The Golden Plantpots 2012

Another year already, and another chance to trawl through the best and worst of the year.  Cambridge was excellent, we saw some of the best festival output there, but Leeds and Bradford both fell a little short.  Overall though there was a lot of good stuff out there.  Most of these films were shown during 2012 at:
Feel free to add your views.

Best Film - Samsara (US)

Picking out a single film is so difficult, but Samsara is unique, breathtaking, epic and captivating - a visual chronicle of humanity in the Qatsi-style, but outclasses the dated trilogy in every way.  Each scene (aside from the weird clay man) manages to grab your attention and never let go, the first of what may be a slew of visually intense films shot on 70mm format in the future.

Honourable Mentions:

Albert Nobbs (UK/Irl) - Glenn Close worked hard to perfect her alter-ego after playing him on stage many times; this big screen version of the story of a well-loved butler with a secret to hide from his adoptive family is visually sumptuous and just stays short of overdoing the schmaltz to bring a tear to the eye.

War Witch (Can) - Visually arresting, brutal and heartbreaking, but ultimately beautiful.  War Witch brings the tragedy of the conflicts raging in Africa to the screen from the perspective of those worst affected - the children.

Starbuck (Can) - A surprisingly meaty comedy drama that is already down for a Hollywood remake.  The premise brings together a lot of familiar film elements and pastes them together into something fresh and a bit different.

Sing Your Song (Ger) - If the name Harry Belafonte doesn't make you sit up and pay attention, it's probably because if you know him at all, it's for the songs your mum used to like.  Sing Your Song opened my eyes to the other part of his life, as a humanitarian and activist.

Call Me Kuchu (Uga) - One of the most emotionally draining films, seeing the relentless persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, where despite the threats and killings, media witch-hunts and government-approved death sentences, a few brave souls stand up for who they are.

Comic-Con Episode 4 (US) -  A joyous celebration of 'geek' culture from a US perspective from Morgan Spurlock, following the attendees of the San Diego Comic Con as they construct outfits, purchase figures and fall in love.  Well worth your time.

The Raid (Ind/US) - An unrelenting, hyper-violent ballet of a film, where a group of cops attempt to take down a crime boss on the top floor of a tower block.  The action left me breathless.

Argo (US) - Somehow drowned out in the sea of other quality films this year, Argo is still a suspenseful, top-notch thriller chronicling 'the Canadian Caper'.  Director and lead actor Ben Affleck is more than matched by his compatriots with some quality acting by a group of big-haired diplomats on their way out of Tehran under the guise of film-makers.

Carlos (Fra/Ger) - This shortened film version of the 6-hour miniseries is an epic retelling of the rise and fall of 'The Jackal', a passionate terrorist for the Palestine liberators whose reach exceeded his grasp.

Best Short Film - Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK)

A brilliant, subversive pastiche of a childrens' TV show where the childish characters are allowed to follow their creative instincts just a little too far, guided along by a magical notepad whose questionable techniques would have the puppeteer taken aside for a quiet word, had this been the real world and not some fantastic alternate reality.  Best of all, you can see it for free!

Honourable Mentions:

Aeolian (UK) - The life of a strange little blob, finding out about the world as it grows in size is cute and charming, with some masterful blending of real life and CGI.

The Last Bus (Slo) - Mute forest animals take the last bus out of town, with a hunted fox along at the last minute to provide some tension.  Real-life but also stop motion, the slightly macabre taxidermied masks and the eerie night journey make this come alive.

Ab Morgen (Ger) - A quietly affecting film about a man coming face to face with his decision to get an illegal transplant when he realises just who he shared a room with the night before.

Dr Breakfast (US) - Wholly crazy, echoing some of the madcap humour of Ren and Stimpy, where a couple of well-spoken deer help a man get ready for the morning when Dr. Breakfast launches out of his eyeball.  Go here to see it.

I am Tom Moody (UK) - A moment of stage fright is captured forever, as Tom Moody junior comes back from the recesses of his mind at a crucial moment.  Taps right into the heart of nervousness.

Dylan's Room (UK) - A quiet look at the life of a woman left behind when her globetrotting son disappears and how she manages to make a reconnection of sorts.  The sort of film that will mean different things to different people.

Walk Tall (UK) - An elderly man who has earned the right to tell youngsters to sit up straight.  A delightful short film that manages to preach without being preachy.

All That Glisters (UK) - Told using tatty fabric dolls to give a little distance between the viewer and the subject matter, a young girl makes the most of the time left that she has with her dad.

Walking the Dogs (UK) - Emma Thompson gives a convincing performance as The Queen in a retelling of an actual event, where an unhinged man makes it past the guards and into her bedroom for a chat.

Kinderspiel (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnap and ransom situation turns on it's head.

Fear of Flying (Ire) - Dougal is a bird that can fly, but won't because he's scared to.  So he walks.  A happy and comical little film with some sharp animation.

Ora et Labora (Austria) - An old man sits in front of his TV, seemingly able to control the destinies of the people in the world outside.  Brings up a variety of emotions.

What's Opera, Doc? (US) - I'm not going to clutter up the short film section with the dozens of Chuck Jones cartoons I saw at Bradford this year, so What's Opera Doc?, the pinnacle work from the best of the Warner Bros. Cartoon years, will exemplify the way to write a slapstick cartoon with hidden depth.

Much Better Now (Aus/Ita) - A happy, charming film about a little bookmark, given a new lease of life thanks to a carelessly opened window.
Best Animation -
Berzerk: The Golden Age Arc 1 and 2 (Jpn) 

Accomplished director Toshiyuki Kubooka brings us the latest incarnation of the Berzerk story in a three-film epic (the third, unfortunately isn't out until next year). The first two are so incredibly impressive, from the intricate and breathtaking animation, to the meaty story, that there was little to separate the two.  Some may be a little disappointed that the level of violence is toned down a little from the original, but what you get in return is well worth the trade. If you are fortunate to have them showing on the big screen where you are, go see them.

Honourable Mentions:
Wolf Children (Jpn) - From Summer Wars/Girl who Leapt Through Time director Mamoru Hosoda, who is quickly becoming a banker for quality anime, comes another high quality film.  Once the whole concept of wolfy sexytime is over and done with (a momentary weakness in the film) it goes from strength to strength as a tale of a young but determined woman left to bring up her unusual offspring alone.

Ernest and Celestine (Fra) - A beautiful, gentle, watercolour painting of a film that couldn't be further from the style of the director's previous effort - A Town Called Panic.  Bear Ernest and mouse Celestine form an unlikely friendship in a world where the two species distrust each other intensely.

Dr Breakfast (US) - A beautiful crayon-effect style is expertly used to picture a day in the life of two sentient deer and the lonely man they meet.

Asura (Jpn) - A tragic tale of a young feral child, abandoned by his mother and unable to distinguish right from wrong, in a feudal Japan where few people have time to take in an orphan or show kindness.  The computer-generated 3D versions of the standard flatly drawn cells takes a little getting used to, but overall it's an excellent big screen version of the original manga.

Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning (Jpn) - Leeds isn't Leeds without one crazy anime, and Tiger and Bunny did not disappoint.  Satirizing the current trends of reality TV and consumerism in a future America of sorts, Tiger and Bunny blends shiny metallic 3D backgrounds with traditional cell animation and computer generated cyber suits for a blast of colour, noise and a good few laughs.

