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

LIFF 2012 Day 12

Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition 1

The Extraordinary Life of Rocky (Bel) - Poor Rocky is cursed so everyone who he has a love for (including his unfortunate pet dog meets with a gruesome end.  Hiding himself away from the world to stop any more accidents, can he ever find happiness?  A bittersweet narrative tale. 7.5/10

Men of the Earth (Australia) - Ever wondered why there are sometimes groups of workmen at the roadside, seemingly doing nothing while holding traffic up?  This film, which includes a very long choreographed scene, attempts to answer the question. 7/10

Frozen Stories (Pol) - Two young supermarket workers find their lives made immeasurably worse when their boss punishes them for bad work, having to go on the popular 'unhappiest man of the month' reality show, and treats them accordingly to make sure they win.  An interesting concept, but executed coldly and with some stupid dialogue. 5/10

Matador on the Road (Spa) - An elderly matador is forced out of retirement and flown to America to take centre stage in the country's first bullfight, but an unrehearsed, unexpected bovine encounter on the way brings back troubling memories.  Good, but nowhere near as brilliant as the many awards flashed up at the start seemed to suggest. 6.5/10

My Sweetheart (Fra) - Estelle is taking her sister Romaine to see her boyfriend Laurie on their big day.  They both have learning difficulties and have been allowed out of their care home on a holiday, and they intend to take their relationship to the next stage.  But the complexities of love are a strain on their fragile tempers and it isn't long before Estelle is very much needed to help out, and the confidentiality of sisterhood is tested to the limit.  A sensitive look at the complications of love. 7.5/10

Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition 2

Beatitudes (Gre) - An old man is reminded of the past as be prepares to join the streets once more in the street protests.  One by one, ghosts haunt his mind and sit beside him, challenging the decisions that he took.  Mysterious and beautiful. 7.5/10

My Bow Breathing (Ita) - An archer takes a trip out at night, complete with her equipment, determined to seek revenge on those who wronged her.  Bloody and direct. 7.5/10

Fireworks (Fra) - The union workers of a massive steelworks come together under a rallying cry of the latest person to suffer loss, to put an end to the company's safety record and chemical spills.  Some pretentious dialogue spoils it. 6/10

House Party (Rom) - After a spell away with her husband in hospital, housewife Moni returns to her little flat which appears spotless, but when her chattery neighbours start to weigh in, a story about the antics of her son, left alone in the house over the weekend, starts to form.  Featuring possibly the most dialogue-intense subtitles I've ever read.  I was out of breath! 6.5/10

Nasty Bitter Sweet (Bel) - A spate of 'metro pushings' - where innocent tube-goers have been pushed in front of the trains has left one woman out of her mind with worry about her partner.  But when he turns up OK afterwards, it's not relief but anger she feels.  A mysterious man on the tube system - lank and with unkempt hair takes an interest, and in her confused state she responds, but the stranger seems to hang around the tube a lot, is she too blind to see?  A French mystery with the usual random philosophising.  6.5/10

All Men are Called Robert (Fra) - A naked man runs through the woods, carried along by the sweet but vulnerable voice of a woman calling him for help.  But there are also hunters on his tail.  A short film with a quick twist. 7/10

Alois Nebel (Cze/Ger) (site)

In the high Jeseniky Mountains, Alois Nebel works in peace.  It's 1989, that year used so often in films from this area, and the upheavals of regime change are a world away as he works out his final pre-retirement years as a station guard on a remote platform.  That changes when a stranger passes through the area on the way to the border, chased by dogs and men.  He has something to hide by running, and the forces that be will have that information.

Captured but silent, everyone the man talked to is questioned; and Alois' quiet demeanour is mistaken for something to hide.  This jolting out of a stable position brings back memories of the past, and the end of the second world war when young Alois and the stranger seem to be linked somehow.

Bleakly animated in black and white using a rotoscoping technique, Alois Nebel's snowcovered grounds and perpetually black skies, and the dark and seemingly hopeless situation he is in, is entirely suited to the animation style.  But there is just something, maybe the robotic not-quite-right bodily movements, or the coldness and lack of compassion shown by just about every character, that makes it hard to embrace fully.  Technically accomplished, and I'm certainly glad I saw it, I just can't recommend it enthusiastically. 7/10

World Animation Award 2012 Part 1

There was meant to be ten films here, but the projection equipment began to croak as we hit number seven.

