A Short Occupy Post

The Occupy movement has not gone unnoticed. People around the world have sacrificed so much to stand up and protest. Since October, Rich people have moaned, students have been assaulted by police and thousands have gathered in tents in the freezing night air to show their support, wary that their health or life could be in danger, often due to attacks by their so-called 'public servants' for standing up for what is right, when others have become bored of the rage du jour, and have moved onto other frivolous or disturbing subjects.

For such a massive effort co-ordinated by social media, it's remarkable that so little of it has spilled into violence or crime, and it shames those of the August riots who claimed to be working to the same ends.

And shame on those who walked past the scruffy piles of tents and told the inhabitants to 'get a job' or similar. Your passive ignorance of the gravity of the situation, and the symbolism of the protests will help ensure the continuation of the problem for years to come.

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 18

The Artist (Fra) (site)

This film will almost certainly not work in the modern cinema. Exactly why was demonstrated today when, halfway through this UK première screening of the first silent film to be made for eighty years or more, some insensitive clod in the audience pulled out the most massive and noisy bag of crisps and started crinkling and crunching. In an era when idiot dropout teens chew gum and chat to their idiot friends sat an aisle across from them whilst in the fricking theatre, and fatty, snacky, noisy treats are for sale and make up a considerable part of the revenue for a cinema, silent films just do not fit.

And that's a damnable shame, because The Artist is getting all sorts of attention at the moment; part of it is the novelty of a major new silent film, but also because it is damn good too. If you didn't recognise John Goodman or a fleeting Malcolm McDowell you could quite easily be fooled into thinking you were watching a digitally restored print of an ancient film. The aspect ratio is the old 4:3 format, the credits appear on static cards and are accompanied at the start by a mono-sounding orchestra, and when characters speak, only choice phrases are turned into the intertitles, the written substitute for dialogue of the era. There are also more subtle methods used to really bring in the spirit of the age, such as soft focus, restricted camera freedom (basic track and pan shots, but mostly a static mount) and old-fashioned fade-outs and ins. For all it's attempt to look basic and 'primitive' - for want of a better word - we get a beautifully-realised facsimile of a golden era where the work that has gone into it gives it beauty.

Even the story evokes a previous age of film. Taking place just as silent films are being replaced by 'talkies', distinguished, suave (and slightly slimy) actor George Valantin - a typical slicked back actor of the age with a bounder's pencil moustache and an eye for the ladies, has a successful silent film career but a less than perfect relationship with his silently seething wife. A chance meeting with Peppy, a beautiful young woman (the mesmerising Bérénice Bejo) at a red carpet reception doesn't help, and her opportunistic kiss on his cheek propels her to the front cover of the days news, and eventual stardom as an accomplished actress. At the same time George's film company ditches the comfortable silent film and starts on the talkies, but George cannot make the leap, and as Peppy's fame skyrockets, George ends up losing it all.

You have a beautiful woman, an older man on the edge of his career (echoing the themes of Limelight), you have romance and scandal, success and failure, comedy and tragedy, a talented canine (the adorable Uggy won the Palm Dog this year) and a cracking dance number worthy of Rogers and Astaire at the end. When the credit's rolled, the film received the loudest and most sustained round of applause I had witnessed at any festival; it felt a little like this film had an indefinable something that eighty years of talkies had somehow lost, and for a single film at least, we had witnessed it's return. I loved it, and provided you can catch it when there isn't an inconsiderate fool with a bag of crisps in there with you at the same time, you will too. A great film to end the festival with. 8.5/10

PS: Even though it's a French film, it's all in English, so don't worry about bringing someone along who turns their nose up at subtitles.

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 17

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Jpn) (site)

Unusually, despite my penchant for big budget, beautiful animé, I had somehow yet to watch any Makoto Shinkai film, so I have been looking forward to this all through the festival.

Asuna is a young girl in a rural Japanese village. Her mother is often away working as a night nurse, leaving her to pick up the slack at home. Her father died some time ago. Her little hidey hole where she goes for a bit of solitude, at the top of a nearby hill overlooks a forest and she spends much of her time there in peace, until a strange, bear-like creature attacks her on the way. She is only saved by a mysterious boy, Shun, who seems to leave shortly afterwards, but not before some shadowy agent types begin to snoop around, following rumours that the beast was guarding an entrance to some underground world.

Children Who Chase Lost voices (he has a habit of giving his films long names) is the latest from an artist who raised some eyebrows with his almost entirely one-man produced Voices From a Distant Star a decade ago, and has since come to be thought of in some circles as the next Miyazaki.

Perhaps this comparison has reached his own ears, because the film is VERY much in the style of several Ghibli films. Shun is a dead ringer from Arren from Tales of Earthsea, and the beautiful underground world inhabited by tall humanoid beasts and strange night spectres raises comparisons with Laputa and Mononoke especially, and Mimi the little cat that befriends Asuna is a dead ringer for Nausicaa's Teto. This would be okay, if a little cheap if it didn't feel like a direct lift of some of the themes, and in a very clinical way. There doesn't feel to be much heart underneath the undeniable beauty of the animation, with it's gorgeous starry skies and sunsets, and the usual pillow shots of incidental wildlife. Only half-way in does it start to feel anything other than melodramatic, and even then I didn't care so much about the characters to really identify with the perceived messages of love and loss.

I did enjoy the film as a whole, and while there is no doubt that Makoto Shinkai is a major talent in the animé field, and he has certainly managed to get the visuals sorted out, he still has a long way to go before the story underneath can hit the sort of levels achieved by his inspiration. 7/10

We Have a Pope (Ita) (wiki)

I had the good fortune to see this, as it had been given a second run due to it's popular reception. Habemus Papam is the exclamation traditionally given when a new pope is elected. As the streets of Rome fall silent and the masses gather to see the black smoke turn white, a decision is being made among the cardinals deep in the recesses of the Vatican on who should have the 'honour' - something that none of them actually want. When a late surge of votes comes in to relative unknown Cardinal Melville, he agrees to changing one silly uniform for another, if only out of shock. As it dawns on him of the weight of the situation, panic ensues, though fortunately out of the public gaze and before he is named.