Beowulf (US) - A few years old now, and showing a little pixillation here and there compared to the newest CGI efforts, Beowulf is still an impressive piece of animation, certainly not for the children.

My.. My.. (Chi) - An interesting and inventive short film from China, evoking memories of old video games as a stick man tries to get his clothes back.

The Pirates! (UK) - Not part of the festival circuit, but The Pirates is the latest Aardman effort with a healthy splodge of British humour, the usual high-quality claymation and a constantly inventive plot.  It will certainly struggle in Bible Belt America, where it's outrageous inclusion of 'Chucky D' in anything other than a devil suit eating babies is unacceptable, but those people can go screw themselves.  It's a cracking film.

Wrinkles (Spa) - An unusual subject matter for an animation - the final years of the inhabitants of an old folks home - is nevertheless expertly told with charm and cheeky humour.

Best Documentary -
Call Me Kuchu (Uga)

And again, there are so many documentaries released this year to choose from. Samsara came close as the winner, but I question whether it can be actually described as a documentary (hence it's omission here). In the end, it was a close race between Call Me Kuchu and Sing Your Song, with the hard-hitting and expertly reported atrocities of the former earning it the place.

Honourable Mentions:

Sing Your Song (Ger) - This biopic of singer, activist and humanitarian Harry Belafonte opened my eyes to the extraordinary work of the man, now in his eighties, whose work to bring people together has spanned the last fifty plus years.

Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (Swe) - The original Bananas! film, about the mistreatment and hazardous working conditions of the Dole fruit pickers was for several years bullied out of the cinemas by the fruit giant themselves.  This meta-documentary is a big middle-finger to the corporation and a celebration of the eventual triumph of justice over corporate bullying.

Shadows of Liberty (UK) - One of the first in what will likely be a slew of documentaries chronicling the history of press freedom and what it means to actually have a truly free source of news in these times of corporate control.  If this film doesn't get your gander at just some of the examples of media oppression from all sides, then you don't deserve to live in a free society.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Jpn) - A fascinating and privileged view into the highly-regarded sushi restaurant, tucked away quietly in the corner of a Tokyo railway station.  The elderly Jiro and his dedicated team of chefs cook for the great and the good, but remain humble and likeable, just plying their trade.

José and Pilar (Por) - A quiet and beautiful documentary about the lives of prolific Portuguese author Jose Saramango, and his force of nature that is his wife, Pilar, as their increasing years and José's frailty begin to come to the fore and force them to rethink their busy schedule.

King of Comics (Ger) - Ralf Konig's work as a cartoonist lampooning the minutae of the lives of his fellow gay men has earned him a following that goes beyond the homosexual scene and into the mainstream, but it is his edgier, more serious work that has earned him his highest respect. 

Winter Nomads (Swi) - Weathered veteran Pascal and his new companion Carole embark on a long journey across the harsh winter countryside of the modern Swiss landscape, with a few hundred sheep in tow just as it has been for centuries.  This charming and bittersweet documentary quietly treads in their footprints as a way of life slowly disappears.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet (UK/US) - The potential mega-stardom life of a rock giant is cut short when Jason Becker got ALS, the degenerative muscle disease.  This beautiful film is a testament to the courage and the will to keep going no matter what your throw of the dice turned up.

1/2 Revolution (Egy/Den) - A highly valuable view of the Egyptian uprisings from the centre of the action, captured on film by a group of friends in the centre of it all, watching their communities overcome first with elation and joy, and then suspicion as the death-throes of the Mubarat regime play dangerous politics with people's lives.  With the situation on the decline once more, the other half is yet to come, it seems.

Beauty is Embarrassing (US) - A biopic of Wayne White, one-time Pee-Wee Herman set producer, now a prolific artist using a number of mediums.  White's characteristic free-spirited inspiration for random and innovative new works is infectious, as is his don't care attitude to any stuffy critics that might come along.

Tales of the Waria (US/Ind) - The Waria are the transgender men of Indonesia.  Though by good fortune they are tolerated due to ancient tradition, their lives are still difficult and are often not accepted into their highly religious community.  This sensitive and affecting film focuses on several men living as women, and the lives they touch.

Comic-Con Episode 4 (US) - A fantastic celebration of what it means to be a nerd, a geek or whatever derogatory term you want to slap on people who like cult stuff, in the place where any self-respecting follower is bound to go - Comic-Con.  Morgan Spurlocks' finest film so far.

Fire in the Blood (India) - A compelling and inciteful documentary showing the downright unjust efforts of the large pharmaceutical industries to control the distribution of their drugs - and the cheap, equally-effective generic versions - around the world, putting their profits ahead of the livelihoods of millions.

Persistence of Vision (UK) - The wildly ambitious film The Thief and The Cobbler, a project and labour of love of it's director Richard Willams for 20 years, was never released, thanks to his inability to leave alone and let things complete.  The travesty of Arabian Knight - a poor-quality film knocked together from stuff that did get completed, cruelly dubbed on release as an Aladdin cash-in even though it preceded it by years - is an especially tragic pill to swallow. 

The Last Buffalo Hunt (US) - The antics of the modern-day hunters on the last American Bison herds makes the blood boil.  This subversive film, sitting back and allowing the hunters to show themselves in the light they made for themselves, perhaps isn't the picture they were thinking was going to get painted.

Fightville (US) - A peek into the bare-knuckled world of extreme mixed martial arts, where the combatants come out of the cage with much more than a bloody lip, is filled with much more than the expected meat-heads, meeting with the sparrers, organisers and the family and friends growing up in the community around it.  The fights are tough to watch, and the hits are all real, but there is much more to see here.

Freedom For Birth (UK) - It got a little preachy, but the subject matter was important enough to make it worth inclusion.  Focusing on the injustice of midwife Agnes Gereb, under house arrest for assisting home births in Hungary.

A Lot With A Little Award - Sawdust City (US)

A new award this year, recognising that there are plenty of films out there that are created on a shoestring budget, and some of them manage to outclass some major big-budget releases.

Sawdust City and Frank were the main contenders, with the former managing to be a little more enjoyable and sensible where Frank's macabre leanings may put some people off.  Sawdust City is all about the re-connection of two brothers split by circumstance and commitment, and brought together again to get their father back for Thanksgiving.  The tiny budget allowed the actors to concentrate on fleshing out the characters on their many alcoholic stopoffs.

Frank (UK) - An extremely low-budget UK flick freed from the boundaries of pandering to the audience.  The resulting degenerating life of a lonely man with mental problems, who comes across a body washed up on the beach is fascinatingly macabre, inventive and gruesome interpretation of a broken mind coming to terms with his daily stresses.

Tower Block (UK) - Though not as enjoyable as the bigger-budget The Raid, Tower Block has comparable levels of tension, as the colourful residents of a high-rise block are picked off one by one, by an unknown gunman.

Grandma Lo-Fi (Den/Ice) - A deliberately frugal budget to celebrate the life of a charming woman who became an Icelandic cult figure in her old age, putting together tapes of her home-made masterpieces with none of the fancy kit the professionals use.