Fear of Flying (Ire) - A cute and cheerful tale of Dougal, a bird that can't fly, but gets a good reason to try when he catches the eye of Lucy, who is about to fly south for the winter.  Fresh and humerous, well worth the time. 8/10

Dr. Breakfast (US) - Two deer attempt to look after a man, unable to move as the hunger monster within him escapes and eats everything in it's path.  A crazy, energy-packed animation with a style very similar to Spongebob and Ren and Stimpy. 8/10

The Pub (UK) - Using a rotoscoping technique to get the main forms of the characters, and then finishing off with pen lines to create expression, The Pub shows us a day in the life of a landlady, and all the stick she has to put up with from the idiots that crawl into her pub.  Depressing but interesting. 7.5/10

Deep Shit! (Ned) - The band Deep Shit is in deep shit after making a pact with the devil to get some of the best songs he has lying around.  Loud and colourful and energetic, similar in style to Sita Sings the Blues, but a little messy story-wise. 7/10

Fly Mill (Est) - In a creepy world inhabited by scary-eyed dolls, a baker uses dead flies to grind up into flour and make bread for his ducks, who are hunted down as soon as they take flight, but the baker has a surprise in store for the hunters.  Grim and icky. 7/10

Red River, Song Hong (Fra) - A mix of computer generated character models overlaid onto the busy streets of Hanoi, Vietnam, makes for a beautiful, if confusing story of a young boy going to the city to work with his brothers, who busk for money.  Left alone with his dog and a few supplies under a bridge, it doesn't take long before a cow, a lost ball and a furtive soldier trying to get his end away with his girlfriend makes for a dangerous combination for him. 7/10

The Great Rabbit (Jpn) - I'm not even going to score this - the equipment made it unwatchable - the video kept freezing but the sound gallopped along so the last half of the film was in complete silence.  It didn't look that good, but it would have been better if we could see it properly.

The Last Bus (Slo) - This was just about watchable but with a nasty drone in the background (not the films fault I'm sure).  A group of assorted humanoid forest creatures hurry to board the last bus out of the forest before the hunters come for them.  The mix of live action and animal heads and a stop-motion feel to the frame rate gave this a creepy, atmospheric feel. 7.5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 11

Got a day almost completely full of anime today.  One disturbing, one crazy and two action-packed.

Asura (Jpn) (site)

In feudal Japan, many lost their lives in the chaos as lords vied for power, and the villages were the ones on the receiving end.  An unnamed mother staggers out of the fireball that used to be her village.  She is heavily pregnant, and her waters have broken.

Bringing up a child in the aftermath is hard.  Food and water are scarce, so when the desperate mother chances upon the rotting flesh of a corpse, she feeds herself, and her child on it.  So little Asura learns the taste of human flesh.

Somehow surviving past his mothers' death, Asura lives feral like a beast, attacking what is left of the village, killing indiscriminately for human food.  His humanity lost, and never knowing a mothers love he knows not how to handle young Wakasa, a girl who finds him and shows kindness where all others would fear or attack him,

Based on the 40-year old manga by George Akayama, this big screen adaptation attempts to capture some of the raw emotion dealing with love, humanity and savagery.  Some considerable time has been spent with the animation and background work, which are exceptional, even though the character design, a sort of standard 2D anime style wrapped around 3D models to create a Corpse Bride style, takes a little getting used to.  Story-wise, the film's seemingly hopeless world continues it's tale slowly but surely, with a half-half mix of heartstrings-pulling and fighty action scenes to keep both sides happy.  I don't think it will stand up so well against a good read of the original (I haven't) but in it's own right, it's a pretty powerful example of an emotional anime. 7.5/10

Vanishing Waves (Lit) (wiki)

Today would have been completely anime'd up were it not for a repeat screening of Wolf Children next weekend, so in it's place I took the opportunity to see Vanishing Waves.  Winning the Golden Melee at Sitges this year, Vanishing Waves takes place mostly in the world of the subconscious.  Lukus is a doctor and volunteer in a pioneering experiment to link two minds together.  His double-blind partner is a woman in a comatose state after a car crash, and taking advantage of the reduced neural traffic she is volunteered in the hope they might be able to bring her out of it.

But once inside her mind and over a series of 'connections', Lukus falls completely and passionately in love with her.  Unaware of how his mental revelations will affect the continuation of the experiment, he plays down the results to keep the experiment going, but the doctors are suspicious, and each time he dives, the fantasies turn darker and hint at the reasons for the crash, and why she doesn't want to wake up.

Vanishing Waves' provocative and darkly erotic episodes sit starkly against the tightly controlled conditions of the laboratory.  Cleverly using the idea of a motiveless, consequence-free dream world for Lukus and Aurora to indulge in a number of sexually explicit fantasies, this film won't be one you would want to watch with your parents.  It may even be necessary for the men in the audience to bring a book with them and not to read, if you know what I mean (seriously, actress Jurga Jutaite spends most of her time naked and even when she isn't, is extremely pleasant on the eye).  Apart from a little bit of cardboard English-spoken-by-foreigners though, the film creates and imaginative fantasy world, is very well acted, and even if it doesn't always make sense (as dreams tend not to do) it does deliver a powerful and life-affirming story, with some scenes staying in the mind long after the credits. 7.5/10

Tiger and Bunny: The Beginning (Jpn) (wiki)

In a Japanese vision of a future America, superheroism has become a commercial sport.  X-Men style mutants, the NEXTs of the world are few and far between, but when they are discovered, they typically find good money to be had in the crimefighting/saving people business.  Around this has grown an industry, a JRPG-type scoring system based on perps dispatched or people saved, with bonuses for things such as being first on the scene means that the heroes are constantly competing with each other, for a large cash prize at the end of each season.  A dedicated Hero TV station broadcasts the ensuing crimefighting (and directs most of it for good ratings) and beams it straight into people's homes.  Unsurprisingly, the big companies have got on board, and their costumes are splattered with logos for soft drinks and fast food chains.