Bringing in a psychologist (whose hands are tied - he can't ask the pope about anything near the subject of sex!) gets nowhere, so while he is locked in for security's sake, Melville is driven out to the next best psychoanalyst in town - and promptly disappears at the earliest opportunity.

Making a farce out of one of the most important Catholic events certainly takes some guts, and director Nanni Moretti gently but decisively pokes fun of the ridiculous traditions of the church and the repressed lives of those of the cloth, who are often portrayed as helpless babies having their strings pulled by the slimy advisor, Radjski. As well as the satirical humour, this film has some truly surreal moments, not just limited to having a future pope wandering around the streets and chatting with the locals. One particularly glorious scene involves the trapped psychiatrist and a few dozen cardinals, trying to fill time before the pope will 'leave his room' by hosting an international volleyball tournament. It felt like Father Ted all over again.

The film did dip slightly towards the end, but in all it was a funny, gentle dig at the absurdities of the religion rather than the people. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 16

Into the Forest of Fireflies (Jpn) (site)

I was due to see the Ken Loach TV film Family Life, but a mixture of not being able to get out of work early enough, and a general feeling that I wasn't in the mood for something stodgy in the minutes after getting out of the door made me switch to this last minute addition.

Fireflies is a gentle short film (about 45 minutes) based on a manga about a young girl named Hotaru (firefly) who becomes lost in a large and confusing forest and can't find her way out. She is saved by Gin, a mysterious young man in a keaton mask who guides her out, but cannot be touched. He is one of the many Yokai of the woods, cursed by the forest god and if he is touched by a human, he will disappear.

Returning the next day with a thank-you gift, they begin a friendship that passes through the years. They only meet in summertime as that is when Hotaru is at her nearby grandparents.

The animation quality is that of a lower-budget anime, some choppy framerates create jerky movements and there are a few liberties taken (like Gin's mask so we don't see him speak) to lower the cell count and thus the cost. Most of the film's beauty (and it is a beautiful film) is in the gently swaying piano music, and in the watercolour backgrounds; mostly starry skies and ancient sun-dappled forests. Story-wise, it is light and airy, it's not going to invoke tears of joy or sadness in many people as I suspect the director might be hoping for, but it is a pleasant tale that made the residual thoughts of a working day fall behind. 7/10

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (UK) (site)

Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer and one-time band member. His parents were both anti-nuclear activists and they encouraged him to lose himself in comics and graphic novels. His early life was quite solitary and insular, and he found pleasure in creating some comics in his teens, slowly gaining notoriety as an artist well before his years. As he got older and was given bigger projects (including writing works for some of the most iconic characters such as Superman and Batman) he teamed up with more established artists, and became a writer, providing the scripts (and some sketches) that the artist would then flesh out to the finished product.

This documentary, in a rather sequential art sort of way, proceeds through his life with Morrison providing most of the commentary (so much in fact - he just doesn't shut up!) about his works and how they coincided to major events in his life. Darker periods such as with family bereavements or the aftermath of 9/11, would translate into much more moody works, such as The Filth; in happier times where he would go on some more spiritual journeys both inside the mind (thanks to some light drug taking) and out, as he travelled the world and his perceived understanding of the world (not to mention some trippy Jesus hallucinations) changed his worldview, and the fate of the characters in his works, accordingly.

Not being much into comics (not a dislike as such or a conscious decision, I just never got round to it) some of the idol-worship laid upon him by his contemporaries, mixed with the 'deep understanding meditation' visuals (which I couldn't tell whether they were tongue in cheek or not) felt a little pretentious. And his trippy spiritual revelations which he seems to believe are a bit batshit. But I guess it's the mix of these things and the man himself which generates the enormous amount of creative output from the man, and the film did make me interested enough to look into trying a few issues of his work, like maybe The Invisibles six year epic, or the satirical Doom Patrol. 7/10

Shame (UK) (wiki/site)

A second directorial film from Steve McQueen (not him, another one) after Hunger debuted a couple of years back. The title encompasses the feelings that most people would have if they inhabited either of the lives of the two main parts. Brandon, played by a very open-minded Michael Fassbender is a somewhat oversexed man. His laptop is crippled with a thousand viruses from the porn sites he can't keep away from, and he just can't seem to leave the real-life ladies alone either. It's just as well that he has that certain something about him that keeps them heading towards his trousers. But his mysterious, distant attitude isn't just for show; he can't seem to get a connection going with anyone, and it's getting to him.

His detached inability to care extends to his little sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who is in need of a place to stay, and when her repeated calls are ignored, she breaks in and invades his life - which for a man with a flatful of booby mags and dirty, dirty hard drives, is going to lead to some uncomfortable confrontations. Sissy is the polar opposite of her brother; a beautiful cabaret singer, but clingy and emotional, constantly looking for love and never quite finding it, and she needs her brother's support as she is at her wits end.

Shame is carried along by an awful lot of nudeyness, and both sexes are well catered for, but I never once felt remotely aroused by what I saw; this is not pleasurable sex being portrayed here. They are the uncomfortable, unfulfilled and ugly acts to satisfy purely the base needs and desires of a broken and confused man. Sex is not the point here, but love and the need to be loved, about the importance of distinguishing from the other. It is an intimate and slow-paced look into Brandon and Sissy's life at a tipping point; the contrasting scenes of throwaway sex and beautiful musical numbers, (Mulligan's rendition of New York, New York is sublime) the orchestral scores and primal grunting makes for intriguing and occasionally compelling viewing, and the second half of the film ramps up both the emotion and the gratuity, working to a conclusion that in hindsight, like Brandon, you could have easily seen coming. It's candid, explicit, often shocking and sometimes beautiful. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 15

Sound of Noise (Swe) (wiki)

Unfortunately due to some less than stellar scheduling, this film moved forward by a quarter hour, and the next one back by just as much in the time between me working out what I was going to watch, and the tickets being issued. I don't get why they stagger the films like this anyway.

Anyway, I won't score it but I will briefly touch on my impressions of the first hour. It looked intriguing, to be blunt. The trailer which ran on the opening day made the film look completely art-house; which was an inaccurate view, and a cohesive (if unusual) narrative was quickly built up. Magnus and Sanna are musicians, frustrated at the cheesy calming musak pumped through speakers everywhere around their city and are fighting back. Magnus has penned his opus, 'Music for one city and six drummers', and they intend to go through with it, conducting a surreal and not remotely legal music event using whatever they find in the city as percussion.

