director. 6.5/10

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Australia) (site)

The term 'Audio Verite' has been coined to mean the surreptitious recording of an event for the amusement of others. One particular example are the end-of-the-world 'conversations' between two elderly men in a San Francisco apartment by a pair of young students who moved in next door to them in the late 1980's. Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman are massively morose and irritable alcoholics living together in a dingy flat, and when the drinks begin flowing, so does the cussing. They cuss each other bad, in fact. So bad, that Eddie and Mitch decided - initially in case something bad happened and they needed evidence for the police - to record their conversations by strapping a microphone to a ski pole and hovering it in front of their window.

What they caught on several hours of tape came to be known as 'Shut Up, Little Man!', a phrase Peter would often use to talk Ray out of an argument. Word got around, people started asking for copies, and it began to snowball.

What started out as a prank and a laugh, started to have consequences. Record companies started ringing. People wanted copies from all around the world. Because the boys had just made the tapes and stuck them in the public domain, people started doing things with the material - comic books, audio mashups, and even an LA stage play. When it got to the point that several movie producers were trying to get in on the act and things were starting to turn ugly and legal, it was clearly time to try and sort the mess out, and perhaps even give some of the royalties to the unsuspecting people at the centre of it all.

Shut Up Little Man!, is a guilty laugh at the start, you're in there giggling at the things they got on tape, but the middle section kind of runs out of puff, explaining the legal complications and getting a bit samey in content as if the guys were only wanting a certain amount of material released into the film so they had to repeat some of it. The ending however feels a lot warmer, as the guys involved, now middle-aged and more mature, look on their subjects with a more affectionate eye, especially as Tony - a friend of the squabbling pair who occasionally came round to the flat and is the only surviving link to the conversations - is finally interviewed as a frail shadow of himself - and still none the wiser of his global fame.

The dip in the middle doesn't harm the film so much (and could have something to do with my heavy eyelids), and the piece as a whole takes the viewer through the whole emotion spectrum, including a lot of laughs. 8/10

EIFF 2011 - Day 2

Stranger Than Paradise (US/Ger) (wiki)

Supposedly a cult indie classic from the director of Broken Flowers, Stranger Than Paradise tells a tale of disaffected, directionless youth in 1980's New York. Shot on hand-held camera with a grainy black and white quality, it is less film noir, and more film grunge. Workshy layabout Willie has little more than a poncy hat to his name, spending all his time lolling about a scruffy flat, occasionally entertaining the company of fellow layabout Eddie. When his Hungarian mother rings to ask him to babysit his teenage cousin Eva, it's obviously something that can't fit into his busy schedule, but somehow he is persuaded.

Something clicks over the next ten days in Willie's underutilised little mind, and after she moves onto greener pastures back in Cleveland, his little brain, aided by the gambling habits of Eddie - who also develops a crush - comes up with a long term plan to go visit her. You know, just popping by while in the neighbourhood.

Director Jim Jarmusch (who is a 2011 EIFF guest curator) paints a largly pointless existance of pretention and laziness in the absence of a direction in life, where motivation and decision are more than ever based on the acquistion of power and sex. But it is a labour to go through the extended blackouts and choppy acting to encounter it's more enjoyable aspects, the most appealing of which is the straight-talking aunt Lotte who has some of the best lines. 5/10

Tomboy (Fra) (wiki)

As 10-year old Laure suffers the stresses of a house move on account of mum being pregnant with a new little brother to go with her and her cheeky younger sis Jaqueline, a moment of childish fun threatens to make any life in her new area a complicated misery. Laure is very boyish, and for the first part of the film any audience member who hadn't read the synopsis would swear that's what she was. She hangs around with the lads, wears neutral clothing and gets into fights, many of which she has come out on top. On the way to meet with a group of kids from her new area she happens upon Lisa, and for reasons even Laure cannot fathom she goes along with Lisa's mistaken assumption that she is male. New boy Mikael is invented in an instant.