The Lord's Ride (Fra) - Using only the members of a local community of gypsies, director Jean-Charles Hue manages to bring together a loosely controlled but well-acted tale of a man convinced of the calling to a higher purpose, just as he is needed to do some scally nicking of stuff.

Wrinkles (Spa) - Wrinkles was well made and acted, and for it's budget, animated very well, although some sections the frame-rate got a little choppy, it was overall funny, affecting and very enjoyable.

The History of Future Folk (US) - Though not quite as entertaining as it's proponents suggest when they liken it to Flight of the Conchords, Future Folk is a solidly-acted, funny film in a similar vein about the antics of a pair of aliens that come to earth intent on destruction, until they discover music.

Enjoy The Journey Award -
The Raid (Ind/US)

If there was an award for the most painful film to watch, this would get it hands down. I can't remember the last time I stopped breathing for such a length of time as with this film, a relentless, hyper-violent yet balletic tale of a group of police infiltrating the tower-block hideout of a powerful gangster. I saw the DVD on sale for six quid yesterday. You have no excuses!

Honourable Mentions:

Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK) - When things kick off, all you can do is sit back and hope you survive the unusual glitter painting.

Aaltra (Bel/Fra) - A squabbling pair of neighbours, left disabled in a freak farming accident, decide to visit the manufacturers of the offending machinery to sue the pants off them.  A minimal, occasionally hilarious road movie with a difference.

Come as You Are (Bel) - Choosing to make a comedy-drama road movie of the lives of three disabled schoolfriends is going to be pretty ballsy, especially as the destination is a brothel.  This film is a surprisingly nuanced take on such a concept, the director concentrating on building the characters rather than the slapstick.

Vikingland (Spa) - Though I would not recommend this film particularly much, it did do something right, and that was to present the life of the mysterious man in the old video tapes in a captivating way, at least when things moved on a bit.

Avé (Bul) - The deadpan, dark humour of a young man on a road trip with a strange girl who just won't let him go to the funeral of his friend in peace makes for an unusual mix of emotions, but the film makes it work.  Avé's bare-faced cheek mixed with Kamen's dour facial expressions lifts this road movie a little higher.
After the Credits Roll -
Samsara (US)  
It had to go to Samsara, given the sheer number of beautiful, beguiling images and scenes, showcasing the best and worst of nature and humanity in an intense blast of cinematography.

Honourable Mentions:

Vanishing Waves (Lit) - Leaving aside the gorgeous Jurga Jutaite for a moment, this film is chock full of some of the most visually intense scenes you are ever likely to see, short of Samsara anyway.

2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK) - We managed to see a digital reprint of Kubricks seminal work on the big screen in Leeds Town Hall, where the speakers, not at their best when putting out dialogue, were ideal for the trippy, universe-stretching third act - a succession of iconic scenes that for many people have remained in the mind for many years since.

Room 237 (US) - Sticking with Kubrick, this fan-made and not remotely official film about the minutiae of little things the director may or may not have consciously placed in The Shining made me want to immediately turn back time and look at the film in a new light.

The Raid (Ind/US) - Relentless is a word that I have used repeatedly for this film, and once the credits do roll, you're left breathless, winded and seriously impressed.

 Emotional Kick - War Witch (Can)

The story of Komona was heartbreaking enough before you realise that this story is based on the horrific experiences of many thousands of child soldiers in the African conflicts.  War Witch is full of terrible, beautiful imagery that will stay for a long time.

Honourable Mentions:

Wolf Children (Jpn) - Though obscured through the lens of fantasy of a world where human-wolf hybrids exist, the experiences of a young woman in the middle of the chaos of bringing up two young children alone are recognisably universal.  Wolf Children masterfully depicts a growing, family where tastes diverge and the need to let go.

José and Pilar (Por) - The love of the almost indestructible husband and wife team as they go through some of the most important stages in their life will leave a lump in the throat.

Amour (Aus/Fra/Ger) - A slow moving but ultimately beautiful tale of enduring love between Georges and Anne, his elderly wife who begins to succumb to the ravages of old age in the form of successive strokes.  It is a truly heart-wrenching journey of the heart.

Tabu (Por) - An epic tale of the life of Aurora, an elderly spinster living out her final years in a Portugese flat in the first half of the film, and a beautiful spirit fated never to be with the love of her life in the second.  A complete rounding of a character and an emotional thumper of a film.

My Sweetheart (Fra) - A sweet, short film dealing with the sensitive issue of the 'first time' between a young couple with learning difficulties, and the carer who has to step in when things get out of hand.

Golden Slumbers (Cam/Fra) - A film lamenting the fledgeling Cambodian film industry, which was brutally cut off just as it got going by the intolerant Khmer Rouge, who saw it as a decadent western influence.  Those few who survived the assassinations, along with a cult following of those early pioneers tell their fascinating story.

Rust and Bone (Fra/Bel) - A surprise 'film zero' of Leeds, Rust and Bone was the surprisingly powerful adaptation of a collection of short stories, melded together into one narrative about a woman losing her legs in an accident, and the hot-tempered bouncer she meets shortly before.

Call Me Kuchu (Uga) - Few films have the emotional impact of this, both a tribute to the assassinated civil rights campaigner David Kato, and a light shone on the horrendous intolerance set upon the few homosexuals in Uganda that dare raise their hands.

Volcano (Ice) - In a similar story to Amour, Volcano managed to hit the emotional highs when Hannes has to deal with a sudden and stunning tragedy.

Goodbye First Love (Fra/Ger) - A deeply personal and touching account of a young first love, with all it's mistakes and imperfections, and the aftermath when it ends, and two people carry on their separate ways.

Twist Award -
Blind Spot (Lux)

Blind Spot became this year's Point Blank, a favourite of 2011.  A cop, emotionally involved in the latest crime and a bit unhinged, is brought back onto the force by his trusting super so they can get the job done.  As with The Killing, there are plenty of twists as to the culprit before the end credits, and it's a satisfying, intense ride until the end.

Honourable Mentions:

The War Zone (Ita/UK) - Ray Winstone's unsettling father figure forms the centre of the massive twist in what would otherwise be a family melodrama, with director Tim Roth deftly hooking an unexpected left into decidedly darker territory without warning.

Don't Hug me I'm Scared (UK) - The childrens show takes a decidedly unexpected twist in the final few moments, as the poor characters get to let their creativity run a little too free.

Kinderspiel (Ger) - What appears to be a kidnapping quickly transpires into something much more complex in this German short film.

Irma (US) - Unassuming elderly woman Irma doesn't let you into her secret until she has ambled down to her local gym, at which point she lets her muscles do the talking.

Cleverest Film -
VOS (Cat/Spa)

VOS attempted to be a film within a film, using the characters to play meta-characters in a play, melding seamlessly with the private lives of the characters both in and out of the sets, playfully wrong-footing the viewer as to exactly what they were watching. It very nearly pulled it off, although it did bog down a little in the complexities in the middle.

Honourable Mentions:-

Alois Nebel (Cze/Ger) - A good-to-average plot was not the main draw of this film, but was instead the impressive rotoscoping animation technique, producing a fittingly stark representation of the1980's Czech Republic.

Alps (Gre) - Lacking the praise heaped on Dogtooth, this work by the same director fell a little flat, although it's premise - a group of people volunteering to replace missing loved ones in their families was a neat way to increase the dimensions of each of the lead actors.