So yes, a musical terrorist movie. It felt subversive, sharp and a bit edgy, and what with the Occupy Wall Street goings on going on it seems to be the movie for the moment (and come to think of it, a theme among the films this year). If possible, I'll catch the rest of it sometime.

Satellite Bolinha (Bra) - A very rough around the edges little film from Brazil before Scrapper came on, highlighting the almost impossible of ordinary people putting together ham radio-style kits with odds and ends that hijack the bandwidth of those satellites orbiting the earth, that the engineers didn't bother to install with any security features, thus creating a sort of global CB radio network. These became known as the 'little ball' satellites, or Bolinhas. Obviously the authorities aren't usually happy, so the next logical step is to get a home-made satellite into space, and a surprising number actually manage it. A scrappy documentary on a potentially fascinating subject. 7/10

Scrapper (USA) (site)

Out in the south Californian scrub land is a range called the 'chocolate mountains', these unfortunate hills and valleys are the targets for the US army and navy who fly over in just about every flying fortress you can think of, and lob bombs onto abandoned tanks and jeeps day and night. This is the lair of the Scrappers, a bunch of scavengers with a death wish.

They fight amongst themselves for territory, they run the risk of bumping into drug pushers who use the range as a drug running route, they happily skip around on old bombs partially hidden by the dirt from the latest barrage, and they risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time if a passing helicopter gunship pilot fancies a bit of target practice.

But the rewards are high. Dud bombs can be dismantled for aluminium, shell casings for brass. In the period the film-maker was privileged enough to spend with some of the (competing) scrappers - the Bush era from about 2002 to 2007 - the price of these metals rocketed as they were made scarcer by their moulding into yet more bombs and shell casings to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. A scrapper on a good day can take home a truckfull of parts, process them back at their homes and take them to the scrap yard who will pay a good price and melt them down, no questions asked. These good ol' American weapons often become parts in Chinese electronics, which in turn are sold back to the west.

It was fascinating to see the more human sides of these people, and go with them foraging and see what risks they take every day - though you were acutely aware that these are the same people who would without thought firebomb and maybe kill any trespasser trying to forage on their patch. Suitably, it featured excerpts from Bush's war-related speeches on the subject now and again in the background, contrasting what he said about freedom and prosperity for all with what was happening on screen. For those who don't speak redneck, thankfully most of it was subtitled (it really all needed to be). It's only real failing was that it felt a little dry and roughly put together (which befitted the theme I suppose) but the conclusion and wrapup of these people and their ongoing lives was tatty and the credits rolled without warning. 7/10

The Substance: Albert Hoffmanns LSD (Swi/Ger) (site)

An analysis of the drug that was found by chance in 1948 while researching the circulation of blood around the body. LSD can come from a number of forms, such as he Mexican magic mushrooms, or an extract of the ergot mould which grows on rye, and being the experimental type, Hoffmann tried it himself. His hellish, nightmare experience with only a diluted dose convinced him the substance was going to be powerful in the psychological field and required further research.

In the fifties, it became a popular experimental tool on human behaviour and research into the brain, but as time passed it was also being noticed by the artists and creative crowds, who saw the mind-expanding nature of the drug as a way of magnifying their consciousness and therefore their abilities. For a while in the sixties casual street use - especially in the suburbs of San Francisco where it was first discovered - was tolerated by the law, but as the conservative groups expressed concern and outrage about it's effects, and the results of the 'bad trip' came to the fore, it was made illegal in the late sixties, retreating back to the exclusive hands of a few privileged research institutes.

The Substance, considering it's subject matter felt a bit starchy, even when we reach the psychedelic, trippy hippy era there feels to be a restraint to it, as though they were cautioned to ensure that the film didn't basically become an advert from the drug. This stopped my enjoyment a little, but it remains an informative, funny and surprising study of the drug and some of the major players involved in it's dissemination to the public sphere. 7/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 14

Gnarr (Ice) (site)

Do you find politics stuffy and boring? Filled with the dull, grey and corrupt types with a willingness to kowtow for a bit of a backhander? Then you need to watch this joyous film.

Jon Gnarr is a long-standing Icelandic comedian, and when the economic crash of 2008 hit Iceland especially hard, he decided to do something about it. He set up a party to run for the position of Mayor in the capital city, Reykjavik. Not a political party, because this is what he was against most of all, a boring, grey stuffy pile of suits that changed little and just seemed to get older and disappoint. Not unlike politicians and parties the world over. He wanted to destroy the system and so The Best Party was born.

The party began as a joke, an extension of one of his routines, but when he went out with a few of his like-minded (but politically naive) friends and canvassed, the people began to respond. Their initial goals were small: grab a few seats from the Progressive Party, one of the more extreme ends of the political spectrum who pick up fringe votes. But they defied the low expectations of their opponents who only knew how to talk dryly about budgets and sound off a few campaign promises. At each interview, each debate, Gnarr and his party just would not play the game. They gave campaign 'promises' (which they openly admitted they would not honour), like a dinosaur theme park ('with those dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, wherever they are these days..') and an Iceland Disneyland, free to all citizens. They even did a campaign song, to the tune of Tina Turner's Simply the Best:

When cornered into a dull debate, he just confounded opponents by going off on one and talking about Moomins or Penguins, to which they could only respond with bafflement. It was a joy to see. And the people loved it, because they could see what his opponents couldn't; that the joy has been squeezed out of people's lives, and the current crop has little clue of what people want and need. The Best Party rode the wave of the need for change in the 2010 city council elections.

This brilliant fairytale-come-true documentary had me constantly smiling, wishing for Best Parties to spring up all over the world. I wouldn't call myself much of an anarchist, but I think there is some fundamental change needed in politics, for it to regain it's humanity like it has done in Iceland.

I want to go live there now. RIGHT NOW. 8.5/10

Futures Market (Spa) (site)

Compared to Gnarr, Futures Market is a change of pace and of heart. In a similar fashion to yesterdays' Involuntary, the film jumps between a selection of unrelated stories, but whereas the subjects were all scripted tales, Futures Market is very much a reflection of the lives of real people.

