BIFF 2012 - Day 8

If you're looking for day 7, there isn't one.  I spent some quality time with Ms. Plants, and it didn't include films.

The Bear That Wasn't (US) - The last ever MGM cartoon short.  By this point the MGM output was distinctly different (lower budget and, for my money a poorer quality output), but you can still see the echoes of Chuck Jones' best times in this final goodbye, although his style at this point had become so abstract as to barely resemble the output from 20 years previous.  The Bear wakes from a peaceful hibernation deep beneath the forests to find a new scene above, and the suits in increasing positions of power won't budge from their insistence of being right that the silly man should take off his fur coat and get back to work.  I would have hoped the last cartoon would be a final hurrah for the cinema short but its more of a poorly-animated whimper in a faux-Disney style, using and reusing frames to cut back on development time, something Chuck Jones must have looked at with frustration when he saw the final product. 6/10

Wrinkles (Spa) (site)

One way to approach the sensitive subject of the steady slide into the fogged ether of Alzeihmers is to use a medium other than traditional filmmaking.  Wrinkles uses animation rather than live action to allow the viewer to have a degree of distance between the artificial (though believable) lives on screen and what may be going through the heads of the viewer.

The audience for this screening was noticeably populated with many elderly, filling out the theatre quite nicely.  Probably raising nostalgic warmth from their youth by the short, Wrinkles may have been a bit too close for comfort.  Set in a specialist care home for the elderly, with large metal gates and chain-link fences just beyond the pleasant gardens, ex-bank manager Emilio - capable of the odd moment of confusion, but generally lucid - begins the first day of the rest of his life.  He shares a room with shady dealer Miguel, who has the measure of his fellow inmates and has learned to give them what they think they want, for a couple of the euros they won't be using anyway.

Miguel's selfish don't sink attitude to life causes problems, but when Emilio's possessions start to disappear its clear that Miguel as chief suspect is crossing a line.  But Emilio's fears about his failing health and further descent fill his faltering mind and as his time gets increasingly desperate, an escape for a final fling is too enticing to refuse.

Made on a lower budget than your average Disney flick, Wrinkles is noticeably choppy - the frame rate is quite low (relying on computer animation here and there for smoothness, which makes some traditionally animated things like a car pulling away look even worse), and the lip sync is not much better than a Japanese TV animé, but fortunately the story underneath is worthy enough to ignore these small things.  Wrinkles feels well-researched and tackles the sensitive subjects with humour and gentle wit without ever feeling cloying or saccharine.  It's intended audience may love it or loathe it for it's accurate portrayal but you can't fault it for that. 8/10

Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z (US) - My favourite WB cartoons from my childhood were always the Road Runner ones - but looking back many of them are basically very similar slapstick sequences that kind of merge into one.  This is one of the more inventive examples, the use of the 'Bat Man' suit and the painted road put some variety in between the anvils and dynamite. 6.5/10

Crooks in Cloisters (UK) (wiki)

A low-level band of criminals, after yet another botched robbery where the police are a step ahead of them, decide it's time to lay low for a bit.  Gang leader Walter and his squeeze 'Bikini' (Barbara Windsor) has sorted out an unorthodox guise for their gang to hide out - replacing the monks at an island monastery off Newquay (which is actually filmed in Portloe, Cornwall).

Jail-type cells and some slim pickings in the vegetable patches don't convince the gang members, but the cavernous basements make for an ideal place to print money and forge jewels, all they have to do is look monkish for the occasional visitor and keep Bikini's implausible hairdo hooded over.

My only Babs Windsor Retrospective film in the festival.  Crooks in Cloisters is everything you would expect from a low-budget late 60's comedy flick from these shores.  Lots of xylophone-based incidental music, a bleached colour scheme and a range of people falling over and being generally boorish and clumsy.  If that sort of thing will put you off a film, there's probably not much here to lift you into enjoying what it has to offer.  But it is pretty enjoyable if you can stomach the carry on skin and the ending is almost sentimental. Almost. 7/10

Negative (Isr) - An older woman and younger man strike up a conversation after she catches him in the lens of her camera, and takes him back to her place to show him some exposures.  But before they can get down to anything, her granddaughter visits, and she likes the look of him too.  A nice little film about taking what you want even if convention says it's not for you, and a refreshing change from output from the middle east, which often involves some sort of hard-edged conflict. 7.5/10

The War Zone (Ita/UK) (wiki)

The first of a double helping of Ray Winstone films.