I am a Good Person/I am a Bad Person (Can) - The diverging lives of a newly-separated filmmaking mother, and her teenage daughter had some innovative use of Bradford film festival footage as part of the film, showing at Bradford (just to confuse).  Just a shame the second half let it down.

 Biggest Laugh - Starbuck (Can)  

Surprisingly emotional and deeper than it's mainstream concept would suggest, Starbuck can also boast a load of belly-laughs as well.  What more could you ask for?

Honourable Mentions:

Dr. Breakfast (US) - A crazy, free-spirited animation likely to appeal to anyone who likes Spongebob.

The Pirates! (UK) - A great British comedy, playing to our island strengths, handled expertly by world-renowned animation experts, Aardman.  No film featuring Brian Blessed has the capacity to be anything less than funny.  Maybe a sequel is in the works?

Tiger and Bunny (Jpn) - Not as over-the-top as previous WTF Japan? examples shown at Leeds, but still capable of raising plenty of laughs.

Come as You Are (Bel) - Filled with guilty comedy potential from the start, this road movie featuring three disabled teens journeying to a brothel is surprisingly more high-brow than the premise suggests, but there are still plenty of laughs.

Seven Psychopaths (UK) - Punchy, unpredictable and featuring some stellar performances from Sam Rockwell and Rutger Hauer, this film managed to come near the top of the Leeds favourite list.

The History of Future Folk (US) - A charming and warm tale of narrowly averted world destruction, with some good sight and sound gags along the way.  If they had employed Brett and Germaine for the songs, they would have had an absolute winner.

Aaltra (Bel/Fra) - The premise alone of two wheelchaired men who hate each other finding whatever transport they can (seriously abusing the kindness of others along the way) is comedic without a cell of film going through the projector.  Though the finished product misses a few targets, there is enough in here to ensure a lot of guilty laughs.

John Dies at the End (US) - A funny and well-made low budget offering, full of comedy splatterhouse scenes, if that's your thing.

A Thousand Words - Samsara (US)

No contest, really. Samsara contains wonder and beauty in almost every shot, helped on enormously by the unorthodox 70mm print, only a few places in the UK can show it at it's full intensity.  Bradford, luckily, being one of them.

Honourable Mentions:

War Witch (Can) - Full of terrible yet beautiful images of a country war-torn and ravaged. Komoma's journey through it is experienced in it's raw and uncompromising glory by the awe-struck audience.

1/2 Revolution (Egy/Den) - A film full of personal imagery, shot on location at the very heart of the disturbances while they were happening.

The Hyperwomen (Bra) - The silent director and a quietly following camera relays to us the lives of a people a world away, with rare and fascinating footage of a disappearing community that builds as it goes on.

Vanishing Waves (Lit) - A plethora of stark, erotic, challenging images assault the senses.  Vanishing Waves wowed the audiences with looks as much as anything else.

Winter Nomads (Swi) - Gently following a farmer and his young apprentice on a journey of transhumance across the bleak and beautiful Swiss countryside with several hundred doomed livestock.

Best Indie to Show Your Friends -
Comic-Con Episode 4 (US)

Other films are more impressive to look at, have deep stories or cover more serious themes, but when considering a mainstream audience, Morgan Spurlocks' latest documentary has all the boxes ticked. A subject matter guaranteed to fascinate no matter which side of the nerd fence you sit, love, suspense and intrigue and a slew of people who you come to know and love.

Honourable Mentions: (subtitled films have a *)

Samsara (US) - The Qatsi films are beyond the patience of your average cinema-goer (even I find parts of them difficult to sit through), but Samsara is something else - senses are assaulted and eyes become glued to the screen.

Ernest and Celestine* (Fra) - Charming, intelligently written and beautifully drawn, this film from the Town Called Panic creators is perfect for small children who don't mind a little reading with their fairytales.

Robot and Frank (US) - Perfect for an older crowd, Frank Langella is the perfect curmudgeon to get behind and the Asimo-like robot is a character in itself.

Starbuck* (Bel) - Though you could wait for the Hollywood treatment, there is ample opportunity to show sceptical friends that they needn't fear the written word

The History of Future Folk (US) - A family-friendly, low budget film where aliens from another planet have buckets on their heads, do funny things, and fail to annihilate the human race.

The Raid* (Ind/US) - Any issues with the dialogue will be forgotten in the relentless barrage of violence that explodes out of the screen at you.

Last Shop Standing (UK) - A shorter length film (about an hour), celebrating the humble indie music shops of the UK.  Remembering the passing of thousands and celebrating those who have found new ways to come back to popularity.

Seven Psychopaths (UK) - Sharp and witty dialogue, well-known faces and a crackling storyline means it's not too far out of the average cinema-goers' comfort zone. 

Beauty is Embarrassing (US) - A great introductory documentary about an anti-establishment artist who does things his own way.

The Rise and Fall of The Clash (UK) - When this aired, the cinema was full of individuals I hadn't seen at any of the other films.  A perfect film to take a music aficionado or an old punk to.

Frank (UK) - For those who don't mind their humour to be dark and twisted, this excellent example of microcinema on a budget will generate plenty of laughs in among the squirms.

The Manky Sankey Awards

Not so many Mankeys this year, but there were some stinkers and disappointments.

Biggest Let Down -
Alps (Gre) 

Alps would have been put in the 'simply forgettable' pile were it not for it's pedigree.  Coming from the same hand that gave us the excellent Dogtooth, I was hoping for something with a comparable wow factor.  Though Alps had a few innovative moments and certainly wasn't a terrible film, it felt unfocused and direction-less, and was surpassed in every way by it's predecessor.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Faust (Rus)- The famous Russian fable would always be a combination of a herculean effort to bring to the big screen, and to make such that an audience largely unfamiliar with it might manage to keep up, but Faust - operatic in drama and sumptuous and extravagant in setting, remained too gloopy and impenetrable for many of it's viewers - including myself - to sit through the 2+ hour runtime.

In Love with Alma Cogan (UK) - Though there was nothing you could say was 'wrong' about this low-budget TV-movie, it failed to earn it's place on the big screen in any way.  The songs came from an end of pier band who seemed to be revelling in their screen time for a bit of publicity, the British sitcom character cast inhabited one-dimensional, neutered British sitcom roles and the whole thing felt so much like it had been stripped of verve and energy that it had been made specifically for an over-70's audience.  It was plain and predictable, with nothing within it's beige, no-frills shell to raise even the slightest emotion either way.  It is truly the Nissan Sunny of films.

Damsels In Distress (US) - For a festival launch film, Damsels In Distress felt like such a disappointment compared to some much worthier (but perhaps less mainstream) films on show at Bradford.  A mixture of unappealing and narrowly defined characters, a feeling that it thought it was funnier than what it was and a bit of self-indulgent faffing around towards the end (when it hadn't earned it) soured the taste still further.

Heretic (UK) -For a film showcasing the best of local northern talent, the cast and crew that came to Leeds for the premiere not having seen the finished product may have gone away with their noses a little bent out of shape.  Difficult to take seriously with some shoddy sound quality and off-putting accents, and some downright annoying camera work and manipulative effects, Heretic managed to miss most of it's targets.

