LIFF 2013 Part 1

I'm back.  Out of breath and jetlagged, but back.  A quick recap:

The Garden (tm), bane of my life and a relandscaping project that has taken the best part of eight years, has finally been 'finished' for varying values of finished.  A little bit of topsoiling and some turf here and there early next year and the rest is maintanence.  It has been the sponge that has soaked up virtually all my spare time up until the end of October this year when other things took over and the weather turned to crap.  I will do a thorougly boring post about it in due course.

A short break in September, where myself and the lass visited Poland for a friends' wedding and I ended up getting thoroughly lost in the remote fields with nothing but an escaped puppy to keep me company will also appear at some point.

A slightly postponed Leeds Film Festival is down to the other major thing that happened, which is a trans-state trip to America.  A fortnight of sampling both the east and west coasts, the quiet, the loud and the mental, pictures and stories surely will follow.  I got back yesterday.  If it wasn't for my body crying out for mercy, I would have made it to the films I had booked - the first one starting a few hours after the plane touched down into Manchester.  Yes, I need help. 

So anyway, this has resulted in a truncated list of films this year.  I was not present for the UK premiere of Gravity on opening night, so have no idea how that turned out, even though it has Sandra Bullock in it, it appears to be a cracking film so I will have to catch it sometime.  If it was still on in America (the run has just finished) we would have caught it there but instead we saw Captain Phillips.  It's not a festival film, but here it is anyway:

Captain Phillips (US) (site)

Tom Hanks has long been an actor that people want to dislike in the same way you might think of maybe Stallone or Brad Pitt - he's just been in loads of popular films and it's not cool to be a fan; but because his filmography contains everything between the brainless but enjoyable fluff of Big, through Toy Story, Road to Perdition and The Green Mile, and right through to Philadelphia, it's impossible to disrespect the breadth of talent he has spanned.

And again, he adds a little more here.  The real-life Captain of the title was aboard a massive cargo ship in 2009 when it was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia.  The following few days became a living hell for his terrified crew, and in particular, Phillips himself.

Rather than portraying the event as an american wet dream, where the nasty old bad guys get their comuppance to a cactus-chinned cowboy, the somalis are portrayed as desperate and brutal yet still three dimensional humans, and Phillips himself as a very ordinary, scared man relying on his training and wits to get through.  The resulting film is much richer for it. 8/10

On with the festival films proper, then:

Grasp the Nettle (UK) (site)

Remember the Democracy Village that appeared in Parliament Square a couple of years ago?  It is easy to look from afar and see it as a smaller-scale pretender to the US Occupy movements, but it was an active protest all of its own.  Filmmaker Dean Puckett gives up his flat and his job for three years and moves in with a group of activists in 2009, brought together on a piece of long-derelict ground in greater London with a shared vision - sustainable living outside the normal framework of society.  Over time, the community grows and flourishes into an 'Eco Village'.  Sustainable living from dumpster diving and later, seed swaps and allotments take the place of simply reusing stuff they find.  Faced with eviction from the landowners, some of the activists scout ahead for a second site, and the Democracy Village is born.

But threats come from all sides, and from within.  Though the Eco Village land was unused for over a decade, the owners are suddenly much more interested in starting work.  Democracy village vies for space with rival protest groups and the government on their doorstep are less than happy about all the tent marks spoiling the tidy lawns.  Worse, both places have attracted more than just passionately-minded alternative lifestylers - drunks and drug addicts come and go and taking advantage of the open arms, bring with them violence and crime.  In-fighting over house rules, relationship breakups and some colourful occupants taking the limelight (including the self-proclaimed Messiah and Transsexual David Shayler last seen in last years' I am Jesus) threaten the stability and quality of life of the residents, not to mention but a sheet of two of tarp between them and six inches of snow.

We knew the result, but we didn't know the people.  Thanks to Pucketts' sacrifice we get a proper flavour of what it meant to live there, and why they gave up the cosy life to do it.  You may not agree with their motives, but you can't deny their heart and dedication in the face of so much going against them.  An enlightening and entertaining film about people genuinely trying to effect change.  8/10

A Touch of Sin (Chi) (wiki)

Apparently received with high regard from those in the know at Cannes this year, A Touch of Sin takes real-life events from the news headlines of the east and creates four narratives; human lives barely touching each others' but joined in the act of brutal murder, acts of retaliation from the oppressiveness of the rapidly changing societies they live in.  A disillusioned police detective; a distant husband with a thrillseeking alter ego; a woman trying to wrestle her lover away from his wife; and a young man fleeing his responsibilities and falling in love.

For a far eastern film with it's share of fight scenes, it's also quite refreshing to have the protagonists in a very messy, unchoreographed skirmish rather than the balletic fights and overreactions we are used to seeing.  It's a film saturated with spiritual symbolism, and not without it's bloody bits, though if you look for this in a film you may find yourself a little impatient in the long waits in between.    Personally I found it enjoyable but the strong cultural elements became made the stories a little foggy and confusing, and at over two hours, I didn't enjoy it enough to go round a second time. 6/10

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