Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 4

The Day The Earth Stood Still (US) (wiki)

It's always nice to come back to a classic film, especially when you have the chance to see it on the big screen. This original version (no sad Keanu here) dates back to 1951 and can be considered the original sci-fi movie. It loses nothing of it's original suspense sixty years later.

Seeing it with fresh eyes (I must have been a teen when it was last on) my concentration has shifted. Back then, I watched the film from the standpoint of young Bobby, a gee-willerkins American kid (surely a model for Russel in Up) whose boundless energy and cops-and-robbers imagination sees aliens and gangsters around every corner, though this time he's on the money when Mr. Carpenter appears mysteriously a few days after the alien ship lands and some trigger-happy soldier shoots the occupant. The alien has a dire message for the world, and the world (or at least the army) seem intent on signing their own death certificate.

Now, I can see a few messages and themes not far under the surface, an anti-war ethic, a look to the scientists and thinkers of the age to take a lead, and a message of getting our world in order while we still can. Reworded and reworked a thousand times since, it remains topical stuff, and given the increasingly intelligence-shunning nature of US politicians these days, perhaps a reminder that they have taken a step backwards in that regard (except for the totalitarian robot solution that is suggested however).

Of course, you're not going to be able to watch the film without noticing the dated special effects but it still manages to both challenge and entertain the audience, and probably scare a few small children, Dr. Who-style in the process. 7.5/10

World Animation Competition 2

A bumper crop of animated shorts this year, and this 14-film bundle is only one of three animation events in the strand. The last one is tomorrow.

The Boy In The Bubble (Irl) - Alan Rickman narrates a childrens poem about a young boy whose girlfriend leaves him in a snap when a better one comes along. Casting a spell, he traps himself inside a bubble. Allegorical with a simplicity aimed at children, it was nice although the animation was a little wooden. 7/10

Don't Tell Santa you're Jewish (Can) - A charmingly wobbly cartoon art style is used with minimal colours to describe a jewish girl's trip to see Santa, so she can get a present. However, santa has his own secrets to keep. 7.5/10

Luminaris (Arg) - Stop-motion animation can be applied to real people as well as plasticine models. Using thousands of stills to tell its story of a man half-inching a few office supplies to fund his private dream. Really charming and witty, and good fun. 8/10

Bottle (USA) - Using similar stop-motion techniques, this is a bittersweet tale of two amorphous creatures on either side of an ocean; one made of snow, the other sand. They communicate by sending each other little presents in a bottle, until one takes the plunge and suggests they meet. 8/10

366 Days (Ger) - A paramedic's first day on the job is tough and his new partner seems distant and uncaring towards the patients they see. He tries his best to make up the shortfall, but maybe it's he that needs to reassess his approach. 7.5/10

Alimation (Fra) - A simple film about cakes. On a turntable. Sweet, sugary decorations and a carefully set frame count create a zoetrope effect, making them both clever and yum. Was short enough not to become repetitive. 6.5/10

Don Justino de Neve (UK) - A portrait of the man forms the basis of this messy scrawled short, where the Don himself shows us how much of a bounder and cad he is with the ladies, who despite being treated like crap, can't keep their hands off him. Like he says of himself - he's not a nice man. 7/10

Sudd Slut (Out of Erasers) (Den/Swe) - An ambitious short that attempts to squeeze the end of the world into a few minutes. A woman rides a bus, and notices a strange residue on the back of the seat. Slowly turning her to a mess of papery scribble, the only cure is to erase it with a pencil rubber. An absurd premise turns creepy as the substance spreads and multiplies, taking people over like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, until she is forced to take drastic action. 7.5/10

Un Petit Bol D'Air (Fra) - Idling thoughts and random patterns come together as with previous short favourite Love and Theft. It's pretty and goes in harmony with the bombastic music, but it's nothing more than a distraction. Fortunately it's too short to become annoying. 6.5/10