Most Pretentious -
Voluptuous Sleep (US)
Voluptuous Sleep, a film by Terminator 2 special effects artist Betzy Bromberg gets the vote by some margin. Water splashing on the ground. Bubbling. Swooshing and swirling about. For hours.  The poor audience allowed themselves to have this done to them, on the back of the director's reputation, without being warned that it belonged firmly in the 'experimental film' dump-bin in the corner.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Can) - I stayed up late for this, and I could have gone home for some much needed sleep.  But in order to give the film the best of my attentions, I didn't.  And it was for little reward.  Black Rainbow left too much in the hands of the viewer to fill in the blanks around the mute, inactive girl or the evil, slow talking scientist, relying all too heavily on the atmospheric but depressing 1980's vision of the future to carry things through.

Damsels In Distress (US) - There was something self-aware and self-congratulatory about this film, especially at the end where the characters gleefully get up for a bit of a song and dance as if to say, 'we've made a really great film that has touched your hearts, so now we're going to let our hair down and just be, like your buddies..'.  No, Damsels, you didn't.  Your film missed the bits where I was meant to get to like the characters.  I had no desire to see them arsing about on screen.

Fireworks (Fra) - How can we not have a French contender of the pretentious category?  Fireworks managed to sneak in there this year in a wave of pretentious faux common worker dialogue.

Most Drawn Out Scene -
Malaventura (Mex)

It wasn't helped by being started and restarted three times before the damn film would run properly, but the opening scene - where the sun slowly rises through the bedroom curtains and an elderly man wakes and starts his day, is one of the most tedious experiences in cinema history, and it didn't get much better from there on in.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Voluptuous Sleep (US) - Dripping, slooshing water.  Static camera shots, minutes long.  Ambient sounds in the background.  With luck someone might change the lightbulb and the colours change a bit.  Cack.

Faust (Rus) - After braving the first two acts of this epic, the viewer is asked to endure the third, where what little handle they might have had on the sprawling, messy story is quickly loosened, as the title character wanders aimlessly in distress about the harsh world (some moors) incensed by the choice he made.  I felt similar.

Beyond These Mountains (Swi/Ger) - Following these two girls on their journey of self discovery was tiresome, but the scene in their fancy apartment and the final, supposedly metaphorically significant mountain walk became an exercise in testing my patience.

Vikingland (Spa) - Though occasionally interesting, there were some pretty drawn out scenes to endure here.  The Christmas party; the crashing waves; the working day.  Much of it could have been lost and you would still have retained the sense of a lonely life on a ship.

Most Annoying Film - Beyond the Black Rainbow (Can)

There was nothing to come close to how annoying Black Rainbow was. Repetitive, overly reliant on atmosphere and for a thriller/horror, not remotely thrilling or horrifying. It just managed to annoy and deprive me of my much needed beauty sleep.

Dishonourable Mentions:

Black Brush (Hun) - There were literally no likeable characters in this bleak and depressing film about layabouts forgetting to do things and generally arsing about or being unpleasant.  The film gave no hints that any of them were going to mature, and the film was so dour that you couldn't even enjoy their antics as a guilty pleasure.

The Shine of Day (Austria) - Generally speaking, not a bad film - until the end.  After spending some time to build up to a third act climax, the film promptly ends and we never find out what happened, as if they run out of money, or imagination, or both.

Malaventura (Mex) - A film about the life of a lonely old man ought to be respectful and give us some reason to keep watching.  Malaventura didn't go anywhere; just having him shuffle through the streets, staring at younger people with a resigned look on his face.  Should have been a short film.


Sometimes the best things happen on a whim.  Meet Boone.

We had been thinking of getting a dog for a while, sort of on and off.  Well, a pet, anyway.  Ms. Plants was making worrying noises about maybe getting a cat, so something had to be done.  And when we saw some border collie pups for sale nearby, we had to go have a look.

I said that we were strictly just going to have a look.

The owners' house was filthy, there was no getting around it.  The couple in charge looked as if they had given over their small abode completely to their two collies and their litter of six or more, who were merrily falling over each other and generally producing all sorts of smells and substances that young dogs do.  They were 8 weeks old, healthy and adorable, and after getting used to the smell we spent a good hour cooing over them and playing like children.

We bought one on a whim.  That morning, I had been grouting.  Now we have a puppeh!

No more grouting was done that day, or for several days since.

He learns quick.  After 3 weeks, he can already sit and stay at heel, fetch sticks, and for the most part doesn't leave presents around the house.  Mostly.  But also he's learned where the food is, and learned to ignore us when we say don't raid the cupboards and eat it all.  Don't let those puppy-dog eyes fool you, he's a crafty one.

But overall it's fantastic having a dog again, and next week when his second injection has fully settled in, we can start to take him on walks (or he can take us).

A Hearty Haul

Yarr, a most precious haul of the finest.. metal.. in all the land!

Left to right: Lake Windemere 13-mile walk, York 10k, Leeds Half Marathon, Hull 10k, Leeds 10k, and the Liverpool Marathon medal at the bottom.

I don't care.  This year I managed to tick off one of the things to do in my life - run a marathon, and it was the culmination of a fantastic year of running for me.  I will never be a professional, but I don't care about that, just to be at a level of fitness to take them on makes me want to do more, and the Run for All's 2012 medals as souvenirs were an excellent form of encouragement to collect em all.  Next year, I'll be doing all the above and maybe some more too.  Looking forward to it.

LIFF 2012 Day 18

Robot & Frank (US) (wiki)

Curmudgeonly Frank (a part for Frank Langella that fits like a glove) lives alone, as tidily as means he can still access all the rooms of the house.  His daughter Madison is off being all caring in the middle east, and son Hunter is doing well in the city.  He comes over and tidies up every week, and just as well.

Frank's health is fine but his mind is failing.  He can't recall conversations, and he thinks Hunter is still at university.  This has become such a problem that his own personal side hobby - cat burglary - is being affected.  When we meet Frank, he's just tried to rob himself.

Compelled by a need to keep pilfering, Frank is frustrated by his own limitations and is becoming increasingly confused by the changing world around him.  Things get worse when his son decides that he needs some help around the house.  This being the near future, that help comes in the form of a robotic butler.  Frank's initial hostility softens when he realises that the new robot is quite okay with stealing things if it thinks Frank's mind is being kept active, and so, eyeing a bunch of rich yuppies rejuvenating the local library, sets out to do an assisted heist.

It's a pretty solid film.  Langella is excellent in the role, with Susan Sarandon getting a good supporting role as his quiet librarian on-off girlfriend.  It rattles along as quickly and with as much action as you could expect with an elderly man at the focus of it, and it has a solid enough storyline with a few unexpected twists along the way to keep things interesting. 7.5/10

John Dies at the End (US) (site)

Dave's life has become complicated since his accidental contact with the drug, 'soy sauce'.  It makes him able to see everything about everything, allow him to switch universes, and travel backwards through time.  Recounting his incredible escapades after the fact to Arnie, a sceptical novelist looking for story ideas,  Dave tells him and us of his adventures with fellow taker John, and the many people (and other things) that have since tried to have them killed.