As you may suspect, situations where shirts come off for football, trunks go on for swimming, and people head into the bushes to answer the call of nature all present problems for the rapidly snowballing problem that Laure has made for herself. When her canny little sis (easily the star of the show) catches onto the situation and insists on tagging along in order to keep the secret from her parents, it all begins to unravel, just as Laure was being accepted into the future schoolyard clique.

A story of small problems seen big through the eyes of children, and the lessons that have to be learned about boundaries and the beginnings of sexuality, Tomboy playfully experiments with the logical conclusion to such a ruse, with an even mix of uncomfortable and amusing events along the way, but is handled with intimacy and care. 7/10

Jane's Journey (Ger) (site)

Prior to seeing this film, Jane Goodalls' work was to me restricted to her research and conservation work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa, a calling which made up a lot of her earlier life's work in the 1960's. But as this film rightly celebrates, this is only a small part of her current global influence.

Now in her late 70's she refuses to slow down. Still travelling around the world as ambassador and activist, author and inspiration, her work has evolved over the last 25 years. Two of her main branches of influence, the Jane Goodall Institute, and the Roots and Shoots campaign have overlapping aims but are generally concerned with the protection of the animals, the environment and the humanity that exists with both of them. The film is roughly split down the middle concentrating on these two major contributions, and the recognition that she has received for both. This is broken up and interspersed with intimate interviews with Jane at her Bornemouth home about her early life and influences, her partners and her not always ideal relationship with her son, Hugo. Through all her work, rewards and recognition, Jane Goodall remains as friendly and genuine as anyone you could hope to meet.

This is an excellent, gently crafted film, and a celebration of the work of a woman whose inflience has truly made a global difference, and capable of melting the stony resolve of any anti-environmentalist. If I had one criticism, it would be that the film feels a little self-indulgent at the time, but this is easy to forgive for such an influential person. Mary Lewis, the VP of the Jane Goodall Institute and Adina Farmaner the Executive Director, took some time out from her work to be at the UK premiere and answer a few questions at the end, as unfortunately Jane was at that moment talking with the Dalai Llama in Dubai. They were very personable and approachable, and was a special bonus to a really great film. 8.5/10

Fast Romance (UK) (site)

When director Carter Ferguson came out on stage and announced that this was a low budget film, set in Scotland, and featuring a home-grown cast, many of which were in the audience, my heart sank at the resurfacing memory of an almost identical circumstance this time last year. It was even the same screen room. Fortunately, whereas Spanking went down the route of forgettable rough-and-ready sweary gangster fare, Fast Romance opts for a cheery romantic comedy angle, and was much better.

The film concentrates on seven thirtysomethings (or thereabouts) in Glasgow, whose lives cross in the Fast Romance speed dating event. Loner gamer Gordon is on the verge of losing his job at the post office, and his inwardly quiet boss Kenny seems too distant to make any friends at all, what with his family problems. Bookish Fiona and overly talkative Nadine are best friends and bridesmaids to Lorna, on the verge of getting married. DI Spencer, an undercover copper who likes to take an interest in the private lives of his community comes along, but he and all the other guys are seriously intimidated by Elliot, the smooth talking and handsome guy who shows up and makes everyone else look and feel like a troglodyte.

So we get some initial pairings, some relations work, some don't and everyone's lives cross and intermingle. The usual fare, but done well. One thing that the film doesn't do is try to rest on the reputation of Glaswegians as drunken louts. Most of the characters have a genuine likeableness to them, which is always helpful to get you into the swing of the film. It's an appealing romantic film to see if you and your partner want something that gives you a warm feeling and a laugh, and doesn't go too gooey and sentimental (although they do lay on Kenny's backstory a little thick), with characters and situations that will cause both sexes to laugh and smile. 7.5/10

EIFF 2011 - Day 1

The stormclouds of Edinburgh loomed overhead as I made myself to the Festival Theatre, where the opening night film was starting. Fortunately I made it before getting too drenched. The theatre was full to capacity and after a brief introduction by John Michael McDonagh, the director of The Guard (who apologised for not insulting the Scots as much as everyone else in the film) the plush red velvet curtain was raised and we were off.