Battenberg (UK) - A very unusual and macabre offering, using taxidermied animals as puppets in a stop motion story. A squirrel and his miniature humanoid servants come upon a magpie after it blats against the window of their house. He is invited for tea but Squirrels intentions are malevolent. Technically sound, it is let down by a confusing, messy story. 7/10

Modern No 2 (Jpn) - A refreshingly Japanese pop-y music video using blocky, angular shapes that morph in and out of each other to the thumping melody. It's bright and airy, and the music isn't bad either. 7.5/10

La Détente (Fra) - Any animation depicting the first world war trenches has to be careful not to tread on any toes, and though I think this will receive some criticism, it's not warranted. A young man in the middle of the horrors of war has a breakdown, and imagines the horrific scene in front of him made out of objects from his childhood; tin toys, cushions and bedsheets, popguns and strings of lights, as a coping mechanism. But his imagination cannot hold completely and the reality of the world seeps back in. 8/10

Hello Bambi (USA) - WTF-ery should come from Japan alone, and this seemed to be a facsimile from across the pond. Some oddly-drawn children (looking like a Pixar experimental film from 1985) cry to the funeral march tune. Somebody's Snow White doll is being led away, helped by a female Darth Vader and a DeLorean, and Thomas the Tank Engine, maybe. I really have no idea what just happened. 6/10

The Gloaming (Fra) - Ending on a high - this semi-computer generated film follows an unnamed man as he walks through a desert, finds a blob of matter, and watches it grow into a planet, and that includes a humanoid race of people who predictably find all sorts of ways to form factions and kill each other to death. Religion, capitalism, greed and jealousy are all displayed in scenes familiar to humanities past. A very well made, philosophically sensitive look at our lives. 8/10

Take Shelter (US) (site)

Take Shelter was one of only three films picked out of the hundreds to be previewed just before Wuthering Heights, the opening gala film. For this reason, I was curious to find out what had made them favour it. Set in one of the Midwestern states of the US, where Curtis, an ordinary father and husband begins having troubling dreams all with a similar theme. Thick, oily rain followed by some sort of threat on his family, often by shadowy figures trying to get him. The constant feature is an approaching, apocalyptic storm; massive angry rain-clouds and destructive twisters. It begins to take a toll on his waking life, and his perception of what is real begins to slip.

Michael Shannon plays the lead role alongside a largely unknown but talented cast, taking us on a trip through the troubled psyche of a mentally ill man, heading towards the brink and having his own mind threaten his livelihood more than the weather ever could. A tense and uncomfortable thriller, well acted and unpredictable, and a strong ending. 8/10

The Fatherless (Austria) (site)

Another film about reuniting a troubled family (see also: A Night for Dying Tigers, Wonderful Summer and Reuniting the Rubins this year alone). Although this one has a novel edge to it. Father Hans has just died, leaving a wife and four distant children, each of whom return with partners in tow to the dilapidated family house more or less immediately after hearing of the event. Thing is though, Anna was mother in name alone, as Hans was alpha male in a 1980's idealistic hippy commune, a gathering of like-minded types who didn't seem to mind him fertilizing all the women in the group. Consequently, the four siblings share a father but not a mother. Anna was the only one who stayed after the commune broke up.

Kyra is the most mysterious of the lot - she left over twenty years previous as a girl, a day or so after the troubled birth of the youngest one, Zizzi. Something made her return, especially when she said she had been 'forgiven' by her fathers dying breath.

What happened in the ground zero event that caused so many rifts is revealed slowly with flashbacks mingled in between family revalations and rediscovered trinkets, not forgetting to let a few truths get spilt for the partners to stress over for good measure. It is all well thought out and set nicely in a beautiful Austrian countryside house. The characters are well rounded if not completely appealing they at least have a believability to them and a fragility that suggests their upbringing did not reflect the ideals. It was engaging and enjoyable, and like all the best examples of the genre, makes you want to know how things continue after the end. 7.5/10

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