Leeds has become the showcase venue for low budget and/or indie comedy/sci-fi/horror films over the past few years.  Some of them have been utterly forgettable, and some have been genuinely pretty cool.  I already had the solid The History of Future Folk under my belt, and this is of a similar grade, if a little more random and with much more swearing.  The script is a bit loose; things happen in quite a comic-book way (it was based on a comic of the same name) and plot elements tend to be thrown at you quite aggressively, but overall it hangs together well enough to get the purpose of the film across, while having a bit of fun with the usual 3-act standard format at the same time.  It'll probably benefit from a second viewing. 7.5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 17

Wolf Children (Jpn) (wiki)

Wolf Children is the film I deliberately missed on last weeks anime day, and ever since ive been curious to see it as it has managed to stay near the top of the festival voting competition despite only being shown once.

Young Hana is a quiet, single woman with her mind on her work.  Studying around the clock for her scholarship to get a better job, her free time is taken up with jobs to get by.  Befriending a mysterious work colleague, they become close and eventually start a family, but he is half wolf, the last of a dying race, and their children will be too.

Beginning as a light-hearted romance with a pinch of fantasy, Wolf Children matures into a story of changing priorities and maturing as life continues into new chapters.  The art style is a slightly more refined continuation of Mamoru Hosoda's previous gem Summer Wars, but this one is far gentler and goes at a far more sedate pace.  The art is beautiful renderings of rural and urban Japan on a par with Kazuo Oga (who did Summer Wars), and in fact you'll see several homages to the various Ghibli films he worked on throughout the film.  It does occasionally feel a little silly (the whole wolf-human sexytime thing caused a giggle in the audience when it was meant to be a tender moment) but the other 99% of the time was a sensitive and mature story, told gently and with a great deal of beauty.  For anyone who loved Mai Mai Miracle, Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday. 8/10

Asya's Happiness (Sov/Rus) (wiki)

The director of this 1966 film was in the audience, which given it was made nearly 50 years ago, he was still spriteley and had all his marbles.  Andrei Konchalovsky charmed the audience with his tales of getting hold of a mostly amateur cast, relying on farmworker volunteers from the area, and working the story round their improvisations.

As a consequence of the amateur element the film - at the start at least - is quite muddled, and the various stories told by the many different characters in the film make it difficult to find the central thread of plot that the film is trying to go down.  Asya is a farmhand, both lame and pregnant.  The father of the child is not necessarily the one who loves her, and over the course of the film, both vie and bicker for her attentions, not treating her very well in the process.

It's difficult to imagine that the same director did both Runaway Train and Tango and Cash, this film perhaps best seen as one of his earliest works to trace the origins of his directing style.  As such, most people can safely skip it. 5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 16

2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK) (wiki)

Only one film today, due to some changes at home meaning we had to cancel some stuff (more about that later).  The film festival guys had to approach the Kubrick estate to get special permission to show the film, and only got it at the eleventh hour.  The film is now 44 years old, but this fresh, digitally restored print loses little of it's believability and impact, although the pre-Star Wars spaceship models haven't quote got that 'massive' vibe about them yet, and someone clearly hadn't thought about maybe having a touch-screen console rather than having every ships operation granted it's own chunky button on a console the size of a narrowboat.

Kubrick's take on Arthur C Clarke's original tale of extraterrestrial life contains little of the original, expanding the story to suggest the presence of a guiding hand on evolutions' shoulder at key points of the development of human beings.  This manifests itself in the monolith, a smooth, black form that appears to the sounds of the eerie, voices of a million souls.  In the near future (as was then), another monolith is discovered on the moon, heralding another possible leap forward.

None of Kubrick's films are easy to tease apart but that is part of their charm.  The impressively obsessive Room 237 last week showed us how many secrets he likes to stow away in them, which combined with the fact that he never talks about their meaning, only deepens the mysteries.  Seeing 2001 on the big screen as it was meant to be seen (and sitting at the front so we got the full force of the final act) was an experience that grabs the mind's attention and dares it to make sense of it.  If you want your films to be transparent and be obvious of their intentions, 2001 will only frustrate, but if you can ignore the dated special effects, you're in for a hell of a ride. 7.5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 15

Shadows of Liberty (UK) (site)

It's difficult to talk about the changing nature of big media these days without coming off like some sort of tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist.  BUT THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK.

Seriously though, the media is as knackered now as it's ever been.  And I don't mean that from an economic point of view (the big companies at least, are rolling in it), rather the impartiality of the 'free' press is going increasingly to the dogs. 

This film focuses on the most vocal adherent to the concept press freedom, the United States, where successive presidents, beginning in particular with Reagan, have removed the regulatory chains that bound the large companies from merging, taking on multiple media outlets, and swallowing up any competition.  Todays' press is controlled by five main players, and if you flip between the channels, you see carbon copies of the same things.  News bundled as entertainment.

But that is only part of the story told here.  Taking several examples of corporations and governments leaning on the press, including the Nike labour practices story that got Roberta Baskin fired for asking too many questions, the 1996 TWA Crash where eyewitness accounts were ignored and suppressed, and the story of Gary Webb, the journalist who shot himself because his expose of the connections between the crack cocaine explosion in US and the war in Nicaragua was shut down by the big papers, Shadows of Liberty presents an appalling state of affairs where slowly but surely, the corporations seize more power under the guise of the free market, and the will of the people is increasingly ignored. 

The film ends with a cautionary note; the Internet is a massively free exchange of views and ideas that has opened peoples eyes like never before, and it must remain that way.  Amendments such as ACTA and SOPA, made with the help of the largest corporate players have already attempted to put a leash on it, under the marketing speak of 'protection of the individual'.  It is easier for the corporations to stamp any dissent and carry on their rise, than to change the ways that they work. 8/10

José and Pilar (Por) (wiki)

José Saramango was an outspoken author.  Born in religiously conservative Portugal, his books questioning the existence of God ensures a constant stream of abusive letters to his door.  These tend however not to hit their intended target, as Pilar del Rio, his passionate and formidable wife, gives them short shrift.

There is no time anyway, his mail is overflowing with gratitudinal essays, new story ideas by people with a lot of time on their hands, and of course, invitations to social functions.  Lots of them.  Saramango's publishing reach spans the globe, his many books translated into many more languages, and it has earned him a passionate following.  His stories have been turned into theatre plays and films, and his mantlepiece is overflowing with awards, including Portugal's only Nobel piece prize for literature. 

José and Pilar places us as companions on their hectic schedule, José's weatherworn wit and good nature shining through his weakened voice, and Pilar's job to carry his world on her shoulders.  And of course, their unending love for each other, which during the course of the film strengthens considerably in the face of Jose's old age, causing a change in the way they live their lives.

More than just silently following two people, this is a beautiful journey of love and dedication. 8/10

The Rise and Fall of the Clash (UK) (facebook)

The Clash were a hugely influential punk rock band, although during their peak in the early 80's, I was just learning about crossing the road safely and not trying to eat electricity, so they went pretty much over my head until fairly recently, when a punk/80's revival of sorts came back into the charts.  Even so, I had not bothered to pay much attention to them beyond the iconic album covers and the more well-known hits.  Raw, angry youth bursting out of the dying screams of punk, just before the new romantics came along.