Wild Tiger is one such hero, but with a downmarket sponsor and a rubbish costume, his points tally is near the bottom.  His insistence on saving people and fighting for justice also gets in the way of the big bonuses, but he's also stubborn.  A merger with a large faceless corporation gives him a new boss, and a mysterious new partner, Barnaby for the new season.  But even though the new guy wows the audiences, he won't play ball and the forced partners end up predictably at loggerheads.

Tiger and Bunny is a playful anime, taking the mick out of itself and also anime in general, from the loud and colourful opening, feeling just like any standard big robot anime series, to the little girl heroes and the improbable hero suits.  Playing with the formula, you get akira-style bikes with humiliating sidecars, unreliable special powers and a swipe at the use of gratuitous crotch shots, with the use of, er, gratuitous crotch shots.

It's a few years since I had a good anime binge, and the technology has moved noticeably forward.  The computer graphics route is now standard but (as with Asura before it) is much more naturally integrated with the traditional cell-drawn animation as to feel much more satisfying than, say Sword of the Stranger a couple of years ago.  Tiger and Bunny is a colourful, action-packed laugh, a blast of fresh air after the raw emotion drain of Asura. 7.5/10

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 1 - The Egg of the King (Jpn) (wiki)

The Berserk saga has been told in both manga and anime form, I remember the original series as one of the old Manga Video titles from back in the 90's.  This, the first in a double-bill of Berserk films at the festival marks the latest retelling of the mercenary Guts and his blood-soaked journey through medievel european lands.

Showing up alone at a castle siege with nothing but his bloodied, oversized sword, Guts dispatches Bazuso, an armoured mental case and proves his worth, so capturing the eye of Griffith, the leader of the Band of the Hawks, a mercenary group.  After a good deal of pointy-stabby persuasion, Guts reluctantly suppresses his lone wolf nature and joins the group, to the disgust of just about everyone in it, including Corcus, a spunky young woman more than able to hold her own in a swordfight, who becomes jealous of the time Guts' gets to spend with her beloved leader.

Mercenaries for hire, the effective combination of Guts' strength and Griffiths agility mean gainful employment in the Midland-Chuder wars some years later.  The Midland king has dissenting voices among his ranks, however, and General Julius, the second in line to the throne doesn't want any ignoble blood rising through the ranks to kingship.

I was blown away by the quality of Berserk; the animation was flawless, and you can't see the joins where computer meets traditional cell painting (if that is still happening at all).  The style is on the realistic side of the anime scale, ensuring the viewer isn't given any reason to be distanced from the meaty plot, and aside from the main characters all looking eastern while the grunts are more western in appearance, they do an excellent job of recreating an olde worlde England of sorts. 

It's an adult anime; so there is plenty of blood, severed flesh, naughty words, and the odd naked body (not to mention the homoerotic overtones), but it never feels gratuitous, rather surprisingly visceral and human, given the amount of spit and polish applied to it.  I can't wait to catch the next episode. 8/10 

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc 2 - The Battle for Doldrey (Jpn)

Straight after the first, came the second film (theres a third arc due at the end of the year).  Though Griffin is making progress through the ranks, he still hasn't attained nobility, or a kingdom.  The hundred years war between factions looms on and presents him with an opportunity for both - the castle of Doldrey, thought impregnable remains a last stranglehold of the Chuder side, and the king promises much if it can fall.  But a 5000 strong army is surely no match for one six times the size, even with Guts near the front.  But Guts has his own issues.  A lone mercenary, his closeness to nobility is reminding him of it's stench and questions begin to form in his mind - why is he following Griffin in pursuit of his dreams?

The quality of te animation doesn't dip, in fact you could argue it improves.  The story rushes on apace, and the action never lets up and by the end I wanted to see the final instalment but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait.  Fingers crossed for Bradford. 8/10

LIFF 2012 Day 10

Ernest and Celestine (Fra) (review)

The madcap A Town Called Panic is showing as part of the retrospectives section, but you wouldn't be able to guess that it's by the same people behind this film.  A completely different artistic style and medium, Ernest and Celestine is aimed at a younger audience and based on the books by Gabrielle Vincent.

Celestine is a little mouse, growing up lonely in a mouse convent and having to suffer the constant drill of the sister in charge,  Like the others, she is tasked with going above ground to the world of the bears above, where discarded bear teeth are a valuable commodity.  But Celestine's mind wanders and she paints and draws instead, much to the ire of her peers.  Ernest is a large, permanently hungry bear.  When not sleeping or eating, he's earning a few pennies with his one bear band, something that gets him into trouble with the police above ground. 

When the two meet during one of Ernest's night-time garbage looting they quickly become inseparable, but the world of the mouse and the bear do not belong together, as forever told by both sides, and they are exiled from both societies.

