Taking A Pass: 30th Leeds International Film Festival

I naturally learned about Leeds International Film Festival promptly upon starting my first year of studies at Leeds University. Due to an overwhelming amount of trepidation about a great many things at the time (as many freshers experience) I attended a grand total of zero films. In the following years I vowed to not make the same blunder.

As a result, some of the strangest films I’ve seen over the course of each year are from the festival, including The Bothersome Man (the story of a man trapped in purgatory) and 22nd of May (about a security guard reliving a shopping mall bombing he failed to prevent). One of the most interesting experiences I had was getting trashed at a metal night before dragging myself out of bed to go watch One Piece: Strong World. Suffice to say, hungover and with no prior engagement with the source material is no way to watch what I later learned was the tenth movie installment of a manga series.

Since then I’ve seen the self-congratulatory lows of Masterpiece: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns to the neon highs of Blade Runner on the big screen. I even got to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing with two hilarious accompaniments:

1) A pre-recorded interview with Carpenter, in which he humbly expressed little desire to praise his own work over other people’s, which made the twenty minutes the interviewer spent trying to make him do so seem as awkward as possible, and…

2) A woman sitting one row ahead of me who had very clearly not seen the film before and likely made five permanent dent marks in her partner’s arm, applying a vice-like grip throughout a good portion of the film.

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But this year, the festival’s thirtieth, I’ve taken the plunge and bought an individual pass so I can finally go absolutely berserk. Here’s my upcoming schedule, my pre-film expectations, and I’ll update them with post-film responses as the festival rolls on:

Friday November 4th – Interstella

Pre: Music video movie of Daft Punk’s album Discovery. An alien rock band’s superfan trying to free them from the clutches of an evil music mogul? I’ll have me some of that.

Post: Thoroughly enjoyable. Really great story considering it’s essentially a feature length music video and I give it major points for genuinely surprising me with a major character death. There’s also some neat anti-corporate music stuff in there and the anime stuff works wonderfully well with Daft Punk’s musical style. Grab a copy and stick it on in the background of a party. You’ll definately have a handful of people stopping to take note of it.

Sunday 6th – Schneider vs. Bax

Pre: Foreign movies are a good source of black comedy, so I’ve got good expectations for this one about a hitman’s job gone wrong. And ‘hitman’ is essentially the best occupation you can give a movie character without having to actually delve into their past, so it’s already ticking boxes in my book.

Post: Not as much awkward humour as I was expecting and the whole thing struck a strange middle-ground between drama and comedy once a few other characters are introduced. Not bad, but veered on dragging at times.

Sunday 6th – Under the Shadow

Pre: Sunday is my first double-header, with Under the Shadow being the UK’s foreign language Oscar entry. It’s looking to be a ghost story, but not necessarily a horror, so that says to me ‘enough supernatural elements to creep me out, but enough story sense to give me it in tiny doses’. My over-under on jump scares is 2.5.

Post: It got me 3 times, so it’s an ‘over’ for that one. Overall, it was wonderful. Suitable amount of time given before anything out of the ordinary comes along meaning we’ve got some nicely rounded characters who make logical decisions when they’re scared. Throw in some super creepy visuals and this one is highly recommended.

Monday 7th – The Birth of a Nation

Pre: Nate Parker’s racial powerhouse doesn’t appear to be getting the slam-dunk responses that were suggested a few months ago, but it still has high-upside potential from occasional stellar reviews. I have the feeling this is going to be either great or okay, with plain old ‘good’ not being an option.

Post: Turns out ‘good’ was an option after all. While it didn’t leave me shocked and appalled, I did like them showing some weighty violence behind Nat Turner’s slave revolt. Strangely, the lighter the film is allowed to be, the better is looks, as sweeping shots of cotton fields look absolutely wonderful. Sadly, interior shots don’t achieve the same success and few scenes stick out. Solid, but not an must-watch.

Tuesday 8th – Being There

Pre: Following a rekindled love of Dr. Strangelove, and seeing his stellar work in Lolita, I need more Peter Sellers in my life. I’m just hoping that it’s a few beats away from Forrest Gump and Rain Man (neither of which I’m a fan of). At least I’m almost guaranteed another grade-A performance from Sellers.

Post: Wonderfully funny. I saw it with a good crowd that suitably hooped and hollered as the ludicrousness of the movie ramped up. I, too, laughed long and hard as the humour sits right alongside Strangelove, meaning nothing ever seems jumped up or slapstick. It’s quietly and reservedly a story of ridiculous circumstances and well worth your time.