But the story of The Clash is much more interesting.  Initially hitting the sweet spot in the late 70's both at home and over in the US, the band slowly destroyed itself due to internal bickering, often with their control freak manager, Bernie Rhodes acting as a catalyst in sending a wedge between two of the band's greatest players - lead singer Joe Strummer and bass guitarist Mick Jones.  By 1985, the band was a pale shadow of it's former self, with half of the band replaced and the other half not talking to each other, and the most painful bit of all, they has become a cog in the capitalist machine they were forever railing against.

Yet another bio-documentary let loose into the festival circuit, it is difficult not to recommend even though it has many bedfellows (this festival alone, I've watched the Jason Becker and Bill Callahan bios, with Charles Bradley tomorrow, plus there was Blind Joe Death and Jobriath that I didn't even get to see). This is entertaining, loud and passionate, but not afraid to show the band in an unfavourable light that it's many fans might balk at. 7.5/10

Amour (Austria/Fra/Ger) (wiki)

Georges and Anne, an elderly couple clearly in love, live alone together in a comfortable apartment in France.  Their retirement years have been comfortable and without any major stresses.  Life has trotted along at a gentle pace, until Anne has an episode at the breakfast table.  Silently staring into space for a few moments, scaring Georges half to death, she has just experienced her first stroke.

Amour is the tragic but all too common story of the last dance; the final years in the life of two people, bound together by a deep love for each other that outlasts everything that a decaying body and mind can throw at it.  Anne's slow degeneration is handled sensitively and in it's 2+ hour running time, director Michael Haneke is not afraid to let the camera linger, static and silent, to underline the inescapable situation the couple find themselves in.  This can be overused here and there, but it is an effective tool in pressing home the increasingly small world that they inhabit.

Amour is tragically beautiful and the subject matter will naturally cause some upset.  It may hit too close to home to bear if you have loved ones currently going through this situation, but I recommend it to anyone who has considered the fragility of their lives to reflect on what it is to be alive and make the most of it while they can. 8/10

LIFF 2012 Day 14

The Shine of Day (Austria) (review)

Philipp and Walter have never met before now.  Uncle Walter never made it as a seafarer and is too old now.  Instead, he impresses his newly re-found nephew with his tales as a circus performer, and his many incidents as a bear wrestler, back in the days when it was legal.  Phillip is now an accomplished theatre actor, on the rise and starting to get noticed, his obsession with the spoken word means constant practice for his many acting parts which round robin through his mind with each day of the week.

Following Philipp whether he likes it or not, Walter works his way back into his life, and both begin to benefit; Philipp gains an anchor to the real world and his family, a world left behind  by his theatre personas, but Walter also gets to see what he missed as a potential father when Philipps next door neighbour needs a babysitter.

The Shine of Day is all about what makes a day worthwhile, and how the characters find, or rediscover that.  But it has a major flaw, one which caused an audible gasp from the audience.  What you think is the beginning of the third act of the piece, a scene which appears to be building to a suspenseful conclusion, suddenly cuts to end credits.  It spoilt a perfectly pleasant film, frustrating the viewer, and working it through in my head afterwards unearthed no clues in that final scene about why the director chose to end it there. 5/10

Tabu (Por) (site)

High up in a Portuguese apartment, Aurora - a lady of a certain age - is living out a miserable, paranoid existence, her final years on the planet alone but for her faithful and ever suffering housemaid, Santa, who has been with her since her years in Mozambique.  Neighbour Pilar is concerned about her wellbeing, becoming ever more incoherent and abusive, but Santas' quiet, submissive attachment to the woman, entwined by years of routine, is reluctant to let her help.

Tabu is a film with an epic story arc, telling the sad tale of Aurora in the present day, and in the past where her fate was set.  Her incoherent ramblings contained clues to her past misdemeanour's and the beautiful second half, narrated from a future perspective and containing no character dialogue, fills out the character wholly, the sense of satisfaction gained from the realisation of the life of Aurora is a rarity, and turns the film from an average character study of the last days of an old woman, into a beautiful tale of love and tragedy. 8/10

Persistence of Vision (UK) (facebook)

For all the animated films that are made, many more don't get off the drawing board.  A select few of them fall into the crack between, abandoned half-completed mutants that often torment the visionary behind it more than if it was never attempted.

Richard Williams is the guy who gave us Roger Rabbit and has the Oscars to prove it.  Noticed in the early 1980's by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemekis, Williams had spent the last 20 years creating animated sequences for commercials in his London studio, but had also been having a torrid time trying to bring to the screen what he saw as his masterpiece, The Thief and the Cobbler - his own pet project risen from the ashes of Nasruddin, a cancelled project when the main backer embezzled the money and fled.

Roger Rabbit was a massive success, and it allowed Williams to receive the backing - for both the film and it's marketing from Warner Bros., who gave the $50m and sat back waiting for results.  But Roger Rabbit had one major advantage - it wasn't Williams' baby, so he could settle for less than what his perfectionist requirements demanded to get the film out of the door.  Persistence of Vision is an account of the tragedy of one man killing his own dream with his unattainable perfection.

For the time, the scenes that were made (and survived into the eventual Disney-ified, song-filled travesty Arabian Knight) are true marks of a skilled animator performing animation of a quality only now being attained by computer-assisted 2.5D animation, and the film contains many finished and storyboarded scenes, production clips and other rare footage to flesh it out.  Even without Williams' direct help (he refuses to go on record about the film), you also get a feel for the man, a driven, exceptionally talented perfectionist, making art for arts sake, no matter what the cost.  8/10

The History of Future Folk (US) (facebook)

Down in a dingy American bar, a would-be mass-murderer stands with a banjo and a bucket on his head.  General Trius, saviour of the planet Hondo, was sent to earth with a cannister of flesh eating virus, to rid the planet of it's people so that the Hondorians could flee their doomed world, and come live here.  That was eleven years ago, and thanks to his accidental discovery of music, he's gone a bit off track.

Eleven years has enabled Trius to assume a new identity.  Bill is living a quiet life as a family man by day, and struggling musician by night.  Hiding his big secret in plain sight, he uses his costume and story to entertain the drinkers and send his daughter to sleep at night.  All is fine until Kevin appears.

Kevin was sent from Hondo as well to get the job done, but Kevin is fat, and a bit slow, and when he hears music, well it's pretty much the same result, only with much more enthusiasm.  First on his list, falling in love with the cop who responds to his overenthusiastic reaction to the strange new sounds in the air.  The new two piece band are a big hit, but they have more danger on the horizon, as Hondo sent someone else to spoil the party.

Future Folk is charmingly low budget, and apart from some small continuity issues the story is funny and smart, and surprisingly family-friendly for an evening Hyde Park performance.  Comparisons to Flight of the Conchords are warranted, both being indie productions with the duo peppering their songs throughout the film to break things up (although the Conchords songs are much better).  But it's funny and entertaining and sweet-natured and cool.  A good one for the couples. 7.5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 13

The Fourth Dimension (US/Rus/Pol) (review)

Unfortunately, I didn't make it in to the venue for the first of the three short films that make up this trilogy, each linked together by the concept of the fourth dimension: time.  It's reminiscent of Tales from the Golden Age from a few years back  The Lotus Community Workshop starred Val Kilmer and what I saw of it might have been the best of the three but, oh well.

