Still Nothing

Every day after work I dread to hear the shuffle of front door swinging against letters on the hall floor. But every day so far, after that 'final demand' has thus yielded no nasty letters requiring me to head to a place of justice. The six month rule, (which I hope applies) is 3/4 gone. Have they given up on the chase, or will they make me wait right up until Christmas time? Damn them for keeping me guessing.

Pre-Festival Film Warmup

I love the Hyde Park Picture House. It's a jewel poking out of the tatty remains of Headingley's student quarter, a relic of a bygone age that takes you back a half-century to the velvet panelling, flickery gas-lighting and theatre-style layout of old. Beloved by the film-goers and seemingly by the community alike, it shows a steady mix of contemporary, indie and retrospective films in it's cosy one-screen hall.

It's especially worth visiting at film festival time; a little bit from the Bradford one, but mostly from the Leeds Film Festival, which is about to start. I have my festival pass and stack of tickets at the ready in front of me, but before that all starts and sleep becomes a luxury, there was just time to fit in an extra visit for a trio of films showing as part of a special film night. Tyrannosaur was first up, and since I wanted to see it as well I got there early to catch that as well, but for the two main acts that night - Moon and Galaxy Quest, whose common space theme became the basis for the cinema to do 'Creatures of the Moon' - a variant on their usual Creatures of the Night Saturday evening slot; both a mini celebration of space on film, and a paean to the winding down of western space exploration. At least for the time being anyway.

A young lady dressed in.. well I'm not sure - ushered us in. There were yellow blobs of something attached to her head and various parts of her body, fortunately accompanied by a shiny dress to avoid embarrassment - I didn't ingratiate myself by asking if she had come as one of the planets and instead smiled sweetly as I headed to the bar, where said lady had enthusiastically provided a bowl of flying saucer sweets, and a pile of spacy-painted cakes. Since cake is good, I chose one (sprinklings always good) and was pleasantly surprised to find they were gratis. I went in and supped a cup of tea and waited for the films to start. As people began to file in, home-made streamers with a stars and planets theme were taped to the doors, and a selection of space-related tunes soothed me half to sleep in the background. It was, after all about 10:30 and there were two films to see yet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Tyrannosaur (UK) (wiki)

Though I was well aware of the dark subject matter, I knew that this film was getting some high praise. I was interested to see what the lovely Olivia Colman would do in her first major straight film role. But also, it had a local significance, being filmed and set on the outskirts of Leeds.

Peter Mullan is Joseph, who we are given a judgemental introduction to at the start of the film, where, having lost his weekly income in the pub and the betting shop, takes out his anger on his faithful dog who is sat waiting and whimpering for him outside. Kicking the poor thing half to death when it doesn't do as he wants, this immediate and shocking summary of his current mental state is matched in the next scenes by his remorse, carrying the dog home and caring for it through the night, during which we see the dogs eyes glance into his, before the paw goes limp. A broken man digs a hole in his lawn in the early morning light.

Not an easy thing to watch, and not a good advert for a film.

Alcohol and abusive estate kids, and fat posers with bulldogs from across the street all stir his anger up, and in his more lucid moments he - barely - keeps a lid on things, knowing it is destroying him; since a good hammering with falling-over water is the default daytime state, Joseph finds a local charity shop to hide in when the local lads come looking for revenge. Like a cornered animal, he lashes out at Olivia Colmans' Hannah - the religiously-inclined shop owner - as she tries to coax him from within the clothes pile.

After he calms down and regains some composure from the shock of someone treating him with compassion, the two slowly start a fragile friendship. As well as uncovering Josephs' past and how he has ended up the way he has, we see that Hannah has her own demons to deal with in the form of her husband James, whose brooding presence in her life is only slowly revealed to be the shockingly abusive soul she clings onto.

Several themes play through the film, including a peppering of religious symbolism and the crutch it can give to a stressful life, and the limits of human tolerance to suffering. Tyrannosaur is both powerfully dark and darkly comic; to talk of this as purely a film of broken people and miserable lives would be to sell it short. There are moments of beauty and mirth and most of the characters, though often horrible have likeable sides to them. The music is melancholic and sublime and fits the film perfectly. The direction of the story, though linear is pretty unpredictable, and the shocking ending has both a feeling of redemption and completion to it that will stay in the mind long after the film ends. In fact it was only after the end that I was able to digest just how well the films parts fit together. My only gripe was the title, which although it's origin was briefly explained in the film, never felt as if it represented what the film was about. Other than that: cracking. 8/10


Planet woman came to the stage and, announcing to the audience that the fancy dress had been cancelled (word had clearly not got around as no-one had dressed up), and we would be seeing Galaxy Quest first, followed by a little surprise, and then Moon. I'd hoped it would be the other way around, since at least then I could leave early if I was too knackered as I had seen GQ, but what the hell.

Galaxy Quest (US) (wiki)

I honestly struggle to name many films that show Sigourney Weaver in a sexy light, but somehow Galaxy Quest manages it like no other. Not the biggest film of the new millennium, it has matured over the years and even though I must have seen it a half-dozen times since, it still gave me a big laugh.