Much less wacky than their previous film, Ernest and Celestine is a beautiful, half-finished watercolour masterpiece, still bearing some of the slapstick from A Town Called Panic, but tempering it for the more sedate and heart-warming story of learning to get along.  It's squarely aimed at children, but there is much for the accompanying mums and dads to enjoy here too.  An easy recommendation. 8/10

British Short Film Competition 2012
I Am Tom Moody - Tom Moody is on stage at his first gig with a bad case of stage fright.  His inner voice, Tom Moody the child is telling him he can't go on.  Very funny animated film with the voices of Mackenzie Crook and his son Jude. 8/10

Don't Hug Me I'm Scared - A jolly, colourful Sesame Street-esque childrens show about being creative, gets a little too creative.  Totally unexpected and crazy, employing several visual mediums to embrace the chaos. 8/10

Firewater Dreams - In a similar vein to yesterdays Apocalypse, this mini biography of Leeds-born guitarist and homeschooled folk singer Michael Chapman as he pays a return trip to the Count House, the site of his first big break many years ago.  Nice and everything but I didn't feel the connection to the man and it went on a little too long. 6.5/10

Dylan's Room - A single mother (The Thick Of It's Joanna Scanlan) mills around the untidy bedroom of her globetrotting (and maybe missing) son.  Thanks to his medicinal compounds and a nearby lighter, she imagines him there again, and the conversations she might, and would like to have had. 8/10

Walk Tall - You don't see many 85-year olds standing at the top of a 30ft tree, but 1948 olympian George Weedon remains spritely and spirited.  Here he shares with us whether we like it or not, the keys to a supple body and healthy spine into old age.  An affectionate and very funny semi-animated look at the life of a formidable man. (go here for the full film) 8/10

Return of the Sun - A short but concise mini-documentary about the lives of Greenlanders, focusing on the period of the year when they come out of perpetual winter night, and the effects of global warming on their livelihoods. 7/10

Porcelain - The secret life of a drinking mug is exposed in this part-animated short film.  Murray the mug shares his daily routine, his sugar addiction and the existential worries about being broken or replaced.  It's pretty funny but the joke wears a bit thin midway through. 7/10

Worm - Still a little emotional after his the funeral, an encounter with a worm with hallucinogenic properties convinces Phillip that it is the reincarnation of his late father.  Amusing but macabre. 7/10

The Hyperwomen (Bra) (mubi)

All cultures are affected by the new ousting the old.  The opening scenes of The Hyperwomen demonstrate this well; elderly Kanu, aunt to many of the younger members of the tribe, is the only one left who has in her memory the songs of her people.  She lies naked but for a tribal belt around her waist in a hammock, seriously ill.  Her husband, similarly letting it all hang out sits concerned nearby.  By contrast, her nieces and nephews work the fields in modern clothing, travelling by truck and using modern technologies we all take for granted today.

But all of that is about to change with the upcoming Jamurilkamalu festival, an extra-tribal get-together to remind the people of their roots and strengthen the social bonds that keep them together.  Several tribes of the Brazilian rainforests come together, and there is much preparation to do. 

And we get to see.  The process of the whole tribe re-learning the songs falls to Kanu to pass the knowledge on to her immediates, who go into the community and spread the word; but the songs are not complete, and a pile of old cassette tapes must be dug out and listened to.  This contains one of the most enjoyable scenes, where Amazonian tribesmen and women have to do that thing we have all had to - use their fingers to wind the tape back in.

It takes a little time to get going, but interest in The Hyperwomen builds as the songs go from nondescript mumblings of a single voice to an entire tribe, kitted up in colourful headgear and the crests of their parents painted over their bodies.  The festival (and the raucous night before) is worth the wait, and the privileged footage must have come as a result of many months of footage, and god knows how much preparation beforehand to get so intimately within the tribe. 7.5/10

Jason Becker's Not Dead Yet (UK/US) (site)

Jason Becker is the mega rock star you have never heard of.  Archive footage from the 1980's shows a formidable talent, entirely self-taught around the electric guitar.  Proficient with the guitar by 14, and by the late 80's he was getting recognised by some of the major labels of the day.  In 1990, after a gold-selling album with his band Cacophony and a solo period, no lesser talent than David Lee Roth had signed him up as a replacement to the outgoing Steve Vai.

Unfortunately - and devastatingly - the degenerative motor-neurone disease ALS, the same condition that affects Stephen Hawking, struck him down before they could release anything.  Within a year, he went from walking, to hobbling with a crutch, and after losing the ability to play his beloved chords, lost most of the rest of his bodily movements. It hit the man very hard and lesser people may have given up.

Obviously, Jason Becker is Not Dead Yet, hence the title,  Though ALS often results in death, it is as much down to the will to fight of the sould trapped inside as it is to maintain physical health.  Becker never lost his will to continue writing music, and even though he can no-longer directly play, a specially adapted computer and some proprietry eye-sign language allows him to communicate his compositions, slowly but surely, note by note.