There are two areas of contrasting focus, a personal view of life for the less well off, starting with the clearing out of the possessions of someone's house, and following the furniture through the process of being sifted through, stepped on and sold off, and a brief meditation on some of the people it comes into contact with along the way.

To contrast this, we see the derelict land of a hundred ex homes, imminently scheduled for demolition to make way for fancy apartment complexes in some of the world's most desirable locations. The investors come in and are courted by the salesmen. The salesmen gather in small groups and dick-wave to each other about quarterly profits. They pretend to be interested as they listen to each other network for new channels of revenue, and then they go into an inspirational seminar, where they are told how to make money out of the current economic crisis.

Though the lyrical and often beautiful words of a soft-spoken narrator of sorts breaks up the action every now and then with odes to the philosophies and lifestyles of the ancient Greeks, the otherwise non-judgemental footage pretty much says what is on the director's mind, moving between the worlds by clever and often subtle visual connections. It's a little one-sided, portraying the poor as pleasant and happy and the rich as stressed and unlikable, and it is a bit long, weighing in at a shade under 2 hours, but it was an enjoyable and personal comment on how civilisation is losing something of itself as we climb the ladder. 7/10

Symbol (Jpn) (site)
Dear Japan,

I watched Symbol today. It made me smile. In fact I had a strange and uncontrollable smile on my face the whole journey home through the night. How the film managed this, I have not as yet ascertained as I have no grasp on what it is I have just watched, but seriously I'd like a bit of whatever you guys are on.

Much love, fancyplants.

I struggle to accurately describe Symbol, but I'll try. The film is split into two, apparently unrelated stories. A man wakes up in a strange white room. The walls reach up into the sky above, and it seems an infinity of nothingness, except for a small switch-like object on the wall. Pressing it yeilds only the start of this man's nightmare at the hands of some mischievous entity, watching him to see if he can work out what to do.

The other half is set in the real world. Somewhere in Mexico, a man dons his mask and spandex suit and prepares for another round of a WWF-style tag-team fight as Escargot Man. His son and father watch in the audience. These two worlds are about to briefly collide in the most unexpected way possible.

To say any more would be to spoil the surprise hidden within the mysterious, inventive and downright barmy Symbol. Really, I thought Karate-Robo Zaborgar would be the 'out there' film this year by a country mile, but Symbol gives it a damn good run for it's money. It has the same feeling as Big Man Japan from a few years ago (by the same director who is also the star of both, unfortunately I didn't get to see it in the retrospectives section due to other commitments), and it's fair to say that if you enjoyed the frankly ludicrous (but slightly drawn out) slapstick humour there, you'll enjoy this too. I really can't say why I enjoyed it so much, because I frankly don't know, but I did. I'm still smiling now. 7.5/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 13

Eco Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson (Can) (facebook)

Rarely has my little festival notes book had so many scribbles in it for one film. Paul Watson was one of the original members of the Greenpeace movement in the 1970's, when a group of similarly-minded anti-nuclear environmental activists decided to broaden their scope to include the mistreatment and slaughter of animals, particularly whales and seals. But whereas the Greenpeace philosophy had its roots in the Quaker movement and the concept of civil, non-violent protest, Paul Watson had more radical ideas. An acrimonious split from the group in 1977, after an operation to hinder the seal clubbers off Newfoundland, saw Paul set up his own group advocating more direct action, and as in the case of the ramming of the Sierra, an illegal whale hunting ship, outright violence to get the intended result.

Since then, Paul and his crew aboard the Sea Shepherd have met with increasing hostility from those he has tried to oppose. Russian, Norwegian and Japanese ships have all been his targets and have responded in kind, and the film contains some pretty scary footage of gunshots and huge ships ramming and scraping into each other. Mixed in with the history and archive footage of the Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society movements (which have not always seen eye to eye) is film from a recent pacific mission of the coast of Australia, where Japanese "Research" vessels were whaling under a thin guise. Unfortunately their ship is too slow, and could be easily outrun, which is where the celebrity fund-raisers come in.

A fascinating and enlightening film (whether you agree with the work or not) that gave a candid view through friends and colleagues past and present, of a flawed but determined man and his life mission to do what was right, regardless of whether it was lawful. 8/10

Involuntary (Swe) (site/wiki)

A collection of stories, sliced up and presented in chunks, all based around the subject of people in involuntary situations as a result of the pressure of others upon them. A fireworks accident at a party leaves a father with an eye injury, but his wife is helpless when it comes to getting him to hospital. A young teacher struggles with the ways of her peers when she sees one slapping an unruly child. Two promiscuous (to say the least) teenage girls find themselves on both the giving and receiving end of some unwanted photo taking. A woman takes a ride on a coach with some unruly teens, and finds herself stranded when the driver refuses to budge until someone owns up to a petty piece of vandalism. Finally, a group of male schoolfriends, now grown up, push things too far with one of their number.

Films of this type can be hit and miss; the broken up nature and the sparse narrative can mean that the viewer is lost in a fug of unrelated stories, trying to pattern match and find links between the scenes that aren't there. Involuntary is one of the better examples of this type of film. For the first ten minutes I groaned inside at the seemingly random scenes playing out (especially as the director steadfastly refused to move or pan the camera), but after they begin to cycle and the story of each progresses, the intention of the film becomes clearer, and thus the enjoyment also. By the end I had lost all my irked feelings and was quite enjoying what I had seen. 7/10

My Magic (Sng) (site)

My Magic brought a smile to my face even before it had started. The print that we were given to watch included the brief presentation reel for 'Action For Earth' - the theme of the Tokyo Film Festival. It felt weird to see it again.

My Magic is a sad but ultimately life-affirming tale of a lonely man. A single parent and a massive drunk. He has a heart of gold somewhere in his huge frame, but his son can't see it as the most he usually sees of his dad is a darkened figure in the night gloom, face down in his own vomit.

But Francis has one talent - he is (or was) a magician, one that specialised in feats of pain - such as sticking needles through body parts, eating glass and swallowing fire. When he learns that young Raju wants to make a better go of his life and study for university, he realises his bar job is not enough, and accepts his manager's offer to use his tricks to entertain a local gang boss. But the boss is a sadistic man, and to get the money he so desperately wants to win back his son's respect, he must take whatever beatings the boss pleases.