Wednesday 9th – Aliens (with Royal Armouries Presents the Pulse Rifle)

Pre: I’m presently in the ‘Alien‘ camp of the great sequel debate, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to see Aliens on the big screen. Perhaps I’ll be a bigger fan on this go around, and I’ll definitely shout when Bishop gets what’s coming to him. Kickstarted with a presentation about the pulse rifle from the film, and I’ve got the makings of fun evening.

Post: Strangely, the lows and highs seemed lower and higher than before. I forgot how great the last 30-40 minutes of Aliens is and I have to keep this in mind when I consider that while the time spent in between the action isn’t exactly wasted, I still struggle to stay engaged outside of Burke’s shenanigans. Didn’t shout at Bishop getting destroyed, but gave a little ‘woo’ when Newt said “mostly”.

Thursday 10th – The Animatrix and The Matrix

Pre: First time seeing The Animatrix, so I’m looking for at least three enjoyable sections from the anthology. Seeing The Matrix immediately after should also let me judge how well the two work together. Strange how I missed this when I was 8, but making up for it when I’m 25.

Post: Missed out on Animatrix due to after-work commute times, but my god The Matrix is a solid gold hit of a movie. So many great visuals, superb philosophical ideas behind everything, and it’s one of the heads of the ‘rebel against mundanity’ movie hydra 1999 enjoyed. COnsidering it’s a film that informed an entire genre for the next ten years, and become synonymous with something as basic as a colour, rewatching it has solidified it as a cinema classic.

Friday 11th – Drive

Pre: If you’ve read anything else from my blog, you’ll know I’m a Drive fanboy. Not much to say other than I’ll try to keep my head-bobbing to a minimum while ‘Nightcall’ is playing. Two home-viewings have taken a little off the edge these past couple of years, so a big-screen setting might juice things up and resharpen the senses.

Post: Yep, it’s still everything I remember it to be. Seeing it at the town hall definitely put the edge back into feel of the movie and with its viseral elements (action, framing, soundtrack) all in check, I’m starting to enjoy the story and performances more and more. This is my fourth go-around and, after careful consideration, it’s cemented as a bonafide classic in my eyes.

Friday 11th – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Pre: Another double-header, this time with my favourite Wes Anderson film. Firmly a fan of the beginning and especially the end, so I’m hoping to laugh a little more through the middle and be annoyed a little less by Owen Wilson.

Post: I learned, after much walking around, that ‘The Barge’ was not a water-based cinema name due to it being shown at Leeds Dock. Nope, as I went to Instagram, they showed the movie on a tiny boat with just ten of us sitting in. It was a great feeling as we occasionally swayed while chuckling along and I did enjoy the middle and Owen Wilson more than previously. Overall, one of the most memorable times I’ve had at the cinema to date.

Sunday 13th – Assassination Classroom: Graduation

Pre: Assassination Classroom was a big hit last year at LIFF, so I was pleased to see the sequel make an appearance here. A synopsis has promised me closure, and I’ll likely get it, I just hope it’ll take itself seriously when it should for the sake of drama.

Post: It took itself seriously! Suitably impressed by the time it took to explain things left over from the first film, which seemed to be more concentrated on comedy. Not to say Graduation was starved of laughs, but a much better balance of drama and comedy really worked this time. Might be worth me checking out the anime series and original manga now!

Monday 14th – Amadeus (Director’s Cut)

Pre: I adore the movie and if I could attend one screening, it would be this. The music is going to be incredible and I just hope I don’t have to crane my neck up for three hours. To the balcony seats I go!

Post: Loved it. I didn’t realise until I set off for the screening that it had been at least two years since I’d seen Amadeus, and even then I’d only watched it once. It was everything I remember enjoying and then some. Simply incredible and so happy the festival chose to show it. A definite highlight and the balcony seats were terrific.

Wednesday 16th – 2001: A Space Odyssey

Pre: In what has become a staple of the festival, 2001 is coming to the town hall and I’m honestly intrigued to see the effects of a repeat viewing on me. I’ve only seen it once, back in 2009, and I immediately had a great sense of appreciation for it. But to go through it all again? Like Birth of a Nation, high potential and little chance of a 7-8/10.

Post: Glad I got the chance to watch this on the big screen, and I can confidently saw it’s a film I massively appreciate. Perhaps it’s the lack of famous faces or that its iconic moment have been drilled into every sci-fi fan’s head, but I don’t feel the need to rewatch 2001 as often as I would Blade Runner or The Matrix. And there’s still nothing quite like the stargate sequence. Amadeus was the triumphant final chapter of my festival and 2001 was the contemplative epilogue.