Though initially suffering from similar 'who-he?' issues to Apocalypse, this story of the man who came back from the brink and continues to do his thing against all odds, and the dedicated family and friends who help him acheive it is inspiring and noble.  Becker was and is immensely likeable and the film does a very good job of communicating the emotional bonds between those who care for him.  8/10

LIFF 2012 Day 9

UK Short Film Panorama
I was late for the start of this, and consequently missed the first two features, The Search for Inspiration Gone and The Half Light, which I can maybe catch next year.

Pitch Black Heist (imdb) - Two safecrackers (Liam Cunningham and Michael Fassbender) come together as hired hands in a plot to steal some swag.  The loot is in a room where the alarms go off if any light enters.  They rehearse the steps together to get to the safe and slowly become friends.  Everything looks to be going to plan, until their new friendship naturally lends itself to going down the pub and getting drunk. Filmed in artsy grinyvision, it's a good little film even though you do spend a couple of minutes staring at a blank screen. 7/10

All That Glisters (site) - A beautiful stop-motion animation film using fabric dolls to play the parts of a daughter-father pairing, as they make the most of the few moments they have left together.  Some simple but effective music, but the little movements in the animation make it special. 8/10

Beginning (imdb) - Told in a style where present and future scenes are mixed together until they combine, a shy woman ventures outside for the first time and meets a young and disarming man.  A gently affecting film about recovery. 8/10

Walking the Dogs (site) - Emma Thompson plays the Queen, who in 1982, thanks to some low walls and inattentive servants, is paid a visit by a strange man (Tyrannosaur's Eddie Marsan) in her bedroom.  The back and forth of the conversation that ensues is pitched just right, telling an improbable but plausable story that actually happened. 8/10

The Eternal Breasts (Jpn) (imdb)

It's easy to guess that a film titled The Eternal Breasts, originating from Japan, is going to be one of those films where half-naked and/or angry schoolgirls get superpowers from their chest area, and go off and do wacky superhero things against a drooling pervert in a giant rubber suit.  Plenty of examples from the crazy isle support this line of thought.

But The Eternal Breasts is nearly 60 years old, and not remotely pervy.  Based on a real-life story, female director Kinuyo Tanaka  tells a story of Fumiko, a young woman in an unhappy relationship, living a modest life in the beautiful Hokkaido hills.  Left to fend for herself and her children when her husband leaves, she gets a second knock with the onset of breast cancer, shattering what dreams she still clung onto for a happy life.  Her sole remaining outlet is haiku poetry, which thanks to a submission by old friend Hori is getting noticed.  As Fumiko's state worsens, a Tokyo reporter comes into her life, and trying to convince her he is there for more than her final poetry, begs her to live.

Kinuyo Tanaka, a famous actress and later director (women directing films is a rarity amongst Japanese filmmakers, even today) is the focus of a LIFF retrospective, unfortunately this is the only one of her films I could make.  That's a shame because it really does stand up well to films of today and makes me curious to see more of her work.  The copy we saw was pretty worn but still very watchable, and the quality of the film itself was surprising; lots of modern pan and zoom shots, and some beautiful cinematography.  It's a proper weepie too.  7.5/10

Jumbo Records Presents

Jumbo Records is an independent record store in the heart of Leeds, and they have teamed up with MusicFilmWeb to bring a double bill of films on the subject of independent music.

Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film (US) (review)

Given the whoops in the audience I guess Bill Callahan is quite well known but he had passed under my radar until now.  He's an American indie artist, whose output is a sort of drawn, velvety vision of a Johnny Cash dystopia on the move.  This film is a very minimal revue of a recent tour around the US, treating us to a handful of his songs on guitar and harmonica, interspersed with a small amount about the man in his own words, although if you are hoping to hear more about the man behind the mic, you might be disappointed.  I enjoyed the music (although the extended versions he played sometimes got stretched too far) and it's straightforward nature worked well for a late night, half-asleep viewing. 7/10

Last Shop Standing (UK) (site)

Author Graham Jones was present at the event, an indiegogo-funded film version of his book of the same name, in which he contributes to the story of the rise and fall, and subsequent rise again, of the small independent music shops, seemingly against all the odds in our disinfected world of supermarket shelves of CDs.  The film interviews a large number of independent store proprietors, some a hundred years old or more (the shops, not the props), and throwing in the odd concerned artist such as Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, reminiscing about their days flipping through the vinyl. 

Incredibly, due to the slow realisation by music lovers and music producers, of the value that these independent music shops gave, and the tactile experience you get from playing a vinyl record - two things that were close to being lost thanks to the industries' attempt to kill the medium off dead - were instrumental in getting people to come back through the door and having a whole new generation interested, with a little help from new technologies, of course.  Last Shop Standing is a punchy, energetic piece, and its short run time is enough to do the people and the cause justice without becoming staid. 8/10

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Can) (wiki)

I knew I was pushing my luck. An 11pm showing of a film described as 'making 2001 look like The Kings Speech' should have rung alarm bells but, well, I was there, so I stayed for it.