Taking a little while to get going, My Magic evolves from quiet and gentle beginnings, through some pretty squeamish bits, into a dramatic and emotional finale, and is not the sort of film you would expect from a place like Singapore. Francis is played by real-life magician Bosco Francis, and the things you see in the film are not special effects. When a needle appears to pass through his arm, it really does. This, coupled with the realistically sweaty and grimy surroundings gave it a feeling of realism absent from many modern films, and set the scene nicely for a powerful ending. 7.5/10

Hello Clampers!

Did you leave for another day of making people's lives an expensive misery without a nice cold bowl of porridge this morning? Allow this lady to help out.

Have it!

In unrelated news, still no follow-up to my unpaid fine. Is it too soon to shout 'Fight the System!'? Probably. For now.

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 12

Karate-Robo Zaborgar (Jpn) (wiki)

The Power Rangers have a lot to answer for, not least a slew of terribly cheesy/brilliantly cheesy (delete as appropriate) Saturday morning kids shows. But even they cannot be blamed for this attempt to take the format to the nth level. Zaborgar is a human-sized robot inherited by Daimon, a scientist's son, on his fathers' death. He has guns in his mouth, and small cars come out of his feet. And he can do Tai-chi and Karate. And he's a motorcyle in his spare time. Controlled by a helmet that Daimon wears with what appears to be a shower attachment on the side, Daimon and robot quickly form a bond taking over from inept police and getting rid of crooks, but when strangely alluring sexy half robot Miss Borg comes along to wreak havoc on behalf of evil organisation Sigma his simple feelings of right and wrong are suddenly muddied.

Even by the high standards set by Japan, KRZ is batshit mental, and relentlessly so. Think about every single stereotypical trait of crazy Japanese films, and to a wider extent, culture. Obsession with bodily function, skimpy women with lots of boob and crotch shots and fights peppered with impossible feats of gravity to name but three. KRZ has all these and more, and flaunts them almost as if to say to the rest of the world: this is how you see us, so this is what you get, kicking them merrily in the crotch while they say it.

Whether this brand of unrelenting action is for you or not I can't say. I just sat there in helpless, slack-jawed mirth. Its unabashed confidence leaps out of the screen at you, and even though the elements are all from a dozen other cheesy films, it's entertaining right to the final scene - a decisive fight between father and son on a massive pair of metal breasts. 7/10

Colorful (Jpn) (wiki)

Almost as an antidote to KRZ, Colorful exemplifies the quieter, gentler side of Japanese cinema, unfortunately one that is rarely seen and thus rarely considered representative of the animé medium.

To be fair though, Colorful is part of a pretty niche corner. If I could sit it alongside some other examples, last years' Mai Mai Miracle, and maybe Shinkai's Children Who Chase Lost Voices (which I'll see Saturday) would go into the same group, alongside Haibane-Renmei, Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday, i.e. quietly powerful pieces commenting on aspects of family, relationships and life, love and death, and all ones that I rate highly.

In Colorful, someone (we are deliberately not shown his face or hear his voice) reaches a waiting area in a perceived afterlife, where a sharply-suited childlike figure waits to intercept him before he takes the train to limbo. Purapura tells the man he did a terrible thing in his life, and that he is to be given a fresh start, another chance. He is to inhabit the body of Makoto, a young boy who has just committed suicide, waking up in a hospital bed just after the body is vacated.

'Makoto' inherits a loving but destructive family, whose members are slowly causing it to fall apart. Father works long hours, and his lack of backbone means he is taken advantage on. Mother had an affair, and his new brother shunned the old Makoto because he was doing badly with his studies. School is little better, but at least most of the kids don't go near him for what he did, save for some figures who seem to have had an influence on his mental state. Given only six months, Makoto must try and make sense of this young boys' life and try and put some things to rights, and also work out what he did in his own life.

Bodyswap films tend to be comedy-led, but this one is played with a more serious tone, although some moments of warm humour do show themselves. The action is minimal, concentrating on the strained relationship between the family and friends and Makoto's rediscovery of himself and what it is to be alive. Artistically, it uses a muted palette of pastel shades and an unstylised form to produce a look and style reminiscent of the works of Yoshitoshi ABe, restricting the use of computer graphics to incidental background features such as the flow of water, where it belongs. Though much of the film is played at a slow pace, I did find it almost as rewarding as the films mentioned above when taken as a whole; it's pleasant though not exhilarating in the main body, but it builds to a satisfying and emotional ending that will cause a sniffle or two. Checking my fellow audience members' reactions on leaving (a nice festival mix of young and old) it invited positive, crackling comments across the board. A film to change perceptions. 7.5/10

Mars (US) (site)

When I saw Moon earlier in the year, it was one of a pair of films celebrating (and lamenting) the passing of an age of space exploration, which for the moment will have to fade into the background for a while. This low-budget indie slacker film is the first one I have seen that explicitly works with the realisation that the space program as it is, is in a bit of trouble. Although it does this in a tongue in cheek way.

Charlie is the central character - and third wheel - as one of a trio of astronauts heading to Mars following in the jet stream of the European Space Agency, who have just sent an un-manned robot - ART - up there to look for life. Set eleven years after an alternate, Russian Beagle II set down rather clumsily and got stuck, bringing with it a load of bacteria from a low ranking dogsbody with a bad cold. The nasty, shady government wants them to change course for shadowy reasons and intercept ART to see if they can get to the booty - the possibility of extraterrestrial life - first.

Mars uses a distinctive animation technique, applying a computer generated moire to standard film footage to create something akin to a live action comic-book style. This is a bit garish but it does have the advantage of more easily blending in the characters and cardboard locations with the artificial landscape created around them. The acting was so-so, some of the lesser players looking like they had been brought in at the last minute, but it was a bit of a laugh and not really aiming for a realistic portrayal of mystery and suspense on a foreign planet. What let it down a bit was an abrupt ending and a feeling that the money ran out, which was a shame as the film had some really good ideas and was genuinely sharp and funny. 7/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 11

Sennentuntschi: Curse of the Alps (Swi) (site)

Unfortunately, I missed the start of this but it looked pretty good. The Sennentuntschi story comes from a Swiss folk tale of a woman that appears in a village and wreaks havok. As a comment on the inherent sexual brutality of men towards women through the years, she remains passive and friendly until the chemicals start to flow and the men try to have their way with her. Then they are all slaughtered.

