BIFF 2013 Day 9

Before Tokyo Waka we managed to see the forgettable Black Ice from yesterday, plus another short film with a similar theme to the main event.

Reindeer (UK) - Also known as 69.4 Degrees North, this was a pleasant but all too brief short film about the large herds of semi-wild Reindeer, who are rounded up in a farmers market in the middle of the beautiful silver-snow night.  It's truly something to see them stampede in a tightly wound swirl of antlers and hooves, but there needed to be more here. 7/10

Tokyo Waka (US/Jpn) (site)

For obvious reasons, this was one of my must-sees of the festival.  The crow population of Tokyo is a cunning and fascinating breed, although I had barely noticed them.  Capable of quickly learning how to exploit the human  stamp placed on the landscape, and evading many attempts to capture them, it is only recently that the population in the metropolis has been brought under control.  This film, neither celebrating nor deriding them (they have admirers and deriders in equal measure) meditates on the impact Tokyo residents and the crows have on each other; how they have been shown to be highly intelligent and emotive creatures, and how their presence has ingrained itself in the culture, art and daily lives of Japanese residents.

But the film is not content with showing us just the crows, and the branching out onto the Tokyo public at large and the day-to-day goings on in the city was an unexpected welcome (although it took a little while to adjust), and provided pauses between the main subject matter of the film.  Having a soft spot for the country, you can imagine this was something I sat through quite happily, wallowing in memories, especially as there were some recognisable sights.  However, some may find the gently undulating subject matter and the repeated digressions difficult to remain interested in for it's short hour-long running time.

As an extra bonus, directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson were both present and gave a longer than usual Q+A at the end.  I was in hog heaven. As far as scoring, I loved it (even if some fidgety gits in the audience didn't) but it is a pretty niche subject to have a passion for, so I will be harsh. 7.5/10

Empire (Aus/Thai) - A rare chance to see the short film used to introduce the 2010 Vienalle film festival.  Empire is a short and sweet metaphorical cruise through underground caverns, seeing the shadows bounce on the stalagtites and finding treasures in the darkest crevices.  Okay as the opener to a festival, but lacks a bit as a standalone showing. 5/10

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (US) (site)

Believe it or not, it's 21 years since we were treated - if that's the right word - to the first Universal Soldier.  Back then, it was pretty straightforward fighty shooty action, not much to have to think about; stuff the popcorn into the gaping yaw and enjoy the ride.  In the midst of the documentaries and angst-ridden character studies, it was difficult to see where this film would fit in.

Continuing a theme of 'rebooting' franchises, Day of Reckoning still features lots of action, but this time it's wrapped up in a progression of the Universal Soldier canon, where the Soldiers are turning into renegades, thanks to Luc Deveraux, the original Universal Soldier played by a now crusty-looking JC Van Damme, presumably in moments between making snow angels in the alps.  A wider, chunkier Dolph Lundgren is also present as one of his loyal subjects.

Interestingly, they are not the focus of the film.  The main protagonist is John, whose wife and children are brutally murdered in front of his eyes one night by Deveraux, and somehow surviving, wakes in a hospital bed months later, just as disoriented as the audience.  Without sacrificing too much to the action-heads, the film manages to crowbar in a half-decent  Memento-style tale of memory loss, mixed in with near-The Raid-levels of violence and head-splattering action.

So yes, Day of Reckoning is an unexpectedly good action film, and pretty suitable for taking friends along who might want a little more from their action films, so long as they have a strong stomach.  It's atmospheric, fast and action-packed, and doesn't spell things out for the audience, who have to run to keep up.  It's done the rounds in the US to good reviews (relatively speaking for a Universal Soldier film), and although the 'logic' of the film can be a bit too cloudy in places, it's a worthwhile update.  7.5/10

I should also say two things: Don't go for the 3D, because it was rubbish, and definitely don't go if you are epileptic.

The Apocalypse (US) - Four bored friends learn the hard way during a lazy summers afternoon, that there is nothing more dangerous than an idea.  Literally.  Unapologetically offering no explanation of events, and thus quite funny. 7/10

The Rambler (US) (imdb)

Maybe it was a mistake to hold out for the last film of the night; one of the Bradford After Dark entries.  The Rambler is an unnamed man, in stetsons and a cowboy hat, who has just left prison after a four year stretch.  His wife is impatient and violent, the people don't want him around and everywhere he looks the world is a wreck, so when his brother calls from Oregon with a job offer on his ranch, he packs his guitar and leaves, tramping the roads of the southern states and catching a lift where he can.

But this is no ordinary road movie.  Along the way, he meets increasingly grotesque individuals who help or hinder him in getting to where he wants.  A crazed inventor shows him a dangerous machine for recording peoples' dreams, a self-confessed backstabber forces him to fist-fight his way into some much needed money by pitting him in fights he can't win, and a strange, wraith-like girl both beguiles and haunts him, turning up on his journey at every corner, and often dying in gruesome circumstances.  These roads are a killer.

The Rambler is a Faustian journey through an increasingly grotesque and surreal mutation of the deep south.  Slightly more bearable than The Temptation of St. Tony, as it does keep the viewer within an arms length of a grabbable thread of reality as we go, but where is the film going?  After finally making it to his brothers after witnessing all kinds of horrors, he concludes that it is in fact the thing for him and goes back onto the roads, but does he walk into the sunset with the credits scrolling?  Er, no; the film then limps along for another quarter hour or so as more crazy crap happens and he just bears it.  I find it hard to recommend. 5.5/10

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