So there it is, twelve films across ten days and five different locations in Leeds. If you haven’t already, I implore you to check out the films on offer this year and to try to attend a couple.

Bonus Films! Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th

To really get my money’s worth, I went back to the program and looked at what Saturday had on offer. I went for two movies, the first being Old Stone, about a cab driver stuck paying a stranger’s medical bills following an accident he isn’t responsible for. It was a great story about justice, responsibility, and obligation as the protagonist’s situation steadily gets worse. Solid work for the first hour and a surprisingly gripping finale made it a surprise treat.

In the afternoon, I had It’s Only the End of the World. The story of a man visiting his family to tell him about his impending death, it absolutely nailed a realistic family dynamic (with Vincent Cassel reminding me a lot of my brother). Sadly, it exceeded in little else and while certainly not a bad film, it definately felt lacking when it was all done.

My last surprise extra was Train to Busan, which was heavily recommended to me and, thankfully, shown twice at the festival (the first I missed due to attending Thought Bubble Comic Convention). It was a terrific mix of action, horror, humour, and (which I definitely wasn’t expecting) human drama. Though I’m not a big zombie movie fan, if it’s this fun and has me actively rooting for specific characters, it’s a job very well done.

I’m pleased to live in a city that hosts one of the best film festivals every year, so if you’re a local as well, are making the trip to Leeds, or are volunteering for the event, let me know with a comment below of what you’re looking forward to seeing!

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Control, Access, Delete: How Digital Streaming Turned Us All Into Editors

An interesting development is occurring in the minds of moviegoers as Hollywood increasingly falls back upon remakes, sequels, and franchises. We’ve accepted with open arms the ability to consume content at a massive rate but are (largely) complaining that Hollywood is rarely original.

There are many factors that have contributed towards this – from the fact that Hollywood has built an idea that novels and plays receive a certain cache when a film is adapted from it, to the straight-forward idea that franchises can become secure sources of box office revenue. But considering the way we digest media at this moment in time, why would Hollywood choose now to seek a greater amount of originality?

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Storytelling, Scale and Spectacle: Deliberations on Fury Road

Much discussion has been made of Mad Max: Fury Road and its visual style, which lead to (some would say) surprising nominations from award bodies. The fact that BAFTA and the Academy Awards are nominating the film and its director, George Miller, is tremendous news for its fans and I don’t think anyone can come away from Fury Road without saying that it looks fantastic.However, I find myself frequently (though far less fervently) siding with some of the film’s detractors. The detractors I’m referring to observe

However, I find myself frequently (though far less fervently) siding with some of the film’s detractors. The detractors I’m referring to observe Fury Road’s story as an incredibly simple one, and this has the consequential effect of minimising the impact of the action on display. Put in crude terms: I, and many others, wonder if enough actually goes on in the film for it to warrant being seen as a great one.

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Best Picture Winners According to Rotten Tomatoes

Over the past few weeks I’ve been undertaking quite a task and I can now finally show you the results. The Oscar nominations are always a source of controversy (perhaps this year more than ever), which can only be topped when winners are finally chosen and everyone fills the internet with talks of snubbage. This got me thinking about the ceremony’s biggest award, Best Picture. We can deliberate for hours about who we thought should have won, but what if there’s a way to, as objectively as possible, see if the Academy actually chosen the right winner?

To answer this questions I present the infographic below. On one side, the Academy’s winner for Best Picture each year. And to the right of it, the film that (out of each year’s chosen nominees) received the highest ‘Tomatometer’ approval rating. Films that achieved the website’s ‘Certified Fresh’ award were given precedence, on the basis of it registering that a film has earned a high amount of modern reviews, and helping to account for the natural growth of the film industry. Suffice to say, there are more than a few interesting scenarios that develop under this rating system.

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End of the Line: Getting to the Bottom of My DVDs

I reached something of a personal milestone today, one that I can say with confidence I have been working towards for more than two years. I used to only buy films brand new, as I felt that I wanted to own them completely and had some odd notion against purchasing them second-hand (not to mention the possibility of disc scratches and shoddy box upkeep). Once I saw the error of my ways, I started buying movies a lot more often, largely because I could get them for bargain prices. Hell, I managed to bag an anniversary edition of Unforgiven for just £1. But this, obviously, lead to a backlog of movies bought and simply left on my shelf. A backlog that, with my weak will-power, ballooned to an unreasonable amount.