Trying to bring back the 1980's vision of the future, both in sound and picture, this abstraction of a film attempts to tell the story of a mad scientist holding a young girl captive.  The scientist is stary and says weird things, and the girl is mute and slow-moving and she doesn't like light-up pyramids - it makes her face go all blurry but then she can use the power to change the channels on a TV.  The scientist is also quite slow moving, but his eyes and hair come off and he has a monster in one of the rooms that likes to lick things.  Eventually the girl escapes and the evil scientist goes after her and catches her but then trips and hits his head and then dies.  Two hours of my life have gone by.

You can tell my heart wasn't in it.  Strange, random things happened, very slowly and with all of the budget spent on a square car and some distinctly 2001-style sets, there seemed little time or money left to do an acting course.  It did pick up a little bit once the girl escaped but not so much as to recommend the 90 minutes it took to get there.  It wasn't tense, it wasn't scary, and it wasn't satisfying.  And the cut we got kept freezing up. 3/10

LIFF 2012 Day 8

Now, Forager (US/Pol) (site)

The Kiskstarter website is full of all sorts of strange and wonderful projects trying to get off the ground, and many of them are for films that might otherwise never get off the ground.  Well, this is the first one I know of that has made it to a festival, hopefully to be joined by others soon.

The directors, real-life foragers and filmmakers, present to us a vision of themselves.  Lucien and Regina live hand to mouth on the money they can get from foraging for edible funghi in the forests around the city, and then selling it on to a few contacts at fancy restaurants.  Bad summers, closing businesses and a tempremental 4x4 mean that at any moment their income could be removed from beneath them with little or no safety net.  They have got this far purely on Lucien's intimate knowledge of the wild, and his single-minded focus on what he thinks is the 'right' thing to do.

So when Regina takes a job as a preparer at a local restaurant - a good job that can bring some stability, Lucien's sugar-glass world and the straight path through it is threatened, and a gap begins to grow between them.

Rather than the telling of a horrible and messy breakup, Now Forager is more humane with it's protagonists than, say Stormland, using gentle pillow scenes between the chapters where Lucien reflects on the state of his relationship via the medium of mycology. It never resorts to grandiose tragedy or melodrama, remaining within the bounds of the non-sensational drifting apart that can happen as a couple learn about how their wants and needs diverge from their partners'.  Lucien personally rings a bell with his pent-up-tight and inflexible nature, his attitude to the slow wearing away is rather too familiar for me to ignore.

Enjoying Now Forager will depend on whether you can identify with the sort of character and relationship being applied on screen; it's the quiet, considered type of film rather than the screamy shouty type, which doesn't make for much action, but to me at least that makes it feel genuine. 7/10

Alps (Gre) (wiki)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos enjoys putting his favourite lead actress Aggeliki Papoulia through the mangle.  In the inspired but divisive Dogtooth, her unnamed daughter character was on the receiving end of a video tape to the face, and knocked her own teeth out in the name of freedom.

Here she plays the almost mirror opposite from before - a similarly unnamed nurse at the local hospital who has a mysterious second job.  She is a member of a small group whose purpose is to inhabit the lives of others who have lost a loved one and are struggling to cope. 

Dropping into the lives of a couple whose teenage daughter is badly injured in a car crash, she emulates her behaviour to the parent's satisfaction as much as possible.  But the job calls for some pretty intimate acts, and before long she is beginning to prefer her new existence to the frustrations of her true life.  Rather than a character aching to escape a fantasy land into the real world, she is trying to deny her existence and escape into the realm of make believe.

Dogtooth was one of those films where if you didn't tag on to what the film was really about, it would be merely a confusing abstract mess.  I (like to think) I 'got' Dogtooth, and consequently found it to be one of my favourites of 2010, but Alps is far more opaque, almost mocking the viewer as the film progresses that it keeps the deeper meanings (of which I am sure there is one) just around the next corner.  I felt the same sense of abstraction, a story hiding behind a story, but I never had the eureka moment where it all came clear to me.  I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, but I found myself in similar company to the rest of the (packed out) audience, who gave a collective and bewildered 'huh?' when the screen went black. 7/10

LIFF 2012 Day 7

Stormland (Ice) (wiki)

As a blogger, I occasionally feel a sense of egotism in my efforts to populate my little corner of the internets.  I often make the excuse that my shoddy memory necessitates a blog to act as an external hard drive so I can record the things I have done in my life with a little more accuracy than some choppy neurons, but actually there is probably more going on than that; it's also a need to make an impression on the world; to be noticed and have your thoughts laid bare and have people listen.

Boddi is in a similar position (and thanks to an on-off desire to do a movember, a comparable amount of unruly facial hair).  He blogs day and night - somewhat unaware of the irony - about the terrible onslaught of technology on our lives and how the culture of consumerism has made the people he sees greedy, self-centered idiots.  The world owes poor Boddi a favour, he thinks, although with a comfortable teachers job, a promisingly interested girlfriend and a nice warm home to keep the Icelandic winds out, he has it a lot better than his constant Nietzsche-inspired grumbling suggests.

But he might not for long.  His obsession for educating the ignorant masses with a genre-defining new book on how life should be lived, and to encourage them to aspire to his personal idols is starting to spill out of cyberspace.  One by one, his actions rip up the comfy anchors to the real world, although he is too blind to see the connection between cause and effect.  As his reasons for living begin to work free, the hyenas and vultures move in seemingly intent on destroying what remains to be happy about on purpose, and Boddi moves closer and closer to the edge of sanity.