Reusch has been a well respected police officer through the years in the peaceful town of Trepunt, but this changes when a hooded figure is seen creeping through the streets. The young woman has a savage, animal streak and quick witted eyes that seem to glow, but she appears manicured and in good health. The reaction of the villagers is for distrust and gossip to spread, and it is not long before Reusch's investigation is complicated by the raising of pitchforks after a rousing speech by the local priest. And a battle between reason and superstition heightens never allowing the viewer to be completely sure where this girl comes from and what she is capable of.

The audience is kept guessing right until the end, where the director throws multiple curve balls that forces you to re-evaluate pretty much everything you have seen. It's disturbing and a bit gory, although some of the more extreme natures of the male characters, which seem to move randomly between caring human being and slavering sex monster, feel a little false. Nontheless, it is a disturbing, entertaining and complicated film that refuses to be pinned down. 7.5/10

Together (Swe/Den/Ita) (wiki)

Hippy communes have rarely (in film representations, anyway) been successful. Ideological people coming together with a claim of openness to new ideas and perspectives often find they have different definitions of the term, and a purposeful lack of leadership mixed with a naive manifesto sooner or later causes the breakup of the group.

Goren, as much of a leader as you would expect in such a situation is blind or in denial about the imminent demise of his little group. Having been together for some time, a mix of moderate and extreme, socialist and communist, gay and straight. They rejected consumerism and capitalist leanings, and at some point it was decided that they would all be vegans. Rumbling tummies all round. It's got to the point where a round table discussion of who should do the washing up, if anyone results in heated tempers and the matter not being resolved.

Note: the website at the end is no longer for the film.

But Goren finds himself adding another cat among the pigeons. His mainstream society sister Elizabeth and her two children (quiet Eva and moody Stefan) need somewhere to stay as she has just broken up with Rolf. It's a squeeze already and finding them a room adds to the tension.

As expected, this new capitalist pig-dog living in the commune causes ruffles, but also begins to nudge some of it's members into re-evaluating their beliefs and values. Some of the more extreme members begin to move on, whereas those with a more open mind (or a stake to claim) stay on.

The blurb sounded more akin to the same sort of destructive film that Snowland turned out to be, but it really wasn't like that at all. A slightly messy and unfocused start (much like the commune itself) matured slowly and by the end I found myself wearing a genuine smile and feeling a warm glow at the outcome. 8/10

Note: They have just announced the extra festival films for Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th and Together is on the list. Catch it if you are in the area.

Repulsion (UK) (wiki)

How Roman Polanski would like to turn the clock back and be known for his films and not his sordid private life. Repulsion was his first major success with a western audience, a very private study of one womans' mental state in freefall. Delicate fawn Carole begins the film in a bit of a trance-like state (in fact, given this is a film from the 60's she is so zoned out you expect a long line of men of that era to be slapping her and shouting 'for gawds sake, darlin, SNAP AAHT OF IT!').

But her mental state is much more complicated than just feeling a bit airy. Carole, a Belgan manicurist living in her sister's house in an affluent part of London just about keeps things in equilibrium so long as she has enough structure in her life - that of her supportive sister and her oafish boyfriend and a steady job at the beauty salon. But when they leave for a holiday in Italy for a week or so, the scales are tipped and Carole begins to lose control of her faculties.

After a slow start (where Catherine Deneuve basically stares into the distance for half an hour) the true horror of her mental decline is revealed, using some pretty nightmarish psychological hallucinations; walls that crack and threaten to bring the building down, and turn soft at the touch, evil men invading her bed every night, and apparent heavy breathing phone calls. Withdrawing deeper into the prison she makes for herself, both physical and mental, she becomes a danger to whoever happens to stumble upon her predicament.

It looks dated by modern standards, but underneath the slightly tatty exterior is a truly disturbing but finely executed analysis of how a fragile mind can turn in on itself with just the slightest push. 7/10

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (Ger) (wiki)

Another film festival, another Werner Herzog film. Advancing years seem not to have slowed the output of this director, who likes to split his time between clinical documentaries and action films of every persuasion.

For the past couple of films, it seemed like he was spreading himself a little thin; My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? seemed to be an attempt at a Coen Brothers' style of film, and though he got the look down there was little feeling there. Likewise, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was a beautiful and privileged glimpse into a forgotten and beautiful world, but Herzog again seemed to bring a scripted clinical quality to it that detracted from the experience.

Taiga is documentary time once more. The Taiga is a stretch of near-impenetrable wilderness made up of deep forests and fast-flowing rivers and spans a ring around the upper end of the globe. In a northern part of Siberian Russia, summer is brief and winter is long and difficult, with temperatures bottoming out at -50c. Herzog narrates a condensed year, from the spring (which is far harsher than any winter I have seen) right through to the following depths of their winters.

The small Siberian village of Bakhtia was chosen for the subject matter. It sits on the outskirts of the Siberian Taiga region, and its hunter-trappers spend the summer months preparing for the winter; catching as many fish as possible, hollowing out trees to make canoes, and creating and setting a thousand or so traps (each!) for the Sable, a weasel-like creature that the locals can sell for their pelts. As well as this, each trapper maintains his own 1500-square kilometre patch of the Taiga, particularly their main cabin and a handful of outlying huts, each of which are open to falling trees, massive crushing snowdrift and the odd curious bear. In the autumn months, the men say goodbye to their families for the winter months, and head off to their huts where they live out a solitary existence with only their faithful dogs for company.