In a bid to make some serious progress, I tweeted this in late July 2013:

DVD List Start

53 films, bought and left alone, is simply bizarre. The Blu-rays on the right are somewhat acceptable, as they’re purchases of films I’ve seen before, but closer inspection reveals a problem. In that list are Argo, The Artist and The King’s Speech. Each won Best Picture for their respective years, but I also bought each of them as soon as they were released. Therefore, I can conclude that The King’s Speech was a film I enjoyed so much I bought the Blu-ray as soon as I could, and then left it for two years before deciding to actually watch it.

The pile stayed with me, as I chipped away slowly, but some recommendations came my way and swanky, limited edition steelbooks of new releases couldn’t be avoided so I imposed a rule: new purchases had to be watched within the week they were bought. I relied upon the great procrastination tactic of list-making as my ‘to watch’ pile reached a grand total of 70, and I knew it was time to really crack down. That was January of this year, as Christmas arrived with a slew of Scorsese and Kubrick movies I’d always been meaning to hunt down. And now, a little over ten months from that resolution, I arrive at the image you see below:Completed List

Done. Completed. Finished. But more importantly, validated. There’s all kinds of movies in there, from Deathproof to Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect to Braveheart and Schindler’s List to Spider-Man 3 but I put up the cash to buy them, meaning I had to at least give them time to see how they were. The thrilling experience was discovering what I had on my shelf beyond my expectations. So many of these films weren’t what I anticipated, and I was introduced for the first time to directors and actors I knew as greats, though I hadn’t watch any of their films. Here are some quick takes from the list:

An American in Paris and Gigi just aren’t good enough. Two of the most unjustified award winners I’ve seen largely thanks to a wishy-washy approach to romance that, despite logic, wins out in the end because Hollywood wants it to.

Barry Lyndon is beautifully shot and scored, and I wish it was equally gripping in terms of its story.

The Dark Knight Trilogy is an unusual group of movies for me. Batman Begins gets betters each time I watch it, Dark Knight gets worse (though it’s still great) and Dark Knight Rises is so much fun if you can get into the swing of it.

Deathproof, removed from it’s Grindhouse partner, feels like a Frankenstein. A exposition loaded chase-scene bolted on after an entertaining slice of exploitation.

The Ex isn’t a good movie, but viewed as a two-part episode of a sitcom? Pretty decent.

The Girl Who Played with Fire and Kicked the Hornet’s Nest are closely dependent on each other, and complicate things so much they only prove how stellar and stand-alone Dragon Tatoo was.

The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were actually really fun once I comprehended what the Architect says to Neo. A tremendous story and world, though I still can’t forgive that rave scene.

Mrs Miniver was the biggest surprise out of everything. I expected a simple ‘blitz spirit’, light-hearted effort and received a cracking look at the civilian cost of war as WWII ushered in new forms of warfare.

Out of Africa almost hosts a wonderful discussion on the nature of love and possession, though it is among a movie lauded mostly for its appearance. One great scene in an okay movie.

Supergirl is a mind-melting, bafflingly stupid movie. As in ‘I shouted at the screen’ stupid, ‘I couldn’t control my laughter’ stupid and ‘I had to pause to comprehend what was happening’ stupid. Unbelievable.

Vanilla Sky was maddening, with an explanation-dump at the end to try and justify shoddy character development. It takes far too long to engage you then leaves you looking forward to the end.

A few days of peace, then, and I’m back into the stores looking for new buys. There’ll always be more movies. Low-key work by big-name directors and actors, terrific concepts and ideas within unusual genres, a whole world of documentaries treading the line between reality and fiction, and movies that are heralded by my friends throughout their lives, but yet to touch mine. It’s tremendously exciting, as my endless exploration of cinema should be, and I vow to never let my collection get so out of hand again.

Home Viewing: A Touch of the Theatrical

I just wanted to drop a really quick post to cover something awesome that happened last weekend when I went home for the bank holiday. My dad, to say the least, is proud of his TV set-up at home. He doesn’t jump on the newest tech at launch or have a stack of magazines with reviews, but he sure does like big purchases.

Visiting home after a living room TV upgrade brings a high quote of excited looks, demonstrations and everything turned up to ten so I  can fully appreciate just how well my mum and dad can watch their movies. HD TV was a revelation and 3D has brought plenty of ‘look how good my stuff is’ smiles, but my dad’s most recent deliveries have a classier edge to them.

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