Chronoeye (Rus) - Grigory is a single man, living in an inhospitable tower block.  But he has some secrets.  First, he is a scientist, and one that turned down an awful lot of money some time ago when he proved an unsolved theorem.  Second, he's just built a time machine.  It can't do much but with it he can see through the eyes of people at any given point in history.  But usually at interesting point, the average person is doing nothing special.  Grigory is distraught, and his noisy neighbour, who plays thumpy music in the flat above all day, isn't helping, but maybe he is looking in the wrong place for fulfilment. 7/10

Fawns (Pol) - Four dropout teens happen upon a village, completely deserted.  With nothing holding them back they indulge their temptation to loot and filsch through people's houses, joyride, and generally be douches.  But the klaxxons in the background warn of an impending danger.  Frustrating though it is to see the wasters do their thing (especially the gormless ones) but it's setting the scene for the last act. 7/10

Louis Le Prince Short Film Competition 4

Eileen Pratt (Australia) - Treated as trash from the start, Eileen Pratt has led a lonesome life.  On her last warning at the bus company, she needs to keep her head down.  A sad tale of a forgotten person. 7.5/10

Date Setters (Nor) - A date is set when they must all come together and perform their well-rehersed act.  Men and women dress for the occasion and meet together in a cold, empty room.  And then out come the guns.  A strange entry about the practice of date setting. 5/10

Mikhobbi Fi Kobba (Fra) - Young Amal came home drunk from a party, and her mother suspects the worst, but to Amal's dispair she is more ready to take brother Firas's explanation of last nights events and the reasons for her injuries.  But someone is lying and the truth is not going to be easy to take. A good film about the problems when a person is torn between culture and family. 7.5/10

King of Comics (Ger) (imdb)

This one was a squeeze to get in as it conflicted with the short films beforehand, but given the iffy nature of the equipment over the last few days I decided to chance my arm on a ticket and leave the short films before they finished.  Ralf König is a gay man in Germany, responsible for some of the early gay scene comics beginning in the 1980s.  This documentary profiles the man via Rene, a huge fan from Switzerland who doesn't try to hide the fact that he's besotted with König, as much as with his work.

As König's art gained popularity, and even some mainstream acceptance in Germany, he found the subject matter changing from mainly humorous skits on what it meant to be gay, to a more political stance; he was asked by the German health council to help promote condoms among the gay community, which at that point considered them only as an anti-baby device, and in response to the episodes with the catholic church and the Islamic embassy bombings, began to see his work as an affecter of change, or a mirror up to the evil.  Djinn Djinn, one of his later (and frankly as ballsy as you can get) books, looks at homosexuality in Islam, and in the Taliban.

König's work is comical but explicit, so will be shocking to many who see it, although his style of art, and the comedy within his the cartoons (many of which are shown and read out by the man himself, on one of his book tours) are disarming and funny even for straight people, which explains his cultural appeal across sexual boundaries.  Noses will be put out of joint and tolerances tried with the content, but I am confident König will win over all but the most phobic of viewers. 7.5/10

British Animation Panorama: Animate Wildly

A selection of British animated films, too numerous to make it into the competition this year.

Jamon - Hose the pig boy can't work out why he's so different to the rest of his family, until a chance sighting of his porcine neighbour highlights his true origins.  7/10

Things Change - Someone managed to get use of a large brick wall, and used it to paint a scene of an industrial town growing, and then falling to ruin, as everything does.  An epic project nicely done. 7.5/10

Seen and not Seen - A black and white charcoal world is not enough for one office drone, but he finds it difficult to keep his new found colourful outlook on life hidden once he has tasted it.  A messy scribble of a work without a focus, lets down what could have been much better. 6/10

Blue - A boy is born invisible and is painted blue so he can be seen.  Now an adult, he has been unable to become close to anyone, until a strange red woman appears on the bus.  Sweet but a bit hackneyed. 7/10

Cherrywood Cannon - Richard E Grant narrates a story of a terrible ruler of a faraway land, who hears of an all-conquering cannon of ages old, which he declares must be rebuilt to fight 'the enemy'.  Just a shame he didn't read the whole story.  Stringy, wretched characters haunting a desolate world. 7.5/10

Belly - A surreal trip to the seaside by two friends.  One is lost at sea, leaving little Oscar and his imaginary friend to go find him. A huge and hungry whale at the bottom of the sea holds him but Oscar must give something away in return.  Not bad but a bit confusing. 6/10

Countdown - The final moments before blastoff are animated using simple shapes and lines to describe knobs and dials, as everything gets ready.  A thumping techno soundtrack and a blast of colour lifts it. 7.5/10

Tosh - In a satirical style mocking the fancy paintings in big houses, the confession of an arrogant, pridefull toff lays bare the mysoginy and exclusivity of the spoilt upper class.  7/10

Aeolian - A strange little creature, the size of a grain of wheat falls to earth, and as he learns about the natural world around him, the beauty and the brutality, the life and death, he grows until he reaches his destination.  Beautiful and relaxing. 8/10

My Face In Space - A story about Larry Wilson, one of the people whose picture was taken and sent into space in the Voyager space craft.  How he handled the fame, and what happened when the aliens didn't come. 7.5/10

World Animation Award 2

Just for good measure, there was a load more animated films in competition as well, though due to some equipment issues a couple of the films had to be dropped.

The Last Bus (Slo) - Shown again from yesterday as it had knacked up that time. 7.5/10

Body Memory (Est) - This film cut out before the end, but it's carnage.  String people, locked up in a crate are violently unravelled out of existence by an unknown foe. (Not scored)

My.. My.. (Chn) - Silent films with intertitles are brought sort of up to date, as a cartoon man enters a psychadelic world and promptly has his clothes stolen.  Chasing the thief naked through an 8-bit platformer-style environment, he is thwarted at every turn. Crazy, funky, playful and colourful. 8/10

Junkyard (Bel/Ned) - A chance clash with a mugger on the subway ends in tragedy for Paul, but not before his life flashes before his eyes and reminds him of the person plunging the knife into his chest.  A neat little film let down slightly by some unexpressive faces on the main players. 7.5/10

Next Door Letters (Swe) - A sweet little film about two girls who plot to tease another in their class by sending a false love letter to her.  Unexpectedly, Melitia writes back and intrigued, Lilja keeps the correspondence going as the two become closer.  But at some point she is going to find out.  An initially off-putting art style is overcome by a tale based on a true story. 7.5/10

Moxie (UK) - A deeply surreal tale about the last days of a hedonistic, existential bear in his constantly ablaze flat.  Crazy mad. 6/10

Berlin Recyclers (Ger) - Stop motion on the streets of Berlin, looking into darkened corners to see the animated life within, made completely from rubbish picked up off the floor.  Random and thumping but ok. 7/10

Much Better Now (Aus/Ita) - A lonely bookmark, trapped in a weighty volume gets a chance of something more exciting when a window flutters the pages about.  Cool animation and a positive vibe. 7.5/10

Shelved (NZ) - Two robot warehouse workers scoff as a leaving card for one of their colleagues gets passed around.  Someone is getting replaced.. by a human!  Realistic CGI interacting with the real world on a low budget, but the sound was off. 7/10