Iceland is a constant outlet for these desolate personal tragedies (see Vikingland, Volcano, White Night Wedding) and though Stormland is beautifully shot and with excellent performances, especially from lead actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, it takes a long time for the slide to reach it's inevitable end, and there isn't quite enough in between to keep the audience enthralled, only interested.  That turns it from a great film into merely a good one. 7/10

Seven Psychopaths (UK) (wiki)

Martin McDonagh, director of In Bruges returns with Colin Farrell and a handful of other famous faces, to try and bridge the gap between the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino. Farrell plays Marty, a writer struggling to find his muse.  He has a vague idea about his new, titular film, but has no idea beyond some mindless killing, who the psychopaths really are.  Worse still, the pacifist inside him wants it to be a film about peace, love and romance.

Finding he has to force his brain to come up with half-baked stories of made up nutjobs, (acted out brilliantly in cutaway scenes) his inspiration is about to get some help when, thanks to his unhinged friend Billy (Sam Rockwell, who looked like he enjoyed every minute) and his friend Hans (Christopher Walken), he ends up in the middle of a dognapping scheme, where the latest dog to get napped happens to belong to the local crime boss (a very in-character Woody Harrelson), who has lots of guns and is missing his mutt.

Seven Psychopaths occasionally has the spark of brilliance seen in the films it clearly takes it's cue from.  A bit of Resevoir Dogs here, a pinch of Pulp Fiction there, maybe some No Country for Old Men, but the film has an identity of it's own.  The snappy dialog between the characters (especially when Rockwell is involved) crackles with personality and attitude and this mixes well with the carefree, almost comedy violence.  McDonagh plays around with the rules of those sort of films where all the good guys say clever things and the bad guys do bad things and don't play fair, and wrong-foots not the audience, but the characters themselves, to the pleasure of the viewer.

So I enjoyed it thoroughly; it felt as if it was a laugh for the actors and it comes through in the way the film gleefully bounces along to the end, taking detours along the way to explore situations to get the most out of them.  I would happily go watch it again (it's structure ensures that it benefits from a second viewing) and look forward to seeing if the director can be coaxed into the directors chair again in five years or so. 8/10

LIFF 2012 Day 6

Room 237 (US) (site)

This film started with a large disclaimer.  Some legalbot must have got a whiff of this film and made sure that we knew the estate of Stanley Kubrick, all the actors and anyone else to do with The Shining, had nothing to do with this film.

The Shining is certainly a mysterious film.  Kubrick is getting a mini-retrospective of his works, with 2001: A Space Oddessey, Barry Lyndon and The Shining returning to the big screen during the festival, and this documentary goes nicely alongside, focusing on the many theories about the deeper, hidden meanings behind the film's various incidental moments, in the corner of shot or hiding in plain sight.

Told entirely by voiceover by several theorists, using footage of many films including several Kubrick ones, but of course concentrating on The Shining, they share with us their revelations about what they think Kubrick was trying to say.  The many arguments put forward pick apart the film to it's very threads, and variously claims range from the film being about the faking of the Apollo moon landings, the Nazis and the Holocaust (Kubrick never finished Aryan Papers, his own holocaust film), and killing of Native Americans during the colonisation of the US.  The film skips between the points of view, filling in the gaps between with observations and incidentals, some of which are quite compelling (such as some continuity errors so big that Kubrick must have put them in there deliberately), and some are distinctly tinfoil hat, such as the coincidental juxtaposition of characters and places when the film is shown backwards, overlaid on top of it running forwards.

It's natural for the human brain to search for patterns in things; that's why so many people play the lottery convinced that because their numbers have never come up, it must be their turn next time.  But these people have elevated Kubrick's genius as a filmmaker to godly levels, and though it's all entertaining it becomes a tad worrying that it can be obsessed over like that.

Still, for a film which essentially takes another film apart and looks at it with tweezers, often revisiting the same scenes several times, it rarely becomes tiresome and it's interesting to see the imagination that can be stirred by a film that, by the end of this one, is quite a lot deeper than you think it is, and now I wish I had caught The Shining as well. 7/10

Wavumba (Ned) (site)

Far from civilisation as us westerners would recognise it, on the eastern coast of Kenya, is a tropical island surrounded by crystal waters named Wasini.  Stories tell long ago of a tribe living there called the Wavumba, their status legendary in the minds of those few people that remain in the area today.  Masoud, an elderly fisherman claims to be the last of their kind, and regails the stories to anyone who will listen about the times when he landed giant sharks on his boat, just as the Wavumba did.