Tim Allen, in maybe his only funny role beyond Toy Story - is Jason, or 'Commander Taggart' - the Kirk to Sigourney Weavers' Uhura, Alan Rickmans' Spock and Daryl Mitchells' Checkov. A pre-Monk Tony Shalhoub plays a Scotty-style Sgt Chen, and Sam Rockwell gets a part as the poor guy who would get the red jumper in that other show. They all starred in a fictional 80's space exploration series, and make their pitiful livings visiting conventions where they patiently answer the minutiae interpretive questions of a hall-full of geeks as they wait for their respective agents to find them something to get them out of there. In other words, the anticipated hell of a bunch of second-rate actors whose best days are behind them.

On the verge of splitting up due to their infighting, they leave Jason alone and inebriated, where he is approached by real aliens, who have watched the series and mistake it for actual space-based justice-dealing, have built him a ship to the spec from the film, and want him to kill off some aliens who happen to be threatening their planet.

You can guess the rest - getting the others on board, failing miserably, working together and beating the bad guys second time round, etc. It doesn't try to be original - it is half-parodying, half-celebrating Star Trek after all. And its this glorious wallowing in nostalgia and naffness, while at the same time having a story of its own that is it's genius. I'm so glad I got to see it on the big screen once more. 8/10

Whistle (UK) - Our 'surprise' was an overly-long short film about a man who acts as a hi-tech assassin from the comfort of his own home. A laser-guided rocket thingy and a google maps-style targeting system allows him to get a shot at anyone, although once he has pressed the fire button it kinda assumes the target will stand still for the few minutes it takes for the rocket to hit. One day, it doesn't and rather than killing the nasty old terrorist it takes out his daughter in his arms as well. And.. oh it was bad. A ham-acted, mishmash of other films with a clumsy morality message tacked on as an afterthought. Sorry, but no. 4/10

Moon (UK) (wiki/site)

Well past midnight is not the time to be sat waiting for a film, but my second cuppa (and cake) were keeping me awake enough to see this through. Moon slipped through the net at last years' festivals, and so I was not going to miss it again. As well as sharing a space theme with Galaxy Quest, Moon also starred Sam Rockwell, who aside from the voice of Kevin Spacey and a couple of brief parts on the monitor screens were the only characters in the film. Yes, the plural was intentional.

Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a lone technician on a three-year contract, working on the surface of the moon as a maintenance guy in a mostly automated mining getup, that has in the near future, solved most of the energy problems for the inhabitants of earth. Every day he checks dials and sends off the rockets back to earth when the mineral containers are full. Occasionally he has to head out onto the surface to check on the massive unmanned harvesters that are extracting the minerals from the lunar soil. His only companion is a Hal-like computer, whose creepy emoticon faces are matched by Kevin Spaceys creepy-friendly-next-door-neighbour voice, just to set the viewer a bit on edge that he might go mental and suck all the air out of the room at a moment's notice.

Nearing the end of his tenure, Sam begins to notice odd things, and they are cleverly played so that the viewer doesn't quite know what to make of them too. A fleeting figure in the lunar dust, or a section chopped out of a transmission from his girlfriend. Something doesn't quite make sense but neither Sam nor the audience have any clue until an accident with one of the harvesters leaves him put up in sick bay, not knowing what happened, or how he managed to return from the surface.

To say more would give too much away, but this film's obvious resemblance to 2001 is played well, encouraging the viewer to consider the roles from that film when trying to work out what will happen here. Wisely, that is folly, and Moon gives up it's secrets slowly and methodically, allowing us time to work through in our heads how what we have seen slowly starts to make sense. Though, once the main twist has been worked through there are few other surprises to take the viewer in new directions, there seems to be enough here for one story and with a definite beginning, middle and ending has a satisfying feel. 7.5/10


By now, it was 3:15am. Not even the festival has kept me watching flicks so late! I sped home, during which I managed to count in the region of 30 taxis on the roads ferrying people to their homes before I saw a private car. But I'm really glad I caught them and will be looking out for some of their other creatures of the night specials.

Leeds Film Festival 2011 and Leeds Abbey Dash

I have an effective way of ensuring that I prematurely age at several times throughout the year. At it's most potent, it coincides with the Leeds Film Festival, which after dealing with some brochure film time vs. website film time issues (seriously - if you have booked your films based on the web version, make sure you double check as some are way off) I have a solid schedule of about 50 films, which if I do the usual thing and cheat and treat all the short films separately, should make the ton. Wouldn't want to go too over the top, after all.

As with Cambridge, there is a feeling of cutting back this year at Leeds, thanks to our lovely recession situation. It's not severe, but the films list cuts out some earlier and later showings from the usual schedule, and contains a few films, reshown from previous fests. Not that I'm complaining too much - both Detroit Metal City (review) and Big Man Japan had me in tears of laughter in 2007/8, Waltz with Bashir is an intelligent muse on the experiences of war and Persepolis is a beautiful and honest labour of love. They also have classic films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Psycho and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. They even have a showing of the Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies, just in case you'd forgotten about the face-slapping potential of the medium. My schedule contains some of these films, but I'll be concentrating on their newer output, of which there is still plenty.

But also - as usual - it clashes with the Leeds Abbey Dash, which takes place on the last day, so I will squeeze back into my shorts, put on my tatty trainers and do one final 10k before the year gets too bad for it, as a final send off to the festival. Best get back into the groove then..