Herzog's clinical Arnie-style narration (I so want him to say 'come with me if you want to live') is not entirely without emotion and doesn't distract too much from the beautiful, harsh landscapes and yet another disappearing culture. The film is a mix of the informative, with a sprinkle of sadness and humour here and there. I'd definitely rate it higher than CoFD (just for the variety alone) and is certainly his best documentary film for years. 8/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 10

Yorkshire Short Film Competition

Extraordinary Moves - A short segment highlighting the work of an arts project based in Yorkshire that uses motion capture techniques to show through wireframe models how both able-bodied and disabled people walk and move. The cause was noble enough but there was little to hold the attention. 6/10

We Are Poets (interview) - Leeds is shown in all it's grotty, run-down, historic and beautiful forms through a poem celebrating the fact that, even though it's got it's faults, it's still part of the person who lives there and should not be derided for it. 7.5/10

Tetleys: Quality Pays - Tetleys as a brewery in Leeds was taken over by Carlsberg in 2008, the new owners promising a secure future. Now it is about to be closed. This short film celebrates it's impact on the area and mourns its imminent and seemingly unnecessary demise, highlighting it's belief in producing good product not making money, something the new owners arguably fails to do. 8/10

Hedwig - Using a random set of words from a random book to make a story is by definition a bit hit and miss. Hence we have a strange little animated film about a Professor Yaffle-style bird caught in a glass, watched by a bird-like creature. Weird. 4/10

Lost at Sea - A fresh breeze of a music video from the local (Belfast?) band 'Cashier No.9' using stop-motion photography to animate a sailing ship and it's crew member splashing through the streets of Leeds. Press the play button and turn the sound up. 8/10

Junk - Tet and his boyfriend Jack live as squatters, after Jacks' massively homophobic father kicks him out. They just need a little bit of money and stability to make the leap to somewhere nicer, but drugs and confused feelings get in their way. A strong, sad tale of broken people. 7.5/10

Click - Shown at Bradford this year, this is the story of five children entering a disused warehouse and finding a windowless room where strangely lights still work. But, as the kids mess around they begin to disappear without reason. A spooky well made film with amateur actors who did a good job. 7.5/10

Bantam - Finally, a tale of a young man who can't seem to get a break whatever he does. Timid and tender, he is bullied at school, ignored at home and the only place he feels secure - a moorside farm where game hens are reared - has just become a place where trust has been betrayed. A quietly sad little film. 7.5/10

Small Town Murder Songs (Can) (site)

In a religious southern American backwater town, a man leaves his community and becomes a born again Christian. Clearly something triggered this desire to undermine the values of his birth community and start again, but when we meet Walter we can have no clue of what led him to this decision.

It seemed to have something to do with Steve, the town's generally inconsequential low-level slacker who has gotten together with Rita, a woman whose past is intertwined with Walter's. When the dead body of a young woman is found at the side of the highway and a Washington detective appears to push the investigation forward, Walter fights with his feelings and emotions and tries not to see it as a way of getting even by implicating the man who has been a constant thorn in his side. His eventual failure has him removed from the investigation, but when things start genuinely pointing towards Steve as the killer when he has been dismissed from investigations, Walters' feelings look to have done twice the harm.

Deep and reverent religious themes play throughout; churches, confessionals, bible quotes writ large on the landscape; showing humanity up for all its sinful terror just bubbling under the surface of everyday life (and arguably, religion's inability to stem the flow). The largely unknown cast play their parts well and the emotional journey is invigorated by beautiful, soulful music; a thumping accompaniment to a powerful story. 8/10

Snowtown (Aus) (site)

Mainstream horror movies don't usually move me much, at least not these days. There's something about the amount of blood splattering or computer generated gore/monsters/etc in them that make them artificial, and thus distant. There is little to turn it from some actors going through a predetermined route in a movie, to you living the terror with them.

Snowtown is not a horror movie, not in the sense conjured up when you mention the term. But it is horrific in it's execution of the life of John Bunting, whose self-righteous brand of mass killing actually happened a decade or so ago in Australia. And it made me hide behind my hands like no horror film ever could.

Told from the perspective of young James Vlassakis, one of four sons and half-brothers to Elizabeth, the unlucky soul who after several failed attempts to find a new man, (including a neighbour who took naked pictures of her sons), found John Bunting and fell in love.

Bunting was initially a solid, family man, but his increasingly extreme methods for forcing the neighbour to move away act as a sign of the madman within. Sitting round the family table with neighbours and friends, he helps whip them into a frenzy of self-righteous bravado and setting the world to rights, it's just that the other guys don't expect to go through with it.

Lacking a father figure, James begins to distance himself from the rest of the family and come under Bunting's wing, who grooms or threatens him into more and more terrible acts and becomes part of his dysfunctional group of warped vigilantes.

This is a shockingly powerful and harrowing film, and it's menace won't leave the mind for a while. Bunting is played masterfully by Daniel Henshall, whose unblinking gaze and Charles Bronson upside-down-face beard, calmly surveys friend and victim alike, we can only guess at the thoughts passing through his mind. I felt deeply disturbed by what I had seen, but such was the point of this film, a masterful portrayal of the depths of human depravity. 8/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 9

Bellflower (US) (site)

What can start out as something beautiful can go horribly wrong. Woodrow and his best friend Aiden are dysfunctional stoner American teens who have just broken free of their parents and are heading out into the world. Mad Max and Knight Rider clearly influenced them and together they are trying to realise their dreams of a gadget-filled car to wow the locals everywhere they go, and a home made flame-thrower, for a bit of light-hearted fun. They already have a beat up old Volvo that dispenses brandy, so they are half-way there already. However, getting together on a first date with friend of a friend Milly, Woodrow heads off on a whim across country to Texas and back, and on the way they get it on. By the time they return they are pretty much an item.

But something has snapped in Woodrow's brain, and a new self-destructive side begins to show itself. As relationships falter and change, a defining event forces him into a decision, the result of which will have consequences for how the rest of his life pans out.

As funny as much as it is shocking and disturbing, Woodrows' actions are not always expected, and come from nowhere, sometimes but not always explained later in the film with a carefully weaved flashback. This breakup of the narrative structure unsettles and challenges the viewer a bit more, and the ending has a satisfying feel. 8/10

Red Psalm (Hun) (wiki)

Nobody told me this would be a musical. Nobody said that in the director's attempt to convey the struggles of a socialist farming community against the capitalist regime of late 19th century Hungary, that much of it would be spent singing in the face of the enemy.