The Guard (Irl/UK) (imdb)

Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson, in a role he was born for) has a comfortable job, his many years of experience has turned his policing of the local village into a continuous lazy afternoon asleep at the wheel of his car. Petty crooks either end up cancelling themselves out, or doing stuff not worth waking up for.

But things get unacceptable when a gang of high-stakes drug-dealers come onto the scene and start using the village and its port for their logistics, while at the same time two new law enforcers start to push Boyle's nose out of joint - the wet behind the ears Sgt Aidan McBride, and straight-laced FBI agent Wendell Everett, (played by Don Cheadle - not best known for his comedy parts) - who both question Boyle's style and attitude as the psychotic and philosophical drug dealers get uncomfortably close.

In Bruges was directed by McDonagh's brother, Martin, and there is much to connect the two films, although The Guard is definitely more laugh-out-loud funny than it's more serious cousin. Gleeson who stars in both is wonderfully matter-of-fact in his casual racism and ignorance, law breaking and nicking the odd firearm, but is also given a softer edge of a man past his prime who deep down wants to do the right thing. It's massively sweary, a little bit shocking and is devillishly funny stuff that got the audience laughing pretty much constantly. (Also look out for Pat Shortt - Father Ted's Tom, doing his recognisable gurn.) 8/10

Pre-Festival Film Splodge

I'm just starting my Edinburgh Film Festival run today. The run up on the train was beautiful, and Edinburgh is bathed in summer sunshine. Before the first day starts, I thought I'd include a trio of festival-style films that I've recently managed to catch before the festival starts proper tonight.

Submarine (UK) (wiki/site)

Richard Ayodade is the knowingly unusual sort from such classics as The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, (we'll pass over the Dean Learner interviews for now). So I was surprised to see that he is moving from crazy-haired oddity to movie director, and even more surprised to see his first choice of subject matter - the imperfect blossoming romance of a teenage boy in 1980's Wales.

Oliver Tate, who may or may not share some similairities with Ayodade's formative years, is a thoughtful but downtrodden and routinely bullied boy in secondary school. Caught between the bookish nature inherited from his straight-laced parents and the increasing need to be one of the popular gits who make everyone elses' life a misery, the one constant in his life is Jordana, a mysterious, red-coated girl with a rebellious, don't care personality and a knowing smile that turns his legs to mush. When Oliver sees the opportunity to make points at a fat girls' expense, he grabs it with both hands, and his world is forever changed.

Some synopses I have seen about this film tend to paint it as a 'raving hormone teen desperately trying to lose his virginity' story, and while that plays a small part, it is over and done with before the halfway point, concentrating instead on the shifting balance of relationships and how two people cope with events that undermine their foundations. Ayodade has made a comedy, although few times will you be laughing out loud, it's more a work that encourages knowing smiles and embarassing realisations that the lead character is living the lives of everyone in the audience, give or take a stolen kiss or two. It occasionally bares fleeting shadows of some of his earlier work in front of the camera, and even has a touch of French cinematics about it here and there with his camera work and score. It's perhaps best appreciated without knowing much more about it, as a quiet observer through a short period of a young man's life. 8/10

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Fr) (wiki/site)

So many French films begin the same way, an overly consise narrator spends much of the first ten minutes explaining some incidental details about one of the characters in the film, not sparing us the extra information regarding their exact distance from a given landmark. It's an introductory trick done many times previous, for instance with Amelie and Micmacs, and though I groaned a little at seeing it done yet again, it marked the start of an otherwise enjoyable film.