A 2+2 family move from London to the Devon coast to a Father Ted-style house in the middle of nowhere.  Mum is about to have her third baby and Dad is loving and doting when not on the phone to work.  Tom and Jess are brother and sister with a rebellious streak and the usual moody moods, which on the way to the hospital for a hurried birth, ends up with the car on it's roof and the baby born in a puddle.

So far, it's a gentle melodrama about a family recovering after an accident, and the siblings' attitudes and contemptuous faces are viewed as products of their hormones.  But the audience is forced to see things in a different light when Tom's suspicions of his otherwise ideal husband father are raised a couple of notches.  A shared bath here, a set of explicit photos there and the audience quickly runs out of excuses to think he is whiter than white.  An old machine gun bunker on the rocky coast gives Tom and the audience the final confirmation, and it is horrific.

Ray Winstone's performance looks necessarily subdued and out of character at the start but gathers an unsettling momentum as the layers fall away.  The performance by the young leads are fantastic and daring, and the pain experienced is real.  Tilda Swanson did just have a child (with the associated post-pregnancy tummy for authenticity) and when Jess burns herself with a lighter to take her mind off the nightmare, there is no safety net.  A shocking, chilling film with little cause for optimism, but a powerful experience. 8/10

Rabbit Fire (US) - The best of the Warner Bros. cartoons (I've decided, from my current adult perspective) involve Bugs and Daffy in their roles as sparring comrades.  This is a great example, where we have the brilliant 'Rabbit Season/Duck Season' clash around a largely clueless Elmer Fudd.  Sharp, smart slapstick. 8/10

Beowulf (US) (site)

In a time of Danish Vikings on a cold, unforgiving Scandinavian coast, the old Norse gods still roam.  The king of the Danes is plagued by Grendel, a towering troll who objects to loud music playing keeping him up all night, and because they party hard in ignorance of this, Grendel decides to throw some of them into walls and bite their heads off.

From across the waters comes Beowulf the Geat, bringing with him tales of heroism, looking to settle a favour owed by his father: to come and kill the beast. But though Grendel is fallable, he has a protective mother and she has different ways of overcoming her foes.

Falling foul of the prejudices I often bemoan in other people, I was expecting Beowulf, what with it being a computer animated film to not be particularly icky.  I was wrong.  Beowulf is the first film in a long while to make me wince at gratuitous violence involving sharp swords and decapitation, even though the computer graphics capabilities of 2007 still hadn't quite made it to a photo-realistic standard.  Grendel's early attack on the village is particularly bloodthirsty with blood and limbs flying everywhere, not to mention Grendel himself, a disgustingly disfigured troll-creature that slavers and sweats over his many victims. Gaah.

So, if anyone thinks of seeing this (surprisingly) 12A film with their kids 'because its a cartoon and cartoons are for kids' I would say perhaps you shouldn't just this once unless you fancy a shock.  The barbarism is mixed with a good deal of nudity, and I could swear the naked body double for Angelina Jolie is no computer model but actual sexy curves in the flesh.  Anyone else who fancies an eye-popping IMAX film with a good quality 3D interpretation of the original legend and a decent plot that doesn't become just a series of fights (thanks to Robert Zemekis directing and Neil Gaiman helping write the screenplay) could do a whole lot worse than this. 7.5/10

Handschlag (Swi) - A lonesome plasterer gets the opportunity for a taste of what it is to be a father when he is given an 'immersion partnership' - an apprenticeship lad to teach the ways of DIY.  But things get complicated when his colleague questions why it is not his kid getting life lessons. Competent but nothing special. 7/10

Beyond These Mountains (Swi/Ger) (site)

Two best friends, about to take their medical exams, look to getting an apartment together.  Heidi is studious but Milena isn't so bothered about an academic future, seeing her part time job at the shoe shop as some sort of badge of adulthood.  Boyfriends, money and lecherous managers get in the way of realising their dreams.  Or something like that.

Maybe it's one of those times when I'm too tired, but this film just seemed too loosely strung together to make much sense.  In the end they may have got their flat, one might have found a boyfriend, and the other gets the sack, but little else happens and then there's a metaphorical mountain climb at the end where one gives up halfway and the other carries on into the fog in unsuitable shoes.  We were told that the director had a knack for framing his pictures with interesting objects, which I suppose it did (there were some nice pictures of the Alps) but maybe some work on telling a story as well would have been nice. 4/10

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