Red Psalm is a deeply allegorical film about this struggle, which took inspiration from some of the Hungarian uprisings around the time. The dogged insistence of the director to frame the film as 28 super-long takes means that realism is swapped out for choreography and abstraction. Thus the workers link arms and in a very pre-determined and not remotely natural-looking fashion prance around the guards with their guns drawn. And the incessant git who would not stop strumming his damn guitar, before during and after someone copping it. Why did they not kill him? Gaah.

So to watch this film is to go through a period of irritation and adjustment, to stop trying to get anything more than an abstracted suggestion of some uprising from the past, and view it with the disposition you would have if going to see a ballet or theatre musical. Not get too annoyed when some fop dances around the screen and then drops dead for no particular reason. Not be so surprised if the communication is often via the medium of song. Just watch, interpret some allegorical story from it and move on.

Maybe I'm being a bit harsh; the long, complex choreographed takes were impressive with such a large cast, and it made a bit of a change to have a story told in a different way. And it gets an extra point for having women with their boobies showing in it, which.. you know.. is nice. 4/10

Let the Bullets Fly (Chn/HK) (wiki)

A late night blood fest was on the cards, although it turned out to be more of a PG. Set in early 20th century China we find good hearted gangster 'Pocky' Zhang and his team of numbered mercenaries, hijacking a train headed for the nearby Goose town with their new governor, his wife and their advisor. Thanks to some improbable axe placement the train is derailed somewhat and the two remaining survivors - the wife and the advisor - make a pact with Zhang to have him take the governors place with the promise of Robin Hood-style shenanigans if they can stay the course. This won't be straightforward as Goose Town has been under mob rule for some time, by the smart-dressed but imposing Master Huang, who doesn't like the idea of yet another governor getting in his way.

Note: This trailer rather dishonestly paints the film as a serious action flick. It really isn't.

Chinese movies of this kind tend to be a more complex, less accessible animal than the Korean or Japanese equivalents and this is no exception. Intended somewhere between action-adventure, gangster flick and family comedy it's eastern humour sometimes flew over the audiences' heads, especially when some of the (often white on white) subtitles were on the screen for less than a second. I'm sure that to a Chinese audience, or at least one with a familiarity with some of the more ingrained cultural references this would be a blast, but I found it a little confusing and soupy. 6/10

Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 8

Forest (Hun) (review)

A crowded shopping centre has people come and go. A man with a backpack looking suspicious, a woman with a dog. A few dozen others come in and out of view.

A woman comes back to her flat to learn she is the owner of a dog. The present owner is pretty sure she should have it, and besides, he's about to head off and kill himself. A couple of men analyse a purchase without the viewer ever seeing what it is. Two parents quarrel over the man's inability to accept their daughters' encroaching womanhood, letting a few diquietening opinions slip along the way. A woman confronts her childish man-boy husband whose latest cover-up for screwing around with other girls involves taking some porn to a friend. Who is dead. A disturbing account by a woman to her partner about a bad dream she had which morphs into a tale of abuse from her gran when she was young. A woman is told a tale on a ferry of a giant catfish.

All completely separate stories, more like a succession of short films, connected only by the players being briefly in the same place at the same time. As an original piece of cinema it worked quite well (better than the clip suggests but it's the only one), but it's execution doggedly stuck to close-up wobble-cam shots, which as is usual in these films can get a bit annoying. Mercifully we were spared the worst excesses of the format and after an adjustment period I learned to live with it. Each segment was done in a single take, and the parts were played with the raw emotion expected of their subject matter, and generally the stories were engaging, but the format grated a little for me, and it irked that almost all the men were portrayed as irresponsible idiot man-children. But experimental film has been a lot worse. 6.5/10

Love (Hun) (wiki)

A classic Hungarian film, and a rare screening as it's 40th anniversary looms. In the time of Stalinist paranoia and distrust, Luca tries to keep the hopes of her elderly mother-in-law from taking the last of her fragile thirst for life away. Now elderly and bed-ridden, she hopes for her son (and Luca's husband), Janos to come back from America where he is premièring his first film. Except he isn't - Janos is locked up under dubious charges by the Hungarian secret police and has been for some time, and Luca maintains the story with a bit of help from the maid and a web of concocted tales, helped along by granny's failing and confused memory. The film is set in 1950's Hungary during the dark, paranoid days of Stalins' rule of Russia, where the tight political regime meant that you could expect a couple of forceful men at the door requiring a bit of private time to 'fix' your telephone.

Friends disappear from the radar and Luca has to be careful, but one day a letter arrives that spells hope that Janos might yet see his grandmother before she dies.

It's an obviously dated piece, showing the gulf of technical achievement between east Europe and the western countries at the time (it was the same year of Dirty Harry and A Clockwork Orange). The sound is distant, the cutting is choppy and very little indeed in the way of computer generated robots. But it also shows that the elements that mattered were there. The cinematography was close and uncomfortable, hounding the actors and as oppressive as the regime they were in, and the high quality acting meant that I believed it was happening, rather than some actors rehearsing lines. It's far from the best film I've seen, but it is a strong example of European cinema and quite enjoyable. 6/10

Aitá (Spa) (site)

The slow restoration of an old rectory by an elderly man and his two sons is told slowly and carefully in this late evening film As school trips are invited in and hoards of energetic kids run everywhere the teacher will let them, and late night break-ins by petty thieves result in flickery lights darting between the windows, the house begins to return to life, and the isolated old man begins to experience an awakening of his own.

My heart sank a bit when I read the blurb for this a little closer and saw the word 'experimental', a term which colours my perceptions somewhat as it suggests the director using all sorts of annoying techniques to look 'different'. Fortunately, Aitá (Father) partially adopts the standard narrative method, and then intersperses them with meditative shots to plump it out a bit and allow the viewer to 'experience' the house slowly becoming a home. The dark, old fashioned decor and flaking walls coming back to life with old and broken filmography to the sounds of a beautiful reverent choir, as if the presence of people in the house was causing it to remember it's past. We get to hear a little of the life of the old man, but it is the house that is the star and thus the subject, and we explore it personally. This is not to say I was massively impressed with the film, it would probably bore the arse off many who watched it, but having put lots of time, effort and love into my own small equivalent of this, I sort of 'got it', and understood a little of what the director was trying to say, and thus found it not entirely unenjoyable. 7/10