The director, Jeroen van Velzen spent part of his childhood in Kenya and grew up around the stories of heroic fisherman capable of superhuman feats, and this film is the realisation of a dream to go back there and find the people.  But all that is left of those people is Masoud, his long-suffering apprentice Juma, and the memories of the people of the past told through stories passed between a thousand tongues.  Masoud refuses to accept his frailty and uses the stories he tells to the camera and to others to keep the fire inside his belly going, to try and catch one final shark before he is too old.  Grandson Juma, along to learn the ways of the master, wears the expression of a man close to the edge, especially in a boat with someone who grumps and complains about everything he does.  What lessons Masoud does have to teach largely involve hitting various sea creatures over the head until they stop moving - as a hunter of giant sharks, he seems to have lost the knack.

The tall tales of an old man of the sea are fortunately not the extent to the charm of the film, as it quickly becomes apparent that Masoud is relying these days on his acheivements as a young man to curry favour with the people in his village.  While we wait for his shark to appear, we are also treated to some beautiful ocean landscapes beneath angry skies, experiencing the giddy queasyness of being the third man bobbing around in a boat meant for two.

A couple next to me fidgeted about and the wife grumbled about being bored at one point, making sure he (and the eight people around her) were aware of her displeasure, and although I wanted to empty their coke bottles down their necks for being so chattery I could sort of see their point - though the master-apprentice pairing has it's entertaining moments, and the visuals occasionally coerce the jaw into dropping, there are still large periods where very little happens and you have to take in the journey at their pace.

I liked it, probably less than I would if those chattery gits weren't reminding me how bored they were, but it does test the patience a bit.  6.5/10

LIFF 2012 Day 5

Black Brush (Hun) (review)

In a grainy black and white world, where morality and responsibility seem to be taking a back seat, reside four dropouts.  Versed in the books they read as teenagers thinking they might become an individual, or at least get their ends away, they mope through their twenties devoid of purpose and unable to fathom the connection between their thoughtless actions and their lack of progress by any measure.  Yes, I hated these characters from the start.

Dofi is the worst of them; a thin, reedlike stance with an arrogant swagger and a fixed stare at his current target.  Without any care he lies and cheats his way towards his goal with an admirable disinterest in the absurdity of what comes out of his mouth.  Anti, the young scrawny idiot at the back can't seem to stop giving people money in exchange for a gamble of some sort, and it doesn't matter whose money it is.  When he loses, he just stands there, unaware of what he did wrong.  Papi just mills about in the background sucking up any remaining things of value the others miss.

Only Zoli has any qualities worth redeeming, and what little use that is, is taken up trying to undo all their messes and keep them in a job - working as chimney sweeps for an unseen boss, who is about to have a bad day with his accounts.  Turning up at a client's house to sweep and line their chimneys, their collective selfishness and incompetence manages to strip them of their (his) money, the materials, and any thoughts they might have had about making money from goat poo.

If I gave you any sense of intrigue that this film may be worth a punt, let me backpedal a bit right there.  Black Brush is even more abstract and artsy as the superficially similar (but superior) Aaltra from last night.  The characters have no charm or likability, their increasingly deep hole they dig themselves is fully deserved and not resolved, and the whole thing has the messiness of a project put together by similarly competent wasters who got bored halfway through and smoked some drugs instead.

Though the film has some moments where you think things will pick up, ultimately there is no compulsion to watch these idiots resolve their problems because you just don't care about them.  My only thought through most of the film was my incredulity and disappointment that no-one had hit them squarely in the face and told them to grow up. 4/10

Heretic (UK) (site)

My Spidey sense was tingling as the announcer came on to a packed Leeds crowd of semi-merry theatregoers.  This would be the world premier, and the directors and many of the cast were in the audience.  It all felt just a little bit Spanking in Paradise.

It is true that horror films made in Yorkshire can work.  Sort of.  Harold's Going Stiff is a good example of when it's done right, and Inbred is another.  Good, rather than sterling horror, and they work because they don't take themselves too seriously - a comedy-horror mix.  This is an important point.  Maybe it is down to social conditioning, but I can't be genuinely, seriously scared by a horror film if the protagonists have a pronounced northern accent - you'll notice the trailer has no dialogue in it.  The Exorcist does not cross well with Last of the Summer Wine.

So Heretic had this to work against from the start.  James, a well-meaning vicar from the local church, is torn about whether he was to blame for the suicide of a girl who came to him for help and advice.  Six months on, and her stepfather also takes the dangly way out.  Worse for wear on drink, James heads home but the abandoned house beckons with the half-sight of a young girl in the grounds and when he follows it seems there is no way back.

All very well and good as a premise, but there were other flaws to the film than just the accents.  The audio sounded like everyone was speaking from inside the film studio lavatories, and the jolty-buzzy-switchy camera work used to tell the audience to be scared now was overused and unnecessary.  That and the story sluggishly bumped along like a corpse wrapped in a carpet being dragged over the Krypton Factor assault course.  There is a nice (if familiar) twist towards the end if you can make it that far, but by then you'll be more bored than frightened and just want it to finish.

Somehow, I preferred Black Brush tonight.  Loathsome though the protagonists were and directionless though the story was compared to Heretic, at least that film provoked an emotion out of me, whereas Heretic felt devoid - I couldn't find the passion to hate it, and there was little to like.  Sorry, my fellow Yorkshiremen and women - it's clear you worked hard to produce this film, but there's a lot better out there. 4/10