Adele Blanc-Sec doesn't stop with it's half-inching of ideas there, you'll see plenty of familiar themes throughout, especially from the likes of Indiana Jones, and Night at the Museum, with computer-generated pterodactyls swooping through the streets of early 20th Century France. Even the chief bad guy is a dead ringer for the Gestapo bloke from Raiders of the Lost Arc.

But no matter, even though it's pillaging left right and centre it's still a good flick. Blanc-Sec is a well-heeled and ultra-confident young woman - a character based on a series of comic book novels from a few decades ago - with the forceful nature of a Kathrine Hepburn persona causing any man who values his standing to carry out her polite but forceful requests with little more than a dumbfounded look. At the moment, Adele Blanc-Sec is on her way to the pyramids in search of an Egyptian mummy who will help her with the sticky task of bringing her sister back to life after an unfortunate tennis incident. Typically other things get in the way, most notable is the aforementioned airborne dinousaur, and the elderly professor who has worked out a way of taming it's craving for flesh with the power of his mind.

Things get plenty more absurd than that, but it's all tempered by the rip-roaringness of it all, without which you'd be tempted to take things in it more seriously, which would then turn the mind to incredulity and ridicule at what was unfolding. Suspend that pesky disbelief for a second and enjoy the ride. It might not be Indy, but this imitation has a good deal of laughs and entertainment, and a brief and unexpected (but moustache-twirlingly welcome) flash of ladyflesh. 7.5/10

Senna (UK/Fra/US) (site)

Formula One has it's fair share of criticisms, and two of them I can relate to. Firstly, F1 can get pretty dull, especially when your maiden race is a processional fare where little happens outside of the pitstops. In the late 90's and 2000's, this was often the case, especially with the car specs at the time, and the likes of Schumacher insisting on driving faster than everyone else for every damn race. The second criticism is that that F1 is a hugely political sport, and this muddies the out-and-out racing aspect with politically-motivated rules changes, team-mate rivalries and uncomfortable tensions within the paddock when the house of cards teeters and falls.

Senna touches on both these points, a biography of the man who joined the F1 scene in 1984 and stayed there for a decade before tragically hitting the Tamburello corner wall at Imola in 1994, and becoming the third casualty of that dreadful race weekend, what would be seen as a massive low point in the history of the sport. I had only recently started watching F1 a season or two previous back then, and was just getting to grips with the teams and relationships, and I remember the moment well. My formulated opinions of the man prior to his death didn't progress beyond seeing him as the git that had a bit of a falling out with Prost and won most of the races before Schumacher came along, instead of letting the Brits through for their turn. This film is a good way to get an appreciation of the history of the man from a different perspective.

Senna spent the late 70's and early 80's go-karting; a simple, true racing discipline where politics rarely if ever got a look-in. Moving away from his native Brazil to an unfamiliar Europe to compete in F1, he found the political additions to his distaste, but even so he still showed great ability and by 1986 had got a drive with McLaren, a race-winning team. It was there that the skirmishes with his team-mate, the Frenchman Alain Prost - and F1 boss Jean-Marie Balestre, who was best buds with him - started both on and off the tracks. The rare footage dug up from TV interviews and private moments shows a deeply bothered and frustrated man, sticking through it all in the hope that one day he will just be able to leave the difficulties behind and just race.

F1 is a sport that is best enjoyed when you see the whole package; not just the racing, but the drivers, the teams, and the governors at the top who pull the strings and make things happen. Watching the cars go round is not much fun unless you know what's going on inside the minds of the people driving them: The clashing personality types, the friendships, the rivalries, and the sportsmanship. This film is a really satisfying tribute to the work and career of the man, that will be automatically on the list of any F1 fan worth his salt, but even if you aren't into the sport, it is also a fascinating biography of a man who became an icon for his native Brazil at the point where the country was in desperate need of financial help, where poverty was rife and their futures seemed hopeless, this man stood up to give them something to be proud of. 8/10